By Nick Sligh
Approaching the midpoint of the NBA season, teams are really beginning to establish where they stand. It is becoming more clear who the favorites, contenders and outsiders are ahead of the halfway mark.
Here are my top 10 teams in the league.
No. 1: Los Angeles Lakers (33-7) (Previous: 1) – Riding a nine-game winning streak, their fifth winning streak of at least seven games this season, the Lakers are not showing any signs of slowing down. Lebron James continues to show his unreal levels of durability, playing at an MVP level in his 17th season in the league. Anthony Davis has provided the superstar complement that Lebron needed, and the superstar duo has formed to lead what currently appear to be the championship favorites.
No. 2: Milwaukee Bucks (35-6) (Previous: 2) – Giannis Antetokounmpo’s seemingly everlasting improvement has helped the Bucks be one of the most solid teams in the league all season. Currently the favorite to win his second-straight MVP, Antetokounmpo is averaging a crazy per-game stat line of 30 points per game, 13 rebounds and six assists. Kris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Eric Bledsoe and George Hill have all been great pieces in establishing the Bucks’ depth and consistent play. Milwaukee looks to be the favorite to win the Eastern Conference this season — and a very legitimate championship contender.
No. 3: Los Angeles Clippers (27-13) (Previous: 3) – A team that has been subject to injury and inconsistency throughout the year, the Clippers are currently playing pretty far below their potential. Despite juggling injury issues with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers have managed to stay within a half of a game of second place in the Western Conference. When the Clippers are at full health and on full display this season, they have performed, and there is no reason to count a healthy Clippers team out of the championship conversation.
No. 4: Utah Jazz (27-12) (Previous: NR) – Probably the most improved team over the past month, the Jazz have really found their chemistry on the offensive side of the ball. The addition of Jordan Clarkson has been surprisingly pleasant and a great offensive spark for them. The Jazz offense seems to be finally catching up to the team’s consistent defensive play. A deep roster that continues to build chemistry, Utah will be one of the most interesting teams to watch develop as the season goes along.
No. 5: Boston Celtics (27-11) (Previous: 7) – Boston has benefited greatly from the continuous improvement of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Solid play from these two and Kemba Walker, along with a deep roster, has helped the Celtics position themselves as one of the main threats to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference.
No. 6: Houston Rockets (26-12) (Previous: 9) – Despite a volume-shooting point guard in Russell Westbrook shooting 23% from beyond the arc, the Rockets are one of the most offensively effective teams in the league. James Harden continues to play at a level that is unbelievable. His historic season shows little signs of slowing down, averaging 38 points per game. Like his production, Harden’s efficiency is at a high level. He is shooting 38% from three, his highest mark since he joined Houston. As long as the Rockets are getting Harden’s historic level of play and significant production, Houston remains one of the most dynamic offenses and teams in the league.
No. 7: Denver Nuggets (17-7) (Previous: 10) – Consistency has been one of the major problems for Denver all year. Despite holding onto a tie for the second-best record in the Western Conference, it seems that their play has often been below this level. The Nuggets will be alright, though. With a young and deep roster that continues to build chemistry together, Nikola Jokic and Denver will find their consistency in time.
No. 8: Miami Heat (27-12) (Previous: 6) – The Heat have been more talked about over the past week for an embarrassing loss to the Knicks and Jimmy Butler’s beef with TJ Warren than for their quality of play. However, the Heat still have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference and remain one of the threats to challenge the Bucks for a trip to the finals. Their offensive production has been as consistent as any team, with seven players averaging double-digit points per game. The young Heat are going to need to figure out how to play more consistently and continue their quality start to this season beyond the halfway point.
No. 9: Dallas Mavericks (24-15) (Previous: 5) – Having one of the MVP frontrunners has been the primary positives for the Mavericks in the first half of the season. Luka Doncic is the emerging superstar of the season, with a per-game statline of 29 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Kristaps Porzingis seems to be still finding his way a bit with the Mavericks, but has been very solid for the most part. A deep roster and an emerging mega-star in Doncic make the Mavericks another one of the most interesting teams to watch develop.
No. 10: Philadelphia 76ers (25-16) (Previous: 4) – Things don’t look the best right now for the 76ers. Joel Embiid will be missing at least the next couple of weeks with a finger injury, and frustration continues to build with the coaching of Brett Brown and the construction of the 76ers roster. Many are expecting and even demanding the 76ers to make adjustments in their style of play and personnel, given that the immensely talented roster is not currently living up to its potential. Regardless of the rather bleak current circumstances, a team that is this talented should at least remain a threat in the Eastern Conference.
Contact Nick Sligh at nick1019 ‘at’ stanford.edu.