The second half of the NBA season is underway. Teams will have to fit in over 30 games in a span of two months, which means the sprint towards the playoffs will be taking place throughout all of March and April.
Here are the power rankings as we begin the season’s second half.
1. Miami Heat (Last Week #1)
The Heat have not lost since February 8th, in Orlando, and are winners of eight straight. They took care of the Knicks and “Linsanity” on Thursday, with a dominant 14-point win. The Big Three are not under the immense pressure they faced last season, and are poised to finish the season as the top seed in the East.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder (Last Week #2)
Winners of five in a row, the Thunder won both games in a back-to-back against the Celtics and Lakers before the All-Star break. OKC currently owns a three-game lead over the Spurs in the West and are the clear favorite to advance to the Finals out of the West.
3. Chicago Bulls (Last Week #4)
Derrick Rose is back, and that only makes the Bulls better. They went 2-0 this past week and are only 1/2 game behind the Heat in the East. Fans will have plenty of chances to catch the Bulls on TV, as they play on national television six times in March.
4. San Antonio Spurs (Last Week #3)
The Spurs are second in the West and went 2-1 last week. The loss was a 137-97 beatdown from Portland, which saw Tony Parker and Tim Duncan sit out the entire game. It came on the second night of a back-to-back, and it was actually a smart move by Greg Popovich. Fresh legs will be needed for the upcoming months of nonstop basketball.
5. Los Angeles Clippers (Last Week #5)
The Clippers are keeping pace in the top of the Western Conference and still own a lead over the Lakers in the Pacific division. Their schedule is rather easy this week, which should allow the Clippers to chip away at the lead of the Thunder in the West.
6. Indiana Pacers (Last Week #12)
The Pacers have quietly been near the top of the Eastern Conference all season and are winners of four straight. They had an easy schedule leading up to the break, with wins over the Nets, Hornets, and Bobcats twice, but this came after a very tough stretch of games. They have games against Golden State and New Orleans this week before facing the likes of Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, and Orland next week. The true quality of this team will be known in two weeks.
7. Dallas Mavericks (Last Week #6)
The defending champs had a solid first half, going 21-13, and no one is missing games due to a lack of conditioning anymore. Dirk and the other elders of the NBA are sitting in fourth in the West and only trail the Spurs by three games in their division.
8. Orlando Magic (Last Week #8)
The constant drama surrounding Dwight Howard has overshadowed the play of the Magic, who have gone 10-4 in February. They will likely not catch Miami for the division lead, but they can realistically finish as the fourth seed. Of course, this is all dependent on whether or not Dwight is a member of the team in late April.
9. Houston Rockets (Last Week #14)
The Rockets are on a three-game winning streak, with the last two wins coming over playoff-caliber teams in Memphis and Philadelphia. If David Stern had not vetoed the trade that would have sent Pau Gasol to Houston, the Rockets might be at the top of the West.
10. Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week #11)
Kobe and the Lakers are only 1 1/2 games behind the Clippers in the division, and they have also played three more games than the Clippers. They will likely seek to make a trade before the deadline, either for a big name player like Dwight Howard, or even for a quality point guard like Ramon Sessions of the Cavaliers.
11. Memphis Grizzlies (Last Week #10)
Memphis has won five out of six and are only two games out of fourth in the West. They face Dallas on Wednesday before having a winnable stretch of games against Toronto, Detroit, Golden State, and Phoenix.
12. Minnesota Timberwolves (Last Week #17)
The T’Wolves have won four of their last five, with the loss being a two-point overtime loss to Denver. Kevin Love took home the honors in the 3-Point Shootout at All-Star Weekend, and he represented his team well in Orlando. They are sitting at the .500 mark and are only one game out of the eighth spot in the West.
13. Philadelphia 76ers (Last Week #7)
The 76ers limped into the break, losing five straight, but still hold a 3 1/2 game lead over the Knicks in their division. At 20-14 the Sixers are a lock for the playoffs barring a complete collapse, and they simply need to play around the .500 mark to hold on to their division lead.
14. Portland Trail Blazers (Last Week #15)
The Blazers had a 40-point win over the Spurs in their last game, which doubled their margin of victory from Saturday’s game against Atlanta. Sitting at 18-16, they are only 1/2 game above the Nuggets in the eighth spot and will face the Nuggets on Wednesday to determine who will hold that spot later this week.
15. Atlanta Hawks (Last Week #13)
The Hawks continue to be an above-average team in the relatively weak Eastern Conference, but not even near the level of the leaders. They are 2-5 in their last seven games and may have to think about giving a disgruntled Tracy McGrady more playing time.
16. New York Knicks (Last Week #9)
The Linsanity has begun to settle down, as the Knicks are 2-3 following their seven-game win streak that got them to the .500 mark. The question that will be answered in the coming weeks is how well Jeremy Lin and Carmelo Anthony can play together.
17. Denver Nuggets (Last Week #18)
Denver has posted a miserable record of 4-10 this month, but the Nuggets still find themselves only 1/2 game behind Portland for the last playoff spot in the West. They have only won once in their last six games, and this includes two overtime losses. The Nuggets must find a way to close out games if they want to stay in the playoff race, especially with Minnesota ready to overtake them in the standings.
18. Cleveland Cavaliers (Last Week #20)
Rising Stars Game MVP Kyrie Irving has been fantastic all season long, and he has the Cavs sitting only 1 1/2 games behind the slumping Celtics for the eighth spot in the East. Their next two games come against the Knicks and Celtics, who are sitting at seventh and eighth respectively in the East.
19. Boston Celtics (Last Week #16)
After starting February at a mark of 4-0, the Celtics are 1-7 since. This includes two losses against Detroit, with the only win, surprisingly, coming over the Bulls. I cannot put them out of the teens until they fall out of the playoff race, which could happen this week.
20. Golden State Warriors (Last Week #24)
The Warriors went 2-0 in the days leading up to the All-Star break, which includes a win over the Clippers. Even at 13-17, they are only three games out of eighth in the West. They have played fewer games than most of the league, which means they must have a winning record in the second half to try and contend for a playoff berth.
21. Utah Jazz (Last Week #19)
Even coming off a three-game losing streak, the Jazz are only two games out of the playoff picture. They have a relatively easy schedule in March, and should be able to get back to the .500 mark. Maybe if Deron Williams would not have demanded to go to the lowly Nets, both he and the Jazz may be better off.
22. Phoenix Suns (Last Week #21)
The Suns do not play again until Thursday, which means that they will finish the month at a mark of 7-7. Playoff hopes might be far-fetched, but the Suns appear to be turning it around after a 7-13 start.
23. Milwaukee Bucks (Last Week #22)
The Bucks have gone 1-6 since an overtime win against Cleveland on February 10th. They are now 2 1/2 games behind the Celtics for the eighth spot in the East. Following their game against the Wizards on Tuesday, they play six straight against teams currently in the playoff picture in the East.
24. Detroit Pistons (Last Week #23)
After a horrendous 4-19 start, the Pistons have gone 7-5 in February, which includes the two aforementioned wins over the Celtics. Their problem lies in the fact that they put themselves in such a hole to start the season that all this winning will only give them a lower draft pick.
25. New Orleans Hornets (Last Week #26)
The Hornets have the worst record in the West and the third worst record in the NBA. However, they are 4-2 in their last six, including a win that ended the winning streak for Jeremy Lin and the Knicks.
26. Toronto Raptors (Last Week #28)
The Raptors are 3-8 this month, which means another year in the lottery for Toronto. They must draft a great player soon, because I don’t see any relevant free agents heading across the border.
27. New Jersey Nets (Last Week #25)
Deron Williams is the main reason the Nets aren’t currently in the basement of the East. Dwight Howard will not want to go to a 10-25 team, and Williams will likely try to leave once he is able.
28. Sacramento Kings (Last Week #27)
The Kings lost six in a row before defeating the Wizards on Wednesday. They do not have the worst record in the West, but they sure are playing like they do. Maybe allowing Demarcus Cousins to get what he wanted wasn’t a smart idea.
29. Washington Wizards (Last Week #29)
The Wizards have talent on the roster, but they lack a strong defense. They have allowed over 100 points in all nine of their losses this month.
30. Charlotte Bobcats (Last Week #30)
The Bobcats have three wins in 2012, and only four on the season. The only thing they have to look forward to in Charlotte is another promising rookie for next year.