I gave the season a full month before I felt it was time to release the first top 10 and bottom five of the season. It’s a ranking of the ten best teams and the five worst teams, because that’s what the season is really all about.
There are no more than 10 teams that truly have a chance to claim the NBA title. On the flip side, the race for the most lottery chances is going to be a feverish one with many experts believing this year's crop of prospects to be as strong as any, at least since the 2003 draft that produced LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh.
So here it is as we start the week of Dec. 2, 2013, the NBA’s Top Ten and Five
1. Indiana (16-1) – Fresh off an impressive road win in Los Angeles over the Clippers, This was an easy choice. They have the league’s best record are undefeated in Indiana (9-0), and their 86.5ppg allowed is five points better than the league’s second stingiest defense (SA – 91.6). Paul George looks ready to make a realistic run at the MVP this year.
2. Miami (14-3) – They get the nod over the Spurs thanks to riding a ten-game winning streak. The unfortunate part is they, like the Pacers, are barely going to be challenged over the regular season because the eastern conference is incredibly weak. They already have losses to three teams, Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Boston, who will hard pressed, even in a weak conference, to make the playoffs.
3. San Antonio (14-3) – The Spurs have lost two of their last three, including their first home loss of the season to Houston, who had them down 23 points, before the Spurs stormed back to take the lead, only to fall short in the end. Free agent addition Marco Belinelli has been a revelation, shooting 56.5 percent on 3-pointers thus far.
4. Oklahoma City (12-3) – They didn’t have to try and hold it together for long, waiting for Russell Westbrook to come back since he missed only three games. But that’s not even the bad news for the rest of the west. The bad news is the Thunder are undefeated at home (9-0) and have wins over the Clippers, Spurs and Warriors all while Westbrook is shooting under 40 percent from the floor.
5. LA Clippers (12-6) – Don’t be fooled by their six losses, this team is very, very good and only getting better. Their record against the other teams in this top ten is 4-3, meaning seven of their first 18 games have been against the league’s best. DeAndre Jordan has become a force on the glass, his 12.8 boards per game rank second to Kevin Love’s 13.6 and Chris Paul is playing like he wants the MVP. His 12.1 assists per game and three more than any other player, he’s posted a double-double in all but two games, he’s shooting nearly 52 percent from the floor and he’s missed only nine free throws in 101 attempts this season.
6. Houston (13-5) – Their spot here at six is buoyed by their improbable win in San Antonio on Saturday. They raced out to a 23-point lead, then trailed by five in the fourth quarter before scoring the final nine points of the game to post the hard-fought win. Their early season schedule had been busy, with only two teams have played more often than they have. An early season win in Portland is starting to look very good considering that is still the Blazers only home loss.
7. Portland (14-3) – It feels a little like a slap in the face to place the team atop the western conference at number six in the rankings, but two lopsided losses to Phoenix are a bit troubling. They’ll have a chance to prove me wrong immediately with games against Indiana, Oklahoma City, Dallas and Houston, all within the next two weeks. LaMarcus Aldridge has been very good, but it’s the team’s 3-point shooting that is carrying them. The team is shooting over 41 percent on 3-pointers.
8. Golden State (10-8) – If they were healthy, I doubt they’d ever be ranked any lower than this the rest of the year. Curry is a bonafide star and the top six in their rotation is superb. But Curry’s already missed three games with a concussion, free agent addition Andre Iguodala has missed the first five of many games to be missed with a hamstring injury and they are still counting heavily on Andrew Bogut, who has played less than 70 games in all but two of his nine NBA seasons (I know one of them was a 66-game strike shortened season!)
9. Denver (10-6) – They are taking a little time to adapt to new coach Brian Shaw’s style, but there is plenty of talent in Denver, even without Danilo Gallinari, who could still miss several more months recovering from his knee injury. They only have one true scorer in Ty Lawson, who has been outstanding this season (20.6 ppg, 8.2 apg), but they have seven other guys giving them between eight and eleven points per game.
10. Dallas (10-6) – Not many, including me, liked their offseason overhaul in the backcourt, adding Joes Calderson and Monta Ellis. But shame on me for doubting their head coach Rick Carlisle would make it work and get the most of his roster. Ellis is having the best season of his career and Dirk Nowitzki looks rejuvenated. Calderon has added great 3-point shooting at 47.8 percent and DeJuan Blair is their leading rebounder at 7.8 per game, despite playing just 21 minutes a game off their bench.
Who’s Next – Minnesota (9-10), Memphis (8-8)
And now the bottom five (in reverse order):
5. Cleveland (5-12) – This is very troubling. There is no way a team with this many recent first round picks, including Kyrie Irving, should be losing as often and as badly as they do. They are the league’s third-worst shooting team and their points per possession is also third from the bottom.
4. New York (3-13) – Anthony is by far their most talented player. I still maintain, after LeBron, Anthony is the most gifted offensive player in the league. It is appalling that he does nothing for his team to help them win. Without him, they’d get run out of the building, with him, they merely lose. Once Tyson Chandler went down, so did the Knicks
3. Sacramento (4-11) – I have to say, I like a lot of what Sacramento is doing, but they just don’t win. DeMarcus Cousins is still terrifying to watch, but has been very productive. Point guard Isaiah Thomas has probably been the NBA’s top sixth man scoring 17.1 points per game. Their problem is they have no one else who consistently plays well alongside those two.
2. Utah (3-15) – They have the league’s worst record, but with rookie Trey Burke now healthy, I think Utah will make a slow climb from embarrassing to simply bad. They are 2-4 since Burke’s return (1-11 prior to that). Derrick Favors, Enes Kantor and Gordon Heyward will give them a chance against most nights against the non-playoff teams.
1. Milwaukee (3-13) – Losing Larry Sanders to an injured right thumb hurt, but this is a bad team with a bad roster. They also have clear intentions. Those are to remain right here, in the bottom five, all year long. There’s a good chance of that.