Indiana Pacers January 2013
In the NBA as it stands today, a small winning-streak can take a team from a hypothetical lottery pick to playoff-contention in the span of a week or two.

In the Eastern Conference, this is especially true with teams right at or slightly above the .500-mark historically making the playoffs.  In the Western Conference, there is a bit more disparity. Teams usually need to be in the 3-6 games above .500 range at season’s end to even have a chance of making a post-season appearance.

Winning-streaks are not all that hard to come by for teams that play unselfish basketball, have a little luck on their side and play to their potential during a favorable portion of their schedule. Two teams did just this and took advantage of the circumstances presented to them.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have put together a 12-game winning-streak that put them ahead of the rest of the Western Conference back in December. More recently, the Los Angeles Clippers miraculously went 17 games without losing, a winning-streak that spanned an entire month of basketball.  This marked one of the longest winning streaks in NBA history.

These teams were the personification of “hot” teams in the NBA at that time. Both of those winning streaks have since ended, as did the Charlotte Bobcats' losing-streak of 18 games in a row at the end of 2012.

A team does not necessarily need to be on an extended winning or losing-streak to be hot or not. Strength of opponents and road trips versus home stands are also taken into account. Keeping all this in mind, let’s take a look at who is playing the best basketball right now and who is playing the worst.

Who's Hot

Paul George January 2013

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets look like a completely different team since their front office made the decision to fire Avery Johnson and elected P.J. Carlesimo as the new head coach. The team, and most importantly Deron Williams, looks motivated and hungry to get themselves back into the Eastern Conference race.

Before the firing, Williams looked lethargic and uninspired for long stretches of the games. He is back to his old ways, now averaging in the 18-points, seven-assists and five-rebounds range over the past seven games.  His play as well as improvements made by many of his running mates has translated into a 6-1 record to start Carlesimo’s head coaching gig.

Their one loss was at the hands of the Spurs and one of their best wins came against the Western Conference favorite, the Thunder.  They are the 6th seed as of right now in the East, having a 20-15 record.  They have the Suns coming to Brooklyn Friday night, so I expect them to stay red-hot and continue to climb up the Eastern Conference standings.

Indiana Pacers

The Pacers are reemerging as one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference based on their play the past two weeks.  They now have unseated the Hawks for the third-best record in the conference, have gone 8-2 in their last ten games. They currently have an overall record of 21-14 going into a match-up with the Knicks tonight.

Just this month, the Pacers have gone 3-1 with a notable win over the Heat. Paul George has been excellent lately and looks like the future of this franchise. Roy Hibbert is pulling down rebounds the way he was last year as well.  There is no reason to interrupt the current rotations or chemistry Indiana has going.

For this reason, many believe when Danny Granger returns from injury and proves he can still be elite, he will moved.  He is expendable at this point and he will also be taking away George’s minutes at the small forward position. I like them in the East because of how they are built; good big men in the middle, a nice player out on the wing in George, and strong play in the backcourt.

This team took Miami to the brink of an early playoff-exit last year and cannot be counted out, especially since they have found their rhythm.

Houston Rockets

James Harden has played as well as anyone affiliated with the Rockets association or fanbase could have ever hoped. He is averaging 26.5 points per contest and is right in the thick of the MVP-conversation as we near the halfway point of the season. He is the franchise player Daryl Morey has been searching for since Yao Ming retired.

The Rockets are shooting up the standings faster than any team because they are finally just that: a team. The atmosphere surrounding the Rockets organization is changing with the infusion of talent this off-season. They are now seen as a potential menace for any one of the top 5 teams in the West where merely weeks ago many would have disregarded them as a non-threat.

Jeremy Lin is playing pretty decent basketball and Omer Asik is making the Bulls regret the fact that they let him go. The emergence of Patrick Patterson and Chandler Parsons has also been key for the team’s recent success.

They currently sit at 6th in the West with a record of 21-15 and have won seven of their last ten.  Not bad for a team often viewed as one going through a transition phase. They are not elite by any means, but they are relevant and any team that does not give them the time of day will find themselves losing to this young, up-and-coming team by a lot.

San Antonio Spurs

How can a team led by three 30-plus-year-olds still be a hot team amongst the high-flyers and young guns of this league? The answer lies in the play of their three stars: Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, who have been consistently great every single time they have taken the floor.

The Spurs are 8-2 in their last ten contests and currently sit in 3rd in the West, trailing only the Clippers and Thunder for best record in the NBA. Gregg Popovich is one of the best coaches around and his team plays like one of the best coached teams. They have the ability to take down any of the top teams this year.

In the past, when it comes down to crunch time, they have not been able to get the job done. What’s different about this year’s team is they are getting All-Star level production out of Duncan.  He has been their man in the middle for years and years and yet he is putting up almost career best numbers this season even at the age of 36.

They have only lost one game in the New Year and I expect them to finish right where they are now in the standings looking at home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Who's Not


Orlando Magic

The Magic are struggling very badly right now having lost their last ten games in a row. Formerly a team known to be in the thick of things in the East, the Magic now linger near the bottom of the standings and are missing a real star to lead them.

They have suffered injuries, making the road a little tougher, but there is no excuse for ten straight losses by any professional team.  They have no young, budding stars or prospects that could be traded to improve their team this year or in the future either.  Their first priority is getting healthy then it should be preparing for free agency and the draft so they can try to introduce new players into the fold.

Moe Harkless can be a great role player on the wing and Nikola Vucevic can really be a presence on the block when he’s playing up to his potential.  They will play the Clippers Saturday, which means their losing-streak will more than likely hit 11. On the other hand, after that they will see the Wizards.  That game is their best opportunity to break their losing streak and get going in the right direction again.

Philadelphia 76ers

Out of all 30 teams in the NBA this season, I cannot help but feel the worst about the ill-fortune the 76ers have experienced this season more than any other. They made every effort to bring in a top-tier star by trading for Andrew Bynum. As we all know, he has yet to play a game for them and has been more of an off-court distraction than the sign of a bright future he was supposed to represent.

There are a lot of what-ifs associated with this team’s season, which definitely widens the margin of error a bit.  However, that does not excuse an abysmal 2-8 in their last 10 games and an overall record of 15-22. There is no reason pointing out that they are 9th in the East because the difference between them and 8th is four games from the Celtics, who inhabit that spot and are the much better team.

I hope Jrue Holiday is not overlooked for All-Star consideration on behalf of his team’s poor record, because he has been a top 5 point guard in the Eastern Conference this season.  If Bynum makes a full-recovery and signs a long-term deal with them, they most certainly will be a top 4 playoff team in the East in 2014.

Dallas Mavericks

Oh how the mighty have fallen. No team has seen as dramatic a drop-off from one season to the next as the Mavs have had. It seems like a distant memory of a completely different team when venturing back to last year’s playoff-team. Sitting now at a dreadful 13-23, the team looks older, more injury-prone and less cohesive as a working unit.

Shawn Marion, Vince Carter and even Dirk Nowitzki all seem to be winding down towards the end of their respective careers.  O.J. Mayo has been a nice addition but will probably leave in the off-season for a huge sum of money and will be looking for a team trending towards the playoffs, not one that is past its prime as an annual contender.

Dallas has won only one of its last 10 games and right now is entirely removed from the playoff-picture. Mark Cuban took a chance this off-season going after Deron Williams and Dwight Howard aggressively.  Neither of those avenues proved beneficial for the Dallas franchise, but you cannot blame him for trying.

To make a return to relevance, they need to slot a star that can carry most of the scoring load in next to Nowitzki and make every effort to re-sign Mayo to a long-term deal.

Los Angeles Lakers

Some people may not have agreed with the estimation that the Lakers would be a shoe-in for Western Conference champs and make it to the NBA Finals, but I don’t think anyone could have imagined them being as terrible as they are.  If you have four All-Stars on your roster and two of the top 10 players in the league, you should never be five games below .500 or be irrelevant in terms of the playoff-race.

The Lakers are 15-20 overall and have only won four of their last 10, and are four-and-a-half games out of the 8th spot in the conference. Everyone seems to be holding tight, waiting for the storm to pass, but how long must we wait before declaring that this team is not going to be good?

They don’t play well together, the pieces don’t fit and the players don’t even seem to care if they win or lose. The Lakers are difficult to watch when they are playing their “me-first” style of basketball.  I will give this team no more excuses and I will deem them a subjugated team if they fail to reach the eighth seed in the West by the All-Star break.

It does not matter to me that you have Kobe Bryant, especially if he chooses to make his teammates play like bystanders.


NBA: Sacramento Kings at Charlotte Bobcats

The great thing about this sport is just as quickly as these teams are “hot”, they could be “hot” and vice-versa. The unpredictability factor is what draws many fans in, adding more intrigue to each and every match-up.

Most fans would not be excited about a Bobcats-Kings game., but I do get excited because what I see is not their records this season or their low probability of making the playoffs; I see star potential and the early design of two teams that will one day be atop their Conference.  Just because they aren’t playoff caliber teams doesn’t mean they can’t get hot just like any other team in the NBA.

My point is to keep an open mind and watch every game for the true value of what they bring to the table. Sometimes it will be interesting for today’s purposes and other times it will be more interesting based on what it implicates for the future. These are a few of the reasons why I will always be a fan and love looking for teams doing very well within their limits and other teams not living up to their expectations.


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