On the other side of the NBA spectrum, the Cleveland Cavaliers have worked out their issues since Shaq got hurt, and are back to playing championship-caliber basketball.
Congrats, Cavs, you’re back on top (for now):
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (52-15, Last Week: 2)
The Cavs have won three straight, and have survived minor injury scares to both LeBron James and Antawn Jamison in the past week.
They’re way ahead of the pack out East, and anything short of an appearance in the Finals would be even more disappointing than last season.
2. Orlando Magic (47-21, Last Week: 3)
Orlando was rolling before losing at home to Charlotte Sunday.
Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson were dreadful that night, combining for just seven points on awful 3-17 shooting, including 1-9 from three-point range.
3. Dallas Mavericks (45-22, Last Week: 1)
The Mavs’ streak was stopped in shocking fashion Saturday night, with a 128-94 drubbing at home at the hands of the Knicks.
Dallas was outscored in each quarter that night, including 70-46 in the second half.
4. Los Angeles Lakers (49-18, Last Week: 5)
The defending champs have won three straight, but it hasn’t been easy.
They beat Toronto by two, Phoenix by six, and Golden State by three.
5. Denver Nuggets (45-22, Last Week: 4)
The Nuggets just had their six-game winning streak snapped by blowing a game in Houston Monday night by a score of 125-123.
It was the first time all season that Denver had lost a game in which they scored at least 110 points.
6. Milwaukee Bucks (36-29, Last Week: 11)
Those crazy Bucks are rolling, and have won six straight as of Tuesday.
They’re spry, young, and energetic, and could spell deep trouble for the aging Boston Celtics should they meet in the first round of the playoffs.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder (41-24, Last Week: 10)
Speaking of hot teams, OKC is just about as hot as anybody right now, having notched wins in each of their last five games.
Second-year guard Russell Westbrook is becoming a triple-double threat each and every night, and is averaging 19 points, nine assists, and six rebounds during the streak.
8. Atlanta Hawks (42-23, Last Week: 9)
Atlanta just keeps chugging along under the radar, and sits a half-game ahead of Boston for the third spot in the East.
That will be a very important race down the stretch, as whomever wins the third seed gets to avoid a potential matchup with Cleveland until the Eastern Conference Finals.
9. Charlotte Bobcats (34-31, Last Week: 16)
On the outside looking in a week ago, the Bobcats have rallied to win six in a row and have vaulted up to sixth in the East.
They’re scrappy enough to earn the label of “A team nobody wants to play come playoff time.”
10. Utah Jazz (43-24, Last Week: 6)
The Jazz, despite consecutive losses to perhaps the two hottest teams in the league (Milwaukee and OKC), are still right in the mix for the coveted second or third seed in the West.
Carlos Boozer has been having a great season, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens to Utah if he ends up leaving as a free agent this summer.
Luckily for them, it certainly doesn’t hurt that they hold the Knicks’ upcoming lottery pick.
11. Phoenix Suns (41-26, Last Week: 8)
After losing a tough one at home to the Lakers, the Suns were able to rebound and easily beat the slumping Hornets Sunday.
Amar’e Stoudemire has upped his game in a major way since the trade deadline, and is averaging 31 points and 11 rebounds per game over the last five.
12. San Antonio Spurs (39-25, Last Week: 12)
Surprisingly, the Spurs haven’t missed a beat without Tony Parker, as George Hill has stepped right into the starting point guard duties and has helped them to three straight wins.
He should get some dark-horse consideration for the Most Improved Player Award as his numbers continue to rise.
13. Portland Trail Blazers (41-28, Last Week: 14)
Like the Spurs, the Blazers are playing their best basketball of the season at the right time.
With the way Nate McMillan has been able to keep his team in the playoff picture despite a vast array of injuries all season long, he should be the favorite for Coach of the Year.
14. Boston Celtics (42-24, Last Week: 7)
The C’s have lost three of five, with the three losses coming against teams in the playoff hunt and the two wins coming over doormats.
They’ll certainly be tested in the next week, as four of their next five are against Houston, Dallas, Utah, and Denver.
15. Miami Heat (35-32, Last Week: 13)
The inconsistent Heat currently hold a tenuous three-game lead over the ninth place Bulls.
The next two weeks will be crucial, as they’ll face Charlotte, Chicago, and Milwaukee as they all battle for playoff spots.
16. Houston Rockets (34-31, Last Week: 18)
Calling the Rockets’ playoff chances anything other than “slim” at this point would be a stretch, but they’ve been playing some good basketball lately and have won three straight games.
Luis Scola has been a man possessed in the last week, averaging 27 points and 13 rebounds per game.
They’re currently five games behind the eight-place Blazers.
17. Memphis Grizzlies (35-32, Last Week: 17)
Memphis is tied with Houston for ninth in the West, and the playoffs seem almost out of reach.
However, this season has been an enormously surprising success no matter what happens down the stretch, and Lionel Hollins is another solid Coach of the Year candidate.
18. Toronto Raptors (32-33, Last Week: 15)
The Raptors have been consistently inconsistent all season. No wonder why Chris Bosh wants out.
19. Chicago Bulls (31-34, Last Week: 20)
I’d put these two teams closer to the bottom if they weren’t “fighting it out” for the final playoff spot in the East.
The Raptors have lost five in a row, and the Bulls have dropped seven straight.
It’s almost as if they’re trying to get the NBA to change its playoff structure in order to allow the 16 best records to qualify.
Good luck to whichever team snags that playoff spot, as they’ll be rewarded by a prompt four-game sweep at the hands of LeBron’s Cavaliers.
20. New Orleans Hornets (33-35, Last Week: 19)
Rookie point guard Darren Collison continues his amazing play with Chris Paul watching from the bench.
He’s averaging 14 points and 13 assists in his last five games, including a nice 20-assist effort in a win over the Warriors last week.
21. New York Knicks (24-43, Last Week: 21)
The “Still waiting for 2010″‘s have looked great in their last two games, both wins.
They avenged a 50-point loss to Dallas earlier in the season by halting the Mavs’ 13-game winning streak in dominating fashion Saturday night.
Second-year forward Bill Walker has emerged as a solid, if still inconsistent, player since being acquired from Boston at the deadline.
22. Detroit Pistons (23-44, Last Week: 22)
The Pistons play the Cavs twice and the Pacers twice in their next four games.
…and that’s just about everything interesting I have here.
23. Sacramento Kings (23-44, Last Week: 25)
Remember when the Kings got off to that solid start in November and December?
They won 14 games over the course of those two months, but have won just nine in the two-plus months since.
24. Philadelphia 76ers (23-44, Last Week: 23)
Philly has lost five straight, and is 1-9 in the last 10 games.
They face the Nets Wednesday in what could shape up to be the worst basketball game ever played.
25. Golden State Warriors (18-48, Last Week: 28)
To their credit, you can’t accuse the Warriors of tanking down the stretch.
They’ve lost three of their last four games, but none of the losses have been by more than five points.
26. Indiana Pacers (21-45, Last Week: 27)
Despite having lost six of seven, the Pacers actually jumped a spot this week, by virtue of everybody else playing so horribly.
They’ll get the chance to play “spoiler” in the next week or so, with games against Charlotte, Cleveland, and Oklahoma City.
27. Los Angeles Clippers (25-43, Last Week: 24)
Interim head coach Kim Hughes has directed his Clippers to a 4-14 record since taking over, including eight straight losses.
They’ve been getting absolutely whipped during the streak, which makes you wonder if they’re tanking, or if they’re actually just that horrible.
28. Washington Wizards (21-44, Last Week: 26)
Speaking of horrible, the Wiz have also lost eight in a row.
However, they actually might have an excuse. Their schedule during the current skid: at Milwaukee, vs. Milwaukee, at Boston, vs. Houston, vs. Atlanta, at Detroit, vs. Orlando, at Utah.
Next four games: at Denver, at Portland, at LA Lakers, vs. Charlotte.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-53, Last Week: 29)
Minny’s ineptitude this season has been completely overshadowed by that of the Nets.
What happens if they land the first pick? Is John Wall good enough to give up on Jonny Flynn/Ricky Rubio, or will they have to take Evan Turner?
95. New Jersey Nets (7-59, Last Week: 30)
Why are the Nets 95th, you ask?
Because they’re probably worse than each of the 65 teams in the NCAA tourney, that’s why.