Who Are the NBA’s Top Five?
January 20, 2009 by Brian Cox • Print Story •
The Cavs are on a roll, the champion Celtics are sliding, and don't look now, but Old Faithful from the city of the Alamo have stated their case yet again. Here's a look at the top five rankings of January.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (31-8)
LeBron James' past failures have fueled his successes and is now rubbing off on his team. After redemption this past summer in the Beijing Olympics with Team USA, King James has brought the Cavs to the top of East after a tough playoff exit in 2008. No one has figured out how to beat them at home (20-0) and if they can play solidly on the road through the season and into the playoffs, the road to the finals may pass through the banks of Lake Erie.
After the dismantling of the Celtics a week ago, LeBron, Mo Williams, and Co. may be looking to sit atop the Eastern Conference for a while. They will be without the services of Delonte West, who is expected to miss the next six weeks with a broken wrist. However, does anyone doubt that The Chosen One won't step up to compensate in his absence?
2. Orlando Magic (33-8)
If there was a "quiet success" story of the league, this team would be the winner. Equally tough at home and on the road, the Magic have started this year on fire, winning on the road at arguably the top two teams in the West, the Spurs and Lakers. With a well-balanced lineup, if the focus is too much on Dwight Howard, the versatility of Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu will make teams pay. Mickael Pietrus, when healthy, provides a spark in scoring and Jameer Nelson has shown the same steady play at point guard that made him the top college player in the county at St. Joseph's. The Magic have already thrown their name in the discussion in the East with Boston and Cleveland.
3. L.A. Lakers (32-8)
Won a critical Christmas Day game in a Finals rematch against the Celtics, but the Lakers have struggled recently, with losses to New Orleans and Orlando at home and close games against Miami and Indiana. The reigning MVP is continuing play at high level, but he'll need Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to contribute even more now that there are injuries to significant role players Jordan Farmar and Luke Walton, who will both miss time, and Lamar Odom fighting nagging injuries again. The contributions of the role players in Tinseltown will be key down the stretch in the West.
4. San Antonio Spurs (27-13)
Sorry to all the Spurs detractors, but the "boringest team" in the league will not go away. All the Spurs have done over the last decade is win, four championships to be exact. And while Tim Duncan isn't the dominant force he once was, this is more a balanced veteran Spurs squad that keeps on plugging. Sound familiar? Tony Parker still handles the team from the point and Manu Ginobli seems to step up when needed the most.
The most pleasant surprise of this season has to be Roger Mason, Jr., who came to San Antonio as a free agent from Washington and has averaged 12 points a game and won two critical games with big shots. First, against the arch-nemesis Suns on Christmas Day and last week, at home against the Lakers. It must bore you to death, but count the Spurs being in the discussion for the rest of the season and well into the spring.
5. Boston Celtics (34-9)
Talk about the best team ever? 70 wins? Breezing through the regular season? Gone. The champs started the year on fire, starting 28-2, but including a Christmas Day loss in L.A., they've gone on a mini-swoon, going 2-7 since, including a humbling loss to Cleveland. Still, the Celtics will rebound. Having possible three future Hall of Famers and a budding base of youth with Rajon Rondo, Kedrick Perkins, and Leon Powe means Boston will not be in a free-fall for long. Boston will be back to challenge for their crown again.