Closing out 2009, this is how the NBA looks right now.
1. Los Angeles Lakers – (25-6) – It’s been a tough last week for the Lakeshow. They flat out did not show up against the Cavs on Christmas day, then Ron Artest goes down and they struggle against a high octane Phoenix team because they couldn’t guard the three point line. Still, the only problem with the Lakers is their bench, and that doesn’t always matter in the post-season. When the Lakers play their best game, nobody is better, and I am sure everybody will admit that. Of late, Kobe has been going off. This month Bryant is averaging 31 points, six rebounds and five assists a game and, more specifically, in his past five games, Kobe has been putting in 38 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals. On the flip side, Andrew Bynum has been on a decline. The Lakers claim his dip in production is due to a respiratory issue and some tightness in his knee but some skeptics think it’s connected with Pau Gasol’s return to the line-up. Either way, his play must improve for the Lakers to maintain the number one spot.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers – (26-8) – They are on a surge right now, winning six straight against the Suns, Kings, Lakers, Rockets, and the Hawks twice (or once, depending on how the protest goes). During this stretch, Mo Williams has been playing out of his mind. In his past six games, Williams is averaging 22 points and six assists and he has been shooting a lights out 53% from behind the arc. If Mo keeps this up throughout the regular season and the playoffs, where he fell off of the face of the earth last season, then it’s not crazy to think we will see a seven game series between Kobe and LeBron at the end of the year.
3. Orlando Magic – (23-8) – It’s been a weird season in Orlando thus far. They lost Jameer Nelson early, Vince Carter is just getting in his groove, Rashard Lewis is still bouncing back from missing the first 10 games of the year, Dwight Howard isn’t showing too much improvement in his offensive game that we all expected and Superman seems to be very frustrated when his lack of touches and the hard fouls he receives when he catches down low culminate. Carter is the team’s leading scorer with 19 points a game but there are still /questions about his ability to create mismatches. There is no reason that Dwight should not be a 20/15/3 blocks guy, but he sitting below those numbers with 17/13/3. I’m not saying those aren’t great or amazing, but I don’t think Howard has gotten to his ceiling yet and I will continue to wait for that day.
4. Boston Celtics – (23-8) – The Celtics aren’t fourth because I think the Cavs or the Magic are better than them, but they are fourth because of all of the injuries they have suffered. When all of these teams are healthy, I’d take Boston over everyone except Los Angeles. But right now, they are missing Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo is banged up so they have lost three straight games to the Clippers, Warriors and Suns. To be fair, those loses came after a very impressive win on Christmas day over the Magic when they were still missing Pierce. Rondo will be an All-Star, but that’s the only Celtic that should be in Dallas.
5. Atlanta Hawks – (21-10) – After getting out hustled on their home floor, the Hawks traveled to Cleveland and did everything to win. Had it not been for the shot clock malfunction, they would have won that game. They have a very good team but I will get a much better feel for this team after they play Boston at home and then travel to Orlando and Boston in a four day stretch in January (8th-11th). If they can take two of those games, they deserve to be in this category. If not, they probably don’t deserve to be here. Joe Johnson is still putting up great numbers under the radar, scoring 22 a game with five assists and five rebounds.