By Nick Sligh
First and foremost, rest in peace to Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant and everybody else who tragically passed away on Sunday in a helicopter accident in Southern California. I think I speak for many when I say that it was a pleasure and an inspiration to watch somebody dominate with such a passion at the highest level of the world. It seemed like Kobe was going to stay involved in the game of basketball and the NBA for another forty years, and it is devastating that he is gone so soon. The memories of growing up and watching Kobe cement himself as a legend in the NBA will never go away.
In Week 15 of the NBA season, here are my top-10 teams in the league.
No. 1: Los Angeles Lakers (36-10) (Previous: 1) – The Lakers success simply speaks for itself at this point of the season. There isn’t too much that needs to be said. The Lakers have been dominant and have two of the NBA’s best players playing at their highest levels at the moment.
No. 2: Milwaukee Bucks (40-6) (Previous: 2) – The MVP favorite, Giannis Antetokounmpo, has had the Bucks consistently at the top of the league for the entire season. Right now, the Lakers and Bucks look just a cut above all of the other teams in the league. These two could very well continue their respective successes all the way to a potential Finals matchup.
No. 3: Los Angeles Clippers (33-14) (Previous: 3) – This regular season has been primarily overshadowed with injuries and “load management,” but the Clippers still continue to succeed. Although Paul George has been out with a hamstring injury since the beginning of the month, the Clippers are 8-2 in their last 10 games. Kawhi Leonard has been incredibly dominant over this stretch of games, averaging 35 points per game and 8 rebounds per game.
No. 4: Utah Jazz (32-14) (Previous: 4) – 19-2 in their last 21 games, the Jazz have been the team that has improved the most since the early parts of the season. Just now getting Mike Conley back from injury, Utah hopes to increase their already very strong momentum. With the backcourt tandem of Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley, the frontcourt presence of Rudy Gobert, and the shooting of Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles, the Jazz have really begun to establish themselves as one of the “next-tier” favorites for a title push.
No. 5: Denver Nuggets (32-14) (Previous: 7) – The Nuggets are another team that has had to deal with its share of injuries as of late, but nevertheless, they have quietly continued to succeed. Denver is certainly one of the most quiet teams in the league, and their success of late shouldn’t go unnoticed. With depth, youth and great coaching, Denver is cementing itself as one of the “next-tier” title contenders.
No. 6: Toronto Raptors (32-14) (Previous: NR) – Led by Eastern Conference All-Star starter Pascal Siakam, the Raptors are on a seven-game winning streak. Siakam’s offensive game has made great strides as of late, and his defense continues to anchor a phenomenal Raptors defense, which is the second in the entire NBA in efficiency. Siakam and the Raptors are certainly not out of the Eastern Conference picture and will continue to improve as the season goes along.
No. 7: Boston Celtics (30-15) (Previous: 5) – The Celtics’ recent dominant victory over the Lakers shows that they are a very serious threat when at the top of their game. A handful of injuries have had an impact on the Celtics recently, with Jayson Tatum, Enes Kanter and Jaylen Brown all missing time. 5-5 in the last 10 games, the injuries have taken a toll on Boston’s depth and have led to some inconsistency. However, a fully healthy Celtics team has the ability to compete with basically anybody.
No. 8: Miami Heat (32-14) (Previous: 8) – The only team in the Eastern Conference with a better record than Miami is Milwaukee. As far as record goes, the Heat are in great company. However, Miami’s play has been fairly inconsistent over the past month. With sub-par defense and the inability to close games, the Heat have dealt with some inconsistency over their most recent stretch. Still, with such a young roster, and such overall success this season, there is nothing right now to show that Miami won’t continue to compete for one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference.
No. 9: Houston Rockets (29-17) (Previous: 6) – James Harden’s current shooting slump has been well documented. Prior to a current minor thigh injury, Harden had shot 23% from deep over the past eight games. When a team’s offense is so reliant on Harden’s volume scoring, it is not surprising that the drop-off in production can lead to some very negative results for Houston. Russell Westbrook has greatly increased his play during Harden’s slump and now absence, but not enough to help the Rockets consistently win in the last few weeks. Over their last 10 games, Houston is 4-6 and is looking to find ways to get Harden healthy and out of his slump as quickly as possible.
No. 10: Philadelphia 76ers (30-17) (Previous: 10) – Philadelphia continues to hang in there, even with recent injuries to Joel Embiid and Josh Richardson. Despite having an offense that ranks in the bottom-third of the league, the 76ers have a top three defense in terms of efficiency at the moment. Philadelphia is another team that hasn’t quite played up to their level of talent. However, as the team gets healthier and the season becomes increasingly important, it would not be shocking to see the 76ers playing at an elite level soon.
Contact Nick Sligh at nick1019 ‘at’ stanford.edu.