By Nick Sligh
In Week 19 of the NBA season, here are my top 10 teams in the league.
No. 1: Los Angeles Lakers (43-12) (Previous: 1) — Although the Lakers don’t hold the best record in the entire league, they still hold the best record in the Western Conference by a comfortable margin. As long as Lebron James and Anthony Davis are healthy, it is hard to see many teams being able to beat the Lakers, especially in a seven-game series.
No. 2: Milwaukee Bucks (49-8) (Previous: 2) — Milwaukee has clinched a playoff berth with two entire months remaining in the regular season. This is never an easy task, and the Bucks have done it in remarkable fashion. The Bucks are first in the league in defensive net rating, and third in offensive net rating. Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is potentially going to run away with his repeat of the MVP award, has been incredible and the single most dominant player in the league this season.
No. 3: Toronto Raptors (42-15) (Previous: 6) — Having lost only one game in the past month, the Raptors are playing at as high of a level right now as nearly anybody. Led by Pascal Siakam’s continued emergence and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors have risen as the primary threat to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference.
No. 4: Los Angeles Clippers (38-19) (Previous: 3) — Out of the top tier of teams in the NBA, the Clippers have possibly been the least consistent one. Injuries and embarrassing losses have come more often than expected for Doc Rivers’ squad. However, this is a team that still shows that it can compete with anybody in the league when fully healthy and in sync.
No. 5: Houston Rockets (37-20) (Previous: 9) — After trading Clint Capela to the Atlanta Hawks and acquiring Robert Covington from the Minnesota Timberwolves in a three-team trade, the Rockets have been 7-2. Essentially playing without a center, the Rockets are showing signs that their small lineup could potentially be dangerous, especially as they continue to further develop chemistry.
No. 6: Boston Celtics (39-17) (Previous: 7) — Top-five in the league in both offensive rating and defensive rating, the Celtics have continued to play solid team basketball. Jayson Tatum has continued his development and seems to be truly emerging into a superstar player. Tatum and Kemba Walker have also provided consistent scoring for the Celtics. Boston appears to be one of the most suitable challengers to the Bucks to make it out of the Eastern Conference this season.
No. 7: Denver Nuggets (39-18) (Previous: 5) — The Nuggets are certainly grateful to be back at full health after a significant period troubled by minor injuries. Only five games back of the Lakers, a now-healthy Denver appears to have the potential to make a strong push for the second seed in the Western Conference (and maybe even an outside shot at the top seed).
No. 8: Miami Heat (36-21) (Previous: 8) — Sitting at 4-6 in its last 10 games, Miami is at one of the lower points of this regular season currently. Following an All-Star break that saw Bam Adebayo win the skills challenge and Derrick Jones Jr. win the dunk contest, the Heat have now returned as a team with losses to the Hawks and the Cavaliers. There is no doubt that this team still has potential to compete in the Eastern Conference, but it is beginning to look less formidable.
No. 9: Philadelphia 76ers (36-22) (Previous: 6) — Following the Joel Embiid drama, amends appear to have been made between the superstar center and the city of brotherly love. Coming off of a career-high 49 points, Embiid has returned from the All-Star Break with great momentum. Although the 76ers still have lingering chemistry issues, this is a team that seems to have potential far beyond what they have shown for most of the regular season.
No. 10: Utah Jazz (36-21) (Previous: 10) — After a dominant January, the Jazz have begun to stumble as of late. 4-7 in their last 11 games, and currently riding a three-game losing streak, Utah seems to have lost the momentum that it had going for a significant stretch. Jordan Clarkson continues to be a pleasant surprise for Utah, but the team’s recent defensive struggles have allowed its momentum to escape.
Contact Nick Sligh at nick1019 ‘at’ stanford.edu.