11. Minnesota Timberwolves (8, -3): Two words: Kevin. Love.
12. Atlanta Hawks (12, NC): The Hawks aren’t that great, but as long as they can keep treading water they should have no problem locking up a 3rd-5th seed in the abysmal Eastern Conference.
13. New Orleans Pelicans (13, +1): Losing MVP-candidate Anthony Davis with a hand injury definitely sets them back, but they have the fire power to remain afloat until his inevitable return. Ryan Anderson is god among men from beyond the arc, hitting 3.6 threes per game at a 45.3-percent clip, and averaging 21.4 points per game in the process.
14. Phoenix Suns (21, +7): The Suns have been turning water into wine all season, somehow winning 13 of their first 22 games with a rather lackluster lineup. The question remains whether they will be buyers or sellers. They have two stud guards in Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic and they are winning, which would make it difficult to explain to fans if they started unloading pieces. Having four first-round picks in next year’s draft gives them a lot of leverage in a possible deadline deal.
15. Los Angeles Lakers (17, +2): Kobe finally made his triumphant return – and not without an exorbitant amount of fanfare. Unfortunately, the Lakers are 1-3 with him on the court after previously being 10-9 without him. A rift between coach Mike D’Antoni and Pau Gasol has led to rumors of Gasol being shipped out of town.
16. Detroit Pistons (23, +7): The Pistons are playing their best stretch of basketball all season, winning 5 of their last 8 games, with 3 of those wins coming on the road. Sixth Man of the Year candidate Rodney Stuckey is averaging 18.5 points per game since returning to the court after a two-game absence due to a knee injury.
17. Memphis Grizzlies (15, -2): It’s been a tough go of it all season for last year’s Western Conference runner-ups. The Grizz are 3-6 since Marc Gasol sprained his MCL on Nov. 22nd, and until he returns things will most likely continue to go south.
18. Chicago Bulls (10, -8): The Bulls are enduring yet another season without former-MVP Derrick Rose, but it’s not going quite as smoothly as it did last year. The Bulls are 9-13 and an atrocious 3-9 away from the United Center. Luol Deng is averaging 24.9 points in his last 7 games, but with an expiring contract, it’s only a matter of time before he’s sent packing from the Windy City.
19. Boston Celtics (28, +9): There really must be some truth to the phrase, “The Luck of the Irish”, because the Celtics seem to have it. An 11-14 record isn’t anything to crow about, but it has them atop the Atlantic Division and Rajon Rondo has finally been cleared for full-contact practice
20. Brooklyn Nets (27, +7): Tuesday’s win over Boston was special for Brooklyn because it was the first time since Nov. 15th that all of their big stars were healthy and in the lineup at the same time. Of course – as it is the Nets’ way – another injury occurred, leaving the team without Brook Lopez, and his sprained ankle, for an indefinitely amount of time. If they could maintain some health, the Nets would have promise, but that doesn’t look like it will happen any time soon.