21. New Orleans Pelicans (13, -8): In the matter of a week the Pelicans lost three key players with injuries. Ryan Anderson, the best three-point shooter in the NBA, injured his back in a scary fall vs. the Celtics and was deemed to have a herniated disc. Then Jrue Holiday went down with a stress fracture in his right tibia. Tyreke Evans was supposed to carry the load after the two went down, but he too injured himself, aggravating his sprained ankle. Anderson and Holiday are out indefinitely and all New Orleans can do is hope they return sooner than later, but it’s looking like the Pelicans are going to be on the short end of the stick come playoff time.
22. Charlotte Bobcats (17, -5): With 15 wins, the Bobcats are just six wins shy of matching last year’s total – with 44 games still to play. Credit goes to new coach Steve Clifford for instilling a defensive mindset in Charlotte (their 96.6 points allowed is fourth-best in the NBA), but even with their improved play, the ‘Cats are a ways away from being taken seriously.
23. Sacramento Kings (26, +3): Basketball is fun again in Sac-Town. DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas have the Kings running and gunning, leading them to wins in five of their last nine games, while averaging 106.7 points during that span. They won’t be competitive this year, but if new management keeps adding pieces to this young team, the Kings could make a name for themselves in the next few years.
24. Cleveland Cavaliers (27, +3): The biggest news of the week involved the Cavs and Andrew Bynum – but for once Bynum’s name didn’t incite boos from the Cleveland faithful. The oft-maligned (yet rightfully so) Bynum was traded to Chicago, along with three picks, for small forward Luol Deng. Deng brings veteran leadership and toughness to a team lacking a true second scoring option behind Kyrie Irving. This trade all of a sudden gives the Cavs some playoff aspirations and shows that management is willing to make moves in order to succeed.
25. Los Angeles Lakers (23, -2): It’s tank mode time in L.A. Following the Kobe Bryant knee injury the Lakers have gone into an all-out tailspin, losing 10 of 12 games without their star player. Injuries to Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar and Xavier Henry haven’t helped their cause, but let’s be serious, those guys weren’t gonna help much even if they were healthy.
26. Utah Jazz (28, +2): Like the Lakers, the Jazz were supposed to be in tank mode – but don’t tell them that! They’re far from anything special, but they have won six of their last 11 games and are no longer a guaranteed win for opponents. At 24.9 years of age, the Jazz have the fourth-youngest roster in the NBA and it’s hard to tell a bunch of kids to “try to lose”. They’re having a good time in Salt Lake City, and that’s how it should be.
27. Philadelphia 76ers (29, +2): The Sixers team we see now will look a lot different come March. It’s widely known that management will attempt to trade any assets of value, including Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes, but until then we’ll continue to watch one of the worst defensive teams ever assembled take the court every other night. The Sixers are allowing 110.9 points per game, 5.8 points more than the second-worst team, the Lakers.
28. Boston Celtics (20, -8): The Celtics situation is very similar to the one in Philly. They are a team with some pieces that could be moved to teams in the need of help during their playoff runs. The Celts are planning for the future with players such as Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, and vets Brandon Bass, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace could be deemed expendable. Celtics president Danny Ainge already made a move for the future earlier in the week, trading Courtney Lee to Memphis for Jerryd Bayless and his expiring contract.
29. Orlando Magic (25, -4): Things have gone from bad to worse in the Magic City. Since Thanksgiving Orlando is 4-18. During that span they have the worst won-loss record in the NBA, the worst team field goal percentage (41.8%) and the second-worst scoring offense at 92.3 points per game. Only the Bulls are averaging less points per game than Orlando during that time frame. All that being said, with a nice lottery pick this summer the Magic could set themselves up pretty well to build around a very young core of Victor Oladipo, Nik Vucevic and Tobias Harris.
30. Milwaukee Bucks (30, NC): I think I’m at the point where writing about the Bucks is futile, and there’s NFL Playoff football on right now, so I think I’ll leave this one to the imagination.