11. Dallas Mavericks (10, -1): Monta Ellis’ hamstring injury has got to be a concern for the Mavs. While it’s not supposed to be too serious, hammy pulls always tend to linger. Dallas can ill afford to have Ellis sit out. Ellis’ 19.5 points per game makes up almost 19 percent of the Mavs’ total scoring output. Dirk Nowitzki is having a fantastic season, but that might be too big of a load for his 35-year-old body to shoulder.
12. Minnesota Timberwolves (11, -1): The T’Wolves are yet another team that has been struck by the injury bug. News broke on Saturday that second-leading scorer Kevin Martin will be out indefinitely with a non-displaced fracture of his left thumb. It’s a tough blow to a team that already has Kevin Love dealing with numerous nagging injuries and behemoth center Nikola Pekovic still on the mend with bursitis in his ankle. The growing list of injuries will probably end up keeping Minnesota out of the playoffs.
13. Toronto Raptors (17, +4): It was a travesty that Kyle Lowry was left off the Eastern Conference All-Star team. The 27-year-old point guard has almost single-handedly led the Raptors to first place in the Atlantic Division. Over the last nine games he’s averaged 19.0 points, 7.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 2.7 3-pointers, which includes a triple-double on Jan. 24 vs. the Sixers. The question remains, though: will Lowry — who is an unrestricted free agent at year’s end — be sent packing by the NBA trade deadline?
14. Washington Wizards (18, +4): John Wall has been absolutely fabulous for the resurgent Wizards. Over the last five games, the former No. 1 overall pick is averaging 23.8 points, 10.0 assists, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.4 steals. Unfortunately, his teammates haven’t been able to lend a helping hand, as the Wizards are just 2-3 in those contests. They did beat the Thunder and Blazers in consecutive games and are just one game below .500, so there’s still a lot of optimism among the Washington faithful.
15. Denver Nuggets (13, -2): The Nuggets have lost seven of their last 11 games and don’t look like playoff contenders at this point. Any hope they had of getting reinforcements was shot to dust with the news that Danilo Gallinari would need another surgery on his knee and that JaVale McGee was not making good progress after being sidelined since Nov. 8 with a stress fracture in his left leg. Ty Lawson had to leave Saturday’s game with a back injury and that’s one player they simply cannot afford to lose for an extended period of time.
16. Chicago Bulls (12, -4): Offense is getting hard to come by in Chicago. The Bulls are dead last in the NBA in scoring, putting up just 92.1 points per game. Even the Milwaukee Bucks are averaging more points a night – which is pretty damn sad. Joakim Noah has been doing everything in his power to win though, averaging 12.8 points, 13.4 boards, 5.6 dimes, and 1.7 blocks since Jan. 2. He’s earned his spot on the All-Star team.
17. Atlanta Hawks (16, -1): If there’s any team that’s been “just average” all season, it’s the Hawks. Their record stands at 25-24 and they are 5-5 over their last 10 games. Those win/loss records are okay in the East, but won’t get them far once they get into the playoffs. They followed up Friday night’s embarrassing defeat to an injury-ravaged Pelicans team, by scoring 76 points – yes, 76 points – in Saturday’s loss to the Grizzlies.
18. Brooklyn Nets (15, -3): Only because they are in the East do the Nets have any sort of chance to make up for what has been a disaster of a season. They currently sit with the 7-seed and are two games ahead of ninth place, but their numbers don’t reflect that. Brooklyn is 23rd in the league in point differential – getting outscored by 2.7 points per game.
19. Charlotte Bobcats (21, +2): Hats off to rookie coach Steve Clifford. He has brought the Bobcats to the brink of a playoff berth. Right now they lay claim to the 8th seed in the East, and Clifford’s defense-first approach has got them there. Charlotte ranks fourth in the NBA in team defense, allowing just 96.9 points per game. Last season they allowed 102.7 points per game, which was second-worst in the entire league.
20. Detroit Pistons (20, NC): Is Kyle Singler the key to the Pistons’ success? Well, maybe not exactly – but the team has found the winning touch since he’s been inserted into the starting lineup. The former Duke Blue Devil has started three games in a row and the Pistons have won the last two of those contests, beating the Nets and Nuggets in impressive fashion. There was talk of Josh Smith being shopped at the trade deadline, but if they keep winning, the Pistons might become buyers, rather than sellers.