bryant-kobe_584

Kobe Bryant has the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers ready for another championship run. ((Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images))

Each week, CBCSports.ca's Lance Winn breaks down the balance of power in the National Basketball Association.

1. LA LAKERS [up from 2]
Record : 51-20
Last 10 : 9-1

They’ve won five straight, nine of 10 overall, with wins over San Antonio, Atlanta, Dallas, and Orlando. Andrew Bynum missed two games (both wins) due to a flagrant foul but that didn’t slow down the two-time defending champs. They are playoff-ready.
2. CHICAGO BULLS [down from 1]
Record : 51-19
Last 10 : 9-1

It’s more than just Derrick Rose that has the Bulls sitting atop the Eastern Conference. Sure he’s the franchise but forward Joakim Noah is averaging 11.2 rebounds a game. Carlos Boozer is shooting 52.3% from the floor, and they are collectively the second best defensive team in the league.
3. SAN ANTONIO SPURS [up from 5]
Record : 57-14
Last 10 : 7-3

Playing possum? An ankle injury to Tim Duncan is cause for concern, he’s listed as day-to-day, yet the Spurs still sport the league’s best record. With a veteran lineup they know how to prepare for the second season, and usually sitting down a few core players is enough to ensure a strong playoff push.
4. DALLAS MAVERICKS [up from 7]
Record : 50-21
Last 10 : 5-5

Sure they’ve won 50 games for the 11th straight season but what have you done for me lately? Dirk and company never falter during the first 82, it’s the playoffs that expose this team’s weaknesses. As we head down the stretch it remains to be seen if Dallas will make it over the hump, or fizzle in crunch time like in years past.
5. MIAMI HEAT [down from 4]
Record : 49-22
Last 10 : 6-4

Will 82 games be enough time to smooth out chemistry and knock off the contenders in the East? We shall see. Beating the Lakers, Spurs, Hawks and Nuggets was a good sign and with an upcoming schedule that includes Cleveland, Washington, and Minnesota the Heat should head into the post-season with guns a blazing. At least the South Beach faithful hope so.
6. BOSTON CELTICS [down from 3]
Record : 50-20
Last 10 : 5-5

21-0 at home against Eastern Conference opponents, top spot in the Atlantic Division locked up, and they are headed to the post-season relatively healthy. Look for coach Doc Rivers to give some core players the night off now and then, as they are still the team to beat in the East.

7. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER [down from 6]
Record : 46-24
Last 10 : 8-2

They stumbled against the lowly Raptors but bounced back with a win over Utah. They’re just a couple of wins away from the Northwest Division title and home court in the first round, something they desperately need in the tough Western Conference.

8. ORLANDO MAGIC [unchanged]
Record : 46-26
Last 10 : 6-4

The Magic hope their new acquisitions can play a pivotal role in the playoffs. That remains to be seen but this team was a threat from the perimetre before Dwight Howard stepped up his game and now they have a legit threat at both ends of the court. It’s going to take that and more to beat the Bulls, Heat, or Celtics in a seven-game series.
9. DENVER NUGGETS [unchanged]
Record : 41-27
Last 10 : 8-2

Speaking of chemistry…this team appears to have it. Raymond Felton has fit nicely leading the team in scoring (15.9 ppg), and rebounds (8.6 rpg). Sure they will need an extra push to beat the Western elite but it should make for an interesting first round.
10. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS [up from 11]
Record : 41-30
Last 10 : 7-3

Just when you thought the Blazers would fizzle they come up with a big win, just ask Orlando, Miami, and Dallas. Perched in the sixth spot they’ll be tested down the stretch with games in OKC, San Antonio, and New Orleans.
11. HOUSTON ROCKETS [up from 17]
Record : 38-34
Last 10 : 7-3

Not used to seeing the Rockets ranked so high but they deserve some respect riding a five-game streak and pulling to within two games of the final playoff spot in the West. Their playoffs start now.
12. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES [up from 13]
Record : 40-32
Last 10 : 6-4

A win in Boston to extend their winning streak to three was a confidence booster and they will need to win a few more with the Rockets hot on their tail if they want to claim that final spot in the West.
13. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS [down from 10]
Record : 41-31
Last 10 : 6-4

Consistency might be an issue but the Hornets are where they want to be…heading to the playoffs.

14. ATLANTA HAWKS [down from 12]
Record : 40-32
Last 10 : 3-7

Still not sure what is or isn’t happening in Atlanta but it’s not good. Just three wins in 10 games isn’t going to get you to the second round, or the first for that matter, but isn’t that when they usually throw in the towel anyway?

15. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS [down from 14]
Record : 37-34
Last 10 : 6-4

In the playoff mix but for how long? Ah, the benefits of residing in the East.
16. PHOENIX SUNS [up from 21]
Record : 36-34
Last 10 : 4-6

Still in the hunt… just three games back.
17. INDIANA PACERS [up from 18]
Record : 32-40
Last 10 : 5-5

Forward Tyler Hansbrough’s return will help as the Pacers look to solidify their hold on the eighth spot. Two in a row with Sacramento and Detroit on tap.
18. NY KNICKS [down from 16]
Record : 35-36
Last 10 : 3-7

Things at MSG aren’t all they appeared to be a month ago. The Knicks have dropped four straight, slipping to seventh in the East. If chemistry is a problem, good luck with that (see Denver Nuggets record after Melo departed).
19. UTAH JAZZ [down from 15]
Record : 36-37
Last 10 : 3-7

After that mid-season shakeup, do you really thing they’re playoff-bound?
20. MILWAUKEE BUCKS [up from 22]
Record : 28-42
Last 10 : 5-5

Remain in the hunt for the final spot in the East. Three back with time running out.
21. NEW JERSEY NETS [down from 19]
Record : 23-47
Last 10 : 6-4

They are better but that’s about it.
22. GOLDEN STATE WARRRIORS [up from 23]
Record : 30-42
Last 10 : 3-7

Wow, what happened in Oakland?
23. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS [up from 25]
Record : 26-43
Last 10 : 5-5

Blake Griffin, dunk-you-very-much…
24. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS [down from 20]
Record : 28-42
Last 10 : 2-8

They had a chance but a four-game slide all but sealed their fate.
25. DETROIT PISTONS [down from 24]
Record : 25-46
Last 10 : 3-7

Need a new time and a new ride.
26. TORONTO RAPTORS [unchanged]
Record : 20-51
Last 10 : 3-7

Mathematically eliminated from post-season contention despite a spirited performance in OKC. Not really much of a surprise.
27. SACRAMENTO KINGS [up from 28]
Record : 18-52
Last 10 : 3-7

Can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.
28. WASHINGTON WIZARDS [up from 30]
Record : 17-53
Last 10 : 2-8

Time to focus on next season.
29. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES [down from 27]
Record : 17-55
Last 10 : 2-8

Things have gone from bad to worse with Kevin Love out for the remainder of the season.
30. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS [down from 29]
Record : 13-57
Last 10 : 2-8

Can’t wait for the lottery.