The Atlanta Hawks just keep winning and are threatening to run away with the Eastern Conference as a result. Atlanta extended its franchise record winning streak to 17 straight games Wednesday night with a 113-102 win over the Brooklyn Nets. The Hawks have won a remarkable 31 of 32 games dating back to November and have opened up a seven game lead over the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference standings.
Toronto took down the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday finishing off an undefeated home stand. The Wizards completed a 2-2 road trip to the west coast with a 106-98 loss to the Phoenix Suns. Toronto and Washington will meet on Saturday at the Verizon Center.
Here is a look at the Eastern Conference Standings heading into play on Thurdsay
|1. Atlanta Hawks||38||8||.826||0.0|
|2. Toronto Raptors||31||15||.674||7.0|
|3. Washington Wizards||31||16||.660||7.5|
|4. Chicago Bulls||30||17||.638||8.5|
|5. Cleveland Cavaliers||27||20||.574||11.5|
|6. Milwaukee Bucks||23||22||.511||14.5|
|7. Miami Heat||20||25||.444||17.5|
|8. Charlotte Hornets||19||27||.413||19.0|
|New York Knicks||9||37||.196||29.0|
The hottest team in the NBA not named the Atlanta Hawks is the suddenly resurgent Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs have won eight straight games to improve to 27-20 on the season but still trail the Hawks by 11.5 games in the standings. The Cavs hung on to defeat the Trail Blazers 99-94 without LeBron James Wednesday night thanks Kyrie Irving and his 55 points.
James missed the game due to a wrist injury and is expected to miss Friday's game as well. Cleveland's recent run has coincided with the return of James from a two-week absence due to knee and back troubles. The Cavaliers improved to 2-8 without James with Wednesday's win but it will be interesting to see if they can keep that up should his injury linger.
This could apply to the entire lower half of the Eastern Conference but we will settle on the Detroit Pistons who have suddenly lost four straight games and point guard Brandon Jennings for the remainder of the season due to a ruptured Achilles tendon. The Pistons are 2.5 games behind Charlotte for the East's final playoff spot and are reportedly exploring potential moves to help offset the loss of Jennings.
The Pistons aren't alone as the Orlando Magic have lost six straight and eight of their last 10. Despite having a good young roster that features Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic, there hasn't been a lot to cheer about in Orlando this season. The Magic were picked as a dark horse playoff team by many prior to the season but haven't looked the part much at all this season.
You might have missed it, but I doubt it
A week ago there were rumors circulating that the Chicago Bulls had grown tired of Tom Thibodeau's grinding practices and that a change might be in order. That led to a somewhat strange practice cancellation and an airing out session between the players and the coaching staff.
Since then, the Bulls have won three of four including an impressive 113-111 overtime win at Golden State to snap the Warriors' 19-game home winning streak without Jimmy Butler.
A funny thing happened along the way. Joakim Noah got healthy and the Bulls suddenly got better. Over the course of a long season teams will have ups and downs. Sure there is probably something to the reaction to Thibs overbearing style but this is still a veteran team with a successful veteran coach. Health remains Chicago's biggest concern and if they are healthy entering the playoffs they will be a tough out.
The Western Conference is so unfair. The Golden State Warriors might have dropped a home-game to the Bulls but still hold the NBA's best record by percentage points over the Hawks and lead the Memphis Grizzlies by four full games in the west standings. The Trail Blazers, Clippers and Rockets are all tied at 32-14, 5.5 games back. San Antonio has righted the ship and Dallas, who has been great for most of the season, is currently in seventh place.
The story out west is the eighth seed where the Phoenix Suns lead New Orleans by 2.5 games and Oklahoma City by 3.5. The Thunder suffered an embarrassing loss to the Knicks on Wednesday without Kevin Durant who missed his second straight game due to a sprained toe.
When healthy, Oklahoma City still looks like a contender out west and one that no top seed will want to face in the first round of the playoffs. However, they can't seem to stay healthy and the Suns don't look like they are going to simply go away. How long before some of the top teams out west start "resting" players against the Suns just to hurt the Thunder's playoff chances?
Here is a look at the up to the minute standings in the Western Conference
|1. Golden State Warriors||36||7||.837||0.0|
|2. Memphis Grizzlies||33||12||.733||4.0|
|3. Portland Trail Blazers||32||14||.696||5.5|
|4. L.A. Clippers||32||14||.696||5.5|
|5. Houston Rockets||32||14||.696||5.5|
|6. San Antonio Spurs||30||17||.638||8.0|
|7. Dallas Mavericks||30||17||.638||8.0|
|8. Phoenix Suns||27||20||.574||11.0|
|New Orleans Pelicans||24||22||.522||13.5|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||23||23||.500||14.5|
The hottest team in the Western Conference is currently the Los Angeles Clippers who have won six straight games. The Clippers seemed to be floundering a bit early but have gotten healthy and look like they might be hitting their stride.
The Lakers could be the answer to the Who's Not Hot question every week but its been a sad turn of events for the Sacramento Kings who have lost seven-straight. The saddest part of the Kings' situation is that the damage that was done was self inflicted. Mike Malone had Sacramento looking like a dark horse playoff contender early on in the season. An injury to DeMarcus Cousins resulted in a losing streak and a quick firing of Malone by the Kings' front office. Since then things have gone from bad to worse in Sacramento as the team is just 5-14 since Malone was fired.