This week I will go with playoff chances for my theme.
Cleveland Cavaliers: (17-7). Previous Rank: 1.
The Cavaliers are 100 percent going to make the playoffs. So, now that I said that, they have won 12 straight games with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade running their units perfectly; I have James second in the MVP race today and Wade as Sixth Man of the Year. The Cavaliers' defense is still poor, but they can run and score with any team in the league. I think that Isaiah Thomas will fit like a glove next to James or Wade, as he can be an off-the-ball scorer, and although his scoring might just be 15-to-18 points per game, he makes Cleveland dangerous. Tristan Thompson will return soon and should fit into the "first big man off the bench" role perfectly, but when Derrick Rose comes, I do not know how he will fit, as Wade basically has his job and is doing it to a degree that Rose cannot.
Houston Rockets: (18-4). Previous Rank: 3.
With Chris Paul healthy, Eric Gordon at his sixth man role again, Clint Capela an All-Star to me this season, and James Harden the best player in the league this season, Houston's playoff chances - if healthy - are 100 percent. I want to talk about Clint Capela though, because he's a monster. Capela is one of the NBA's truly elite rebounders and shot-blockers, plus one of the most efficient scorers in the game; he literally is the perfect center for the Rockets. I have heard they may target DeAndre Jordan in the offseason as he and Chris Paul are friends, but Capela is far younger and will come cheaper, so the Rockets would be fools to; Capela, although, will be owed around $100 million this summer as well.
Boston Celtics: (21-4). Previous Rank: 4.
The Celtics are at 100-percent chances too. Kyrie Irving is second to LeBron James in the East's MVP race today, Jayson Tatum is the second- or third-best rookie this year - after Ben Simmons and about equal to Donovan Mitchell -, and Jaylen Brown has had a big season, but Al Horford is the glue. I still think Horford should take another three or four shots a game, as he is so efficient, but there isn't a more versatile big man in the NBA. He's been in the league for a decade, but at 31, he is and should keep aging well into his mid-30s. He is third on the team in points, second in assists, first in rebounds and blocks, is shooting 40 percent from three, and can play the four or five to perfection.
Golden State Warriors: (19-6). Previous Rank: 2.
Yawn, 100 percent. The funny thing about the Warriors is there isn't anything more to say about them after four years of some of the best ball in NBA history, but it is still incredible to me that as a team, they shoot 40 percent from three as a team. Sure, the Warriors take fewer attempts than Houston, but for a basketball team to shoot at the rate of a single elite marksman is just ridiculous.
San Antonio Spurs: (16-8). Previous Rank: 5.
I have to assume that Kawhi Leonard will be there for about half the season, but the Spurs would likely make the playoffs regardless, so they are another team with a 100 percent chance. Although Kyle Anderson is currently hurt too, with a sprained knee, I wanted to talk about how productive he has become in his fourth season. Replacing Leonard as the starting three, Anderson, who can play four positions offensively, is one of the least athletic and slowest players in the NBA, but is pure skill. Shooting 51 percent from the field, 36 percent from three and getting to the line at a strong rate, Anderson has doubled his scoring to 8.9 points a game, but he is also averaging six rebounds and three assists - able to play the point. Those may not sound like much, but he's a stud role player.
Toronto Raptors: (14-7). Previous Rank 6.
No team in the NBA has stronger talent players No. 1-No. 12, the problem is that, as solid as No. 12 DeMar DeRozan may be, a club's No. 1 will not and cannot be the best individual on a champion. If you think that Kyle Lowry is No. 1, I won't argue, as it's 1a and 1b, but the Raptors need a true No. 1 to be a champion. The Pistons from 12 years ago were the only team with no true superstar to win a title that I can remember, and the Raptors aren't close to them. Although the playoffs are guaranteed for Toronto, like most seasons, making the conference semifinals is about the best scenario for the franchise.
Milwaukee Bucks: (12-10). Previous Rank. 14.
The Bucks actually have a minus point differential, but they are still missing Jabari Parker and have no size after trading Greg Monroe, so they are only an eight-man team - currently seven with Matthew Dellaveodva injured. They have an alpha with Giannis Antetokounmpo, and I love the fit of Eric Bledsoe, so I see the Bucks in the postseason whether or not Jabari Parker is healthy. I set Milwaukee's chances at 90 percent.
Utah Jazz: (13-11). Previous Rank: 21.
The Jazz now have Rudy Gobert healthy and have won seven straight games, but they were doing very well missing their best player, winning five of those with him on the bench. Why? Two reasons; Derrick Favors got a bigger role and has run with it, giving them one of the best one-two big man duos in the West with Gobert; and second, rookie Donovan Mitchell. The rookie shooting guard was one of the biggest risers in the 2017 NBA Draft because of his athleticism and defense; he's a stud. Mitchell is the best rookie in the Western Conference and would win Rookie of the Year in most seasons - Ben Simmons is having a historic rookie year - and he has given the Jazz a go-to-scorer. Mitchell is primed to take Gordon Hayward's role of the two-way star. The rookie is averaging 19 points, four rebounds and four points his last 10 games, and in their wins for the season, he is averaging 18 points, although just 14 in losses. With their defense, Gobert healthy, Favors' bigger role, Rodney Hood's quietly excellent season and with Mitchell, I give the Jazz an 80 percent chance to make the playoffs in a much weakened Western Conference.
Philadelphia 76ers: (13-10). Previous Rank: 10.
Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are the best young foundation since Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and if Markelle Fultz becomes the 76ers' James Harden, the elite third scorer and second play-maker, this team could win a title in the next five years. Although Fultz's rookie season hasn't has been just a few games with a bum shoulder, Philadelphia still has the best starting five in the East with J.J. Redick and Robert Covington, two of the best shooters in the league, and the versatile Dario Saric with Simmons and Embiid. The 76ers are so young and the East has 10-11 teams with a legitimate chance at the playoffs, so I will only give them a 65 percent chance.
Minnesota Timberwolves: (14-11). Previous Rank: 7.
The Timberwolves have fixed their porous defense, which was likely with Tom Thibodeau as coach, but an injury to Jeff Teague hurt them, an injury to Nemanja Bjelica is hurting them, and with Jimmy Butler taking a bigger role, it has affected Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins is so one-dimensional that he is basically a semi-efficient third offensive option and 20-point scorer - one they just gave $135 million to. Karl-Anthony Towns is Minnesota's franchise player, and he's struggled recently, as his scoring and shooting are low during much of the last month - about five points and three percent. Tom Thibodeau plays slow, and with the Timberwolves' focus on defense, it may be hurting the offense and Wiggins and Towns' numbers, or it could be Butler taking a big role, but no matter what it is, the club needs to get things sorted. The Timberwolves are such a different team from last year that some issues were bound to occur this season, but they are still far too talented to miss the playoffs in a weak Western Conference, so I give them a 95 percent chance.
Detroit Pistons: (14-9). Previous Rank. 8.
Andre Drummond is having a monster season, and the Pistons can defend and shoot, which keeps them in a lot of games, winning most, but they have a lack of depth and really only one pure scorer on the roster: Tobias Harris. This limits Detroit's potential. The Pistons do the best with the talent they have, which is a credit to Stan Van Gundy, but they are starting to lose more games and I see a lot more to come. I do think they will make the playoffs, but if they don't find another scorer, I have their chances at just 65 percent.
Oklahoma City Thunder: (10-12). Previous Rank: 11.
The Thunder have a championship defense and arguably the second-best player in basketball - Russell Westbrook -, but they rely too much on the three ball, where they are not very strong, and the offense that is created by Westbrook. Westbrook is averaging 22 points and more than nine rebounds and assists, which is incredible, but he needs to improve his efficiency, as does Carmelo Anthony. Regardless, I cannot see the Thunder missing the playoffs though, and I see them at 85 percent.
Denver Nuggets: (13-10). Previous Rank. 12.
The injury to Nikola Jokic is hurting the Nuggets, but he will be fine. Speaking of Jokic, he is now one of the very best big men in the league and a true franchise player. They have a lot of talent next to him, but Paul Millsap is also injured. When healthy, the Nuggets have a strong offense and average defense, but they really need to use their environment, Denver, and run; it's a huge advantage. As for the playoffs, the Nuggets are one of the eight-most talented teams in the Western Conference, but they are young at guard and injuries have been a concern, so I will only give them a 65 percent chance.
Portland Trail Blazers: (13-10). Previous Rank: 13.
The Trail Blazers have been an offensive team in recent seasons, but this year, they have mixed in strong defense and elite rebounding. They have the talent of a playoff team, but they are young and are not playing to their potential offensively. I consider Portland a lesser team to Denver, so there is just a 60 percent of this team making the playoffs.
Washington Wizards: (12-11). Previous Rank: 9.
With John Wall injured, the Wizards are pathetic, but he is one of the best players in the world, so their record doesn't mean much currently. With Wall, Bradley Beal and Otter Porter Jr. forming one of the best trios in the Eastern Conference and an improved Kelly Oubre Jr, I see Washington's chances at 95 percent.
New Orleans Pelicans: (12-12). Previous Rank. 15.
The Pelicans need big games from DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and at least one more guy to win against strong teams, but they have the two best players in most games, meaning they can win against lesser teams easily. With Rajon Rondo healthy, the Pelicans have a nice quartet of guards, but they do not have another big man or forward of true playoff value. This is a tough one, I give New Orleans a 50-50 shot of making the playoffs.
Indiana Pacers. 13-11). Previous Rank: 16.
With Victor Oladpio about to become an All-Star, two of the most talented young bigs in the East - Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis -, and a lot of valuable veteran talent around them, the Pacers are far more talented of a team than expected. I think the odds they make it the playoffs is around 70 percent.
New York Knicks: (11-12). Previous Rank: 17.
The Knicks are pathetic when they do not have Kristaps Porzingis, but when healthy, they have a very solid trio with Porzingis, Enes Kanter and Tim Hardaway Jr. Their point guard duo of rookie Frank Ntilikina and Jarrett Jack has given them more than expected as well; I think the Knicks are the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference, so their odds are 55 percent to get into the playoffs.
Los Angeles Lakers: (8-15). Previous Rank: 19.
The Lakers have lost five straight games, but this season is all about developing their young core of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Larry Nance Jr. and Kyle Kuzma, which they are doing, and they have proven they can win, so I don't see this losing streak being too long. Regardless, their playoff chances are at just five percent.
Dallas Mavericks: (7-17). Previous Rank: 27.
With Dennis Smith Jr. playing like the stud rookie we expected, the Mavericks look solid and their porous offense is improving. Regardless, with Dirk Nowitzki no longer a reliable player, their best player Harrison Barnes and no frontcourt, I really doubt they will make the playoffs. I have the Mavericks 20th today because I like how they look, but only give them a five percent chance.
Charlotte Hornets: (9-13). Previous Rank: 22.
I like the Hornets' roster more than the Knicks, who I have 18th. Regardless, after a very hot start to the season, the Hornets have had a lot of trouble winning since they got Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and then Nicolas Batum healthy. The Hornets have the depth, scoring and defense of a playoff team, but they are just not looking like one. They are healthy though, so things could change. I give them a 40 percent chance of making the postseason.
Miami Heat. (10-11). Previous Rank: 20.
This team wins with defense, size and coaching. I just think Miami's roster lacks the talent to make it to the playoffs because I think it will take at least 40 wins to make it in the East this season. As I have the 10th in the East, I will only give them a 35 percent chance of getting into the postseason.
Phoenix Suns: (9-16). Previous Rank: 26.
Devin Booker is slowly becoming one of the best players in the game, and he and T.J. Warren are basically winning games by themselves, but the Suns are far too young to make the playoffs. I am giving them credit for winning games, though I am ranking them 23rd this week; I assume they will be closer to 26th next week. There is only a one percent chance the Suns makes the playoffs.
Brooklyn Nets: (9-14). Previous Rank: 25.
The Nets keep winnings games once or twice a week, although they are missing their franchise talent, D'Angelo Russell. If Russell were healthy though, they still wouldn't have a chance. One percent is how likely they are to make the postseason.
Los Angeles Clippers: (8-14). Previous Rank: 18.
With Blake Griffin, the Clippers could make the playoffs, but this team is built around Blake Griffin and lacks the talent to win against the majority of teams as right now. With Griffin missing a few months, the Clippers have to win at least 15 games in that time for them to make it to the postseason. I doubt they can do it and give them just a five percent chance.
Memphis Grizzlies: (8-15). Previous Rank: 23.
The Grizzlies have lost 11 of 12 games; they have fired their coach; and Mike Conley Jr. won't be playing again for awhile. Right now, Memphis is only Marc Gasol, Tyreke Evans and a lot of young players who aren't going to help the team win games. When Conley is healthy, the Grizzlies are at least a .500 team, but I think they will be far from the eighth seed by then. I give them just a 10 percent chance of making the playoffs.
Orlando Magic: (10-15). Previous Rank: 24.
The Magic have a really strong offense, but they are a very weak defensive team and young, and although they had a nice start, they are showing that they have little chance to make the playoffs, probably 10 percent. They have a defensive coach and could improve in that area, gaining them wins this season. I doubt it though.
Sacramento Kings: (7-16). Previous Rank: 28.
The Kings have so much young talent, but not consistent young talent; they aren't sniffing the playoffs this season. There is zero chance. I would like to see the Kings play their young guys a lot more, especially Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, De'Aaron Fox and Skal Labissiere.
Atlanta Hawks: (5-18). Previous Rank: 29.
There is no team in the NBA that has a weaker roster than the Hawks. They are porous, so I give them a zero percent chance to make the postseason.
Chicago Bulls: (3-19). Previous Rank: 30.
The Bulls are missing Zach LaVine and Nikola Mirotic, arguably their two best scorers, but right now they are one of the most pathetic teams of this decade. They have zero percent chance of getting into the playoffs. I do love how Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn look though, so at least Chicago should have a nice tomorrow.