At least one of those mediocre East teams fighting for a playoff spot is playing better, thanks to a coaching change. The Pacers have won four straight, and have renewed their campaign for the No. 7 spot in the East. That currently belongs to the 76ers, who actually have a shot at reaching .500 before the end of the season. Progress!
A cluster of teams out West remain in the hunt for a playoff bid, but the Blazers are making it difficult for anyone else to catch up, thanks to excellent play from LaMarcus Aldridge.
16. Portland Trail Blazers (28-24, Prev: #15) -- Something has got to give with this team. Given the rampant injuries but continued (relative) success, either Nate McMillan deserves the Coach of the Year award, or Kevin Pritchard needs to win a posthumous Executive of the Year award (with an asterisk that reminds future scholars that Rich Cho grabbed Wesley Matthews).
17. Philadelphia 76ers (23-27, Prev: #18) -- Will the Sixers reach .500 before the end of the season? If they do, Eastern Conference loyalists (they do exist! trust me!) will have some ammo against whiners in Houston, Portland and/or Memphis who complain about continental imbalance. Doug Collins has the Philly shot defense at No. 10 in the league. Imagine if he still had Samuel Dalembert.
18. Indiana Pacers (21-27, Prev: #20) -- Frank Vogel doesn't quit! The chargin' Pacers are about one upset victory over the Miami Heat Tuesday night from scorching into America's hearts. And even if Frank's Army can't beat LeBron and Co., they have a fairly soft February schedule to pick up some more wins. Score one for the replacements.
20. Milwaukee Bucks (19-30, Prev: #19) -- Milwaukee's second most frequently used lineup this season -- Andrew Bogut and Ersan Ilyasova up front, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, John Salmons and Keyon Dooling around the horn -- has an offensive efficiency worse than the Cavaliers (86) and a defensive efficiency ... worse than the Cavaliers (112). That's gross.
21. Golden State Warriors (22-28, Prev: #22) -- The Warriors are made out of dreams and smiles, and I dare you to watch them without becoming partial to them. I'm still sure what happened to David Lee, whose scoring efficiency has fallen off the table (what, is he just not used to playing with guards who have a pulse?), but Monta Ellis. Stephen Curry. This is fun (and, almost half of the time, good!) basketball.
22. Los Angeles Clippers (19-31, Prev: #21) -- DeAndre Jordan's defense is viscerally good -- he rebounds well and blocks a ton of shots -- but as it turns out, the numbers say L.A.'s defense is actually a bit worse when he's on the court. A few factors, including Blake Griffin's bad defense, may be affecting that. But at this point, his reputation might just be a bit overblown.
23. Charlotte Bobcats (22-29, Prev: #23) -- There are 14 players in the NBA this season who take at least five three-pointers per game. Among them, Stephen Jackson has the fourth-worst conversion rate (33.7 percent). Considering that Baron Davis would usually be on this list (danged rookie taking all his shots!), it makes the We Believe! Warriors all the more amazing.
24. Detroit Pistons (19-32, Prev: #24) -- The Pistons have a pretty serious decision to make about Rodney Stuckey this offseason. He's been Detroit's best player this season ... but that's not saying much, and he definitely still has a long way and a few prayers to go before realizing the goal of becoming the next Chauncey Billups. The Pistons can't afford to lose him in restricted free agency. But can they afford to continue to try to develop him into something he may not be?
25. Sacramento Kings (12-36, Prev: #26) -- The Kings (almost) always play with a fighting spirit these days, which is just about all you can ask from a team full of 22-year-olds running an offense predicated on said 22-year-olds listening to Beno Udrih.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (12-39, Prev: #25) -- Ah, the perverse genius of David Kahn. Here's Revisionist Theory On The 2009 NBA Draft, Take 14: Kahn knew Ricky Rubio would stay in Spain and struggle, thus lowering future European demand for La Pistola. He also knew Jonny Flynn would stink, necessitating a hero's welcome for Ricky. It's all coming into shape now. It's all coming into shape.
27. Toronto Raptors (14-37, Prev: #27) -- T-Dot saw its 13-game losing streak end late last week. The Raps have gone 3-16 in 2011. Those three wins? The Cavs, Kings and Timberwolves. Fatten up, Toronto! Cake like that is both rare and delicious.
28. Washington Wizards (13-37, Prev: #29) -- The Wizards' home games this week against the Bucks and Spurs are mere distractions from the glory that should be the Streak Bowl, where Washington's 0-25 road record visits Cleveland to face a Cavaliers team that by that point may have lost 27 straight games. Only the Pistons and Clippers can mess it up now.
29. New Jersey Nets (15-37, Prev: #28) -- Turns out that winning spell after Mikhail Prokhorov knifed the Carmelo Anthony trade was just a spell. Avery Johnson accidentally snapped his fingers at Travis Outlaw during a weave drill, and the Nets are losin' again.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-44, Prev: #30) -- I maintain that it's impossible for FOXSports' Bill Reiter or anyone to tell whether the Cavaliers have given up. Anyone who had a Garbage Pail Kid card or two know it's impossible to see through a stink cloud like this. We're all just guessing at what's going on with the Cavs.