The bottom half of our NBA Power Rankings are filled with teams that have either promised to keep fighting to tough-to-grab playoff spots, teams that have given up all hope and are building for next year, or, in the case of the Hawks, are just a lot worse than their record shows.
We look at what the bottom 15 teams in the league should be pushing for as the season winds down.
16. Atlanta Hawks (36-24, Prev: #14) -- Will defensive improvement with Kirk Hinrich replacing Mike Bibby be sustainable? Atlanta has the tools to be an elite defensive team. But they have to do it every night.
17. Phoenix Suns (31-27, Prev: #19) -- Speaking of defensive improvement, the Suns are up to No. 24 after pulling up the rear early this season. Can it get any better? Phoenix is in position to make the playoffs with a solid run to end the season; the defense has to be passable, at least, to get it done.
18. Indiana Pacers (26-32, Prev: #18) -- The Pacers have lost some steam, and it's up to Frank Vogel to reignite Roy Hibbert and Paul George, who really are the tipping weights that are the difference between Indiana being a mediocre team and an OK team.
19. Utah Jazz (32-29, Prev: #17) -- I don't think the Jazz had much faith in their ability to make the playoffs with a banged-up Deron Williams; hence the lack of reluctance to trade him for lots of hope. But Utah is in danger of ending up below .500, in the lottery and hanging out with the Warriors in the win-loss column. Not a great turn of events.
20. Milwaukee Bucks (22-36, Prev: #20) -- The playoffs seem out-of-reach, so getting Brandon Jennings back on track -- his three-point shooting has dropped off, and he simply hasn't progressed from his excellent rookie season -- would be a nice finish.
21. Charlotte Bobcats (26-33, Prev: #23) -- The Gerald Wallace trade is understandable from a financial standpoint ... but what a crushing blow to the team and the fans. You can't fault Charlotte for realizing a rebuild was necessarily. But with so many bad contracts on the books, Wallace was the least of Michael Jordan's worries.
22. Golden State Warriors (26-32, Prev: #22) -- If there's one player the Warriors absolutely need to play better in time for next year, it's Andris Biedrins. But let's be more realistic. David Lee. If he plays like the Lee of his Knicks' day, the Warriors' rebounding will improve enough to let Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry do some real damage.
23. Los Angeles Clippers (21-40, Prev: #21) -- Eric Gordon is the linchpin to success for the Clips, and he'll be back this week. Getting to 30 wins seems like a reasonable and worthwhile goal.
24. Detroit Pistons (22-39, Prev: #24) -- Hopefully you've finished laughing at Joe Dumars' absurd "playoff run" comments. The Pistons remain stuck in neutral until Tom Gores completes his purchase of the team, which will hopefully come before the draft in June. The Pistons need help in that draft, badly.
25. Sacramento Kings (15-43, Prev: #25) -- The focus isn't exactly on the court in Sacramento, nor should it be. Marcus Thornton has had a great start with the Kings; he could be a vital piece of the future, if he continues to thrive with freedom he never received under Monty Williams.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-46, Prev: #26) -- Will Kevin Love finish the season on a 68-game double-double streak? Will anyone remember that Kurt Rambis was benching him the first couple weeks of the season?
27. Toronto Raptors (16-44, Prev: #27) -- The Raptors should be figuring out which players are vital and which are expendable, and the team should try like heck to elevate the roles of the vital. That means DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis, in my book.
28. New Jersey Nets (17-43, Prev: #29) -- Deron Williams' impact on attendance in Newark next season will be interesting to watch. It's been bad this year, but Brook Lopez isn't exactly a draw. If it gets a lot better, Newark could find itself back in favor as a potential NBA city down the line.
29. Washington Wizards (15-44, Prev: #28) -- Is there really anything to figure out with Andray Blatche? He's an unfocused, sloppy player who thinks he's a champion and plays accordingly. I'd play Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin over Baltche as often as possible.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (11-48, Prev: #30) -- Now that Antawn Jamison is effectively done for the season, Cleveland's grip on a 25 percent for the No. 1 pick seems assured. The Cavs will be rooting against the Clippers too, as an unprotected first that could end up in the top three thanks to the lottery is nothing to sneeze at.