The bottom of the East continues to struggle to present a capable No. 8 seed, as it looks incredibly unlikely that the Pacers will get to .500. Meanwhile, the West has three lottery teams with winning records. So much for balance! Some of those West lottery teams are actually probably better than the East's No. 5 seed, the weird and un-wonderful Atlanta Hawks. This week, the Suns rate higher, despite by No. 11 in the West standings.
16. Phoenix Suns (32-29, Prev: #17) -- With Channing Frye out, the Suns really need their guards -- off-and-on Vince Carter, especially -- to excel down the stretch. A playoff series is good for the gate, but at some point Phoenix needs to find out if a Frye-Marcin Gortat frontcourt is actually sustainable. Are there enough points in that unit, or does Phoenix need a top scoring wing to make it work?
17. Atlanta Hawks (37-26, Prev: #16) -- The Hawks haven't exactly gotten worse since last year, but this is what happens when you tread water as your contemporaries feast on the blood of the young. Would anyone pick Atlanta over any team above it in the East standings in a seven-game series? Even Hawks fans are laughing!
18. Utah Jazz (33-31, Prev: #19) -- It's hard to surmise how much of the Jazz's plummet can be attributed to Jerry Sloan's retirement vs. the Deron Williams trade. I'll say this: Utah didn't look like it had given up when Sloan quit. That's more the case since the Williams trade. We're splitting hairs, but as the team sinks into the lottery, it's worth noting how badly Utah needs a start to replace Deron.
19. Indiana Pacers (27-35, Prev: #18) -- Darren Collison isn't exactly young, but he's green at the NBA level. He should get much better with seasoning, and Indiana has to hope his consistency juts up next year. The same goes for Roy Hibbert. The Pacers can't afford long stretches of ineffective play from the best big man.
20. Milwaukee Bucks (23-38, Prev: #20) -- Can Milwaukee get a do-over? Not just on this season, marred by injuries (Andrew Bogut most importantly, but also Brandon Jennings and Carlos Delfino), but on the offseason moves to lock up John Salmons and trade for Corey Maggette. Those will limit the Bucks' ability to tweak much at season's end. And beyond the injuries, this team needs tweaks.
21. Golden State Warriors (27-35, Prev: #22) -- New owner Joe Lacob is going through a rough patch with Bay Area media, and the David Lee contract is looking tough. But Lee can reverse that by being himself next season -- he's a great defensive rebounder; five years in New York ain't a fluke -- and, if Ekpe Udoh develops into the defensive monster he can be, this team is poised to rise.
22. Los Angeles Clippers (24-40, Prev: #23) -- The best-case scenario for the Clippers is for Eric Gordon to stay healthy for the next 10 years, because Blake Griffin and the Clips badly need him. A small forward remains the biggest positional hole, but we can't exactly count on Eric Bledsoe's assured development quite yet.
23. Charlotte Bobcats (26-37, Prev: #21) -- No team has ever needed a great big man like that Charlotte Bobcats need a great big man. (And I watched the 2008-09 Sacramento Kings!) Luckily, nothing can go wrong when Michael Jordan uses a high pick on a big man ...
24. Detroit Pistons (23-41, Prev: #24) -- The Pistons have to hope for ownership resolution before the draft, because if Joe Dumars isn't going to be around, it needs to happen before any more major decisions are made. On the court, Greg Monroe looks like a very solid starting center. Now there are four more positions to fill. Can Rodney Stuckey or Austin Daye be a part of that?
25. New Jersey Nets (19-43, Prev: #28) -- The Nets swept the London Games, so I suppose the best-case scenario is to relocate to the United Kingdom instead of Brooklyn! If Brook Lopez can play in Newark like he did in London, and Deron Williams stays healthy, the Nets could be an easy playoff team next season.
26. Sacramento Kings (15-46, Prev: #25) -- I'm going to be selfish for a second. The best-case scenario for Sacramento Kings fans is that the NBA owners convince the Maloofs to wait a year before moving the team, and during that year, an arena plan is finalized in Sacramento. And the Maloofs keep the team in Sacramento. And team is not among the third worst in the league for a fourth consecutive season!
27. Minnesota Timberwolves (15-50, Prev: #26) -- The best-case scenario would involve Ricky Rubio coming over next year and immediately acclimating to the NBA. But that's a pipe dream for reasons discussed at great length by yours truly. A more realistic best-case scenario is one of those wings -- Wes Johnson, hopefully -- becoming a magic man to balance the floor with Kevin Love and what-should-be No. 3 scorer Michael Beasley.
28. Toronto Raptors (17-46, Prev: #27) -- The best-case scenario for the Raptors would be that DeMar DeRozan makes an Eric Gordon-like leap to join the ranks of elite young two-guards next season. If Ed Davis develops, that's not a bad pair. Unfortunately, the supplementary pieces -- Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Amir Johnson -- soak up so much of the cap.
29. Washington Wizards (16-46, Prev: #29) -- The Wizards need Andray Baltche to get struck by a lightning bolt that sets his neurons off in the right direction, as opposed to where they're headed currently, which is Confusion. The Wiz could also use a lovely wing in the draft (Harrison Barnes?) or free agency.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (12-50, Prev: #30) -- Best-case scenario: a lockout wipes out the 2011-12 season, and the resultant carnage forces the NBA, when it comes back, to hold a draft with every NBA player eligible at his current salary. Draft order goes by reverse 2010-11 standings. With the first pick, Cleveland selects ... LeBron James. Just to torture him for 41 games a year.