At a month since the All-Star break, six teams—a nice chunk of them unexpected—have made their presence known. Among them are title favorites, playoff pushers, and teams that are clicking at the right moment.
Indiana Pacers – Leading the list, and the post-all-star-high pack, is Indy. They’ve gone 9-1 and are the beneficiaries of the league’s second-easiest schedule coming into the week. Not to diminish their returns, they’ve beaten good teams like Chicago and Cleveland in the mix and this all without their crowned best player, Paul George. They won’t win a first-round bout with the Cavs come playoff time but they’ll give them a fight that’ll last longer than LeBron would like.
Utah Jazz – Sometimes teamwork trumps talent and sometimes you can only find that teamwork payload at the end of a subtraction. In the Jazz’s case, getting rid of Kanter and opening up minutes for Gobert has paid off nicely.
Houston Rockets – The Rockets are the league’s garbage men as they have the best record when playing sub-.500 teams (read: garbage) teams. They’re playing to form as they’ve won 70 percent of their games since mid-February and have a nice bundle of garbage teams to play to cap off the year.
Charlotte Hornets – Can anyone say Mo Williams? He’s been the NBA’s best mid-season acquisition and a large reason why the Hornets might creep into the playoffs.
New Orleans Pelicans – Anthony Davis and a tie-breaker against the Thunder have the Pelicans still in red-hot contention for the West’s remaining playoff spot. And they’ll certainly make it interesting as they’ve won nine of the last 12.
Cleveland Cavaliers – A top-10 defense has the Cavs in serious contender status. They were unable to unseat the Hawks as the Eastern Conference’s best team, at least in bragging rights, but they’re surely No. 2, even with Toronto reeling and Chicago healing.
Atlanta Hawks – What else is new? The Hawks have only been leapfrogged by the Pacers and Jazz for the best post-All-Star mark, and this for a team that was already in tip-top shape.
Golden State Warriors – Being in the top two for offense and defense will get you high marks no matter the time of the season. The Warriors have worked their way back to being the NBA team to beat and the season’s tail end will be no different. The Warriors are reforming at the perfect time.