1. LA Lakers (7): I had to sip on some of Ron Artest’s Hennessy to put them here without grimacing. They’re a matchup nightmare with all their height and skill, and it doesn’t hurt that Kobe still plays like he has something to prove.
2. Orlando (3): We all know Dwight Howard  is a double-double machine. Question is, how many double-doubles will he accumulate before we see Magic fan Tiger Woods  at another game sitting courtside?
3. Boston (5): I’d be lying if I told you I never thought, “Maybe they’re not that good …” at one point this season. But that was when KG was dragging his leg and looking like Mikki Moore  on defense. Since then, he’s barely missed a shot and you can see him gaining more trust in the knee.
4. Dallas (4): If you needed to X and O your way out of a problem quickly and you could call a friend, wouldn’t Rick Carlisle  be on speed dial? Man, this guy can REALLY coach.
5. Cleveland (9): Speaking of coaches, how about LeBron calling out Mike Brown  the other day? Brown didn’t play Zydrunas Ilgauskas  in a game in which Z could have set the franchise’s games played record. And LeBron let the coach know he didn’t appreciate it. Brown has to have ulcers, because he knows if there’s the slightest glitch in the ongoing Keep LeBron In Ohio campaign, he’ll be the first casualty.
7. Atlanta (1): Some team is going to hit the lottery this summer when, spurned by LeBron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh, they wind up with Joe Johnson . He’s one of those guys who will be forever underrated, no matter how much people remind you how underrated he is.
8. Phoenix (2): OK, here comes the slide. The Suns were blown out in back-to-back games. One of them, against the Cavs, I can understand. The other one, against the Knicks, is cause for top 10 banishment.
9. San Antonio (19): Forget what the record says. I watched Tim Duncan  play last week, and he answered the only significant question with this team: Can Duncan still dominate games? Answer: Of course. What a machine. I don’t care if the Spurs finish 46-36; if they’re healthy going into the playoffs, they won’t go quietly.
10. Portland (8): I absolutely love the talent on this team, but the Blazers need a solid veteran in the mix. If this were the 1980s I’d say: Buck Williams. 1990s: A.C. Green. Now: A Kurt Thomas  type?
11. Miami (13): A Great team? Far from it. But as a fan, you have to appreciate a team that gives you exactly what its talent level says it should give you. In this case, the Heat may even be exceeding expectations.
12. Utah (17): It’s amazing how quickly things can get back to normal with this team. The Jazz  have recovered from an ugly start to the season and, ho-hum, Jerry Sloan  just signed on for his 23rd season of coaching this team.
13. Houston (11): McGrady vs. Management would be a fantastic reality show. He wants to play and get his money; the Rockets don’t care about his money and don’t think he’s anything special as a teammate. In my house, it would be the No. 3 reality show on the list. (You can’t beat “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” … and there’s always Gawking At, I mean, “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”)
14. Oklahoma City (16): Got a text the other day from my buddy Christian, one of the smartest basketball people I know. It said: Within three years, the best player in the NBA won’t be LeBron, Kobe or Wade. It’ll be Kevin Durant . Most of the time, despite his smarts, I think Christian is nuts. But I think I agree. If Durant played in New York, Spike Lee would do a movie on him.
15. Sacramento (15): The Kings already have won more than half as many games as they did all of last year. Tyreke Evans  is my second-favorite rookie guard to watch.
16. Milwaukee (10): Which means, naturally, that Brandon Jennings  is my favorite rookie guard. Still, the Bucks are beginning to sink to their rightful place.
19. Chicago (12): I’m always amused when players talk about “scoring the ball.” The Chicago Bulls  have major problems scoring the ball.
20. Charlotte (28): I used to say this about Busta Rhymes: He’s not a guy I want to listen to for an entire CD, but he’s a great cameo/change-of-pace guy when he’s guesting on your record. Stephen Jackson  is Busta Rhymes. He’ll help you short term, without a doubt. But beware of the shelf life.
21. New Orleans (22): Maybe basketball just doesn’t work in New Orleans. On Monday night, 84 percent of the people in the city were watching Saints-Patriots. No matter how good the Hornets become, I just don’t see them ever capturing the city like that.
22. Memphis (25): One day we’ll laugh when we consider that Allen Iverson , at the end of his career, thought he could somehow take starting minutes away from O.J. Mayo, who’s on the ground floor of something special.
24. Detroit (21): OK, Pistons fans. This will make you feel even worse: I hear that before the 2003 draft, the Pistons were intent on getting a big man who had upside, who was left-handed, and who could extend the floor with his shot. Chris Bosh was and is all of those things … and the Pistons still drafted Darko Milicic .
26. Golden State (27): The Warriors can’t hold on to talented players to save their lives. Look at their history, from Robert Parish  to Chris Webber to Gilbert Arenas . Along those lines, I wonder where Monta Ellis  will land one day. He’s being wasted here.