1. LA Lakers (1): Let’s just get this out of the way: They’ve played four road games so far. Four! It’s a schedule straight from the desk of superfans Jack Nicholson and Flea. I have no doubt, obviously, that they’re a great team. But we’ll know just how great when they’re required to leave the block.
2. Boston (3): You don’t have to look very far for encouraging signs on this team. Kevin Garnett  is back, in body and soul, hitting the floor for loose balls and cussing more than Richard Pryor on the Sunset Strip; Rajon Rondo  had a game the other night against Milwaukee when I counted at least a half-dozen breathtaking assists; and Paul Pierce , if you can believe this, is making nearly half his shots. The Celtics  also have been the best road team in the league. The only thing I don’t like is how they routinely get killed on the offensive boards.
3. Orlando (2): The Magic may have more untapped talent than anyone in the game: Brandon Bass  and Marcin Gortat  are good players who sometimes have a tough time getting some run, and Jameer Nelson  is hurt. Yet they’ve been dominant, at home and on the road. The only problem they have is in the stands, where their No. 1 fan USED to sit but is now defending himself against Elin’s backswing and the tabloids. (The Perkins waitress, Tiger? I’d be afraid to order breakfast from her, so you know I can’t understand how you … well, you know … did what you did.)
4. Denver (6): Although he has no chance of being league MVP, Carmelo Anthony  should be considered for the award. Why no chance? He scores too much and doesn’t rebound enough for his height. That’s twisted logic, but that’s the history of the award. Basically, we love little guys who can really score and pass; we love little guys who can score all right and pass very well; we love little guys who score and do nothing else … but we don’t love 6-foot-8 guys who score and don’t crash the boards. It’s too bad. If it were up to me, Melo would get it.
5. Atlanta (7): The Hawks aren’t good just because they’re a young team that grew up. They’re good because now they have veteran fallback plans, so to speak, if any of the starters have off nights. The other night, for example, Jamal Crawford  came off the bench and scored 29. It’s the element that young teams such as the Blazers, Grizzlies  and Thunder still don’t have.
6. Dallas (4): Reason No. 473 that I’m not an NBA scout: I saw Jose Juan Barea  play several times when he was at Northeastern, and I never thought, “Now, there’s an NBA player.” But check out this kid. He certainly doesn’t look the part, but he’s one of the Mavericks’ most important players.
7. Cleveland (5): Shaquille O’Neal  can still score and rebound when he feels like it, but he’s a terrible fit for the Cavs. And their relative struggles aren’t just on him. Even when this team wins, it often looks lifeless and disinterested. Maybe everyone in the organization has Clenched Jaw Syndrome, nervously waiting to see what LeBron James  will do this summer. If he does leave, Mike Brown  will be The Coach Who LeBron Wouldn’t Play For. Watch: LeBron will leave, and it will be viewed as Brown’s fault.
8. Phoenix (8): Free coaching advice for Alvin Gentry: Why not bring Grant Hill  off the bench and start Jared Dudley ? Sure, Hill is the better player. But he’s played 75 games or more once in the last five years — last year — and he won’t make it this year playing starter minutes. You’d improve the quickness of the starting five and the scoring punch of the second unit. Just trying to help, Alvin.
9. Utah (12): I like the players on this team, and the Jazz  are deserving of the ranking. I guess my problem with them is that I know they have no chance of being “elite good” with their current roster. They played the Lakers Wednesday night and lost by 24. And the scary thing is, I think that’s about right. If the natural separation isn’t 24 points, it’s at least 12.
10. Houston (13): Isn’t it time for Aaron Brooks ‘ name to be mentioned when we talk about the best point guards in the league? Maybe the D needs some work, but is there anything offensively that he can’t do?
11. Portland (10): In name only, the Trail Blazers have played without Greg Oden  before. But that was before Oden knew how to use his body. It was before he became an exceptional NBA shot-blocker and a man on the boards. So this Oden injury is more significant than any others. I swear, there’s something in the water up there with big men and chronic injuries: Bill Walton , Sam Bowie and now Oden.
13. Oklahoma City (14): Kevin Durant  has to be seen in person to truly be appreciated. Not only does he look like he’s fresh from the McDonald’s All-American High School Game, it also appears that your average high school junior can out-bench press him by 10 pounds. But his shooting range is unlimited, and everything on the court seems outrageously easy to him.
14. Miami (11): This year isn’t about winning, anyway. It’s about convincing Dwyane Wade  that the Heat can and will lure someone like LeBron to Miami. Just so you know, I’m riding with that prediction all year.
15. New Orleans (21): Now that Chris Paul  is back from his ankle injury, this team is headed north in a hurry.
16. Milwaukee (16): You know a team is well-coached when the players start resembling the guy with the clipboard. The Bucks are a tough team that’s hard to shake. That was the scouting report on their coach, Scott Skiles .
17. Charlotte (20): Clearly, the Warriors HAD to trade Stephen Jackson . But with that said, the Bobcats got a steal from Golden State. Sometimes people forget that Streaky Stephen was a starting player on a championship team (the Spurs).
18. Detroit (24): The Pistons have one of the best “junk” players in the league in Will Bynum . And I mean that as a compliment. I love the no-nonsense players who don’t need plays called for them, aren’t afraid of the floor, and seem to be in a full sweat 10 seconds into the game. I love this guy’s intensity; in the already overhyped summer of 2010, Bynum would be an under-the-radar restricted free agent worth paying.
19. Memphis (22): It’s not a coincidence that this team, young and easily distracted, is playing much better since the Iverson Circus officially left town. Young teams are teasers and heartbreakers, yet I still believe this team has the ability to sneak in the back door of the playoffs.
20. LA Clippers (18): You know who’s had one hell of a career? Marcus Camby . It seems like yesterday when the Mullins Center was full, and making the NCAA  tournament was expected in Amherst. Camby was a defensive force in college (I remember seeing him outplay a kid from Wake Forest named Tim Duncan ), and he’s continued in the pros. It’s just hard to believe that he’s 35. He’s averaged double-digit rebounds nine of the last 10 years.
21. Toronto (25): Did you see the Jarrett Jack  move against the Bulls? During a play in the third quarter, he actually stopped to tie his shoes . And that’s not even the best part of the story: The Bulls were so clueless on defense that Jack had time to do it without anyone on the Bulls guarding him.
22. Washington (17): You can always tell which general managers know what they’re doing and which ones are playing fantasy hoops. The Wizards are blessed with a tremendous amount of talent, but the talent doesn’t complement each other well enough. If Ernie Grunfeld had come to that conclusion in the offseason, Washington would be in the top 10 rather than the bottom.
23. Sacramento (15): Despite the slide, the Kings still are far outperforming their level of talent. They were one of the five worst teams with their best player, and they haven’t had him for the bulk of the season.
24. New York (27): I read a good one in the New York Times, and this wasn’t even a Jayson Blair work of fiction. According to the hilarious story, the Knicks are willing to trade point guard Nate Robinson . The Boston equivalent would be, “Celtics Open to Trading Tony Allen .” Uh, really? Robinson is the rare little guy you actually root against. The Knicks’ willingness to move him is not news, although it is news if some dumb team bites.
25. Golden State (26): The Warriors are terrible and Don Nelson  is literally too sick to coach them, but they impressed me earlier this week. Well, Monta Ellis  did. He played the entire 48 minutes and guarded Kevin Durant , who’s at least a half-foot taller than the 6-3 Ellis.
27. Indiana (23) The Pacers will be without Danny Granger  for the next month and a half. That’s another way of saying that they’re whistling toward the bottom of this list in the next month and a half. The good news for Larry Bird  is that his new book with Jackie MacMullan, “When The Game Was Ours,” is the opposite of his team. Which is to say it’s excellent.
28. Philadelphia (28): Does anyone in any sport put on a better press conference than Allen Iverson ? A.I. sits before a mic and you got a chance to see something that you’ve never seen or imagined. I mean, dude is complicated. He wasn’t just crying last week; he was heaving. By the way, which Philadelphia team has a better home atmosphere: the Sixers or Drexel?
29. New Jersey (30): Rooting for them to lose was a blast, but it was nice to see the hopeless Nets get their first two wins of the year. Still, let’s make a boring bet (you degenerates know what I’m talking about: a boring bet is one with no funds involved): I say the Nets  have no chance of matching their win total from the 50-game lockout season. They racked up 16 wins then; they’ll be lucky to reach 14 this year.
30. Minnesota (29): I’m not saying the Timberwolves  are in danger of being New Jersey Bad, but they deserve all the awful things that happen to them. They’ve been anti-intellectuals for three years running: they traded KG, they traded the rights to O.J. Mayo  for the rights to Kevin Love , and they had two lottery picks and spent them both on point guards. What, is Matt Millen advising NBA teams now, too?