Posted: Fri January 25, 2013 1:13PM; Updated: Fri January 25, 2013 6:11PM
Matt Dollinger

Midseason Rankings: Which teams have work to do in second half?

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Al Jefferson
The Jazz are legit playoff contenders, but would be well served to clear up their frontcourt logjam.
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

We're already halfway through the season, but we're just starting to find out whether teams are saddling up for a playoff run or slowing down for the stretch run.

While some teams are firmly entrenched on their side of the spectrum, a majority of teams lurk in the middle. The Thunder, who return to the top spot in the Power Rankings for the first time in four weeks after beating the Clippers, lead a small group of teams that are all but certain to make the playoffs. Then there's the small collection of teams forming at the bottom, lowlighted by the Bobcats, who are unlikely to turn their seasons around barring a miraculous turn of events.

That leaves about half of the league trying to decide if it's gunning for the postseason or the lottery. Rather than look back and critique the past few months, let's look toward the future and break down what each team needs to do to have a successful second half of the season.

Here's where all 30 teams rank as we focus on the present while keeping an eye on the future.

NBA Power Rankings
1 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 2
Since: 2-2
Finish what they start: It's tough to poke holes in the NBA-best Thunder, but they have had a bit of trouble closing out games, as illustrated by their loss to the Warriors on Wednesday. Oklahoma City is 9-5 in games decided by six points or fewer for the season. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, of course, give the Thunder two top late-game options, but turnovers and a lack of execution have hurt them in a few close games.
2 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 3
Since: 4-0
Stay healthy, stay sharp: If it were up to the Spurs, the NBA Finals would begin tomorrow. We all know how Gregg Popovich feels about the regular season. San Antonio is just trying to get to the playoffs healthy and intact. Popovich will continue to monitor his top players' minutes, even if that means sacrificing the occasional win. The biggest task will be trying to find the happy medium between giving his aging core a breather while not letting any rust gather.
3 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 1
Since: 1-2
Spread the love: There's only one problem with being the deepest team in the league: You only have so many minutes to dole out. If Los Angeles is ever fortunate enough to be completely healthy (Chris Paul is sidelined with a bruised knee and Chauncey Billups remains out with a foot injury), it'll put quite the burden on coach Vinny Del Negro. The backcourt, at full strength, would be the biggest challenge of all as Del Negro would have to find time for Paul, Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe, Willie Green and Billups. It's a good problem for Del Negro to have -- unless he picks the wrong players and combinations.
4 Miami Heat
Last Week: 4
Since: 1-0
Miami Heat (27-12)
Work out the kinks: The Heat still look like the team to beat in the East, but Miami hasn't done anything to assert its dominance other than an impressive win against Oklahoma City in a Finals rematch. The defensive struggles are real, and the Heat have yet to find a big man to protect the rim, although they're trying, recently signing Chris "Birdman" Andersen. Miami still has plenty of time to perfect its defense and hit its stride, but the reigning champs haven't looked as dominant as expected.
5 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 5
Since: 3-1
Get the most out of JaVale McGee: We are all fascinated by McGee's bizarre sideshow -- he recently, as only he could, followed an off-the-backboard alley-oop dunk to himself with a celebratory finger mustache -- but we're even more amazed with what he's able to do when he's trying his hardest to win, not make people laugh. George Karl recently called out the center, explaining that "lazy and crazy just isn't going to work." If McGee can take things a little more seriously, he could help the Nuggets make noise in the playoffs and get out of the first round for the first time in four years.
6 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 6
Since: 3-1
Go big or go home: The Grizzlies sent a strong message by dealing two rotation players, Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington, along with young guard Josh Selby and a protected first-round pick to the Cavaliers for a player who has scored 22 points this season: They're confident that they can contend with their current core. Rather than blow up the roster and trade Rudy Gay or Zach Randolph, Memphis decided to duck under the tax line by trading reserves. It's a move that hurts the Grizz's bench, but maybe not their overall chances, provided Darrell Arthur, Quincy Pondexter and Jerryd Bayless can step up. If the Grizzlies don't make a run in the playoffs, this could be the summer they split up the team.
7 New York Knicks
Last Week: 7
Since: 1-1
Use some #Knickstape to patch up that defense: The Knicks own one of the league's best offenses, but their defense is more critical to their success. New York is 19-4 when holding opponents under 100 points and 12-2 when keeping them below 90. With the return of Iman Shumpert, New York gets its best perimeter defender back. If and when Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace return, New York will have two experienced post defenders to serve as reinforcements. But the players who will affect the Knicks' defense the most are Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, the two star forwards who set the tone for the team.
8 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 9
Since: 3-1
Lean on the veterans: The Warriors are one of the youngest, brightest teams in the league, but two 29-year-old offseason acquisitions have allowed this bunch to enjoy so much success. Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry have played in every game and have served as the glue for Golden State's turnaround. The experienced duo will only grow in importance as the Warriors fight for playoff position and prepare for their first postseason berth since 2006-07.
9 Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 10
Since: 3-0
Reward P.J. Carlesimo: All the coach has done since taking over for Avery Johnson is lead Brooklyn to a 12-2 record, salvage the season and make owner Mikhail Prokhorov look like the Garry Kasparov of the NBA. There's nothing flashy about Carlesimo. But he's been the perfect fit and deserves an extended shot at coaching the Nets and trying to turn them into a title contender.
10 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 11
Since: 3-1
Get reps for Derrick Rose: Rose's teammates have the Bulls positioned for the playoffs despite his absence, and now it's up to Chicago's superstar -- and his surgically repaired left knee -- to be ready for the postseason. Coming back from an ACL injury in the middle of a season is no easy task, making it unrealistic to expect Rose to play like his 2011 MVP self right away. But even a fraction of that player could be a game-changer for the Bulls and make them a legitimate threat in the East.
11 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 8
Since: 2-2
Assimilate Danny Granger: It's been six years since Granger wasn't the best player on the Pacers -- Jermaine O'Neal owned that title in 2007 -- but his reign as top dog in Indiana may be over with the emergence of first-time All-Star Paul George. That doesn't mean Granger won't be the focal point of the offense when he returns, but it means he'll have to defer to George at certain times, something he hasn't had to do in years. George has clearly become the team's alpha male while helping Indiana come alive after a 10-11 start. If Granger can find a way to mesh with George, the Pacers will be even better.
12 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 13
Since: 2-2
Net prospects and picks for Josh Smith: It's increasingly likely that Smith will walk as a free agent after the season, meaning the burden is on Hawks general manager Danny Ferry to find a deal for the 27-year-old forward and get good value in return. For all his baggage, Smith is one of the most talented two-way players in the league, and players of his caliber are rarely available.
13 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 14
Since: 2-0
Utah Jazz (23-19)
Buy an unlimited cell-phone plan for Dennis Lindsey: Overages are the only reason I can fathom why the Jazz general manager hasn't made a trade yet. Utah is a good guard away from being a legitimate playoff team, but it's yet to alleviate its frontcourt jam and part with anyone from its (literal) Big Four: Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. It's tough to part with players of that caliber and potential, but their redundancy isn't doing the Jazz any good. It's time to pick up the phone.
14 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 12
Since: 1-2
Sort things out with Royce White: White has apparently reached an agreement with the Rockets over his mental health care and could be close to returning, but that doesn't guarantee things will work out for the two in Houston. Both sides still have fences to mend if they're going to have a future together, but both also have incentive to work this out. The Rockets would love to have the 18th overall pick on the floor and White needs to restore his image. Both sides could have handled this situation better, but they can put it behind them by working together in the second half of the season.
15 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 16
Since: 2-0
Find some semblance of balance: The Bucks rank first in blocks, fourth in steals and eighth in points allowed per possession, but they aren't nearly as proficient on offense. Milwaukee ranks 25th in field-goal percentage and three-point percentage, but the team, to its credit, has been playing better on offense under interim coach Jim Boylan, going 6-2 and averaging 100 points (up from 97 on the season). If the Bucks' bevy of shooters can find the bottom of the net more, Milwaukee is likely headed to the playoffs.
16 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 17
Since: 1-2
Find a sixth man, a seventh man, an eighth man ...: It's a true testament to the starting lineup that the Blazers are at .500. Portland's reserves rank last in the league in scoring (16.5 points per game), 9.2 points behind the next worst team (Memphis, at 25.7). It's going to be tough for the Blazers to continue their current pace in the second half if Terry Stotts can't give his starters a break. The Rockets just pulled off a savvy midseason pickup from overseas; maybe the Blazers should start looking there as well.
17 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 15
Since: 0-4
Be more offensive: I'm not referring to Kevin Garnett's on-court manners. The Celtics haven't been a good offensive team for three years, but their defense has always been able to make up the difference. That's no longer true, as Boston is allowing 100.3 points per 100 possessions this season, compared to 95.5 (second in the league) last season. With the defense not quite what it used to be, the Celtics' best bet is to try to compensate on offense, the area in which they have the most room for growth. Whether it's Rajon Rondo, Jason Terry, Jeff Green or someone else, Boston needs someone to step up and give it some firepower.
18 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 19
Since: 1-1
Get a second wind: For all of the Mavericks' struggles, they are only three games out of the No. 8 seed and have yet to have Dirk Nowitzki score more than 20 points in a game. Can this veteran group make a run in the second half and sneak into the playoffs? The Mavs have won five of their last six and are getting better production from O.J. Mayo after his extended slump.
19 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 20
Since: 1-2
Knock on wood: The Wolves are far and away the unluckiest team in the league, suffering more injuries than anyone else and seeming to lose a key player every time someone else returns. Kevin Love has played in just 18 games and is out another 1-2 months. Nikola Pekovic, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger and Malcolm Lee are also sidelined. Then there's Ricky Rubio, who hasn't looked like the energetic rookie who powered the Wolves last season before tearing his ACL. Rubio is shooting 24.6 percent from the field while averaging 4.2 points and five assists in 22.1 minutes.
20 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 19
Since: 0-3
Do something: Anything. Quickly. Because if the Lakers stand still, they'll not only struggle this season but also potentially for years to come. If Mike D'Antoni can't turn things around in short order, the Lakers need to explore trades for Dwight Howard. This season has already been miserable for Howard, and if he continues to be unhappy for another 40 games, what are the chances he'll want to re-sign with Los Angeles? If the Lakers aren't certain that Howard will return, they can't take the risk of letting him walk for nothing.
21 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 22
Since: 2-1
Slow the game down: The Pistons are at their best when the watchability of their games is at its worst. Detroit is 1-15 when allowing at least 100 points and 11-6 when holding opponents under 90. That's not surprising from a defensive-oriented team under a defensive-minded coach (Lawrence Frank), but it does stress the importance of keeping opponents' possessions to a minimum. Detroit's done a pretty good job of that so far, ranking 24th in pace and 12th in defensive rebounding.
22 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 23
Since: 1-2
Get to know Andrew Bynum: Bynum is expected to return around the All-Star break, giving the 76ers about two months to evaluate and decide if he's worth re-signing this offseason. Philadelphia built its team and playoff hopes around Bynum this season, parting with star swingman Andre Iguodala in the process, but it has yet to see what the finished product actually looks like. If there are complications with Bynum's knee or he's slow to return, Philadelphia might have to make a decision before knowing how serious the situation is.
23 New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 21
Since: 1-2
Stay patient with Austin Rivers: Monty Williams has done an admirable job of working his young players into the mix while still trying to win. Anthony Davis, 19, has done his part to make it easy, but he's a rare talent. The same can't be said for fellow lottery pick Rivers. The effort is there, but Williams has scaled back Rivers' minutes in recent weeks because of his continued struggles (and Eric Gordon's return). If Rivers, owner of the third-worst Player Efficiency Rating in the league, wants to keep his spot in the rotation, he'll have to play better.
24 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 25
Since: 2-2
Figure out their future: The Raptors should use the second half of the season to decide who they want to keep and who doesn't fit their plans. Toronto has played better without Andrea Bargnani this season and might be better off dealing the No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft. Toronto acquired Kyle Lowry last summer, but is now starting Jose Calderon, whose contract expires after the season. These will be difficult decisions for GM Bryan Colangelo, who hasn't always made the right ones during his seven-year tenure.
25 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 27
Since: 2-0
Phoenix Suns (15-28)
Form a plan: What is the Suns' identity? That's not a rhetorical question. I'm genuinely asking. By choosing Lindsey Hunter, who has zero coaching experience, over respected assistants Elston Turner and Dan Majerle, it's clear Phoenix is thinking long term. But in the meantime they have a veteran-laden roster with few prospects to develop. The Suns would be wise to bring in younger talent and embrace the rebuilding mode they are now toeing around.
26 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 24
Since: 1-3
Leave Sacramento with grace: Given that this group already lacks focus, it's not difficult to imagine the Kings -- who are on the verge of moving to Seattle under new ownership -- daydreaming of life as the SuperSonics. But the Kings owe it to their fans to play well down the stretch and leave their home for the last 28 years on a high note. They can start by improving the league's least efficient defense (108.3 points per 100 possessions).
27 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 26
Since: 0-4
Unload some of the burden: The Magic have been much better than expected this season, but are still unlikely to sneak into the playoffs. This year could be even more successful if new general manager Rob Hennigan can unload one of the team's hefty long-term contracts. Hedo Turkoglu ($12 million), Jameer Nelson ($8.6M), Al Harrington ($7.1M) and Glen Davis ($6.4M) are all a poor fit on a rebuilding team. Hennigan might be able to clear some cap space by pairing one of the players with J.J. Redick, who has an expiring deal and the ability to help a team in need of a shooter.
28 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 29
Since: 2-2
Develop their budding backcourt: The Wizards hope they have starters for the next 10 years in John Wall and Bradley Beal, but they have barely seen what the duo looks like when it plays together. The early results are positive, especially for Beal, who has experienced his share of rookie struggles. The rest of the season should give the two even more time to gel and work on their chemistry.
29 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 28
Since: 1-1
Find a successor to Anderson Varejao: With the Cavaliers in rebuilding mode and Varejao out for the season, it's time for one of Cleveland's young big men to step in and give Kyrie Irving a post player to work with. Rookie Tyler Zeller has shown flashes this season and second-year big man Tristan Thompson is significantly improved. The wild card is the recently acquired Marresee Speights, who is only 25 years old and was serviceable in Memphis the last two seasons.
30 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 30
Since: 1-3
Prepare for 2013-14: The Bobcats have invested lottery picks in recent years in Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, now it's time to invest the minutes. Walker plays a team-high 34.8 per game, but Kidd-Gilchrist (26.9) and Biyombo (25) get significantly less run. There are players on the Bobcats that might give the team a better chance to win now, but most of them are just placeholders. Charlotte should play the ones it knows are going to be around for the long term.

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