- Neil Paine
As far as transition years go, the Los Angeles Lakers are having a pretty good run in this abbreviated 2011-12 NBA season. At 30-19, L.A. currently owns the third-best record in the Western Conference, boasting the top mark in the Pacific Division (2.5 games clear of their crosstown rival, the Los Angeles Clippers) while ranking seventh in John Hollinger's Power Ratings. After a disappointing 11-9 start, the Lakers have won 19 of their last 29 games and are once again positioned to make a deep playoff run behind the powerful trio of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
Yet, as good as the 2012 Lakers have been, they could have been even better.
On Dec. 8, 2011, the Lakers appeared to have acquired Chris Paul, the game's consensus No. 1 point guard, in a trade that would have sent Gasol to the Houston Rockets and Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Lamar Odom, Goran Dragic and draft picks to the league-owned New Orleans Hornets. But NBA commissioner David Stern infamously nullified the trade, and Paul landed with the Clippers.
Despite a recent downturn, the Clippers have clearly reaped the benefits of Paul's presence, holding the fourth seed in the West with a 27-21 record (eight games better than they were at the same stage last season). It's easy to see what his game brings to the table. He controls every aspect of the team's fifth-ranked offense, ranking sixth among qualified point guards in touches per minute, third in pure point rating and fifth in true shooting percentage, while maintaining a microscopic 7.6 turnover rate -- an absurdly low number for an elite PG.
11hMarc Stein and Tim MacMahon
18hBaxter Holmes and Larry Coon