NBA Divisional Leaders: What Teams Are the Real Deal?

Gideon ResnickContributor IIIJanuary 25, 2012

The Chicago Bulls in their win over the New Jersey Nets; they currently hold the best record in the NBA at 16-3
The Chicago Bulls in their win over the New Jersey Nets; they currently hold the best record in the NBA at 16-3Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With a little over a quarter of the NBA season under wraps, some of the divisional leaders in both the Eastern and Western Conferences are surprising to say the least. The consistent theme of this strange, shortened season has been inconsistency—with teams falling victim to fatigue after playing consecutive games and underdogs beating titans in shocking upsets.

While these standings will undoubtedly change before the season is done, it's fascinating to take a look at the state of the basketball union as it stands currently.

Atlantic Division—Eastern Conference


The Philadelphia 76ers lead their division with a record of 12-5, that is a whopping four and half games ahead of the Boston Celtics in second place. They have some impressive numbers, including their allowance of only 88-opponent points per game, ranking them as second in the NBA in terms of this statistic.

With Lou Williams as their leader averaging 15.4 points a night, the 76ers have put together some impressive wins—including their takedowns of the Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers.

However, they have not been tested by the best in the league enough to ascertain how long this run can last. For instance, they crumbled against the Miami Heat and lost in overtime to the surging Denver Nuggets.

Will they wilt?

They have a sizable lead over all of the other teams in the Atlantic division, and teams like the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks will struggle to make up the win discrepancy. Because of the lack of competition in their division, the 76ers will remain on top—likely all the way through the season. But the Celtics could gain on the lead somewhat.

Central Division—Eastern Conference


The Chicago Bulls are right back on top of their division, just like last season. With an NBA best record of 16-3 and stellar nightly performances by MVP Derrick Rose, it seems there is no stopping the Bulls on their run to the playoffs.

However, the Indiana Pacers are only three games behind and look consistently impressive. What the Bulls have going for them is defense, which is always emphasized the most by Coach Tom Thibodeau.

They are allowing only 85.8 points per game and stifle the offenses of capable teams with intensified emphasis. Rose is averaging 20.9 points and 8.6 assists per night, making a statement for the MVP trophy once again. 

Will they wilt?

Everything points to the Chicago Bulls remaining the number one seed in the Eastern Conference throughout the season. They are beginning to show more offensive capabilities from other players besides Rose and continue to be overwhelming on defense.

The only thing that could preclude them from this seeding is injuries. Luol Deng is out with a serious wrist injury and Rose has just returned from a toe sprain. If they stay healthy, they're a formidable squad.

Southeast Division—Eastern Conference


Surprisingly enough, after the loss of Al Horford, the Atlanta Hawks lead their tightly competitive division—even surpassing the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat. Atlanta is 13-5, with wins over Miami, Chicago, and Portland.

Joe Johnson is their leading scorer, averaging 19.1 points per game, while Josh Smith takes a close second at 16.3 points per game and 9.4 rebounds. 

Will they wilt?

Atlanta is not a deep team. Their bench players don't really provide much to the offensive end of the spectrum, which forces the starters to create points. The starters are certainly capable of doing so. But by the end of the season, the Miami Heat will have caught up to the top spot in the Southeast Division. Orlando may even force Atlanta in the third position.

Northwest Division—Western Conference


One of the potential favorites to win the NBA title this year, sits atop this division. The Oklahoma City Thunder leads the division at 14-3 with impressive nightly performances by Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, who is averaging 25.7 points per night. They are a very complete team with all the starters bringing something to the table, whether it is Ibaka's rebounding skills or James Harden's defense.

Will Dwight Howard make sure the Orlando Magic take over the top spot in their division?
Will Dwight Howard make sure the Orlando Magic take over the top spot in their division?Brett Deering/Getty Images

Will they wilt?

Besides the fact that they are in an excellent division in the company of the Portland Trailblazers, Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets, the Thunder will remain at the top of their division. However, they really could improve defensively. Upcoming matchups against teams like the Bulls and Heat will reveal whether their defense is up to snuff for a championship.

Pacific Division—Western Conference


The combination of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin is showy, exciting and wondrous to behold. The Los Angeles Clippers leads their division at 9-5, beating out their local rivals—the Lakers.

Blake Griffin is averaging a double-double (21 points and 11.5 rebounds), while Paul is averaging 18 points and 8.4 assists every trip out on the court.

Will they wilt?

Besides the Lob City Express complete with CP3 and Griffin as passengers, the experience and will of Chauncey Billups has allowed the Clippers to exceed expectations this year.

However, the Lakers will challenge them throughout the season for this top spot. The Clippers are the younger, more athletically-talented team, but they also suffer from an extreme lack of depth—with only Mo Williams serving as an integral bench player. 

Southwest Division—Western Conference


In the strangest and most tightly competitive division, the veteran San Antonio Spurs leads at 11-7, after the Memphis Grizzlies lost to the Blazers last night. The Spurs are tied with the NBA champs of last season, the Dallas Mavericks.

Despite the fact that the Spurs are one of the older teams in the NBA, right now they are playing great basketball—with Tony Parker at the helm racking up an average of 17.7 points and 8.1 assists per night. All this success is coming without Manu Ginobili as well, who is out due to his broken left hand.

Will they wilt?

It's so difficult to call this one because the division is so close, with the Houston Rockets in fourth place—only a half-a-game behind San Antonio. With the return of Manu Ginobili and assuming the Spurs stay healthy from there on out, they could retain this position in their division.

However, the Memphis Grizzlies can never be counted out. Perhaps, the veterans from Texas have one more in them.