NBA Tier List: Jazz remain elite, Knicks surge toward relevancy

New York Knicks' RJ Barrett smiles after drawing the foul during the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, in New York. (Elsa/Pool Photo via AP)

Somehow, it’s already March and the NBA season will enter its midway-point break near the end of this week, highlighted by this Sunday’s condensed All-Star festivities.

As has been the case all season long, the NBA is a jumbled mess with many teams tightly bunched together -- particularly around the Eastern Conference and the middle of the Western Conference.

We’ll attempt to navigate through this malaise once again in this week’s edition of the Sportsnet NBA Tier List.

Alone at the top

Compared to their earlier torrid pace, the two losses the Utah Jazz have suffered in their last five games almost makes them seem like a regular-old elite team.

Still, elite is elite, and there remains no other team in the league anywhere close to as good as they’ve been so far this season.

Are the Lakers going to be OK?

The Lakers recently lost four straight with both Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder out of the lineup, inviting people to wonder whether they’re going to be alright or not.

The answer, of course, is yes. The Lakers will be alright and have most recently won two straight, thanks to Schroder returning and can look forward to a Davis return on the horizon after the All-Star break.

“Basketball is back in New York City my friends”

There are a lot of teams in this tier (nine to be exact), but let’s take a moment to focus on the New York Knicks, who for years have been the league’s laughingstock thanks to incompetent management.

Well, led by coach of the year frontrunner Tom Thibodeau, that old famous quote from CBS Sports’ Pat O’Brien when New York won the first-ever draft lottery can once again apply: "Basketball is back in New York City my friends," and the Knicks are legitimately pretty good this season.

Currently sitting fourth in the Eastern Conference with an 18-17 record, the hard-nosed defence Thibodeau teams are known for along with the strong play of Julius Randle, who's taken an all-star step, and Canadian R.J. Barrett also making strides in his sophomore season has the Knicks looking like they’ll finally return to relevancy.

Bogus-looking Boston

Despite still being in a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the sixth-place Boston Celtics haven’t looked right for about six weeks now.

After jumping out to an 8-3 record, the Celtics have only been 10-14 and just haven’t been themselves.

Yes, they have sustained injuries to key personnel, but even so, this is a team that’s talented enough that it should have been able to push through far better than it has so far.

Perhaps the upcoming break will give the Celtics the needed respite to get right and healthy and return to being the Eastern Conference power they were expected to be this season?

OKC is Canada’s NBA team

How cool was this moment from Canadian Luguentz Dort last week?

And even better, in that same game fellow Canuck Shai Gilgeous-Alexander went off for a new career-high 42 points on 13-for-20 shooting.

If you’re a Canadian hoops fan and you don’t wish well for the Oklahoma City Thunder then you need to check yourself.

Houston has a major problem

The Houston Rockets are in deep trouble.

They’ve lost 11 straight games and, according to reporting from ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Victor Oladipo turned down a two-year, $45.2-million contract extension.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the Rockets and Oladipo can’t come to an agreement in the off-season, of course, but it also leaves open the door to trade him again before the March 25 deadline.

Whatever Houston decides to do, it’s unlikely it’ll help turn around its fortunes at all. As things stand now, all the Rockets are fighting for now will be for one of the top-three picks in the draft.

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