It’s been a while since I’ve written one of my Dirty Thirties, and I’ll tell you why. I’m confused. Sure, we’ve got a 95% chance of a Finals rematch. But other than that… it’s been hard to put these teams in order.

Rule #1 about today’s column. The Spurs and Pistons are so far ahead of everyone else, I won’t be mentioning them again. It’s kind of like the NFL where everyone says parity this parity that, but the Patriots are a dynasty and another team almost went undefeated this year. Parity in the middle and at the bottom, dominance at the top. That’s the NBA now too.

I’ll start with the west. Phoenix is the 2 seed. Golden State is the 8 seed. The Warriors are 5 games behind them. Dallas is creeping up on the Spurs (who I will not refer to again, as they do not walk in the land of mortal teams) for the 1 seed, but let’s be really really real, the Mavs are not finishing with the best record in the West. The four seed is theirs. Under the eighth seeded Warriors, I give any of four teams a chance to go on one winning streak and be in the playoff mix.

At the bottom, Houston would be great if Yao and Tracy weren’t hurting, but the injuries are so harsh that they might as well just tank the season like the Spurs did when David Robinson was hurt. Are Rudy Gay or Adam Morrison the next Tim Duncan? No, don’t be stupid. If Duncan were white, then maybe I could compare him to Morrison, but he’s not so it isn’t allowed. Portland’s rebuilding, so learning is more important than wins and losses. Seattle is a disaster, though they could sneak up and take a playoff spot too. Not that they will. Newrokalahoma has Chris Paul who has the ROY in the bag, who’s back from his injury already, but they’re not making the playoffs. Sacramento is screaming out to be blown up and rebuilt, and this year they could finally provide the evidence to make that happen.

As for the part of the puzzle that matters, the teams that will make the playoffs and lose to either the Spurs (them again, whoops) or the team that loses to the Spurs, I see it like this: Memphis is a much different team than last year, and even with the Stoudamire injury they’re better than they have been. That doesn’t guarantee getting to the second round, but I think they’ll win a game or two in the first round, so that’s cool. The Clips got off to a hot start, but they’ve cooled. I expect them to pick it up again and be in a head to head battle for positioning with… the Lakers. That should be fun, but my dream of dreams is to have them face each other in a playoff series. Kobe is playing his best ball since before Colorado. Okay, he’s playing his best ball. He’s incredible. Now is not the time to talk about shooting too much. The negativity is his fuel? It seems like the Lakers bottomed out when he was shooting too much and missing, and now Phil Jackson is doing a good job of turning them around and the rebirth of L.A. has begun. Utah is not a good team, hit with that injury bug, and have done bad basketball team things this year, even if Jerry Sloan is the coach. Record: 18-17. That’s one game over .500. They are the 3 seed.

Denver is right on the outside, but should land squarely in the middle of the race any day now. Minnesota is the exact same thing as last year, sitting outside, looking through the window like a sad puppy in a rainstorm. In fact… there should be a way for KG, Artest, and Paul Pierce to all play for the same team. Perhaps a 30 way trade. A dirty 30 way trade. Anyways, the West is the proverbial log jam, and I hope that somehow it comes down to Lakers-Clippers, though that would have to be a second round game.

To the East… You know who’s winning the top seed. Miami, Jersey, and Cleveland should all fight for the 2, 3, and 4 spot. Cleveland needs its shooters to step up, Jersey has to find another way to win when Vince isn’t scoring 30+, and Miami might want to start taking the regular season more seriously. Or not, whatever. This is how a team loaded with playoff veterans sometimes treats the first half of the year. Everyone else has a chance to be a low to mid playoff seed. Even Atlanta with its nine wins is one streak away from being up in the mix. The difference between fifth seeded Milwaukee, having a great year, and Boston who is being called a disappointment and written about unloading players, is 4 games. The hot and cold streaks over the course of the season could be responsible for the whole playoff picture. Whoever gets hot at the end, and avoids a collapse could be the 5 seed.

Then there’s Ron Ron. It’s been a month since his trade demand. A month of waiting for the league to readjust. Wherever he goes, the balance of power changes for better or worse. Anyone that Indy gets back is better than a superstar on the inactive list. I’m still waiting. I don’t know how to rank these teams until that day comes.

Ok, I’m just kidding. I can’t resist. As of today:

1 Detroit

2 San Antonio

3 Phoenix

4 Dallas

5 Miami

6 Memphis

7 Jersey

8 Cleveland

9 Denver

10 LA Lakers

11 Indiana?

12 LA Clippers

13 Milwaukee

14 Golden State

15 Minnesota

16 Utah

17 Philly

18 Washington

19 Chicago

20 New York

21 Orlando

22 Newklahoma

23 Seattle

24 Boston

25 Sacramento

26 Toronto

27 Portland

28 Atlanta

29 Charlotte (Okafor injury)

30 Houston

-SAM RUBENSTEIN