There are plenty of good-to-great teams in the NBA hanging just below the elite, but a few of the teams that merit that level of respect are there mainly on grit.
Right towards playoff picture, you'll find the Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, and Los Angeles Clippers. But none of those groups are coasting.
In fact, they're well above their ceiling, and Charles Barkley hit the nail on the head by elucidating things after Miami dismantled the Boston Celtics 115-99 on Thursday night.
Charles Barkley on TNT just now: “If you look at the NBA, the Brooklyn Nets, the Clippers and the Miami Heat are the hardest working teams in the NBA.”— Kristian Winfield (@Krisplashed) January 11, 2019
Shaq and Kenny go on to say you look at their talent, but they play hard which is why they’re about .500.
Right on the money.
The Brooklyn Nets have impressed us most, picking up marginal athletes (hello, Spencer Dinwiddie) and giving plenty of kids chances (Jarrett Allen, anyone?) and soaring to the edges of the playoff picture, right as they're scheduled to get their draft picks back.
But Miami and the Clippers absolutely deserve praise as well. Every single member of Los Angeles' roster comes to play, and Miami's brand-new underdog attitude has been embodied by a wide variety of diamonds in the rough (Derrick Jones Jr. being the latest example).
Derrick Jones Jr. almost threw down an insane dunk pic.twitter.com/DsdVZTJc6Q— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) January 11, 2019
At a certain point, teams without assets have to instill the culture first. Ahead of free agency, these hard-charging teams have certainly gotten there quickly.