PER Diem: Jan. 21, 2009

We've talked about the best … now let's talk about the rest.

Four teams dominated the league in the first half of the season, and those four have held down the top four spots in the Power Rankings in some order for several weeks now. That leaves us with the nagging possibility that there are only four legitimate title contenders out there, with everyone else just hoping to get lucky.

But we've still got half a season to play, and several teams have yet to show us what they can do at full strength. So here's a quick look at the teams, in order, that I think have the best shot of breaking through and turning the league's Fantastic Four into a Fabulous Five.

1. Utah Jazz: They've held down the fort through the season's first half (25-17) pretty well, which is impressive considering they haven't had their best players healthy at the same time. Between Deron Williams' ankle and Carlos Boozer's hamstring, as well as several other less prominent injuries, Utah has relied on its superior depth to carry it through the first half.

Boozer could be back for the season's final month or two, which would be a huge boost. And even if he isn't, Williams is back to playing like the Williams of old, and it's showing in the Jazz's recent results. Despite the injuries, the Jazz are also defending better than they ever have in the post-Stockton-Malone era, ranking 10th in defensive efficiency.

Utah has been as high as No. 5 in the Power Rankings and is currently No. 9 even without Boozer; should he come back, I'd still argue this is the one team that can legitimately say it can match the Lakers talent-wise and come out of the West.

2. Houston Rockets: Will they? Probably not. But could they? Absolutely. The Rockets are 26-16, 11th in the Power Rankings and projected for 49 wins by today's Playoff Odds … without having their top six players healthy at the same time at any point this season. While doubts linger over whether Tracy McGrady can come back -- and if so, what he can provide -- there remains a healthy respect for his ability to break down defenses and create shots.

Moreover, one can't as easily dismiss the likelihood of Ron Artest's making a healthy return, joining the newly returned Shane Battier and Brent Barry to fortify Houston's wing rotation. With the way Yao Ming and their role players are playing, the Rockets don't need that huge a boost from their injured wings to make the leap to elite status.

3. San Antonio Spurs: Perhaps I'm overrating them based on their history -- after some early injuries, they've had all hands on deck for quite a while now, and yet both the Playoff Odds (51 wins) and Power Rankings (10th) seem mighty unimpressed.

Here's the thing: Their history of second-half surges seems relevant given that this is the same cast they've had on hand on the past several seasons. Gregg Popovich's recent "We suck on D" proclamation seems to be the clarion call to rally the troops for February.

On the other hand, San Antonio has already played the easy part of its schedule and is showing its age on several fronts -- most notably in the decline of defensive ace Bruce Bowen, which is one reason the Spurs are a distant fourth in defensive efficiency rather than their usual perch in the top two. San Antonio probably needs another quality big before the trade deadline before it can outmatch the likes of a healthy Jazz or Rockets team, let alone the Lakers.

4. Denver Nuggets: Though third in the West at 28-15, Denver is another team that probably needs to land an extra quality big man before it can make a legitimate case for jumping into the league's upper crust. But with two All-Star-caliber performers in Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony, and a third player having an All-Star-caliber season in center Nene, Denver has a lot of the pieces already in place.

When both Billups and Anthony play, the team is 21-9, and that was when Anthony was struggling with his shot because of an elbow injury. That's going to get some time to heal thanks to his current broken hand, which could position the Nuggies to make a big surge after the All-Star break.

5. Philadelphia 76ers: OK, now we're scraping the barrel -- Philly finished the first half a game under .500. I suppose I could have put New Orleans or Phoenix here, but I get the impression that we've seen about all they can do, and that's not enough to scare anyone in the top four.

Of the remaining teams, it seems to me this is the one that has the best chance of surprising us and making a huge push in the second half. With apologies to my hometown Hawks, it's also the only East team that I see as a threat to the top three in that conference.

Of course, they could also give us a different kind of surprise, much as they did in the season's opening weeks. But when Elton Brand returns in the coming days, one has to think that it will benefit the team and that they'll keep running the way they did in his absence. As I've discussed here before, the key tweak would be to play him at center, where Samuel Dalembert has been brutal, and leave spots one through four for the greyhounds. If they do that, the Sixers could still live up to the preseason expectations.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.