Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 6:00 PM
Believe it or not, the 2012-13 NBA season now is nearly two-thirds the way over in terms of regular-season action and - while the league's All-Stars converge in Houston for this weekend's slam-bang affair - we here at Jim Sez take a few minutes to pass out the NBA Report Card Grades and let's just say that you might be a tad surprised by some of the marks posted below:
Hey, you thought the defending champion Miami Heat was a slam-dunk to get an "A+" or an "A" ... well, think again. And whoever thought the Los Angeles Lakers would be right there at the bottom of the NBA Report Card Grade heap - read 'em and weep:
GRADE: A +
San Antonio (42-12) - The out-and-out best team in the league right now has worked wonders even without its full complement players as Hall of Fame head coach Gregg Popovich has squeezed everything possible from vet Tim Duncan and point guard Tony Parker but that "second unit" is amazing and sure looks like Kawhi Leonard is headed for stardom even if he's a 25- minutes-per-game guy. Nothing like being 30 games over .500 at the All-Star Game break and we wonder what grade we can give the Spurs if they happen to win close to 70 games this 2012-13 regular season ... yowie!
Los Angeles Clippers (39-17) - The best team in the city of LA roars into the break on a four-game winning streak and it seems PG Chris Paul is getting a bit healthier with each passing day while All-Star F Blake Griffin is finding other ways to beat you besides the alley-oop dunks. The Clippers might get a little careless on "D" at times but this athletic group - which scored 46 points in the first quarter against Houston the other night - has a whole slew of ways to beat you. Three cheers for Vinny Del Negro's guys.
Indiana (32-21) - Hats off to the gritty Pacers who have played better-than-.600 ball without true star Danny Granger as the tag-team tandem of Paul George and David West are each averaging 17 ppg and the overall team defense has been stout and you can anoint Indiana as the NBA's single-biggest overachiever so far. Hey, if the Pacers' bench brigade plays as well in the next 20-plus games than you might want to hand 'em an "A" by season's end too.
Brooklyn (31-22) - The real key to this first season in NYC has been the players not named Deron Williams and Joe Johnson who've saved the day. Williams has been a below-average point guard for the season's first three-plus months (plus he got head coach Avery Johnson fired, to boot) while Johnson's been an occasional star scorer but too many nights the former Atlanta Hawks star has been MIA. It's All-Star C Brook Lopez who's really shined plus the "bit players" for new boss P.J. Carlesimo who have stepped to the front ... paging Aundray Blatche and rebounding maven Reggie Evans (9.2 rpg).
Oklahoma City (39-14) - The Thunder's right about where you thought they might be some 65 percent thru this current campaign and, yes, they've gotten here without now-Houston star James Harden but both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have gotten better and the in-the-paint guys (see Serge Obaka and mates) have made Scotty Brooks' crew a little tougher/meaner with a real killer instinct. Still, it would have been nice to close out the unofficial first half of the year with a home win against Miami this past Thursday night but you can't always get what you want!
Miami (36-14) - No doubt the Heat's current seven-game winning streak (the best in NBA-land at the time of this All-Star Game weekend) is ultra-impressive stuff and safe to say nobody's playing better than MVP LeBron James but Miami's not exactly been a road warrior this year (see 13-11 away record) and there have simply been too many games that have slipped away from Erik Spoelstra's squad. It's been a major dose of James and a smaller sampling of greatness for G Dwyane Wade - just no "A" grade here.
Memphis (33-18) - Despite the Grizzlies' recent cost-cutting moves (see Rudy Gay to Toronto), this is a team that plays scratch-and-claw defense and they seemingly can count on Zach Randolph to get 'em a double-double at the drop of a hat. Is Memphis better than it was a year ago? Perhaps not but playing near-.650 ball ain't bad for a team that doesn't always get the smartest/soundest play from its starting and backup points guards.
New York (32-18) - Let's face it: Grading this year's Knicks is a tough chore when you consider that Mike Woodson's club has played inconsistent ball the past few weeks and All-Star F Carmelo Anthony - now playing with a bum elbow - has been a feast-or-famine player for much of this season. If the Knicks would have received a grade after 20 games than it would have been an A+ but the recent dip in play - maybe too many three-point shots, right? - has dragged down the mark a couple of pegs.
Denver (33-21) - The transformation for the Nuggets from C. Anthony's team to a more spread-the-wealth attack has not always been smooth but now-healthy head coach George Karl gets "good run" from this group and board-banger Kenneth Faried (9.7 rpg) is the right sort of "X factor" guy who has a way of stealing games.
Atlanta (29-22) - The Hawks have won 10 of their 13 divisional games and that's been key in keeping this crew afloat a year after the Johnson exodus to Brooklyn and so maybe head coach Larry Drew deserves a round of applause all things considered. Now, if F Josh Smith only wanted to play every game as if it was his last!
Utah (30-24) - The Jazz has feasted off the East (see 13-6) and that's what has kept 'em going plus it helps that stat-sheet stuffer Paul Millsap (15 ppg and 7 rpg) has turned himself into one of the NBA's top 15 players.
Golden State (30-22) - We were all set to hand out an "A" grade to the Warriors a week ago but five consecutive losses and some truly ambivalent play on defense wrecked that and so second-year head coach Mark Jackson must get this Bay Area bunch righted before it's too late. P.S., let's see more FG attempts by Steph Curry, okay?
Chicago (30-22) - You can hand Bulls' boss-man Tom Thibedoux another "A+" for a job well done but overall this club that's been forced to play without PG Derrick Rose gets a solid grade even if there's been some underwhelming moments at home and even though the role players on this 2012-13 club have not been as quite up to snuff as in recent years past.
Houston (29-26) - Too many peaks and valleys for this Rockets crew that did have to play on without grieving head coach Kevin McHale but now an ankle injury to James Harden has this club worried plus we have not seen enough starry nights from PG Jeremy Lin.
Toronto (21-32) - Give the Raptors credit for not lying down and playing dead after the rotten start as recently-acquired star Rudy Gay has been terrific and the road win at New York this past Wednesday night showed the North-of-the-Border crew will fight back.
Washington (15-36) - Well aware the Wizards entered this weekend's All-Star break some 11½ games out of the final playoff berth in the East but the return of PG John Wall has given this club some energy/direction and thus the passing grade here.
Milwaukee (26-25) - The truth is this year's Bucks simply have not been able to get any real traction and the early-season firing of head coach Scott Skiles didn't exactly mask the team's problems ... but can someone tell us why lefty G Brandon Jennings can't score 25-plus points more often than he does?
Boston (28-24) - It's been a truly trying year in Beantown for Doc Rivers and Company as the season-ending injury to mega-star PG Rajon Rondo has come close to wrecking the season but there's been some bright lights with G Jason Terry nailing the occasional big shot and vets Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett still playing like warriors but overall nothing to write home about.
New Orleans (19-34) - Despite being lumped in the Western Conference standings with folks such as Minnesota and Sacramento, this Hornets team tries hard and sports some real gamers such as G Grevis Vazquez (maybe the best player in the NBA you hear nothing about!).
Portland (25-28) - The Blazers staggered into the break on a five-game losing skid and sometimes if seems that the one-two punch of rookie PG Damon Lillard and F LaMarcus Aldridge just don't get any other help at all.
Detroit (21-33) - If the Pistons could have learned to win some of their close games in the first 25-or-so than coach Lawrence Frank wouldn't look so beat up!
Orlando (15-37) - Safe to say the Magic has "matched" the low expectations set for this team and you can't help but wonder if all parties involved would have been better off with C Dwight Howard staying put in central Florida.
Philadelphia (22-29) - One year removed from a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference first-round series against Boston, the roof's caved in on this Sixers' season as folks continue to wait for C Andrew Bynum to lace up the high tops ... what gives here?
Sacramento (19-35) - Word to the Kings and the sad-sack Maloof brothers who own this faltering franchise ... just get out of Dodge now!
Dallas (23-29) - Maybe the fact the Mavs have no identity anymore hurts but what are you gonna do when Dirk Nowitzki misses a bundle of games?
Cleveland (16-37) - Think the Cavaliers fans will ever forgive King James ... and what if he pulls down five or six titles along the way? At least G Kyrie Irving has star talent but little else good surrounds 'em these days.
Minnesota (19-31) - The injuries to Kevin Love have sabotaged this young Timberwolves crew but eight losses in their last 10 games seems to show that Minny's lost interest on this current campaign.
Phoenix (17-36) - Lost amidst all the negative vibes coming from the Lakers this year, here's the Suns playing .321 ball and without a star player on the roster. Not a pretty sight on most nights.
Charlotte (12-40) - Maybe G Kemba Walker gives Bobcats' fans something to shout about but otherwise this club is dreadful and recent 2-8 slump heading into the break has folks wondering if this franchise is ever gonna get it right.
Los Angeles Lakers (25-29) - The soap opera that is this year's Lakers has gotten tiresome by now but you cannot argue the fact that Kobe Bryant ain't what he used to be and the likes of oft-injured PG Steve Nash and the aforementioned Mr. Howard just have not been good - and that goes for head coach Mike D'Antoni too.
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