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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, February 26, 2012 at 8:57 AM

Okay, let's get right to 'em - the annual Jim Sez look at the NBA's First-Half Report Card Grades with A+ being the best of all grades and F (as in Failure) the worst:

Grade: A+

SAN ANTONIO (24-10) - Okay, so here's the one-and-only NBA team granted the best grade of them all as the "old" Spurs keep hammering out impressive wins, especially at home (13-1) but give veteran head coach Gregg Popovich lots of credit for tweaking Tim Duncan's minutes and keeping PG Tony Parker at optimum speed - plus this club is a whole lot deeper than anyone realizes though it would be nice of ABC/ESPN to show some San Ant games and recognize its existence in the league!

Grade: A

MIAMI (27-7) - Gotta admit that we scoffed back in mid-December (before this shortened NBA season ever started) regarding some experts' talk that the Heat would win 50-or-more games in this 66-game regular season but nobody's laughing at that notion any more! LeBron James 27.4 ppg), Dwyane Wade and playmates have been smashing opponents for weeks now (see this consecutive-game streak of double-digit wins) and there may be no end in sight of Miami's utter destruction of NBA foes. Still, that little wobbly road run in January has us cutting back from an "A+" grade here.

OKLAHOMA CITY (27-7) - The Thunder's doing just about everything you can do right from getting big-time scoring games from Kevin Durant (27.9 ppg) to clutch late-game shots by PG Russell Westbrook to big blocks by C Serge Ibaka and it's been just a pleasure to watch a team mature/develop at this rapid pace but Scott Brooks' club ain't perfect and some late-night clunkers (we were watching!) keeps OKC from getting that A+ grade here.

Grade: B+

HOUSTON (20-14) - Now who knew that head coach Kevin McHale would be just what the Rockets needed as this club's been a major pleasant surprise and G Kevin Martin (18 ppg) is a star even if he barely gets a mention on the nightly highlight shows.

CHICAGO (27-8) - The Bulls win by a per-game average of 9.5 points and that's better than anyone in David Stern's league and hats off to the Chitowners for winning games without PG Derrick Rose but some folks other than F/C Carlos Boozer (15.8 ppg) have to step up their offensive game the rest of the way. Still, this is one of the two- or three-best defensive squads in the land and the only thing keeping 'em from an "A" grade is offensive consistency.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (20-11) - Don't look now but the Clips own the third-best record in the West and dunk master Blake Griffin (21.4 ppg) is rounding into form the rest of his game although we will say PG Chris Paul has made things a whole lot easier for everyone on that offensive end of the floor. The Clips are a bit better record-wise than we might have thought at this stage but let's see 'em play some better ball on the road (see 8-7 mark).

PHILADELPHIA (20-14) - The fact of the matter is the young 76ers were headed for an "A" but this five-game losing skid heading into the All-Star Game break hurt their mark and someone else is gonna have to chip in to help G Lou Williams (15.7 points per game) who ranks 38th in the NBA in scoring but best among Philly shooters.

Grade: B

ORLANDO (22-13) - No doubt that this has been a trying year in central Florida with all the Dwight Howard trade rumors floating about but this club's renewed its commitment to the court and the inside-outside game starring Howard and three-ball maven Ryan Anderson actually has Stan Van Gundy's club sitting pretty with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference.

DENVER (18-17) - One year removed from that Carmelo Anthony-to-New York deal, the Nuggets are doing A-OK but things have gotten tougher lately without the long-range shooting of injured F Danilo Gallinari.

INDIANA (21-12) - Maybe the Pacers don't draw many fans to Conseco anymore (wow, the building's half-empty most of the time) but this is an exciting team on the rise with a true star player on hand in Danny Granger (18.0 ppg). Indiana plays fierce defense while yielding just 92 ppg and the bench has gotten deeper/better since this time a year ago. The arrow's pointing up!

Grade: C

DALLAS (21-13) - We won't necessarily bash the Mavericks here even though the defending champs have been up-and-down from Day One but the bench hasn't been a strength like last year and PG Jason Kidd appears very slow some nights.

NEW YORK (17-18) - Some might object here and think these Knicks deserve an INC as in Incomplete because of injuries to the aforementioned Anthony, games missed by F Amar'e Stoudemire because of his big brother's death and this whole late-to-the-party PG Jeremy Lin bit but despite winning seven of their last 10 games, NYK was a mess early on and head coach Mike D'Antoni always seemed one loss away from the firing line.

ATLANTA (20-14) - By all accounts this has been just an average year for the Hawks who have been forced to soldier on without key forward Al Horford and lately All-Star G Joe Johnson has missed time too but we're waiting for some of Atlanta's younger players to step it up and it's just not been happening.

CLEVELAND (13-18) - Now that the Cavaliers are a year-plus removed from the LeBron James "Decision" this club is starting to find its new identity and rookie PK Kyrie Irving (fresh off his new stars MVP the other night) is driving this club in the right direction.

GOLDEN STATE (13-17) - The Mark Jackson Era was supposed to feature better defense but the Warriors are still allowing 100-plus points a game but we say G Monta Ellis could average 30 ppg if only they turned 'em loose more often.
NEW JERSEY (10-25) - Okay, so the woe-be-gone but Brooklyn-bound Nets are playing sub-.300 ball overall and are 3-13 at home but no Book Lopez for almost all of the first half has stung badly and under-siege head coach Avery Johnson's been working with a depleted roster for the whole time.

Grade: C-

LOS ANGELES LAKERS (20-14) - Simply not acceptable (and even season ticket-holder Jack Nicholson is making faces from his court-side seat!). The Lakers have not flourished yet in Year One of the Mike Brown/post-Phil Jackson Era and this 6-12 road mark is rotten with Kobe Bryant (NBA-best 28.4 ppg) not often getting much help in close games. Forget the trade rumors, Pau Gasol, and step it up.

MILWAUKEE (13-20) - The Bucks can't catch any breaks as F Andrew Bogut has been an injury casualty and PG Brandon Jennings (18.4 ppg) doesn't always get much help on the scoring end of the floor but even with some problem areas we thought that Milwaukee should be a .500 team at this stage and they are not.

MEMPHIS (19-15) - Last year's magical playoff performances now seems eons ago, don't they?

PHOENIX (14-20) - Did the Suns make a mistake in not dealing away PG Steve Nash to a contender and getting back some warm bodies? Sure looks that way.

MINNESOTA (17-17) - Is there a reason why a team with double-double guy Kevin Love isn't winning more games that this? The T-Wolves are incorporating lots of new faces the past year-and-change but the sheer talent level suggests this club should be playing .600 ball and not .500 ball.

PORTLAND (18-16) - Now that the Trail Blazers know that C Greg Oden is gonna be out for the year (again!) they can get on with their lives but too many clunkers including that recent loss to the Lakers where Nate McMillan's guys trailed by 20 points in the first quarter gives you the idea this won't be Portland's year.

UTAH (15-17) - Nobody asked us but Ty Corbin seems to have been the "wrong choice" to have succeeded Jerry Sloan as boss-man of the Jazz. Do you agree?


Grade: D

BOSTON (15-17) - No doubt that age and injuries have wracked the Celtics this shortened 2011-12 season but doesn't it seem as if Doc Rivers' club loses all the close games they used to win? The five-game losing streak that Boston's on right now hasn't been helped by PG Rajon Rondo's latest temper tantrum.
TORONTO (10-23) - Silly us! We thought the Raptors would enjoy a renaissance season but about the only guy that gives 'em offensive numbers each/every night is kid DeMar DeRozan who is averaging 15.7 ppg despite shooting a crummy 41 percent from the floor. Wake up, guys!

NEW ORLEANS (8-25) - Won't fail the Hornets because without Paul this ship was sunk before Christmas Day.

SACRAMENTO (11-22) - Young teams like the Kings are supposed to be a tad inconsistent but this is ridiculous and there are nights when F/C DeMarcus Cousins gives the impression he would rather be elsewhere.

Grade: F

CHARLOTTE (4-28) - Maybe Michael Jordan's employees needed this All-Star break more than anyone else after losing games by a average margin of 14.3 ppg the first half of this dreadful season.

DETROIT (11-24) - The Pistons' once-proud organization is a major mess these days and it's hard to win when you can't score 90 points a game. Why is Joe Dumars still in charge, we ask.

WASHINGTON (7-26) - It's safe to say that the team formerly known as the Bullets now rank with the dregs of all the worst pro franchises - having fun yet, Mr. Wall?




By Jim Hurley:

Just when you thought we all might be getting a true handle on this 2011-12 College Basketball season and things seem to have gone topsy-turvy in a couple of locales:

After all, didn't it seem like one of those years when the Kansas Jayhawks would be "rebuilding" and yet now here is Bill Self's club entering weekend play atop the Big 12 standings and surely on our "short list" of teams that can win it all in New Orleans come the first Monday night in April.

Than there's the case of the much-maligned Pac-12:

No power conference has taken more verbal/printed blows to the belly than these left coasters and yet you look up following all the Thursday night action and- surprise, surprise- there are five teams with double-digit wins in league play (that's California, Washington, Arizona, Oregon and Colorado) and perhaps all the so-called experts- including yours truly!- may have to amend that mid-season statement that this conference will only get two teams into next month's NCAA Tournament.

How about four or five of 'em getting all dressed up now for the "Big Dance"? As the great Sir Paul McCartney would say, "Let 'em in"!

And let's not forget the class of the Ivy League:

The Harvard Crimson entered Friday night's home game versus archrival Princeton with a dazzling 23-3 overall mark while notching a tidy 9-1 record in Ivy play and now that New York Knicks out-of-nowhere star point guard Jeremy Lin is giving the school someone else to be proud of you start to get a sense of what a truly special hoops year it's been for the Harvard guys/gals.

How about a first-round NCAA Tournament matchup against Vanderbilt now to see what the collective SAT scores will be of those two starting fives? Neat.

Okay, there's only about another gazillion great storylines on this here-and-now College Basketball season- we won't be getting to them all in today's Jim Sez (sorry to say)- but let's continue to go 'round the land with some News & Notes:

But first this key reminder to one-and-all Jim Sez readers: Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers are sizzling-hot these days and they will get you all the College Basketball and NBA Winners every day when you check in with us either right here online or else at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453. Note that the check-in times are after 1 p.m. ET for all the Monday-through-Friday weeknight action and after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays/Sundays/Holidays. Sign up now for the remainder of the hoops season- get a great discount price today- and let America's #1 Handicapper point you straight to the winner's circle!

Lots of great Sunday College B-Ball action on the docket including that Sunshine State showdown- Part II- between the Florida State Seminoles (19-8, 10-3 ACC) and the host Miami Hurricanes (16-10, 6-7 ACC) and remember the first meeting back on February 11th when the 7-point home favorite 'Noles won but didn't get the cash in a hard-fought 64-59 win. Florida State's Bernard James scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half of that tilt as FSU bounced back from an earlier-week loss at Boston College and here we go again as now the Sems come into this clash off Thursday's disappointing 74-66 home loss against 1 ½-point road fav Duke.

Hey, if Florida State- whom we believe has Elite 8 type talent/heart this year- wants to get the clean SU (straightup) sweep over Miami here than it better take the chill off its shooting as FSU missed 10 of its 22 free-throw tries this past Thursday night and also canned just 4-of-15 three-point attempts. Ugh! ...

Florida State's the #15 team in the land right now in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll but here's a Jim Sez heads-up that a couple of back-in-the-pack Top 25 teams must be eye-balled from this point on:

#22 Temple (22-5, 11-2 Atlantic-10) has all the pieces to make some noise come NCAA Tourney time as head coach Fran Dunphy (formerly of Penn, of course) is a top-flight game coach and point guard Juan Fernandez can surely fill up the stat sheet as evidenced by his 8-rebound, 7-assist game in last Wednesday's rough-and-tumble 80-79 overtime win at 2 ½-point pup LaSalle. Unlike some Temple teams of the past, this Owls bunch likes to get out and go- they are averaging nearly 76 points per game to rank 2nd in the A-10 and 28th nationally -- and they enter the Saturday night at St. Joe's (on ESPNU) on an electric 11-game SU winning streak.

Right now we'd guess that Temple will be a #7 seed but could go a touch higher if the Owls win their conference mini-tourney.

And don't sleep on #25 Virginia that- in our book- will be one of the more interesting teams to watch in next month's NCAA Tournament.

The Cavaliers (21-6, 8-5 in the ACC) host North Carolina and Florida State and are at Maryland for their final three regular-season games and winning two of these would be a great boost while heading into the ACC Tournament to be held in Atlanta next month. The Cavs rank second nationally in points allowed at 52.1 ppg and head coach Tony Bennett has enough modest-but-balanced scoring behind star Mike Scott (17.3 ppg) to possibly get the Wahoos into the second weekend of NCAA play.

Mark it down: Temple and Virginia won't be one-and-done teams at tourney time and both might slip into the Sweet 16 (and beyond) if they can each take down a "giant" in Round II play and folks know that the first Saturday/Sunday of NCAA Tourney play always has lots of surprises ...

Hey, let's round out this Jim Sez College B-Ball Notebook with another look at one of Sunday's games as Cincinnati (20-8, 10-5 in the Big East) treks to South Florida for a high noon Eastern time affair.

Okay, so Cincy's 60-56 hang-on-for-dear-life win against 1 ½-point road dog Louisville was hardly a thing of beauty this past Thursday night- note that the teams shot a collective 38-of-113 from the floor (that's 33.6 percent) -- but the Bearcats once again showed great guts with under-control big man Yancy Gates putting up a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds but Cincy better clean up its act at the foul line where Mick Cronin's guys missed eight of their 19 FTs.

Note that South Florida (17-11, 10-5 Big East)- likely still reeling after blowing that monstrous first-half lead at Syracuse last Wednesday night- is first in the 16-team Big East in defense while yielding just 58.1 ppg. Maybe the first team to 50 wins, right?

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