Report Card Grades for Every NBA Team Entering Final Stretch
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Spring break is right around the corner. For students across the country, that means hours and hours of cramming coffee and notes in preparation for midterms (for those on semester) and finals (for those on quarters) before embarking on wild, MTV-style trips to Cancun, Punta Cana or any other place where the weather is warm, the mood is festive and the libations are in plentiful supply.
The NBA, on the other hand, will have no such respite. These are the dog days of the interminable regular season. March Madness is set to capture the lion's share of the sports world's basketball attention. The NBA playoffs are due up shortly thereafter, leaving teams at the top antsy to get the championship chase into gear and those at the bottom planning vacations of their own to fill long offseasons.
The Association won't get to break for at least another month, but who says it can't "enjoy" one of the "perks" of student life: judgment in capital letter form? Surely enough time has passed since the All-Star Game and the trade deadline that succeeded it to get a sense of how each team is getting on.
With that in mind, let's dish out some post-All-Star marks for every club, based on how they've fared amid their specific circumstances, listed hereafter in alphabetical order.
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The Atlanta Hawks' mystique, built up over the course of a franchise-record 19-game winning streak, seems to have faded a bit over the past six weeks. They lost four of seven following that extended spurt, including a one-point defeat in Boston just before the All-Star break and a 25-point pounding at Toronto's hands immediately thereafter.
The Hawks followed that up by winning 10 of 12, but only two of those victories came by double digits and the two defeats came in Philadelphia (with three starters resting) and Denver. Moreover, they've had to sweat out narrow wins over four losing teams—the Magic (seven points), Heat (two points), Lakers (five points) and Kings (seven points)—since the midseason hiatus.
Rebounding remains Atlanta's Achilles' heel, and it has grown even more sore for the Hawks of late. They've slid to 29th in both rebounding percentage (48.2 percent) and dead last in offensive rebounding (21.3 percent), per NBA.com.
That could prove particularly problematic in the weeks to come. Kyle Korver might not be out for long with a broken nose, but whatever time he misses could throw him off his shooting rhythm and do the same to Atlanta's entire offense. The lengthier absences of Mike Scott and Thabo Sefolosha won't help, either.
Fortunately for the Hawks, they've already sealed their eighth straight playoff spot and own nearly bulletproof leads in the race for the Southeast Division crown and the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks' shortfalls could come back to bite them in the postseason, but for now, they're merely nits to be picked.
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If you're a wayward basketball fan and you're looking for a team to pull for over the next few weeks, you'd do well to consider the Boston Celtics.
The C's have scrapped their way into the thick of the race for the East's last two playoff spots, despite losing Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green to midseason trades and Jared Sullinger to a season-ending stress fracture.
Crazier still, Boston has taken off since Isaiah Thomas, a catalyst behind the team's post-All-Star resurgence, bruised his back in early March.
Then again, that fits perfectly into the pattern of Boston's second-half success and overall stick-to-it-iveness. They've done it as a collective, with role-player types like Avery Bradley, Tyler Zeller, Evan Turner, Jae Crowder and rookie Marcus Smart banding together to keep Boston in the playoff hunt.
Much of the credit for the C's surprising results belongs to head coach Brad Stevens, who's fashioned these misfit parts into a cohesive whole: "With all of these wild lines and shapes coming together, Stevens is painting a coaching masterpiece that would make Rick Carlisle proud," Grantland's Brett Koremenos wrote.
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At this point, ragging on the Brooklyn Nets for struggling to sniff the postseason while sporting the NBA's most bloated payroll is practically passe. After all, the Nets shelled out even more money for last year's squad, which won 44 games and a single playoff series while bleeding out $144 million of owner Mikhail Prokhorov's oligarchical fortune.
This year's club won't do quite the same damage to Prokhorov's wallet, though it won't match even the previous season's modest results, either. A five-game skid in early March dropped Brooklyn behind Indiana, Miami, Boston and Charlotte into the race for the East's seventh and eighth seeds.
Losing Mirza Teletovic and Sergey Karasev to injury for the remainder of the campaign hasn't helped. Neither has sending Kevin Garnett back to Minnesota. Thaddeus Young has played well as a Net (13.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 51.9 percent shooting, 52.0 percent from three), but Mason Plumlee, Garnett's chief tutee, seems to have lost the mojo that made him a starter for much of the season, as he's averaged just 7.4 points and 5.1 rebounds in 19.3 minutes per game and lost his starting gig to Brook Lopez since The Big Ticket's departure.
Lopez was an All-Star two years ago. Joe Johnson, a seven-time All-Star, represented the Nets at the midseason showcase last year. Deron Williams, while far removed—in both consistent production and time—from his last such appearance, still flashes his once-prodigious talent here and there.
The point being, this team has too much veteran talent and too good of a coach, in Lionel Hollins, to be languishing in the lottery, especially in a conference as weak as the East. The team's $88.3 million payroll merely puts a price tag on that futility.
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The Charlotte Hornets have been stuck playing Whac-A-Mole: Injury Edition since the start of the season and have yet to pull themselves away from it. Cody Zeller's the latest one to draw the mallet, on account of a sprained right shoulder.
Fortunately for Charlotte, its core group of Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is relatively healthy, enough so to play right now. Those three have all missed time this season. As a result, they've shared the floor in just 22 games.
To their credit, the Hornets aren't hiding behind their bad luck as an excuse for their spot on the fringe of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Instead, Charlotte has grinded for wins by taking care of the ball and crashing the boards. According to NBA.com, the Hornets have posted the league's lowest turnover ratio and its second-highest defensive rebounding percentage since the All-Star Game. The team's defense, though, ranks a so-so 12th in efficiency over that span, as opposed to ninth prior to the break.
But holding the Clippers' second-ranked offense to a mere 92 points on the road, which Charlotte did on Tuesday, counts as an impressive step in the right direction. And that may be just the beginning for the Hornets, if Kidd-Gilchrist follows through on his intentions to become one of the game's great defenders.
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As bad as the Hornets have had it on the injury front, even they'd have to admit the Chicago Bulls have had a rough go of it.
Taj Gibson went down with a severely sprained ankle the same day (Feb. 27) that Derrick Rose went under the knife to have a piece of his right meniscus removed. Two days later, Jimmy Butler injured his elbow on a jarring DeAndre Jordan screen.
Since then, head coach Tom Thibodeau has had his hands tied even tighter, this time by Bulls management, which insisted that Joakim Noah, limited by discomfort in his knee throughout the season, be strictly limited to 32 minutes per game.
“He’s a competitor," Thibodeau said of Noah's situation (via the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson). "You try to give him room. I think he understands it. That’s what we have to deal with."
So far, the Bulls haven't dealt with those absences and restrictions all that well. They've gone 6-8 since the All-Star break, with the league's 19th-ranked offense and 18th-ranked defense over that span, per NBA.com.
But things are looking up in the Windy City nowadays. Gibson and Butler could return to the rotation within the next week or so, and Rose is back at practice, albeit in a non-contact capacity. The sooner those guys are ready to play, the sooner the Bulls can start gearing up for a grueling playoff run.
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The Cleveland Cavaliers can afford to rest some of their wearier members. A two-month stretch between mid-January and mid-March, during which the Cavs went 24-5, assured them of such leeway.
Kevin Love recently took some time off. Though there's some dispute as to who proposed that break and why, there doesn't figure to be much debate over its effectiveness over the long haul for Love.
"Anytime you take a couple days and a couple games in this part of the season, you come back feeling a little bit better," Love said (via ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst). "Everybody is focusing on their health; everyone wants to have a full roster come playoff time. This is my first experience going through it."
This is Kyrie Irving's first go-round with playoff preparation, as well. To his credit, Irving's shown no signs of slowing down, despite the added pressure. Since the All-Star Game, he's averaged 23.2 points on 50.0 percent shooting (42.9 percent from three).
LeBron James, on the other hand, has been through this particular rodeo many times before. The fact that James has been so great for so long got Grantland's Bill Simmons to wonder when that run of dominance might end:
The good news: He’s still 85-90 percent as good as that seven-year apex, keeping LeBron’s "best player in the league" ceiling the highest of anyone. I just don’t know where this goes. How long can LeBron stay great or even close to great?
For the Cavs' sake, long enough to keep this team in contention for Cleveland's first major sports championship in more than half a century.
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At long last, the Dallas Mavericks' Rajon Rondo-powered roller coaster appears to be smoothing out a bit. They've won four of their last five games, after losing four in five following Rondo's much-discussed spat with head coach Rick Carlisle.
"I've been studying with coach a lot," Rondo revealed after Dallas' win over Oklahoma City on Monday, via Mavs Moneyball's Tim Cato. "He called me in before the game and gave me a little test, and I think I continue to pass the test. We're on the same page a lot more throughout the game. I'm calling some of the plays before he calls them, so we're on the same page."
That has to come as a huge relief for the Mavs, who depleted their bench and sacrificed a pair of draft picks to snag Rondo from Boston back in December.
Dallas has done well to replenish its reserves since then. Amar'e Stoudemire and Bernard James have added some desperately needed depth to the Mavs' thin frontcourt.
All told, the Mavericks remain a work in progress, but Dirk Nowitzki is probably pleased that his team is still firmly in the playoff picture out West, with plenty of room for improvement as Rondo and Chandler Parsons continue to acclimate themselves to Big D.
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Melvin Hunt has his work cut out for him if he's to shed the "interim" tag from his title. But if the early results are any indication, the Denver Nuggets may have their man.
The Nuggets went 6-2 in their first eight games under Hunt, after dropping 19 of 21 to end Brian Shaw's brief tenure in the Mile High City. With Hunt at the helm, Denver has performed at a top-10 clip on both ends of the floor, per NBA.com.
Kenneth Faried (16.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.9 blocks in the Hunt era) has found his inner Manimal once again. Danilo Gallinari (17.5 points, 42.0 percent from three) has looked much more like his old self. Will Barton has quickly gone from Arron Afflalo-trade afterthought to key cog in Denver's second unit.
Most teams play hard for a new coach who takes over at midseason. Remember when George Karl took over in Denver? And it's mid-March of a lost season and, as recent history tells us, it's time for Kenneth Faried to start playing hard! And Hunt has his guys playing Karl ball — in other words, the same style management apparently didn't want Denver playing in the postseason, which is a reason Denver fired Karl and hired Shaw in the first place.
That being said, Hochman is hopeful that Hunt will get a good, long look at the permanent job in Denver once the season is done. Whether Hunt lands the job, his tenure over the remainder of this campaign should remind the Nuggets' brass that this team, with its abundance of speed demons playing in a uniquely tiring environment, is at its best when it plays fast.
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Once upon a time, the Detroit Pistons were terrible, a talented team stuck with a record of 5-23. Then coach Stan Van Gundy shockingly cut ties with Josh Smith without getting anything in return, and the Pistons took off. The team didn't fold when Brandon Jennings went down, leaving room for hope that Detroit might barge its way into the playoffs with Reggie Jackson taking the reins after the All-Star break.
Not so much, as it turns out. After whitewashing the Wizards in Jackson's first outing, the Pistons promptly dropped 10 straight and now sit at 2-11 since Reggie's arrival. Jackson's had some nice moments (a 20-20 game vs. Memphis, a triple-double vs. Philly), but hasn't done enough to make his teammates better in Jennings' stead.
Of course, the fault isn't entirely Jackson's. On the whole, the Pistons have performed at a bottom-10 rate at both ends of the floor since the All-Star break, per NBA.com.
Perhaps a playoff push was too much to ask of these Pistons. They're still finding their footing under Van Gundy. Likewise, he's only just begun the arduous work of restoring this once-proud franchise's signature sheen.
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Golden State Warriors
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The Golden State Warriors have fallen off somewhat since the All-Star Game, though that says more about how historically awesome they were before it than how they've performed recently.
The Dubs went 11-4 in their first 15 post-break games, posting top-10 efficiency numbers on both ends of the floor, per NBA.com. They're still running away with the West, and only need to focus on rest and maintenance heading into Steve Kerr's first spring as the team's head coach.
To that end, Golden State's hand has already been forced. The team will be without Klay Thompson until at least next week after the All-Star swingman injured his ankle against the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday. "It swelled up after the game, and obviously we'll be very careful with it," Kerr said on Tuesday, via Bay Area News Group's Diamond Leung.
Fortunately for the Warriors, they can afford to be extra careful with Thompson. And if their past experiences with the fragile ankles of Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut are any guide, they should be.
The calendar figures to be a friend to the Warriors from here on out, as well. They'll play the second-softest schedule in the West down the stretch—and that's before factoring in the nine home games (out of 16 total) left on Golden State's docket.
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The Houston Rockets have continued to hold their own out West (and then some) without Dwight Howard.
James Harden is still drawing fouls (11.8 free-throw attempts per game since the All-Star break) and dishing to his teammates (8.1 assists) like the drive-and-kick maestro that he is. Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones and Corey Brewer have taken turns as The Beard's second banana. Donatas Motiejunas has been steady, if unspectacular, as Howard's placeholder at center.
At some point, Harden's going to need more help, lest he wear down and the Rockets tumble accordingly. His scoring (24.2 points) and shooting (38.1 percent from the field, 33.3 percent from three) have slipped and his turnovers (4.2 per game) have ticked upward since the All-Star Game.
The good thing is Houston's defense remains among the best in the business. According to NBA.com, the Rockets have defended at a top-four clip post-break.
The better thing is Howard could be back in action soon, now that he's participating in the team's full practices. "I have been feeling pretty good," Howard said on Wednesday, per the Houston Chronicle's Jenny Dial Creech. "I had some pretty good days of practice this week."
With any luck, those solid practice days will soon lead to strong games for Howard.
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Paul George isn't walking through that door just yet. According to Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears, the All-Star swingman has been performing well in practice, but still has a ways to go before he can so much as sniff his pre-injury self.
Not that the Indiana Pacers are waiting around for him. On the contrary, the Pacers ripped off seven wins in a row and 13 of 15 prior to suffering consecutive home losses to Boston and Toronto. Now, Indy is in the thick of the push for one of the East's last two playoff spots.
As always, the Pacers have succeeded on the strength of their stifling defense. Per NBA.com, only the Utah Jazz have been stingier in allowing points on a per-possession basis since the All-Star break than the Pacers have. All told, Indiana ranks among the top 10 in defensive efficiency and stands second in defensive rebounding percentage this season, thanks in large part to the continued efforts of Roy Hibbert and David West up front.
What's changed about the Pacers isn't so much how they score (i.e., with guards and wings), but rather who is doing the scoring. With George out and Lance Stephenson in Charlotte, George Hill (career-high 14.9 points) and Rodney Stuckey (career highs of 45.8 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from three) have stepped up to fill the void for an offense that has produced points at a surprisingly respectable rate since February.
Getting George back in action in any capacity this season would be the icing on the cake, but the true treat here is the job head coach Frank Vogel has done to guide his two-time Eastern Conference finalists back into the playoff hunt with a roster far flung from those that went toe-to-toe with LeBron James' Miami Heat in each of the past three postseasons.
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Los Angeles Clippers
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Kudos to the Los Angeles Clippers for holding their own (and then some) through a brutal stretch in their schedule without Blake Griffin. The Clippers went 9-6 while Griffin recovered from a staph infection in his elbow. Four of those losses were of the single-digit variety against the West's top four teams.
Not bad for a team as paper thin as L.A. It certainly helps to have guys like Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan around to fill the gaps. Jordan asserted himself as a member of the Clippers' Big Three, gobbling up every rebound and lob in sight, while Paul played his way back into the MVP race.
As Grantland's Bill Simmons put it: "When Blake went down, CP3 unleashed holy hell; he has vaulted to that Westbrook/Harden/LeBron/Davis/Curry level for a solid month (and counting) while carrying a limited team. As Doc [Rivers] loves to point out, CP3 actually plays both ends and loves disrupting other point guards."
The Clippers aren't out of the woods just yet, though. Griffin's right arm remains weak in the wake of his hiatus, Matt Barnes is back to battling a gimpy hamstring, and Jamal Crawford is still struggling to walk—much less play basketball—on his right calf.
Which makes it all the more remarkable that L.A. has performed at a top-10 rate on both ends of the floor since the All-Star break, per NBA.com. If the Clippers can play that well with their M.A.S.H. unit, imagine what they could accomplish if/when head coach Doc Rivers has a full roster at his disposal.
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Los Angeles Lakers
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The Los Angeles Lakers have been pretty awful all season, but you already knew that, didn't you? Their 17-49 record overall indicates as much. So, too, does their 4-9 record since the All-Star break.
Those basic indicators, though, don't say much about how the team is really faring from night to night. Sure, the Lakers are losing, but it's not as though they're simply rolling over and playing dead while Kobe Bryant scowls in disgust from whichever vantage point he's chosen for a given night. All of L.A.'s post-All-Star losses have come by single-digit margins.
And not against fellow patsies, either. The Lakers lost by seven in Memphis, by seven at home against Dallas, by five to Atlanta and by three at Golden State—the last two on back-to-back nights, no less.
Without Bryant. Without Steve Nash. Without rookie Julius Randle. Without Nick Young, who's missed L.A.'s last eight games with swelling in his left knee.
It helps that Jordan Clarkson has been taking Nash's tutelage to heart. The first-year guard out of Missouri has averaged 14.5 points and 4.1 assists since becoming a full-time starter in late January.
Trouble is, head coach Byron Scott plans to move Clarkson back to the bench for the stretch run. "I’d just like to see JC come off the bench and see what he provides," Scott said, per the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina.
More importantly, Scott wants to see what Jeremy Lin can do as a starter, without Bryant on his back.
"I want to see how much of a difference it is now as opposed to the start of the season," the Lakers coach explained, per Medina. "He knows the offense better and he knows what I need from him every single night on both ends of the floor. Now to see him in a starting role, it would be a little bit of a change. He was thinking so much back earlier in the season. Right now, he’s just playing."
Though he might not be playing in purple and gold long term. Lin will be a free agent at season's end, and he figures to take his services elsewhere after a rocky campaign in L.A.
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The Memphis Grizzlies have quietly slipped to a ho-hum 8-7 since the All-Star Game. The team is still defending at a high level, but according to NBA.com, the offense has managed an abysmal 98 points per 100 possessions during that span.
That makes sense, given the individual slippage in productivity among Memphis' key contributors, Mike Conley's bum ankle and the team's overall futility from beyond the arc (32.5 percent from three post-break).
The confluence of those factors could simply be a function of the Grizzlies' brutal schedule. Of Memphis' 15 games since the break, 12 have been part of back-to-backs.
The slate won't soften much from here on out. The Grizzlies have four more back-to-back sets to play amid a tough schedule in the West. As such, the onus is on Memphis to get its own mojo working before the rest of the Western Conference catches up.
"You can feel when the 82 games you play is taking a toll," Courtney Lee told NBA.com's David Aldridge. "Being in the position where we're at, and how we started, when you come back from the All-Star break it's like, 'hurry up, playoffs.' You want to get to that. But through all that, you still have to handle your business and perform and win the games you're supposed to win."
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Losing Chris Bosh to blood clots in his lungs was a crushing blow for the Miami Heat, but this team has done fairly well to stay on its feet.
Hassan Whiteside's steady dominance up front helps. The surprise of the season has slowed somewhat since his initial supernova, though his post-All-Star stats (13.1 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 58.7 percent shooting in 28.2 minutes) are nothing to sneeze at.
The addition of Goran Dragic has done wonders for Miami as well. His sheer speed and ability to run a one-man fast break has pushed the Heat from dead last in pace prior to the break to 14th in that regard after it, per NBA.com.
But the Heat still ride or die with Dwyane Wade. And more often than not, they've ridden comfortably, fueled by flashes of Flash. Since spending seven games on the sideline and skipping the All-Star Game to rest his weary legs, Wade has averaged 22.2 points and 4.8 assists while leading the Heat to an 8-6 record.
The new faces are nice and will be vitally important to Miami's playoff hopes, but when push comes to shove, the Heat's fate still lies in the hands of those who helped steer the ship to four straight Finals.
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However you slice them, the Milwaukee Bucks' post-All-Star struggles shouldn't come as any great surprise.
For one, the schedule hasn't been kind to Milwaukee. They managed a mere four wins in their first 15 games after the break, with predictable losses to Atlanta, Chicago, Golden State and Memphis to go along with defeats at the hands of the resurgent Jazz and Pacers and the plucky Pelicans (twice).
The trade-deadline shakeup of the team's roster has only exacerbated matters. Brandon Knight, Milwaukee's best player, is now in Phoenix. He's been replaced by Michael Carter-Williams, a subpar shooter who's already missed four games due to injury.
Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounmpo remains about as much of a mixed bag as one might expect a raw 20-year-old to be. As Grantland's Zach Lowe put it:
His length and size figure to make Antetokounmpo a good post player, and he’s indeed shooting 51 percent from the block against defenders who look miniature next to him. But he’s also coughing it up a ton; Antetokounmpo has turned it over on nearly 25 percent of his post-ups, the highest figure in the league, per Synergy. He’s learning on the job, and the results range from the sublime to the embarrassing.
The Bucks should see an uptick in their offense, however slight, once Jared Dudley and O.J. Mayo recover from their respective injuries. In the interim, they'll have to lean heavily on uneven youngsters and a still-stout defense to keep the East's sixth seed within their grasp.
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Kevin Garnett's return to the Minnesota Timberwolves hasn't ushered in a new era of winning basketball for the forlorn franchise, in part because he's hardly played. Garnett has been fit for just five of Minnesota's 14 games since he arrived.
Garnett's hardly alone in the Timberwolves' packed infirmary. Nikola Pekovic, Anthony Bennett, Gary Neal, Shabazz Muhammad and Robbie Hummel are all out of commission for one reason or another.
Head coach Flip Saunders is probably used to his team being shorthanded by now. The T-Wolves spent much of the season's first half with Pekovic, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin on the shelf.
Of greater concern is the recent decline in Andrew Wiggins' productivity. The runaway Rookie of the Year favorite hasn't topped the 20-point plateau since March 4, and has shot just 43.6 percent from the field (15.0 percent from three) since the start of February.
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New Orleans Pelicans
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No Jrue Holiday? No Ryan Anderson? No problem for the New Orleans Pelicans.
For a time, the same could be said of their fortunes without Anthony Davis. The Pelicans were able to cobble together a five-game winning streak during The Brow's recent recovery from a sprained shoulder.
Of course, having Davis back in the fold has been invaluable for New Orleans. Since returning to the lineup, Davis has averaged 29.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 4.7 blocks and 1.0 steals while leading his team to five wins in seven games.
What's crazy is that those results somehow seem merely par for the course for Davis. That's a testament to how great Davis has been in his third year as a pro—and to how much better the 22-year-old might become from here on out.
He’s the best screen-and-roller since Young Robinson. Longer arms than McHale. Freakocious athlete like Hakeem. Light on his feet like Young Duncan. Drains 20-footers like Bosh. Protects the paint like KG. I don’t know what else you’d want. Jordan (24 years old at the time), LeBron (24), T-Mac (23) and Davis (right now) are the only under-25 players to post PERs over 30. He’s also one of three under-25 guys (along with ’90 Robinson and ’74 Bob McAdoo) to average 24 and 10 with 2.5 blocks and 1.0 steals.
All Davis hasn't done that those others have is carry his team into the postseason. The Pelicans are darn close, but they'll need every ounce of greatness they can squeeze out of their superstar if they're to cross the finish line ahead of the Thunder.
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New York Knicks
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Believe it or not, the New York Knicks' ragtag roster hasn't doomed them to complete and utter futility since the All-Star break.
Sure, eight of their 10 most recent losses might rightly be deemed blowouts. And they've won just four games post-break, toppling the sliding Pistons and Raptors and the lackluster Lakers for three of those.
OK, the Knicks are still awful. That's to be expected when Carmelo Anthony's spent the entire time recovering from much-needed knee surgery.
But they did beat the defending champion Spurs fair and square on Tuesday. And Andrea Bargnani has resembled an honest-to-goodness NBA player since returning from injury, scoring 15.4 points per game in that span.
Better yet, just 15 games stand between the Knicks and an offseason chock-full of possibilities.
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The James Borrego era has not proceeded so swimmingly since the All-Star Game. His Orlando Magic won their first two games coming out of the break before losing nine of 11. It would come as little surprise if the Magic have yet another head coach in place by next season, especially if Borrego decides to bolt for the top job at the University of San Diego, his alma mater.
Orlando's struggles fly in the face of the individual successes enjoyed by its young stars. Tobias Harris recently scored 20 points or more three times in a five-game stretch, Nikola Vucevic has resumed his double-doubling since returning from a brief hiatus, and Victor Oladipo has averaged 21.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.1 steals since the break.
But the Magic remain much closer to a collection of promising parts than a cohesive club. With any luck, Orlando will find a coach this summer who's well-suited to the task of turning around this team's fortunes in the post-Dwight Howard era.
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Oklahoma City Thunder
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Kurtis Blow might as well be the house DJ at Chesapeake Energy Arena these days, what with the bad breaks the Oklahoma City Thunder keep catching.
Kevin Durant hasn't played since OKC's first post-All-Star outing, after having the screw in his foot adjusted. Now, Serge Ibaka is likely to miss at least the rest of the regular season in the wake of knee surgery.
That's left Russell Westbrook, already playing out of his gourd, with the least help he's had since he arrived in OKC in 2008. Westbrook has made stunning use of the extra responsibility so far. Since Durant went down, Westbrook has averaged an otherworldly 32.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, 10.8 assists, 2.0 steals and 11.3 free-throw attempts.
Here's how Grantland's Bill Simmons described Westbrook's play of late: "Curry and Harden can eviscerate opposing defenses — and have — but only Westbrook makes you feel...like you’re watching a WWE star sprint into a crowded Royal Rumble ring and immediately start clearing it out. He doesn’t need a nickname, but he might need his own entrance music."
As entertaining as Westbrook has been, that sort of outsized burden will exact a tremendous toll on any player, even one as extraterrestrial as Russ. Over that same span, he's turned the ball over a whopping 5.8 times per game while shooting a subpar 43.2 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from three.
That's to be expected when Westbrook is so singular to everything OKC does. Good defenses can and will go out of their way to shut him down and force the Thunder's supporting cast to take more responsibility.
Still, the fact that OKC is still within arm's reach of a playoff spot out West, despite its own absences and New Orleans' strong play, is a testament to Westbrook's individual brilliance and the Thunder's ability to circle the wagons under head coach Scott Brooks.
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The Philadelphia 76ers have proven to be pretty bad at this whole tanking thing.
Last season, they finished behind the Bucks in the race for the league's worst record, despite trading Jrue Holiday on the previous draft day and sending Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes packing prior to the trade deadline.
This time around, general manager Sam Hinkie's decision to send Michael Carter-Williams and K.J. McDaniels packing in mid-February has unwittingly sparked a mini-resurgence from the remaining roster. Philadelphia dropped 11 of its first 15 games after the All-Star break, but two of those came in overtime to the Thunder and Bulls and four others have come by single digits.
In some respects, Carter-Williams' departure may have been for the better in Philly. "There’s a lot more room now," rookie big man Nerlens Noel told Grantland's Ben Detrick. "It’s opening certain things up. The ball moves a lot more, and I think guys are able to play a lot more fluid and smooth."
Still, the markers of the Sixers' progress are minimal, at best. The team's defense is as scrappy as it's been all season. The same goes for the offense—absent the "s" in scrappy, that is.
Incremental improvement is good for Philly, but a shot at one of the top picks in what's expected to be a weak draft would be immeasurably better for the Sixers' future.
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Technically, the Phoenix Suns aren't out of the running for the eighth spot in the Western Conference—not even by a long shot, in fact.
In practical terms, though, the Suns have all but left that race to the Thunder and Pelicans to sort out. Phoenix has seen its stockpile of competent point guards whittled from four prior to the trade deadline down to one, now that Brandon Knight's nursing a badly sprained left ankle. The Suns' lack of depth up front, with Miles Plumlee moving to Milwaukee, has come into play as well, as Alex Len is hobbled on a bum ankle of his own.
With so many weapons missing, due to injury or departure, the Suns have ranked a mere 23rd in post-All-Star offense, per NBA.com. That's problematic for any playoff hopeful, but especially one that relied so heavily on quick scoring to hang with the big boys out West.
Eric Bledsoe (17.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 49.4 percent shooting and 42.9 percent from three) has done his darndest to keep Phoenix afloat, but there's only so much one guard can do to adjust on the fly after getting used to playing with so many other quality contributors at his position.
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Portland Trail Blazers
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The Portland Trail Blazers had the look of a legit title contender coming out of the All-Star break, only to see their long-standing plague of metaphorical snakes land a devastating bite to Wesley Matthews' Achilles tendon.
A 108-104 loss to the Miami Heat on Wednesday dropped the Blazers to 3-3 without Matthews. Arron Afflalo has done an admirable job of filling in for Matthews, with 13.7 points and 48.5 percent shooting from three in his stead.
But Afflalo, quality veteran that he is, isn't quite the two-way player that Matthews was. Nor does Portland's trade-deadline get have nearly the handle of Portland's basic principles on both ends of the floor that Matthews did.
That puts even more pressure on LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard to carry the day, and on Portland's paper-thin bench to conjure up some semblance of consistent support for Terry Stotts' reshuffled starters.
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The Sacramento Kings' early returns from the George Karl era are in, and while they're not particularly encouraging, it's clear that the head coach is already influencing the way this team plays.
With Karl on board, the Kings have sported the league's 10th-most efficient offense while playing at the third-fastest pace, per NBA.com.
This, after checking in 19th and ninth in those categories, respectively, and despite losing speed demon Darren Collison to a season-ending hip injury prior to Karl's arrival. It's a good sign, too, that DeMarcus Cousins, a post-centric big man whose style of play wouldn't seem to jibe with Karl's preference, has produced at roughly the same rate for his new coach as he did for the other two for whom he's played in 2014-15.
On the whole, though, the picture is hardly a rosy one for Karl's Kings, who won just four of their first 14 games with him at the helm. According to NBA.com, they've allowed the most points per possession and turned the ball over at the third-highest rate during Karl's early regime.
"It's harder to play fast than it is to play slow," Karl told NBA.com's David Aldridge. "You don't have as much control."
Even less so when you're in Karl's shoes, trying to clean up the remnants of a toxic organizational culture and fashion a positive foundation for the future on the fly.
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San Antonio Spurs
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After wandering through the woods during what turned out to be the worst rodeo road trip in franchise history, the San Antonio Spurs seemed to emerge with their championship hopes intact. They ripped off six wins in a row and might've seen that streak reach seven (or even eight, after taking down the Timberwolves) if not for Kyrie Irving going bonkers on national television.
Then Manu Ginobili turned his ankle, Aron Baynes injured his rib, and the Spurs laid an egg at Madison Square Garden in an overtime loss to the nihilism-inspiring New York Knicks.
That embarrassment aside, San Antonio has scored a huge boost from the improved play of Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard. The former has fought through a gimpy hamstring to rediscover his groove, to the tune of 23.0 points (on 57.0 percent shooting) and 5.9 assists in March. The latter has made excellent use of the month, as well, with averages of 20.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.7 steals and 1.3 blocks.
As the present and future, respectively, of the franchise, Parker and Leonard will be the ones to spark the Spurs' resurgence going forward, as they have in recent weeks. As they go, so goes San Antonio.
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Dwane Casey's decision to rekindle the Toronto Raptors' original starting lineup is beginning to pay dividends. The Raptors have won three of their last four outings since Terrence Ross rejoined Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas in Casey's Fave Five, and that group held its own against Oklahoma City and San Antonio prior to that.
However, it's a shame that the change came at the expense of opportunities for James Johnson, as Grantland's Zach Lowe lamented:
There is not enough James Johnson in my life right now, even if the Raps are smart to return to their original starting five. Johnson lives in the gray area between “crazy” and “close enough to crazy that it looks crazy.” Players athletic enough to reside there throw opponents for a loop, and Johnson is always making plays the other team doesn’t expect.
But the fact that Johnson, known best as an all-court defender, couldn't keep Toronto's defense from slipping to 25th after the All-Star break, per NBA.com, didn't speak all that well of his contributions to the team's fortunes.
Nor does the Raptors' inability to beat a winning team since shockingly shellacking Atlanta on Feb. 20 bode well for this team's postseason prospects. At least the Raps can count on being there, thanks to an abysmal Atlantic Division floating like a giant garbage patch in the Eastern Conference's polluted waters.
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Which team has the best record in the NBA since the All-Star Game? Hint: It's the same one that sports the league's best post-break defense, per NBA.com.
OK, so the name of the slide already gave away the goose. Who cares? That does nothing to diminish how awesome the Utah Jazz have been of late. They won 11 of their first 13 outings following the midseason showcase.
And it's not as though the Jazz have been knocking off patsies left and right. Rather, they've taken down Portland, San Antonio, Memphis and Houston (among others) over that span.
The timing of Utah's stunning turnaround is no coincidence, either. The break brought with it the departure of Enes Kanter, a productive big but one whose offensive skill couldn't completely compensate for his defensive deficiencies in Salt Lake City.
With Kanter off to OKC, Rudy Gobert has returned to Utah's starting lineup, much to the chagrin of anyone hoping to score on the Stifle Tower. According to NBA.com, no rotation big has done a better job of contesting close shots than Gobert, whose opponents have hit just 39.6 percent of their attempts at the rim when he's around.
Watching Utah try to squeeze out points with the Gobert–Derrick Favors big-man combo is one of the next great NBA adventures. The outcome will eventually determine the ceiling of this rising Jazz team. Utah has scored at a bottom-10 rate with that duo on the floor, and they’ve been even worse than that since dealing Enes Kanter.
But Gobert (22) and Favors (23) are still exceedingly young, and with a coach of Quin Snyder's caliber overseeing the operation, the Jazz should be able to fashion a functional offense to complement their dominant defense in due course.
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The winter freeze is finally thawing in Washington, D.C., the Verizon Center included. The Washington Wizards have won four in a row since suffering through a stretch of 13 losses in 17 games.
The returns of Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce have had plenty to do with that. With those two back and playing well, the Wizards don't have to lean quite so heavily on their All-Star point guard to dictate every tick of activity on the offensive end.
But the team's recent slide might've had something to do with the complacency to which Wall referred. "Sometimes you get comfortable, and that’s just human nature," head coach Randy Wittman told Lee. "That smacked us in the face a little bit, if that was it."
Whatever the case may be, the Wizards stemmed the tide just in time to avoid dropping to sixth place in the Eastern Conference. They'll get to tackle the NBA's third-softest remaining schedule with the core intact, while waiting for Kris Humphries and Garrett Temple to heal up and strengthen their bench.
"We still have a long way to go toward the end of the season," said general manager Ernie Grunfeld, "but if we continue to play good defense, rebound the basketball and get up in transition, I think it can be a good ending."
Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.