NBA basketball hits the midway point to its season. That means report cards are due.
Here are some quick notes and the grades of many teams so far:
After losing two straight games, including one against the Orlando Magic, the Lakers beat the other top team from the East, the Cavaliers, giving L.A. a 2-1 record against the East’s top three teams this season.
Since stopping the Celtics’ 19-game winning streak on Christmas Day, the Lakers are 8-3. This is only the second time they have held a team under 100 points in that stretch.
Consequently, this is the third time that the tough defending Cavs have allowed over 100 points in the same period—all losses. They are 6-4 since Christmas Day.
Mid Term Report Cards: Lakers A- , Cavaliers A
Boston (34-9) destroys Phoenix: 104-87
The slump is officially over. Going up by 30 points at halftime, the Kendrick Perkins-less Celtics coasted to victory over a stunned Suns team. The Celtics have won five straight games, the last three as blowouts.
In a weighty matchup of Shaq and Glen “Big Baby” Davis, the LSU connection favored the Celtics as Glen Davis stepped up “big” when the Celtics needed him to. Davis finished with nine points and nine rebounds, but it was his defense on Shaq that was stellar.
Rajon Rondo has been terrific. He has now outplayed Steve Nash and Devin Harris in three consecutive games.
The Suns have lost three of four and Nash misses the run-and-gun Suns. As I predicted in preseason, they play two different ways with and without Shaq on the floor.
Mid Terms: Boston A- , Phoenix B (A team with an identity crisis. But I never expected them to play better than this anyway.)
It was not a defensive gem for two teams that pride themselves on defense. Kenyon Martin tried to miss his second foul shot, after missing the first of a two shot foul. But Yao Ming corralled the rebound, ending the game. Ming finished with 31 points on 13-19 shooting, as they won without Ron Artest and Tracy McGrady.
Denver almost pulled out a closely contested game, as J.R. Smith, K-Mart, and Nene all scored over 20 points.
Mid Terms: Houston B (Adelman gets an A for keeping the Band Aid Rockets playing at a high level)
Denver A (Since the Chauncey Billups acquisition, this team is playing about as well as can be expected. Few even predicted this success.)
Maybe this is why Larry Brown wants to trade Felton. In the final seconds, Raymond drove the lane and got his shot blocked by Tim Duncan, instead of drawing Duncan and passing the ball to Emeka Okafor at the hoop, which Duncan had left to challenge Felton. There was plenty of time left on the clock to do it.
After getting his shot blocked at the other end just seconds before, Duncan saved the win with that play. The scrappy Charlotte Bobcats are 5-3 in their last eight games after this tough loss. They are doing it with defense. Larry Brown’s club averaged giving up just 92.4 points in those five wins.
After beating the Lakers 112-111, then dropping an embarrassing game to the 76ers (109-87), the Spurs are back to playing tough defense.
Mid Terms: San Antonio B (No Manu for a while hurt)
Charlotte C (Larry finally has this team playing up to capabilities)
After Danny Granger made a huge three-point shot to tie, Chris Paul drained a fadeaway three at the buzzer to beat the Pacers. Granger led both teams with 30 points while Paul finished with 27.
The Hornets lost Tyson Chandler to injury during the game and played without David West. Peja Stojakovic chipped in 26 points including 5-9 from the arc.
Mid Terms: New Orleans C+ (They can do better, but this is pretty good.)
Indiana B+ (I couldn’t expect much more than this.)
There were lots of other great games, but these are the top teams of the league.
A special More Love Koming note to honor MLK Day:
The McHale-led Timberwolves beat the L.A. Clippers by 94-86 and are 7–1 over their last eight games. They have won 8-10. While the Suns are the only team over .500 that they beat, it is still good progress for a team that was lifeless and clueless under Wittman.
Randy Foye has become a fourth quarter go-to guy and Kevin Love has stepped things up by McHale playing to his strengths more. Al Jefferson finally gets some help.