The 2012-13 NBA season is more than halfway complete, which means we have a pretty good idea of where each team stands.
Entering the year, every team had its own expectations. Some were higher than others, but every franchise had goals, and every fanbase had hope.
Midseason grades are based partly on production, although preseason expectations have to be taken into account. There’s a lot of basketball left to play, but it’s become clear which teams are on a path to success and which teams have simply disappointed.
The Atlanta Hawks got off to a surprising start in the 2012-13 season, but they've recently come back down to earth, having lost eight of their last 12 games.
That doesn't mean that they aren't for real; it just means that their schedule is finally starting to balance out.
When this team went through a flurry of changes before the season, it looked as if it was setting itself up for the future. But that thought was challenged right away with such a strong early showing.
This group still looks like a playoff team, but its inconsistencies make you wonder if it's at all capable of challenging the Miami Heat out East—especially considering the season-ending injury to Lou Williams.
With another half of the season to play, expect to see the winning ways return, but likely not at the elite level we saw early in the year.
At 20-21, the Boston Celtics are not where they hoped they'd be, and if there's one word to describe their season, it's "inconsistent."
The Celtics have been either hot or cold throughout the entire year without much in between. It seems as if they're always on a winning or losing streak, and right now, they're unfortunately stuck with the latter.
Despite going on a six-game winning streak between Jan. 4 and Jan. 14, they've dropped their last four contests—all of which should have been winnable games. They can't seem to put it together for more than a week at a time, and that's a major problem when it comes to a grueling postseason run.
Never count the Celtics out, as they'll remind you of their talent at the most unexpected times. But you have to wonder if talent will be enough this time around.
The Brooklyn Nets are finally living up to the preseason hype.
Despite starting off the season with an impressive 11-4 record, the team quickly began to convince onlookers that it was because of its weak strength of schedule. An ugly 16-game stretch saw it win just five games in the month of December, and it had seemingly lost all momentum at the time of head coach Avery Johnson's firing.
Luckily for the Nets, the tides have turned yet again, and they're back on track to fight for home-court advantage in the 2013 playoffs.
Having played 11 games since the New Year, the Nets have won 10 of them. It's true that the talent on this roster hasn't clicked at times, but if they can keep it together—and if Brook Lopez can continue playing like the best center in the East—they'll keep winning.
The Charlotte Bobcats shocked the world when they started the year 7-5. They looked like an energized unit, and their motivation made you believe they had flipped the switch on the disastrous campaign that was the 2011-12 season.
Then, they came back to reality and lost 18 straight games.
The Bobcats may not have the worst record in the NBA, but it can be argued that they're playing the worst basketball. It's clear that they're headed back to the lottery, and it appears that more talent is the only thing that will turn things around.
Things haven't been all bad for the Bobcats, as they've gotten impressive production from both Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. But you're in complete denial if you think those two can lead this team to success on their own.
If you counted out the Chicago Bulls when you heard Derrick Rose was out, you weren't alone. But this team has done remarkable things thus far, and it's done it without their MVP point guard.
The Bulls have impressed—surprised, even—as they're well above .500. They've been able to utilize the depth on their roster and they've won games with their stellar defense.
They may be near the bottom of the league in scoring, but they're a Top Three team when it comes to points allowed, and that's been the key in staying hot without their leading scorer.
Now just imagine what they'll do when Rose finally makes #TheReturn. This team has been one of the best in the league behind Rose, and unless he comes back too soon, there's no reason to think it won't regain that same reputation by the end of the year.
After winning two more games during the shortened season of 2011-12 than they did the previous campaign, the Cleveland Cavaliers gave us all hope that they were ready to be relevant again. However, injuries have knocked them down the Eastern Conference ranks, and it's become clear that they need another year to regroup.
Kyrie Irving has become one of he best up-and-coming point guards in the game, but not even he can run this team by himself. He, Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao have all missed games, and the team finds itself with the third-worst record in the NBA.
At 1-9 in their own division, the Cavs hold the worst divisional record in the league by a long shot. Nobody expected the Cavaliers to contend for a title, but even the playoffs will have to wait for the 2013-14 season.
The Dallas Mavericks had one of the more revamped rosters in the NBA heading into the 2012-13 season. Nobody quite knew what to expect, but their current 11th-place standing is lower than what most fans anticipated.
Needless to say, the early-season performance of O.J. Mayo helped this team stay afloat during Dirk Nowitzki's recovery. But as Mayo began to cool off, so have the team's chances of making the postseason.
If there's one thing to be thankful for in Dallas, it's that the team is beginning to trend in the right direction. It's won five of its last six games, losing only to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The bottom of the Western Conference playoff race is wide open, and if the Mavs can keep their momentum going, they could sneak in despite their inconsistencies.
If the Denver Nuggets have done nothing else, they've reassured us all that they're one of the most exciting teams to watch in the entire NBA.
After floating around .500 for the first 30 games of the year, this club has finally started to pull ahead. It's one of the most dangerous home teams in the NBA, and it's established itself as one of the best offensive units in the game—the Nuggets are one of just four squads averaging more than 103 points per contest.
But as much as everybody wants to talk about their offense—and rightfully so—they're also a gritty team who knows how to make hustle plays. They have energy night in and night out, and that shows in the fact that they have been atop the league in rebounding most of the season.
The Nuggets are only in sixth place out West, but that's more a testament to how tough the conference is at the top. They're not the Los Angeles Clippers or the Oklahoma City Thunder, but if they can earn home-court advantage, they're going to give anybody trouble come playoff time.
The Detroit Pistons weren't on most radars to begin the 2012-13 season, but the excellent play of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe has at least made them mention-worthy as we near the All-Star break.
The two big men have turned this group into a Top 10 team when it comes to rebounding and blocking shots. They're complementing the play of the perimeter players nicely, and it's looking like a solid foundation has been laid for the future of this franchise.
Brandon Knight and Kyle Singler have also been playing good basketball, which only furthers the expectation that this team is ready to turn it around sooner rather than later.
The problem is that it had two ugly losing streaks to start the year, and it's yet to recover. The potential is there to make a playoff push, but at least one substantial winning streak is going to be necessary if the Pistons hope to break the Top Eight out East.
It's quite possible that the Golden State Warriors have been the surprise of the 2012-13 season.
Coming into the year, it was clear that the Warriors were going to be improved. Most analysts saw a good year ahead of them, but few thought that they'd be fighting for home-court advantage in a tough Western Conference.
The new guys have come in and filled their roles nicely, but the success begins and ends with Stephen Curry and David Lee. Both players are having career years, and both are legitimate candidates to represent their team at All-Star Weekend.
The team hit a slight skid after the New Year, but it's still in the mix. At 26-15, the Warriors have exceeded expectations, and they've set themselves up to be contenders as long as they can stay healthy—especially considering the ongoing ankle injury to Curry.
The Houston Rockets experienced one of the most confusing facelifts of the 2012 offseason.
It was unclear what this team's identity would be entering the year, but the trade that earned it James Harden made it clear whose squad this truly is.
The 23-year-old has become one of the best players in the league. He is a top-tier shooting guard, and he is the biggest reason the Rockets are near the top of the league when it comes to scoring.
The problem is that Houston has virtually no defense to back up its offense. The team allows more points per game than anybody else in the league, and that means that if the offense isn't clicking, there's virtually no chance of winning.
There's plenty of room to improve, but luckily for the Rockets, they have the pieces to continue building toward the future.
The Indiana Pacers are the epitome of a team that wins with defense.
With the third-most blocks per game in the league, the Pacers have allowed the fewest points per game halfway through the year. They're struggling on offense with Danny Granger injured and Roy Hibbert slumping, but their 26-17 record is a testament to just how good their defense actually is.
Paul George is having a breakout year, David West looks more like his old self and they're in the midst of a hot streak after sitting at .500 following the first 22 games.
Whether or not this team can beat the Miami Heat in a playoff series is still up for debate, but if the Pacers can improve their offense even a little bit, there's no reason to think they shouldn't be taken seriously.
Defense does win championships after all, doesn't it?
If you want to sum up the Los Angeles Clippers' season thus far, just look at the stretch of games between Nov. 28 and Dec. 30.
The Clippers went 17-0 over the stretch of an entire month, and during that time frame, they declared themselves to be legitimate contenders out West.
Everybody wants to talk about the superstars—Blake Griffin and Chris Paul—and while they certainly deserve a ton of the credit, you can't overstate how important the bench has been. Jamal Crawford may be the favorite for Sixth Man of the Year, but he's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the second unit.
This team is as deep as it gets, and it knows how to blend its reserves with its starters to keep momentum going. If the Clippers can maintain their chemistry as they continue to get healthy, there are very few teams in the league who are primed to stop them.
Like every other team in the league, the perception of the Los Angeles Lakers is based both on production and expectation.
Entering the 2012-13 season, the Lakers were supposed to be title contenders. We all suspected they'd hit speed bumps early, but halfway through the year, it's inconceivable that they're still struggling to put it together.
Kobe Bryant is having one of his better seasons in recent years, and even a recovering Dwight Howard has shown signs of dominance. Those two need help, though, as Steve Nash's injury to start the season and Pau Gasol's inconsistencies have slowed this team's momentum to a backward crawl.
Mike D'Antoni was hired because his system supposedly fit the roster, but we've yet to see that theory come to fruition. It's clear that this team isn't who we thought it was, and while you can't count the Lakers out of the playoffs just yet, there are safer bets all over the conference when it comes to a run at a title.
The Memphis Grizzlies got off to one of the hottest starts in the entire NBA. They began the season 12-2, and it was clear that they are no longer just a nice Cinderella story.
Although they've slowed down since then, they're still in position to finish in the top half of the Western Conference playoff picture. It looks as if breaking into the Top Three would be tough at this point, but if they can stay ahead of the Golden State Warriors, home-court advantage will be in their favor.
This team struggles to score on offense, but it knows how to best utilize its talent. Like the Indiana Pacers, the Grizzlies' defense has locked down all season, and its the biggest reason they're championship contenders at this point in the process.
The recent loss of Marreese Speights via trade (according to Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears) could slow down their immediate success a bit, but for a move that will give them more financial freedom down the road, the slight drop-off should prove to be worth it.
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat. The Miami Heat are not where they should be, but they are still better than most NBA teams could ever dream of.
To say that Miami is in "coast mode" is slightly underselling the recent success of its opponents. Teams have begun taking advantage of it on the block, and defensively, Miami has simply been outplayed on occasion.
Then again, we've seen the Heat flip the switch in the past, and it's tough to believe they won't do it again the closer we get to the playoffs.
If you want to count out the Heat halfway through the season, make your argument about the success of others out East—not the downfall of Miami. The Heat will turn things around, and they'll likely be the favorites once the regular season comes to an end.
When it comes to the Milwaukee Bucks, most people instantly think of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. The high-scoring backcourt knows how to put the ball in the basket, and their up-tempo style can be beyond fun to watch.
But if there's one player on this team who doesn't get enough credit, it's starting center Larry Sanders.
The 24-year-old is the only player in the league averaging more than three blocks per game. He knows how to defend the rim in both one-on-one and help situations, and he is one of the glue guys who helps this team night in and night out.
The No. 1 through No. 8 spots out East have been tight all year, and it looks like the Bucks will be headed for the postseason as long as they don't slip in the second half of the year.
Despite facing injury after injury, the Minnesota Timberwolves have done an exceptional job of staying relevant.
With Kevin Love out of the lineup now for the second time, it's easy to imagine them headed toward the lottery. The Brandon Roy signing has been a failure, Ricky Rubio is still working toward 100 percent and Nikola Pekovic and Alexey Shved have become the most recent victims of the injury bug.
Halfway through the season, this team could give up and play for a draft pick, but instead, it's continued to fight and it's only two spots back from eighth place in the Western Conference.
Up to this point, the Wolves have been a subpar team compared to the elites around the league. However, when you look at what they're working with, you have to wonder where they'd be with a healthy rotation.
Like so many teams in this league, health appears to be the make-or-break factor in determining the New Orleans Hornets' success.
While it's clear that this team needs to add talent and depth to its rotation, staying healthy has to be the No. 1 priority. Anthony Davis is a viable Rookie of the Year candidate when healthy—although that title is still Damian Lillard's to lose—and with the return of Eric Gordon, the team has a new energy.
Remaining healthy is the first step toward jelling as a unit, and that's something the Hornets will have to do if they want to enter their name into the playoff race.
Tied for the worst record in the Western Conference, this squad's dream of a miraculous playoff run is as good as dead. New Orleans has aspirations of becoming a good team someday soon, but let's not start thinking about those days until we see what it can do in the 2013 lottery.
Who in the world would have predicted that the New York Knicks would be one of the best teams in the league to start the 2012-13 season?
Following a disappointing showing in the 2012 playoffs, the Knicks began the year without perennial All-Star Amar'e Stoudemire. Taking away talent is rarely a recipe for success, but Carmelo Anthony took it upon himself to get this team atop the Eastern Conference.
Anthony is having an MVP-caliber season. He has been near the top of the league in scoring since the beginning, and his efforts defensively have been unlike what we've ever seen from him in the past.
As with most old teams—and most teams who shoot a substantial amount of three-pointers—New York has come back down to earth a bit since its early success. Miami has to be considered the favorites in the Eastern Conference, but the Knicks appear to be much more trustworthy than they've been in recent memory.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are the defending Western Conference champions, and they've done little to make us believe they'll have any less success this time around.
James Harden may be gone, but the Thunder haven't changed enough for anybody to worry. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both having career years, and Kevin Martin has filled his role as well as anybody in OKC hoped he would.
The Thunder are arguably the best offensive team in the league, and they know how to run their opponents out of the gym.
The season is far from decided at this point in the year, but Oklahoma City has made its case over and over again why it belongs on the biggest stage that the league has to offer.
Nobody quite knew what to expect out of the Orlando Magic following the Dwight Howard era. They had a whole new look about them, and it was questionable whether or not they had the talent to compete night in and night out.
While their record isn't anything to get excited over, they've been more entertaining than some anticipated entering the year.
If this team can learn how to close out games, it's going to be in much better shape. The Magic have proved to be talented enough to stay in games, but they just don't have the go-to options who can take over and get them the gritty wins they desperately need.
Between Dec. 9 and Dec. 19, Orlando looked as if it had found its winning ways. It took down five opponents in six games, but as it turns out, the team was simply taking advantage of an easy spot in the schedule.
Since then, the Magic have dropped 14 of 16 contests, and it's clear that they're still recovering from losing their franchise player.
When the Philadelphia 76ers gave up Andre Iguodala for Andrew Bynum, it looked like a brilliant move. They traded a player who was always on the trade block anyway, and they received a big man who had officially become a part of the "best center in the league" discussion.
As it turns out, Bynum has been too injured to play, and the team has struggled to make up for the scoring it lost.
The 76ers are one of the worst offensive teams in the league. They've seen a huge improvement out of Jrue Holiday, and Evan Turner is coming into his own as well. But they are near the basement of the league when it comes to points per game.
Defense hasn't been as much of an issue, but they're a middle-of-the-pack group at best.
This team was supposed to challenge the top of the East this season, but now it's questionable whether it'll even be playing when the playoffs finally arrive.
It's no surprise that the Phoenix Suns have taken a step back after losing Steve Nash. That's what happens when you lose your franchise player and receive nothing but draft picks in return.
This is a rebuilding team, and we all knew that coming in, but with the offseason acquisitions made over the summer, its last-place standing in the Western Conference is a bit unexpected.
Michael Beasley was supposed to be someone who thrived in Phoenix's offense, but he's yet to prove that a change of scenery will do anything to help his production. Goran Dragic, on the other hand, has looked very good, but he's not the kind of player who can turn a team around on his own.
The Suns have been a poor defensive team for a while now, but their offense was always able to make up the difference. This year, they're lacking the ability to simply outscore their opponents, which means they're struggling to keep up on both ends of the floor.
If we've learned one thing about the Portland Trail Blazers this season, it's that Damian Lillard is the future of the franchise.
The 22-year-old point guard has exceeded all expectations, and he's blended extremely well with the rest of the starting unit. The starters all play well together, and quite frankly, they make up one of the best starting fives in the NBA.
The problem comes when any of them head to the bench. Their second unit has been hands-down the worst in the league, and that's a big reason for their recent falloff.
During the early part of the season, the Blazers were known for their ability to win close games. A rapid shift has changed that, though, as they recently dropped a season-high five straight games by six points or fewer.
Portland is still in the playoff hunt, but it must learn once again how to win close games and, more importantly, how not to fall behind early.
Expectations weren't too high for the Sacramento Kings entering the 2012-13 season. It's true that they have the talent to be better than they are, but it's also true that off-the-court distractions have been a big reason for their lack of success.
DeMarcus Cousins has the size and skill set to be one of the best centers in the league, but he has to prove he can keep his head in the game long enough to have a true impact over time.
Tyreke Evans showed us during his rookie season that he has All-Star talent, but his disappearing act has prevented him from putting it together.
And the looming relocation of the team isn't helping anybody in Sacramento.
This team is easy to root for, but it's also easy to forget. Its largest winning streak of the season is three games, which is going to make it tough to climb the rankings in the Western Conference.
The San Antonio Spurs are following the same old script that they've written the past few seasons. They quietly earn their seed near the top of the Western Conference, and they avoid headlines at all costs while they do it.
This season, though, we've seen a resurgence from Tim Duncan, and if that's any indication of play later in the year, the postseason might be their time to finally outshine the younger teams out West.
The 2012-13 Spurs are about depth. The Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are still the anchors of this veteran squad, but it's the youth and the talent all the way down the roster that allow them to stay fresh once the regular season comes to an end.
This team is dangerous from top to bottom, and no coach in the league knows how to get more out of his rotation than Gregg Popovich.
The Toronto Raptors have too much talent to be five and a half games out of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.
DeMar Derozan and Kyle Lowry can both be offensive threats, but it certainly doesn't help that Andrea Bargnani hasn't stepped on the court since suffering an injury on Dec. 10. Furthermore, the majority of the roster doesn't rebound or defend with any regularity.
Despite starting the season 4-19, the Raptors showed that they aren't that bad by winning eight of nine games to end 2012 and open the New Year. That proved to be more of a tease, though, as they turned around and immediately lost seven of the next 10.
The postseason isn't out of the question for this group, but the Raptors have put themselves in a position where they need help. If a team or two ahead of them begins to slip, they'll stand a better chance of returning to the playoffs.
The Utah Jazz surprised some people by making the 2012 postseason, but they're right on track to return to the playoffs for the second year in a row.
At 23-19, the Jazz currently hold the seventh seed in the Western Conference. The West is completely up for grabs when it comes to the No. 4 through No. 8 spots, but Utah has proved that it is a step ahead of the fringe playoff teams at this point.
Everybody wants to focus on the frontcourt of the Jazz, and there's a reason why. The men in the middle are all capable of producing, and they're all capable of playing alongside each other for the time being.
The roster, as it stands, has the potential to be very good, and it could just be a matter of prospect development and a move here or there that boosts them to the next level.
The Washington Wizards began the 2012-13 season as the worst team in the NBA, and there was simply no debating that. The Charlotte Bobcats at least started off 7-5, while it took nearly an entire month before the Wizards squeaked out their first victory in a two-point win against the Portland Trail Blazers.
As bad as they've been throughout the season, things are starting to look up. John Wall has finally returned, and he's instantly making a difference. His scoring ability is going to help a starting unit that has been the worst in the league, and his court vision will only make those around him better.
Bradley Beal is the kind of player who will benefit from playing alongside Wall, which is especially encouraging since he's already showing improvement from his early-season shooting struggles.
It's true that Washington has looked like a decent basketball team as of late, but you simply can't ignore the massive losing streaks that are scattered throughout its schedule. This team will be better, but fans in D.C. will have to wait until the 2013-14 season for that to officially take place.