Enough with the injuries, NBA! Unfortunately, physical harm is rearing up to troll this season, changing the composition of too many teams.
So far, we've lost copious amounts of time from John Wall, Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving, and now Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has suffered a nasty concussion. Our young, exciting players are taking a beating.
As for the vets, Rajon Rondo is out for the year, Dwight Howard keeps hurting that labrum, and it seems everyone on the Wolves has gotten injured at some point. Perhaps this year is par for the course, but why do I feel as though nagging injuries have never nagged a season more?
Get well soon, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The thrilling rookie suffered a nasty fall on Saturday night against the Rockets, resulting in a concussion. Frankly, it looked even worse at the time, as MKG was hauled off on a stretcher.
It was a grim reminder that basketball is not impervious to the concussion problems that trouble other sports. It was also a grim reminder that a seemingly indestructible physical force like MKG happens to be mortal, vulnerable.
In other news, the Bobcats stink. They started Jeff Adrien and Bismack Biyombo together in that game against Houston. The two combined for four points, all from Adrien.
Vucevic! The Orlando Magic might not be good, but at least their young big man playing well. The center is claiming a PER over 18.0 and playing well of late.
While he's not the most athletic player and not a good defender (yet), his skill has translated to improved scoring this season. The other surprise is his rebounding. In an outcome nobody could have predicted, Vucevic is posting a better rebound rate than Dwight Howard.
Obviously, I'm not saying that Replacement Dwight is better than Dwight. I'm just saying that Replacement Dwight is much better than we had any reason to expect.
Sacramento just isn't equipped to handle a team with crisp ball movement and three-point shooters. It didn't help matters that New York recently got Raymond Felton back, as he does much to fuel that drive-and-kick offense.
In any event, Tyreke Evans keeps playing well, though he's on a short leash with Keith Smart. Smart is the kind of coach who wildly overreacts to turnovers or poor plays, drastically cutting minutes on account of them.
It would appear that Evans is tasked with handling such an approach. Hey, it worked for Stephen Curry. By "worked," I mean, "It worked after Keith Smart left town."
It was an incredible, nationally televised scene. Steve Nash's Phoenix return was emotional, the fourth-quarter comeback was thrilling.
All that said, this team is still about as fun to watch as a slow-motion compound fracture. Michael Beasley is the worst aspect. I sometimes watch the Suns and get the feeling that they're actually trying to create contested, long twos for Beasley.
Why? What did Suns fans do to deserve this?
Well, I certainly like watching the Wizards more since they got John Wall back. It just hasn't translated into wins of late, with the Wiz dropping their last four.
Nene's been in something of a funk, shooting roughly 40 percent over his past five games. I suppose his brief-minutes dominance just wasn't sustainable.
Jan Vesely continues to look like a write-off. Rarely has a top pick failed so spectacularly, but then again, it's not as though Washington had a lot of options at that No. 6 spot. The turn of bad luck was more in where they fell in the draft and less in whom they drafted.
The Pelicans didn't get many minutes from Anthony Davis, and the time dearth probably contributed to their current four-game losing streak. A combination of foul trouble and injury-caused caution had AD getting two mere 22-minute outings last week. Against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, the absence of Davis was particularly problematic down the stretch.
The Hornets' other rookie problem is Austin Rivers. In this case, they're getting too much from the kid.
Monty Williams has to play his high draft choice, but Rivers has yet to demonstrate that he can competently engage in NBA basketball. His miserable 5.42 PER doesn't even tell the full story, because his defense is also horrible at this juncture. Rivers can turn his career around eventually, but New Orleans' season is cooked, in part, because of him.
Kyrie Irving has some of the best God Mode around. Fans got a good look at it on Saturday night when he closed out the Oklahoma City Thunder at home.
I'd say that 13 points in the last three minutes isn't half-bad.
A Cavs optimist would point to Irving's transcendent skill and Tristan Thompson's improved play. On the other hand, a Cavs pessimist would note that picking Dion Waiters over Andre Drummond was probably a big mistake and that not selling high on Varejao was also probably a big mistake.
On the upside, they should get another lottery pick next season.
Quiet down, Mark Cuban. Not that a billionaire would even be aware of my (insulting) advice, but I've found his recent actions to be a little distasteful.
You want to whine about refs in playoff games that actually matter? Sure. The stakes are high.
But don't grouse to the league about losing when your team has virtually no shot of making the playoffs anyway. Mark Cuban's decision to pass on Tyson Chandler did more to burn the Mavs than any choice by a referee this season.
Had Dallas kept the All-Star big man, perhaps referees wouldn't matter because the playoffs would be assured. Actually, refs don't matter right now because the playoffs are a pipe dream.
I don't understand the Toronto Raptors. Why do you trade for Rudy Gay when you already have DeMar DeRozan?
To hazard an answer, perhaps it's because Toronto wants to go small more often. The Raptors did just that against Miami on Sunday, and it helped spring Gay for 29 points.
Of course, there's a price to be paid for nearly every strategic move. The Raps were lacking on defense, and LeBron shredded them. Springing Rudy Gay only amounted to a 15-point loss.
It's possible that the Raptors can find the right role for their new acquisition. I just don't see it happening so long as he plays with DeRozan.
Ricky Rubio is alive! Rubio had a miserable start to his season since coming back from an ACL tear, but he's been good lately.
Rubio has averaged 6.4 assists over his past five games despite averaging little more than 27 minutes. That shot is still quite errant, but the rest of his skills are slowly surfacing again.
That has to be a relief for Wolves fans in a dismal season. They're all but eliminated from the playoffs and were getting blown out through much of a nationally televised loss against the Lakers. At least Rubio's capable of reclaiming the magic.
The Lakers are finally starting to win some of those close games they lost earlier in the season. I attribute such victories more to luck than skill, and I'll give you an example as to why.
On Sunday against the Detroit Pistons, L.A. missed four consecutive free throws at game's end. It set up one final shot for Detroit, with 1.2 seconds to go.
As Mike Prada pointed out, Pau Gasol left alley-oop specialist Andre Drummond wide open for a dunk:
Had Kyle Singler not waited a full second to finally get the ball to Drummond, Detroit would have won. So, can you attribute this close L.A. victory to improved execution? Not really.
The Lakers have won their last two but they fall in my rankings due to Dwight Howard's re-injury of that labrum. For all the criticism he gets, Howard is still the best big man on this team. Without him, there's just no chance at making the postseason.
Thaddeus Young is getting a lot of playing time for Doug Collins at roughly 36 minutes per contest. While I wish he would develop a three-point shot, it's hard to argue that Collins lacks faith in the kid.
Also, Young's actually trying threes for the first time this year. After only attempting one three-pointer all year, Young's shot a three-pointer in each of his last four games.
Unfortunately, he hasn't been hitting just yet. Only one of the triple tries has fallen.
I didn't want to see LaMarcus Aldridge in the All-Star Game. His game isn't exciting, and his production has been down this year.
That's a reminder that, for whatever LMA's real or perceived flaws, few big men have as nice a long shot. Also, few big men have such an easy time getting their shot off.
When Damian Lillard and Aldridge get their pick-and-roll rhythm down, this should be a top-10 offense. That might happen this year or next year, but it's coming.
Why did the Detroit Pistons vault up the rankings? Because I love their recent trade, that's why.
Tayshaun Prince is a useful player, but he was mismatched for the isolation role he took on in Detroit. Those isos for Prince on the wing just weren't working out for this team.
In exchange they get Jose Calderon, an efficient, floor-spacing, perceptive point guard. Brandon Knight is still young, but his passing leaves something to be desired.
In Calderon, Detroit gets someone who can throw pinpoint lobs to Andre Drummond. The playoff odds (that exist solely in my head) just got better for the Pistons.
If Atlanta wants to finally trade Josh Smith, now might be a good time. The enigmatic forward has been posting efficient scoring numbers while rebounding like a center.
He's leading the league in three-point percentage while lofting six long shots a game. Korver is currently posting a ridiculous 66.0 true shooting percentage despite rarely getting to the free-throw line. Considering that he's only averaging 11.5 points per game, maybe Korver should shoot more?
The Milwaukee Bucks are a middling team, but don't blame their frontcourt players. Larry Sanders, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Ekpe Udoh are dragging this squad to a top-10 defensive ranking.
Meanwhile, Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings continue to squander much of that value with poor offense. In Monta's case, he frequently hurts the defensive effort by falling asleep off the ball.
With a roster tweak or two, the Bucks could be a lot like the Bulls. You could even argue that they have more defensive talent. Unfortunately for the fans, Milwaukee has committed to a backcourt tandem that makes zero sense.
Rajon Rondo is out and the Celtics are winning. Some of this is in the scheduling, and some of this is in how Rondo isn't necessarily the best regular-season performer.
Let me be clear: Rondo is a fantastic talent, and he gives Boston a higher ceiling. In a playoff series, this team would desperately want its point guard.
On those League Pass nights, in the regular season, Rondo isn't great shakes. He can hold the ball, hunt for his assist totals and play a gambling, ineffective style of defense.
The Celtics would rather have their point guard, but they should also be fine without him for now. Expect the Celtics to make the playoffs and expect them to go one round.
DeMarre Carroll is Utah's millionth "why isn't he playing more" guy? I don't know how the Jazz manages to carry so much underused talent on one roster. The combo forward is finally scoring efficiently.
Carroll makes for the fourth reserve player with an above-average PER on the roster. The others are Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
The substitute Jazz, or "Shadow Jazz" as I call them, might be better than the veteran starters. I'd love to see a scrimmage between both teams.
In other news, the Jazz got crushed at home by Houston on Monday. The Lakers have a chance of taking a playoff spot from them.
The Rockets embarrassed the Jazz in Utah on Monday. Though they hit their threes in the end, Houston was up by more than 30 points for much of the game before the long tries kicked in.
Considering that this game was in Salt Lake City, I'm going to conclude that Houston is the better team for now. In related news, everyone's welcome to care about Jeremy Lin playing well.
Lin hit half his shots over the last five games while averaging better than 14 points and seven assists. Perhaps it's not Linsanity, but it is a welcome improvement from his errant early-season shooting.
The Indiana Pacers beat the Miami Heat on national television. This reminded casual fans of two things.
One, that the Pacers still exist. Two, that they play the kind of smothering, hounding, hawking defense that frightens children.
Paul George and Indiana's team defense concept restricted Dwyane Wade to 17 points on 16 shots. Nothing came easily for the Heat in their 89-point slog. Though Miami claims one of the league's best offenses, it did not show up against the league's best D.
Indiana probably should be higher, I'll admit. The Pacers got hosed by refs in Denver on two end-of-game plays involving Paul George. Hey, it's a tough rankings world when it comes to the top 10.
First of all, this Kris Humphries ad is fantastic:
In actual basketball news, Brook Lopez is still a monster. The new All-Star continues his torrid pace by scoring 19 points on roughly 57 percent shooting over his last five games.
Perhaps that doesn't impress you, but take note that Lopez did it in a mere 29.8 minutes per night. It's not a fluke; the guy's improved. It really takes the sting out of a season in which Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace and Joe Johnson have all disappointed.
The Chicago Bulls are playing some of the best basketball around. So why the drop in rankings?
The answer is "injuries." Though the Bulls racked up yet another win on Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks, they did so while missing Joakim Noah (right foot) and Carlos Boozer (hamstring).
The former was getting considerable minutes, as does any player with whom Tom Thibodeau feels at ease. Jimmy Butler is now that guy, regularly exceeding the 40-minute mark for playing time.
Thibodeau's done a great job, but one feels that he's optimizing in an unideal situation. The Bulls deserve praise for being this good, but one wonders if it's a sustainable kind of good.
The superstar point guard has missed seven games in a row, and there's little indication as to when he'll return. He also isn't practicing yet. In short, we probably won't see him again till after the All-Star break.
"A Tribe Called Bench" was a cute story, but that high-octane reserve unit doesn't matter much if Paul's out. Until he comes back, the Clips are dropping in these rankings.
That schedule got easier, and Denver has its wind at its back. Let's dish out some credit before crediting this six-game win streak only to schedule.
Kudos to Ty Lawson on reclaiming his season. After spending much of the year in a funk, he's getting his shot and overall game back.
Lawson has averaged over 20 points and 50 percent on threes over his past five games. He's also dishing more than seven assists per contest in that stretch.
Speaking of "stretch," Danilo Gallinari is finally stretching the floor to the tune of .370 on threes. Denver's mighty scary when that transition game combines with some sweet shooting.
The Golden State Warriors are a goofy team. They shoot plenty of threes off the dribble, but they lead the league in three-point percentage.
A lot of that is because Stephen Curry shoots well from long range off the dribble. His ability to space the floor with and without a live dribble does much to open up options for Golden State.
The Warriors just got another game-changer back in Andrew Bogut. He's been great from the outset, sealing up a game against Dallas with a strip-block (okay, possibly a foul) on Brandan Wright.
Is this team (gasp!) a title contender? If they can stay healthy, such a distinction doesn't sound completely insane. Okay, it sounds insane, but it's at least plausible.
Raymond Felton is back, and the Knicks are scary again. It's less in how Felton plays and more in how New York has nobody else like him on the roster.
For the Knicks' spread pick-and-roll attack to function, they need a speedy point guard who can break down defenses off the dribble. Without Felton, New York's offense stagnates and creates fewer looks.
With Felton, the Knicks trend toward unguardability. Yes, it was the Kings, but you can't help but be impressed by New York's 120-81 trouncing of Sacramento.
Not many teams can hit 19 threes in a game. When the Knicks do it, it's hardly even surprising.
There's been criticism of the Rudy Gay trade, and I don't get why. Rudy's been awful for Memphis this year. It doesn't take a "stat geek" to figure that one out.
You could make the argument that Gay might flourish with a different team, in a different system. You can't argue that he was playing well for the Grizz when he hit roughly 40 percent of his shots and shot poorly on three-pointers.
Without him, the Grizzlies will have an adjustment to make. I like their prospects better today than I did last week, though.
Ed Davis is a talented, athletic young big man. He should benefit from playing alongside defensive mastermind Marc Gasol.
Tayshaun Prince is far from his old self, but he's a better three-point shooter and defender than Gay. Prince should help Memphis space the floor while augmenting an already-great defense.
Miami might have gotten scraped by the Indiana Pacers, but if Chris Andersen is actually helpful, then who cares? Andersen has been Miami's most productive big man, besides Bosh, since joining the roster.
Though not completely in shape, you can see how Andersen might cure some of Miami's defense and rebounding woes.
Related: If the Birdman gets more minutes, is Miami still "small"?
The "Miami is small" trope has been flogged a lot this season, but it's hard to make that case if Andersen ever gets 20 minutes in the rotation. How can an Andersen-Bosh-LeBron-Wade-Allen lineup be considered small?
This offense is incredible. For instance, the Thunder's team-wide true shooting percentage (58.5 percent) is better than Stephen Curry's individual true shooting percentage (57.9 percent). That's eye-opening, considering that Russell Westbrook takes the most shots on the team and does so to the tune of a below-average TS percentage of 51.6 percent.
Speaking of Westbrook, he had something of a meltdown on TNT. After screaming at Thabo Sefolosha and rushing off to the locker room, Russ handled his interview with Craig Sager quite poorly.
Westbrook has passed incisively this season, and he's improving as a point guard seemingly by the day. This has to concern Thunder fans, though.
It's not as bad as it looks for Tim Duncan. That's a relief, because man, did it look bad.
The Spurs have won 10 in a row, thanks in part to a Duncan-fueled, revamped defense. I would still pick Oklahoma City to beat them in a playoff series, but nobody's playing better regular-season ball than San Antonio right now.