In the ongoing search for truth—and a more coherent discussion of how teams around the NBA are faring—I've decided to make some changes to the way I lay out these grades since we last convened. No longer will I attempt to simultaneously grade and rank all 30 teams in the same sitting.
After all, isn't the latter what power rankings are for?
Instead, I've decided to hand out marks to kick off March—the final full calendar month of the 2012-13 campaign. To give you a general sense of how each team has fared overall this season, I've included each team's offensive and defensive efficiency stats and rankings as of March 1 (via NBA.com's stats database), with the numbers corresponding to points scored and allowed per 100 possessions.
As far as the order is concerned, I simply listed each squad from lowest winning percentage to highest.
So, please, if you disagree with the grades I've assigned, feel free to express yourself in the comments below. But if you have a bone to pick about where and how I "ranked" one team or another, check the standings as they were at the start of the day on March 1 and you'll understand why they are as they are.
Now that we've gotten all that administrative "mumbo jumbo" out of the way, here's a look at the pertinent grades for all 30 teams after February.
Offensive Efficiency: 97.9 (29th)
Defensive Efficiency: 108.4 (29th)
Look on the bright side, Bobcats fans. Your favorite team does at least one thing better than almost any other in NBA history.
That is, lose...badly. They've lost their last three games by an average of 22 points and have been beaten by double digits on 25 occasions so far through the 2012-13 season.
Who knows? In time, perhaps some of those blowout losses will turn into...well, heartbreakers.
Offensive Efficiency: 99.5 (26th)
Defensive Efficiency: 105.8 (26th)
The Orlando Magic logged another entry into the "Things Could Be Worse" file on February 26, when they punked the Philadelphia 76ers by a score of 98-84.
You know, those same Sixers with whom the Magic swung the four-team trade that landed Dwight Howard in L.A. and Andrew Bynum in the City of Brotherly Love. Bynum has yet to play a single minute for the Sixers this season, while Jason Richardson, who was essentially a "throw-in" in that deal, is out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury of his own.
As for the Magic, they're garnering encouraging contributions from Arron Afflalo, Moe Harkless and Nikola Vucevic—the latter two poached from Philly in August.
Offensive Efficiency: 96.0 (30th)
Defensive Efficiency: 99.9 (eighth)
The Washington Wizards can only wonder what might've become of the 2012-13 season had John Wall been healthy from the get-go. The third-year point guard has hardly turned the Wizards into an offensive juggernaut, but their improvement on that end with him back (100.3 points per 100 possessions) would be enough to bump them from dead last in the league up to a less distressing 22nd.
As it stands, the pieces are in place for the Wizards to rack up some wins before the season is out in preparation for a playoff push in 2014. Head coach Randy Wittman has had this veteran group playing top-10-caliber defense all season, thereby giving Washington a solid foundation on which to build a team identity going forward.
Offensive Efficiency: 102.0 (16th)
Defensive Efficiency: 106.9 (28th)
Who says the Cavaliers are a one-man team? They've won their last two games, against the Bulls and the Raptors, with Kyrie Irving sidelined by a knee injury.
This isn't to suggest that Cleveland would be better off without its All-Star point guard. The Cavs were 2-9 sans Kyrie before this most recent spurt.
Rather, it appears as though Irving won't have to do all the heavy lifting by himself going forward. Rookie guard Dion Waiters has stepped up his game considerably in Irving's absence, and Tristan Thompson looks less and less like a draft-day misstep with each passing game.
Offensive Efficiency: 101.5 (18th)
Defensive Efficiency: 109.0 (30th)
Have the Sacramento Kings turned a corner? They took the Miami Heat to double overtime in what amounted to a "moral victory" before blasting the Orlando Magic by 24 points in an "actual victory" the very next day.
Perhaps the Kings were just anticipating the good news: that Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson has lined up a slew of investors—including 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, Pittsburgh Penguins owner Ron Burkle and former Kings star Mitch Richmond—ready, willing and able to keep the team in California's capital.
Offensive Efficiency: 102.4 (15th)
Defensive Efficiency: 106.7 (27th)
One of these days, the Hornets are going to look like a truly competitive team once they have Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis healthy at the same time. Between the two of them, they constitute a cornerstone talent around whom New Orleans can organize its efforts on either end of the floor.
Until that day comes, though, the Hornets will probably have to settle for getting blown out by, say, 45 points, as they were during their most recent meeting with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Offensive Efficiency: 98.3 (28th)
Defensive Efficiency: 104.6 (24th)
Want/need more proof that the Suns' trainers are modern-day miracle workers? Look no further than Phoenix's 105-101 overtime win against the league-leading San Antonio Spurs. That game saw Jermaine O'Neal log season highs in points (22) and rebounds (13) in just 27 minutes while operating, at times, against none other than Tim Duncan.
You read that correctly: Jermaine O'Neal looked like a productive player. This after missing a total of 89 games over the previous two seasons while dealing with a myriad of injuries.
Point being, if you're an NBA player with a history of health issues, you'd do well to seek out a contract with the Suns.
Because, again, those trainers have worked more miracles than Anne Sullivan.
Offensive Efficiency: 99.9 (24th)
Defensive Efficiency: 102.9 (13th)
Would somebody please tell Orkin to fumigate the Timberwolves' locker room? The injury bug struck the team once again on February 28, this time incapacitating Nikola Pekovic with an abdominal malady during Minny's 116-94 defeat against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The T-Wolves came into that game already absent Kevin Love and Andrei Kirilenko ...and Brandon Roy...and Chase Budinger...and Malcolm Lee. Let's not forget that Ricky Rubio—who tallied 13 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds in L.A.—missed much of the early season while recovering from knee surgery.
It's no wonder, then, that Minny has tumbled from a preseason playoff hopeful back into the ranks of the lottery-bound.
Offensive Efficiency: 100.6 (20th)
Defensive Efficiency: 104.1 (20th)
Things could've been much worse for the Pistons in February if not for the giving spirit of the Eastern Conference's crop of bottom feeders. Detroit compiled a record of 6-8 last month, with four of those wins coming at the expense of the Cavaliers, Bobcats and Wizards (twice).
The Jose Calderon experiment certainly hasn't helped matters so far. According to NBA.com, the Pistons score 3.3 fewer points and allow 2.7 more points per 100 possessions with Calderon on the floor.
To be sure, 12 games does not a big sample make, but the early indicators are still none too encouraging.
Offensive Efficiency: 103.4 (12th)
Defensive Efficiency: 104.5 (21st)
On the flip side, the Toronto Raptors had shown marked improvement since eschewing Jose Calderon and Ed Davis in favor of Rudy Gay.
Emphasis on had. The Raptors were 7-3 with Rudy until suffering consecutive losses to the Wizards and Cavaliers. Gay managed just seven points on 1-of-11 shooting against Washington—easily his worst performance since landing in T-Dot—and the Raptors couldn't seem to overcome their own mistakes (and Cleveland's hustle) opposite the Kyrie Irving-less Cavs just two days later.
A date with the eighth-seed Milwaukee Bucks on March 2 may well decide the Raptors' fate in their push for a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Offensive Efficiency: 98.5 (27th)
Defensive Efficiency: 102.4 (12th)
So this is what free fall feels like. The 76ers' 93-82 loss to the Chicago Bulls on the final day of February was the team's seventh such result in a row.
Not that the defeat caught anybody by surprise. It came just two days removed from a 14-point loss to the Orlando Magic, after which Sixers coach Doug Collins laid the blame squarely on his players, including some (i.e. Andrew Bynum) who weren't even healthy enough to suit up—even though, as Grantland's Zach Lowe pointed out, Collins' hands are anything but clean of Philly's futility.
Offensive Efficiency: 102.4 (14th)
Defensive Efficiency: 103.7 (18th)
The door has all but slammed shut on the Mavericks' fading playoff hopes. They've lost their last three games in a row—all close affairs, mind you—to fall a full five games back of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
What's more, the Mavs will play six of their next seven games on the road, where they've compiled a miserable mark of 9-20 this season.
In other words, it looks like Dirk Nowitzki will be watching ping-pong balls bounce at season's end for the first time since his second year in the Association.
Offensive Efficiency: 101.9 (17th)
Defensive Efficiency: 105.4 (25th)
Speaking of fringe postseason teams in the West that have played themselves out of the picture of late, have you seen what's happened to the Trail Blazers? They finished with a 3-9 record in February, including a mark of 1-8 over their last nine.
They've been competitive for the most part, save for a 36-point embarrassment at the hands of the "mighty" Hornets. But the historic lack of depth is clearly killing Portland's hopes.
And so, for the second year in a row, it appears as though the Blazers will hope for better luck in the NBA draft lottery after succumbing to a second-half slide.
Albeit one that was all too predictable.
Offensive Efficiency: 105.6 (8th)
Defensive Efficiency: 103.6 (16th)
Let's not jinx it, but the Lakers might just have found something. A 22-point win over the shorthanded T-Wolves improved LA's record to 9-4 in February and 12-5 over its last 17 games overall. That surge has allowed the Lakers to move within one game of the .500 mark and two games of the eighth-place Rockets out West.
It's been fueled, in large part, by improved play amongst the reserves. With Steve Blake back in the mix and head coach Mike D'Antoni having seemingly settled on a consistent rotation, Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks are now making much more meaningful contributions off the bench.
The Lakers probably expected that from the get-go, but better late than never, right?
The path to the playoffs remains an uphill climb for the Purple and Gold, but they needn't be counted out so long as Dwight Howard and Steve Nash are rounding into shape.
And, of course, so long as Kobe Bryant is still doing Kobe Bryant-like things from night to night.
Offensive Efficiency: 100.0 (23rd)
Defensive Efficiency: 101.1 (9th)
Monta Ellis may be a cause for headaches on the whole, but sometimes the much-maligned guard looks like a bona fide go-to guy.
Such was the case during (much of) Milwaukee's 110-107 win in Houston on February 27. Ellis compiled an impressive line of 27 points (albeit on a subpar 9-of-24 from the field), 13 assists, six rebounds and six steals in a whopping 45 minutes.
More importantly, Monta hit an off-balance three at the buzzer to give the Bucks a big road victory to improve their cushion on the eighth seed in the East to six games.
The Bucks may be better off in the long run if Ellis opts out of his current contract this summer, but for now, his skills certainly come in handy from time to time.
Offensive Efficiency: 106.7 (6th)
Defensive Efficiency: 104.5 (22nd)
Sometimes, the Houston Rockets are a joy to watch, what with Jeremy Lin and James Harden driving to the basket, running pick-and-roll with Omer Asik and kicking the ball back out to an army of sharpshooters.
And sometimes, the Rockets are more like a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma (warning: clip contains coarse language), as they were in back-to-back losses opposite the Washington Wizards and the Milwaukee Bucks.
The former saw the Rockets cede a 17-point lead on the way to a two-point defeat, while the latter was witness to Houston giving away a six-point advantage with three minutes to play.
Just in time for the aforementioned Monta Ellis dagger.
Houston's two-game hold on the eighth spot out West would be considered tenuous if not for the fact that Rockets play one of the league's easiest schedules from here on out.
Offensive Efficiency: 100.5 (21st)
Defensive Efficiency: 99.8 (seventh)
Paul Pierce has heard your doubts, especially those about his ability to carry a team at the age of 35.
Apparently, Pierce either doesn't care about your doubts, or cares about them so much that he's doing everything he can to prove them wrong.
Either way, it worked to the Boston Celtics' advantage against the Utah Jazz. The C's emerged from EnergySolutions Arena, where the Jazz have compiled a 21-8 record, with a 110-107 overtime win, thanks in no small part to Pierce's efforts. The future Hall of Famer led all scorers with 26 points, including seven straight in the extra sessions, to go along with eight assists and seven rebounds.
How long Pierce can keep this up is anybody's guess. For now, though, Paul's play is doing plenty to buoy Boston's hopes of being something more than just first-round fodder for one of the East's top four seeds in the absence of Rajon Rondo.
Offensive Efficiency: 103.7 (10th)
Defensive Efficiency: 104.6 (23rd)
The Utah Jazz could've used some help at the trade deadline, particularly in their backcourt, and had the requisite, movable pieces (i.e. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap) to make it happen.
Instead, the Jazz opted to stand pat...and have lost three in a row since then.
Things could get much, much worse for Utah before they get any better too. The Jazz will play five of their next seven games on the road, where they've won just 10 times in 29 tries.
With the way the Lakers are surging through the standings right now, it may not be long before the Jazz find themselves on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture looking in, with nothing to show for Jefferson and Millsap should they both leave via free agency this summer.
Offensive Efficiency: 104.3 (ninth)
Defensive Efficiency: 103.7 (19th)
The Golden State Warriors appear to have fallen back into the same old habit—simply trying to outscore the opposition—that kept them out of the playoffs in each of the previous five seasons.
As Grantland's Zach Lowe broke down in detail, the Warriors' reliance on a (rather poor) zone defense has cost them dearly on that end of the floor of late, to the point where they've tumbled into mediocrity in that regard over their last 17 games.
What's worse, Golden State's inability to stop anybody has practically counteracted whatever good might've come of Stephen Curry's recent surge of brilliant shooting. Curry went off for 38 points (on 14-of-20 shooting) against the Indiana Pacers but was helpless to prevent a Dubs defeat, be it on the scoreboard or in a scrum.
Then, with David Lee suspended and Andrew Bogut out on account of injury (again), Steph blew up for a career-high 54 points (including an astounding 11-of-13 from three) at Madison Square Garden. But even Steph's best efforts weren't enough to keep the Warriors from succumbing to the New York Knicks, 109-105.
Through this recent rough patch, Golden State has begun to look less like a dangerous pick to advance to the second round of the playoffs and more like a one-and-done squad, largely on account of its decline on D.
Offensive Efficiency: 99.8 (25th)
Defensive Efficiency: 98.6 (fourth)
Make no mistake: The Chicago Bulls are making the right move by holding out Derrick Rose until he's absolutely ready to play.
If there's anything the rest of the NBA has learned from the Dwight Howard debacle in L.A. (other than to avoid Dwight Howard like the plague), it's that any team hoping to compete for a title at some point would be better off taking its sweet time bringing back a superstar than it would be by rushing said superstar back into action.
That being said, the Bulls' present need for a playmaker like Rose is all too clear. Their offense evaporated almost entirely in February, during which they topped the 100-point plateau just twice in 13 tries. All told, Chicago finished the month at 5-8—the team's first losing moon under head coach Tom Thibodeau's regime.
Chicago's spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs is safe and secure at this point. But with Luol Deng and Joakim Noah now running on fumes, don't be surprised if the Bulls are bounced from the picture early on.
With or without D-Rose.
Offensive Efficiency: 103.6 (11th)
Defensive Efficiency: 103.7 (17th)
The Brooklyn Nets will welcome Joe Johnson back into their backcourt with open arms. They dropped their first two games in the immediate aftermath of Johnson's heel injury and needed an extraordinary effort from Deron Williams (33 points, eight assists) to beat the hapless Hornets by four points.
Of course, if Johnson's brief absence turns out to be the spark D-Will needed all along to get his game on track, then the two losses the Nets incurred without Iso Joe will have been well worth it.
Offensive Efficiency: 103.0 (13th)
Defensive Efficiency: 101.3 (10th)
Don't look now, but the Atlanta Hawks are surging again. They've won four in a row (albeit against subpar competition) to get back into the top four in the Eastern Conference.
Coincidentally (or not), this current streak lines up perfectly with the passing of the February 21 trade deadline, at which the Hawks were expected to deal Josh Smith. Rather than succumb to temptation, Atlanta opted to hang on to Smith and appears to be all the better for doing so.
Offensive Efficiency: 100.8 (19th)
Defensive Efficiency: 95.5 (first)
Do the Indiana Pacers deserve a pass for their 99-91 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers? After all, Roy Hibbert's absence (on account of a one-game suspension) made it that much easier for the Clips to outscore the Pacers in the paint, 50-32.
And, truth be told, Indy's 13-0 run to cut its fourth-quarter deficit down to four points was rather impressive.
Moral victories shouldn't matter to a team gunning for the Miami Heat, but in this case, the effort should count for something. Danny Granger had by far his best game since returning from injury (12 points on 5-of-10 from the field), Paul George and Lance Stephenson once again looked like a dangerous combo on the wings and the Pacers, as a whole, showed plenty of heart in going down to one of the West's top teams.
There's no shame in that in my book, especially with the loss coming on the heels of a five-game winning streak.
Offensive Efficiency: 107.0 (fourth)
Defensive Efficiency: 102.9 (14th)
They may not seem like much, but Denver's recent wins against the Bobcats and the Trail Blazers were surprisingly noteworthy, if only because they came on the road. In tandem, those victories constituted just the fourth time all season that the Nuggets have won two games away from the Pepsi Center without an intervening loss.
Granted, those two "W's" were split up by a home hammering of the legless Lakers. But for a Nuggets squad that's 13-19 on the road and 2.5 games back of the Memphis Grizzlies in the race for fourth place out west, any success outside of the Mile High City deserves special recognition.
Offensive Efficiency: 108.4 (third)
Defensive Efficiency: 103.4 (15th)
Back-to-back wins over the (fast-fading) Sixers and Warriors don't signal another turnaround for the New York Knicks in and of themselves. Sure, victories are victories, and the last two have seen the Knicks' principals (i.e. Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Amar'e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith) playing well in concert.
But we won't know for sure whether or not New York is truly ready to lay claim to the No. 2 seed in the East without another prolonged run of top-tier play, particularly on the defensive end. Age appears to be the biggest concern for the Knicks, seeing as how they sport the oldest roster in NBA history, including a 35-year-old rookie in Pablo Prigioni.
That being said, the Knicks can use this upcoming stretch of games to both pad their record (vs. the Wizards, Cavs and Pistons) and measure themselves against the best of the best (vs. the Heat and Thunder).
Offensive Efficiency: 100.5 (22nd)
Defensive Efficiency: 97.0 (2nd)
Mark it eight for the Memphis Grizzlies, dude. They haven't lost since Feb. 6 and are now 9-3 without Rudy Gay.
Interestingly enough, the Grizzlies defense has been stout as ever, while the offensive output has improved to 101 points per 100 possessions—still not great, but good enough to place them a more respectable 18th in efficiency overall.
To be sure, the output of late (85.5 points per game over their last four) hasn't exactly been stellar, nor has the caliber of competition (Memphis has faced just two playoff-bound teams during this streak).
In any case, the wins have allowed the Grizz to open up some breathing room (2.5 games, to be exact) in the race for home-court advantage in the Western Conference.
Offensive Efficiency: 106.4 (7th)
Defensive Efficiency: 99.6 (6th)
Chris Paul's primacy among point guards had come into question since that four-point, three-assist, three-turnover egg he laid opposite Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs.
That is, until he came through in the clutch to preserve the Los Angeles Clippers' 99-91 win over the Indiana Pacers to close out the month of February. Paul scored a game-high 29 points, including the final eight of the game for LA, to accompany his six rebounds and eight assists on the evening.
It was just the sort of clutch performance Clippers fans had come to expect from CP3, who seems to be getting his groove back after struggling with a knee injury and post-All-Star fatigue.
Offensive Efficiency: 110.7 (2nd)
Defensive Efficiency: 99.4 (5th)
What better way is there to follow up a three-game skid than with a winning streak of equal length?
How about with a three-game winning streak in which you demolish the opposition by an average of 30.3 points per outing?
That's precisely what the Thunder have done since dropping consecutive games to the Jazz, Heat and Rockets.
And how, pray tell, has OKC done it? By letting Russell Westbrook score (29.7 points on 55.4 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from three) and Kevin Durant do a lot of everything (21.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 7.7 assists).
Offensive Efficiency: 110.9 (1st)
Defensive Efficiency: 101.7 (11th)
A 12-1 mark is pretty darn good for a full month, even one as short on days and meaningful games as February usually is.
Even more so when those 12 wins all come consecutively.
Those efforts were buoyed by a month-long run by LeBron James that not only cements him as the prohibitive favorite to win his fourth MVP in five years, but also places him in elite company among the greatest moon-long runs ever registered in NBA history.
As a result, the Miami Heat are now a comfortable 6.5 games clear of the next closest teams (the Knicks and Pacers) in the Eastern Conference.
Offensive Efficiency: 107.0 (5th)
Defensive Efficiency: 98.2 (3rd)
If LeBron James is the runaway favorite for Player of the Month honors in the East, then, surely, Tony Parker has a solid case to take the cake out West. For the month of February, Parker averaged 26.1 points, 8.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals and shot 54 percent from the field.
Not bad for a guy who just so happens to be the best and most important player on the team with the best record in basketball. It's just too bad the Spurs had to spoil their own stellar February by losing two of their last three games of the frame—in overtime, no less.