We're almost exactly a month away from the conclusion of the 2012-13 NBA regular season. That comes as bittersweet news for us hoop-heads who'd otherwise struggle to extricate ourselves from League Pass.
As for the players? That depends. Those who yearn for top-shelf competition but are stuck on lottery-bound teams will have to slough their way into a long summer of workouts, pickup games and the occasional bit of rest and relaxation.
Tough life, I know.
For most, though, it seems reasonable to suggest that the end of the regular season can't come soon enough. Those on losing squads will see their misery ended, while those fortunate enough to play in the postseason will no longer have to "waste" their efforts in games that don't bring them any closer to the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Just because the games themselves are slowly being drained of their significance—as much by tanking at the bottom as by streaking at the top—doesn't mean we won't be watching, judging and grading accordingly.
Before the campaign's last "Great Divide" commences, let's have a look back at how all 30 teams have graded out through the first four-and-a-half months.
Record: 14-50 (.219)
Offensive Efficiency: 97.5 (29th)
Defensive Efficiency: 109.0 (30th)
Progress is a relative term, especially when you happen to be the Charlotte Bobcats. A 26-point blowout of the Paul Pierce-less Boston Celtics not only snapped the Bobcats' 10-game losing streak, but it also officially doubled their win total from all of last season.
Too bad they only won seven games in 2011-12 and have lost 45 of 52 games since a surprising 7-5 start.
Record: 18-47 (.277)
Offensive Efficiency: 99.6 (24th)
Defensive Efficiency: 106.5 (26th)
The Magic have stunk it up almost as much as the 'Cats have this season, though at least folks in Orlando have some hope for the future.
Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson have the chops to lead from the backcourt, Nikola Vucevic is a double-double machine in the middle, and the Magic may yet extract at least one building block on the wing between Tobias Harris and Moe Harkless.
It's just too bad Jacque Vaughn had to go and ruin what might've been a fun payback game for Orlando by sending Dwight Howard to the line an NBA-record-tying 39 times during the Magic's latest loss to the visiting Los Angeles Lakers. Surely, central Floridians didn't shlep out to the Amway Center to see the Magic spend an evening Hacking-a-Howard.
Record: 21-42 (.333)
Offensive Efficiency: 96.3 (30th)
Defensive Efficiency: 99.6 (7th)
At long last, John Wall is starting to look like the superstar-in-waiting we all thought he would/could/should be. Over his last two games, Wall is averaging a spectacular 25 points, 12 assists (against three turnovers), 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game.
All Wall needs to do is translate those top-notch efforts into overall improvement for Washington's stodgy, bottom-of-the-barrel offense, and the Wizards may yet be on their way to a playoff berth.
In 2014, of course.
Record: 22-43 (.338)
Offensive Efficiency: 102.9 (15th)
Defensive Efficiency: 107.3 (28th)
If not for Damian Lillard's season-long run of strong play, Anthony Davis just might have a case to make for Rookie of the Year honors. The No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA draft has turned in three straight double-doubles and is averaging 15.4 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks since Feb. 13.
In other words, the wiry kid from Chicago appears to be figuring out how and where he fits in the NBA. The more he grows into his talents (and his body) and the healthier Eric Gordon gets, the more dangerous the New Orleans Hornets become as a threat to crash the Western Conference playoff party next season.
Record: 22-43 (.338)
Offensive Efficiency: 97.8 (28th)
Defensive Efficiency: 104.8 (23rd)
Don't think the Suns have kicked it into "tank" mode yet? Is Lindsey Hunter's decision to start the Morris twins next to Luis Scola up front on a nightly basis not enough to convince you?
How about this: Wesley Johnson is playing big minutes as a starter, while Jared Dudley is rotting away on the bench. Coincidentally, this past week saw Phoenix lose all three games in which Johnson scored in double digits and win one, against the Houston Rockets, in which Dudley led the team in scoring.
What say you, Talking Goat?
Record: 23-44 (.343)
Offensive Efficiency: 100.3 (22nd)
Defensive Efficiency: 105.3 (24th)
The Detroit Pistons are officially in Tom Petty Mode. They've lost seven in a row and 10 of their last 11, and Brandon Knight is out of commission.
No, it was not because of this, though the sprained ankle he suffered the following night in Salt Lake City might've made more sense had it come about in L.A.
Some good news, though: Andre Drummond is pain free and on the mend from a back injury. The alley-oop action between the rookie big man and Jose Calderon should make for must-YouTube TV.
Record: 22-42 (.344)
Offensive Efficiency: 101.9 (18th)
Defensive Efficiency: 106.7 (27th)
The Cleveland Cavaliers might want to consider keeping Kyrie Irving in a bubble. That way, he'd at least have the upper hand on George Costanza.
As it stands, Irving can't seem to shake the injury bug. The All-Star guard is back on the shelf, this time for three to four weeks, after suffering a shoulder sprain in a loss to the Toronto Raptors.
Of course, with the rotten luck Irving's had with his own china-doll-fragile body, even a plastic shield could prove problematic.
Record: 23-43 (.348)
Offensive Efficiency: 102.4 (16th)
Defensive Efficiency: 108.5 (29th)
It appears as though the Sacramento Kings might just be tired of DeMarcus Cousins and his shenanigans. The hotheaded big man crossed the line for the umpteenth time when he elbowed Mike Dunleavy Jr. in the head in retaliation for...umm...something?
Cousins was ejected, but not suspended, for the offense, though the resulting pain in his left leg from the initial contact with Dunleavy was enough to keep him out of the following game.
It was a game in which the Kings creamed the visiting Chicago Bulls, 121-79. Go figure.
Record: 22-40 (.355)
Offensive Efficiency: 99.1 (26th)
Defensive Efficiency: 102.9 (13th)
It's OK, Timberwolves fans. Ricky Rubio sees your sadness and is doing everything he can to turn that frown upside down.
His first career triple-double was nice. So was the fact that it came amidst a 24-point win over the Pop-rested San Antonio Spurs. There's nothing to not like about a double-behind-the-back layup either.
Rubio wasn't too shabby against the Indiana Pacers either, though his 21-point, 10-assist, six-rebound, three-steal performance couldn't quite keep Minny from getting crushed by 16 points.
If all else fails, Ricky has some words of wisdom for you...Alexey Shved (a.k.a. Mr. Serious-Face Russian).
Record: 24-40 (.375)
Offensive Efficiency: 98.9 (27th)
Defensive Efficiency: 102.9 (14th)
Realistically, the Sixers had about a snowball's chance in you-know-where of halting the Heat's now-20-game winning streak.
But, man, if they didn't try. Thaddeus Young pounded Miami inside for 24 points and 15 rebounds while Jrue Holiday came through with a 21-7-7 line, including the sneaky, snaking dunk on LeBron James in crunch time (above).
Too bad that move only tied the game for Philly. They went on to lose the game, 98-94, though it's clear that the Sixers should look to build around Holiday and Young when they (more than likely) embark upon a full-fledged rebuild this summer.
Record: 25-40 (.385)
Offensive Efficiency: 103.0 (13th)
Defensive Efficiency: 104.5 (22nd)
So much for the Rudy Gay honeymoon. The Toronto Raptors have now lost eight of their last 11 games, over which time Gay has shot a less-than-sizzling 37.5 percent from the floor.
Some measure of Gay's struggles have come on account of a back injury that came to light on March 1. Gay has missed two games due to the discomfort.
Perhaps two games against the Charlotte Bobcats in the Raptors' next three will be therapeutic for Gay, who could use either a soft defense to eviscerate and/or an easily ousted opponent against whom he can readily sit.
Record: 30-34 (.469)
Offensive Efficiency: 103.4 (11th)
Defensive Efficiency: 105.6 (25th)
Don't tell the Portland Trail Blazers that they've been buried just yet. Sure, they're only 5-6 in their last 11 games, but none of those losses have come by more than six points.
That stretch has seen Damian Lillard play some of his best ball as a pro, too. In those 11, Lillard has put up a line of 23 points and 6.6 assists per game with shooting splits of .497 from the field, .397 from three and .857 from the free-throw line.
If nothing else, folks in Rip City should relish the remainder of Lillard's Rookie of the Year campaign while looking forward to a long, prosperous future with him hitting pull-up jumpers and feeding the ball to LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews.
Record: 30-34 (.469)
Offensive Efficiency: 103.0 (14th)
Defensive Efficiency: 103.8 (19th)
Speaking of teams living out Bee Gees songs, the Dallas Mavericks are doing their darndest to keep their 12-year playoff streak alive. They'd won four in a row and five of six prior to a one-point heartbreaker against the archrival San Antonio Spurs on March 14.
Also, Dirk Nowitzki is looking more like his old, wily self by the day—and not just because his coiffure is nearly out of control. He's chipped in double-doubles in each of his last two games and has strung together five straight efforts of 12 points or more, including two of at least 21 points.
If the Mavs are to sneak their way back into the postseason, they'll need as many peak performances from their giant German as they can muster.
Record: 33-32 (.508)
Offensive Efficiency: 103.2 (12th)
Defensive Efficiency: 104.4 (21st)
As expected, the Jazz's most recent sojourns out of Salt Lake City (or Sal Tlay Ka Siti for you Broadway buffs) haven't gone so well. They've lost their last six road games, with only home victories over a pair of Eastern Conference patsies (the Bobcats and the Pistons) affording Utah the opportunity to lick its wounds.
As a result, the Jazz have fallen a hair behind the Los Angeles Lakers in the race for eighth place out West. That narrow gap may well expand into a full-on chasm if Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap continue to struggle with injuries.
Record: 32-31 (.508)
Offensive Efficiency: 100.9 (21st)
Defensive Efficiency: 101.8 (11th)
Good thing the Milwaukee Bucks have all but secured a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Otherwise, back-to-back losses to the Mavericks and the Wizards might be cause for alarm in Wisconsin.
The loss to Washington was particularly disconcerting. The Bucks' D, which had been solid all season, allowed John Wall and the Wizards to shoot 50 percent from the field, with the young guard gashing them for 23 points, 10 assists and four steals.
Of course, when your starting backcourt consists of defensive sieves like Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, you're bound to allow more than the occasional outburst from an opposing floor general.
Record: 34-32 (.515)
Offensive Efficiency: 105.7 (8th)
Defensive Efficiency: 103.6 (18th)
The phone will remain on hold in Lakerland until there's more to know about Kobe Bryant's sprained ankle sustained after landing awkwardly on Dahntay Jones' foot at the close of a 96-92 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. It was a play that Bryant says was dirty, while Jones insists it was not.
In any case, the damage is done. If Kobe has to sit out for any period of time, the onus will inevitably fall on Dwight Howard—he of the injured shoulder and the recuperating back—to solidify the Lakers' playoff positioning.
Record: 35-30 (.538)
Offensive Efficiency: 107.4 (4th)
Defensive Efficiency: 104.2 (20th)
What better way for the Houston Rockets to avenge a two-point loss to the Phoenix Suns than by blowing them out by 30 in the very next game?
Donatas Motiejunas was particularly impressive in the second effort. The rookie big man scored a career-high 19 points, with all of his shots coming in (or near) the lane or at the three-point arc.
As Grantland's Danny Chau recently noted, this is hardly unusual for D-Mo, who's attempted more than 90 percent of his shots either at the rim or from three.
That dichotomy and economy of shots makes the lithe Lithuanian not only a dream for general manager Daryl Morey but also a prime candidate to serve as head coach Kevin McHale's starting power forward for the foreseeable future.
Record: 35-29 (.547)
Offensive Efficiency: 102.1 (17th)
Defensive Efficiency: 101.3 (10th)
The Atlanta Hawks, without Josh Smith and Jeff Teague, were fortunate to run into a tired, disinterested and now-more-beat-up Lakers squad when they did. Otherwise, Atlanta would be in the midst of a four-game losing streak, with the Bucks not far behind in the standings.
As it stands, the Hawks had lost six out of their last seven, though they remain just two-and-a-half games behind home-court advantage in the East. The likely return of Smith and Teague to the lineup should help the Hawks in that endeavor down the stretch of what's been a rather strange season in the ATL.
Record: 35-29 (.547)
Offensive Efficiency: 100.2 (23rd)
Defensive Efficiency: 99.3 (4th)
Losing to the Charlotte Bobcats isn't a good look for any team, much less the Boston Celtics.
Even when Paul Pierce is out, and especially when the difference between the two teams is a whopping 26 points. The fact that the C's mustered a mere 74 points on 40.9 percent shooting against that bottom-of-the-barrel defense is a testament of sorts to Pierce's importance to Boston's offense in the absence of Rajon Rondo.
Without "The Truth," the Celtics can hardly handle even the flimsiest of opponents and would be doomed to mediocrity. With him, they still have a fighting chance of nabbing home-court advantage of some sort for the playoffs.
Record: 35-29 (.547)
Offensive Efficiency: 99.4 (25th)
Defensive Efficiency: 99.4 (5th)
You-know-what has, indeed, hit the fan in Chicago. It's one thing for the Bulls to look slow and sluggish against a hard-charging Lakers squad. It's another entirely to lose to the Sacramento Kings by 42 points.
That's right...42 points! This, after three days of rest and with DeMarcus Cousins sidelined by a leg injury for the Kings.
As one might expect, Tom Thibodeau was particularly fiery after his team's subpar "effort" (Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com):
Our level of intensity is very poor. Our readiness to play is very poor. I was the most disappointed in myself. My job is to have them ready. We can’t come out like that. That’s on me. I didn’t like our intensity in the Laker game, I didn’t like it tonight.
I’ve got to drive harder. And I will. There’s a fine line right now because we’re down people. For us, being shorthanded, we can never forget how hard we have to play. The guys that are there, I’ve got to get that intensity up. And I will. Trust me on that one.
Perhaps Thibs thinks that Derrick Rose isn't going to bust his butt quite as hard to rejoin the Bulls now that they're ostensibly falling apart. That would explain why he jumped the gun in suggesting that Rose might be ready to play against the Golden State Warriors before eventually backtracking.
Record: 37-29 (.561)
Offensive Efficiency: 103.7 (9th)
Defensive Efficiency: 103.0 (15th)
The Warriors have stabilized themselves, if only for a moment, by way of easy wins over the hobbled New York Knicks and the hopeless Detroit Pistons. Stephen Curry combined for 57 points on 20-of-35 shooting in those two games.
This is only three points more than he poured in during his star-making performance at Madison Square Garden at the end of February. Of course, Curry would probably rather take his last two over that one, seeing as how his most recent showings both came in wins, while his career-high evening ended in a loss for Golden State.
Record: 38-27 (.585)
Offensive Efficiency: 103.5 (10th)
Defensive Efficiency: 103.2 (17th)
It's a good thing Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are playing as well as they have of late. Otherwise, Joe Johnson's ongoing shuffle into and out of the lineup would probably be a bigger issue for the Brooklyn Nets.
Johnson is expected to be back in action when the Nets welcome the Atlanta Hawks (i.e. Iso Joe's old team) to the Barclays Center on St. Patrick's Day.
His presence will be of vital importance immediately thereafter, when Brooklyn embarks upon a brutal eight-game road trip that may well make or break the team's bid for a top-four spot in the East and/or the Atlantic Division crown.
Record: 38-25 (.603)
Offensive Efficiency: 107.2 (5th)
Defensive Efficiency: 103.2 (17th)
Winter is coming to Madison Square Garden...just in time for the season premiere of Game of Thrones.
Granted, the New York Knicks would probably prefer not having to defend their turf atop the Atlanta Division against the encroachment from rival houses—namely the Brooklyn Nets. Nor is it at all encouraging that the Knicks themselves have come to so closely resemble the White Walkers, what with their fleet of AARP members and scores of wounded stars.
With Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire all bitten by the injury bug, the Knicks have come to rely all too heavily on the likes of Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas to carry the day.
The result? Three straight losses by an average of 22.3 points.
I guess winter's here already if you're a Knicks fan.
Record: 40-24 (.625)
Offensive Efficiency: 101.4 (20th)
Defensive Efficiency: 95.7 (1st)
The Knicks' recent collapse has left the Indiana Pacers standing as the most likely recipient of the East's No. 2 seed and, in turn, as the worthiest challenger to the Miami Heat's seat atop the conference.
Not that such de facto status has conferred much else upon the Pacers. Their 14-point loss to the Heat in Miami was indicative of the nine-and-a-half-game chasm that currently separates them from the defending champs in the standings.
Indy has shown that it can survive just fine without Danny Granger, though it'd be hard-pressed to give the Heat a run for their money if the scoring swingman remains sidelined with persistent soreness in his left knee through to the postseason.
Record: 44-22 (.667)
Offensive Efficiency: 107.7 (3rd)
Defensive Efficiency: 102.0 (12th)
A 10-game winning streak has the Denver Nuggets looking like much more than just first-round playoff fodder for one of the top dogs out West. The Nuggets have seemingly grown stronger over the course of this streak, too, winning their last four by an average of 19 points a pop.
Denver's lack of a central superstar makes it difficult to pick out just one player who's most responsible for the recent run of success. That being said, Ty Lawson has been particularly proficient over the Nuggets' last 10 games.
In that time, the fourth-year guard out of North Carolina has averaged 21 points and 6.8 assists per game while shooting 52 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from three.
If Lawson keeps this up, he just might be able to squash the tired "Denver Doesn't Have a Franchise Player" narrative all by himself.
Record: 45-21 (.682)
Offensive Efficiency: 107.0 (7th)
Defensive Efficiency: 100.5 (8th)
It's easy to overlook the Los Angeles Clippers' struggles against their top competition in the West when everyone's been so focused on DeAndre Jordan's demolition of Brandon Knight.
The fact is, the Clips have their last five games against the other four of the top five in the Western Conference after running out to a 5-2 record against the likes of the Spurs, the Thunder, the Grizzlies and the Nuggets.
L.A.'s 33-point second half against Memphis was particularly disconcerting. The Clips were unable to muster much of anything offensively outside of Chris Paul, especially with Jamal Crawford hobbling around on a bum ankle. They'll need better balance in the scoring column across their deep roster come playoff time if they're to run toward the conference finals.
Record: 44-19 (.698)
Offensive Efficiency: 101.6 (19th)
Defensive Efficiency: 97.4 (2nd)
Everybody's talking about the Memphis Grizzlies these days—and for good reason.
It's especially true of Grantland's Zach Lowe, who, like so many in the blogosphere, has a massive basketball man-crush on Marc Gasol and doesn't care who knows. The replacement of Rudy Gay with Tayshaun Prince has allowed Gasol the leeway to shine as the centerpiece of Memphis' efforts on both ends of the floor.
It's no surprise that the Grizz are still defending like gangbusters sans Gay, since Prince is something of a whiz on that end of the floor. What's more interesting, if not downright encouraging, is how Memphis' moribund offense has produced points at a top-10 rate since Prince's introduction.
Who knew that an offense based around two skilled, gravity-bound bigs would improve after the departure of an athletic gunner and the subsequent arrival of an aging perimeter shooter?
Answer: Grizzlies executive (and one-time ESPN stats guru) John Hollinger...probably.
Record: 48-17 (.738)
Offensive Efficiency: 110.6 (1st)
Defensive Efficiency: 99.5 (6th)
Kevin Durant's supposed post-All-Star slump is the latest negative story about the Oklahoma City Thunder to make the rounds. Here's a look at the "before and after":
In some ways, then, it's clear that Durant has fallen off. His shooting percentages are way down, to the point where his 50-40-90 bid may be in jeopardy.
But it may be a bit premature to attribute KD's scoring dip to a "slump." It might just be a matter of him reshuffling his on-court priorities. Since the All-Star break, Durant's spent more time handling the ball (hence, more assists and more turnovers) and crashing the boards (hence, more rebounds) while playing fewer minutes per game.
More importantly, OKC isn't any worse for the wear. The Thunder have won nine of 12 since the mid-February hiatus.
Record: 50-16 (.758)
Offensive Efficiency: 107.1 (6th)
Defensive Efficiency: 98.5 (3rd)
Where once the San Antonio Spurs were running roughshod over The Association without Tony Parker, they've since vacillated between mediocrity and mastery in his absence. Gaping losses to the Blazers and the T-Wolves and a narrow win over the sub-.500 Mavs would suggest as much—as would the Spurs' handling of the Thunder in San Antonio, 105-93.
To be sure, some of that see-saw action is due to Gregg Popovich shuffling Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard into and out of the lineup, as was the case in Minneapolis.
Beyond the game-to-game minutiae, the Spurs deserve a hand for securing their 16th straight playoff berth and hitting the 50-win plateau for the 14th consecutive season—the longest such streak in NBA history.
Record: 49-14 (.778)
Offensive Efficiency: 110.3 (2nd)
Defensive Efficiency: 101.0 (9th)
No discussion of historic streaks would be complete without at least a nod to Miami's current run. The Heat became just the fifth team in NBA history to win at least 20 straight games when they fended off the Sixers, 98-94.
Miami's success has solidified not only LeBron James' case for a fourth MVP in five seasons but also Dwyane Wade's claim to the MVSF—Most Valuable Second Fiddle.
Since the Heat's last loss on Feb. 1, Wade, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, has averaged 24.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.6 steals and one block per game while shooting 54.8 percent from the field.
Perhaps, then, Chuck was a bit premature in pronouncing D-Wade's demise back in December.