It's been a week of "Good News, Bad News" for NBA superstars.
Good news: Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Tony Parker and Pau Gasol have all returned to action for their respective squads. Bad news: Dwyane Wade's back on the shelf, Kyrie Irving's still out of commission, Bryant and Gasol haven't exactly looked like themselves, and Chris Paul and Stephen Curry have been battling nagging, day-to-day injuries.
Better news: Those franchise cornerstones who are fit to play have begun to kick their respective games into high gear, now that the playoffs are less than a month away. Also, this video of Derrick Rose playing one-on-one against his Chicago Bulls teammates has folks in the Windy City freakin' out.
But enough of my yappin'. There's been a ton of movement amongst the top 10 in relation to last week, so go ahead and get familiar with the latest list.
Before it's mucked up by the injury bug again.
Stats from the Week that Was: 15.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.5 steals, .393 from the field, .333 from three, 5.0 free-throw attempts and 4.0 turnovers in 38.1 minutes (two games)
Just when it looked like nothing could stop the freight train otherwise known as the Miami Heat, the injury bug came back to bite Dwyane Wade in his troublesome right knee. Luckily, the Heat didn't exactly need Wade's services against the Charlotte Bobcats and the Orlando Magic, whom they blasted by a combined 46 points.
Miami may well need Wade's services to extend its historic winning streak to 28 games, though. The Heat will be in his hometown to take on the Chicago Bulls, who may well have Derrick Rose back in the lineup.
That is, if Waka Flocka Flame's sources are to be trusted.
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A (No. 4)
Stats from the Week that Was: 15.5 points, 15.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.0 blocks, .706 from the field, 5.5 free-throw attempts and 3.5 turnovers in 37.3 minutes (two games)
How does Dwight Howard drop off the list after averaging a 15-15 and hitting better than 70 percent of his shots?
Well, somebody had to make room for his overbearing teammate among the top 10. Surely, the Los Angeles Lakers didn't deserve to have multiple guys on the list this week on account of their three-game skid.
Plus, getting punked by David Lee—and trying to talk tough afterward—isn't a good sign for anyone of Howard's size and stature within the sport.
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B- (No. 10)
Stats from the Week that Was: 20.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.7 blocks, .458 from the field, 7.0 free-throw attempts and 3.3 turnovers in 34.4 minutes (three games)
Normally, a week like the one Tim Duncan just enjoyed would be more than enough to keep him on the list, if not move him up a peg or two.
But the returns of Tony Parker, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant, along with the stellar week from Stephen Curry, necessitated that someone get the squeeze. This time, it's Timmy who had to feel it.
But if he continues to defy the laws of nature as he has of late, he won't be out for long
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B+ (No. 8)
Stats from the Week that Was: 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, .457 from the field, .333 from three, 5.3 free-throw attempts and 3.5 turnovers in 34.8 minutes (four games)
It's tough to blame Blake Griffin for putting up middling (for him) numbers. The Los Angeles Clippers simply haven't needed him to carry a heavy load, what with Chris Paul regaining his healthy form and all.
Nonetheless, it was somewhat troubling to see that Griffin's best game of the week (26 points, four rebounds, five assists) came during an embarrassing loss to the Sacramento Kings. This isn't to say that Blake is to blame, or that the Clips are worse off when explodes.
But...well, let's just say that Blake doesn't look any better when such an inference is so easy to draw.
Current Grade: B (86 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B+ (No. 7)
Stats from the Week that Was: 21.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, .407 from the field, .000 from three, 6.8 free-throw attempts and 2.0 turnovers in 36.5 minutes (four games)
This past week wasn't all that kind to Russell Westbrook (a.k.a. the Blake Griffin of Guards) either. Westbrook shot a combined 14-of-42 from the field with nine total assists in losses to the Denver Nuggets and the Memphis Grizzlies, both of whom may well give the Oklahoma City Thunder a run for their money in the playoffs.
On the flip side, Russ played well in relatively limited minutes to help the Thunder blow out the Orlando Magic and the Portland Trail Blazers. Moreover, he didn't turn the ball over more than three times in any one game last week.
That has to count for something, right?
Current Grade: B+ (87 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B+ (No. 6)
Stats from the Week that Was: 28.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.3 steals, .484 from the field, .481 from three, 5.3 free-throw attempts and 2.7 turnovers in 36.8 minutes (three games)
Stephen Curry has spent the entire 2012-13 season doing what John Wall has done since returning from a knee injury in January: strengthening both his own claim to superstardom and his team's hopes for on-court success.
Curry, though, needn't worry about earning a new contract. He got his rookie extension at the 11th hour on Halloween, and he has done plenty since to make the four-year, $44 million deal he signed look like a bargain in the Golden State Warriors' favor.
He's second in the league in three-point accuracy and has emerged as, perhaps, the NBA's top scoring-and-passing guard, with nine 20-point, 10-assist games to his credit this season.
Current Grade: B+ (89 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): B (No. 9)
Stats from the Week that Was: 28.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.8 blocks, .426 from the field, .292 from three, 9.0 free-throw attempts and 3.8 turnovers in 35.5 minutes (four games)
What a difference a healthy Carmelo Anthony makes. The New York Knicks have won four straight games since Anthony returned from a (reluctant) knee draining.
Of course, it helps that those four games have come against the Magic, the Toronto Raptors (twice) and a Boston Celtics squad that started Jeff Green and Jordan Crawford. Nonetheless, 'Melo's production, while not always accomplished efficiently, has been on-point.
At least, it's been enough to grant New York a brief respite from the misery of defeat while Tyson Chandler remains on the mend.
Current Grade: A- (90 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): N/A (NR)
Stats from the Week that Was: 28.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.0 steals, .422 from the field, .250 from three, 11.5 free-throw attempts and 3.0 turnovers in 39.9 minutes (two games)
I couldn't quite bring myself to restore Kobe Bryant to the cushy slot he enjoyed just prior to landing on Dahntay Jones. Sure, his points-assists double-double against the Washington Wizards was impressive, as was his 36-point outburst against the Warriors.
But both of those efforts came in disappointing defeats for the Los Angeles Lakers. The former, in particular, featured six costly turnovers from the Mamba.
Not to mention an abysmal brand of defense in both games that has Grantland's Zach Lowe up in arms.
Current Grade: A- (92 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): N/A (NR)
Stats from the Week that Was: 22.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.0 blocks, .577 from the field, 8.5 free-throw attempts and 3.0 turnovers in 35.9 minutes (two games)
Tony Parker, how we missed thee. The All-Star point guard was a joy to watch during his first two games back from an ankle injury. He tallied 22 points on 13 shots in a win over the Utah Jazz and another 23 on 13 in a narrow loss to the Houston Rockets.
Now, if only Manu Ginobili could capture some of that young-man mojo for himself, the San Antonio Spurs just might look like the best bet to represent the Western Conference in the 2013 NBA Finals.
Current Grade: A (93 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): N/A (NR)
Stats from the Week that Was: 26.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, .410 from the field, .438 from three, 14.7 free-throw attempts and 2.7 turnovers in 36.3 minutes (three games)
Let's take a moment to acknowledge James Harden's expertise in getting to the free-throw line. He currently leads the league in that department at 10.3 attempts per game—which he's converted at a career-best 85.9-percent rate.
This last week saw Harden turn in not one, but two Dantleys: 17-of-18 against the Utah Jazz and 15-of-17 against the San Antonio Spurs.
Both wins, by the way.
The Beard has seven Dantleys on the season, and though Harden's flopalicious tactics leave plenty of room for criticism, there's no doubting how effective he's been in forcing officials to blow their whistles.
Current Grade: A (94 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A- (No. 5)
Stats from the Week that Was: 23.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 10.0 assists, 3.3 steals, 0.5 blocks, .588 from the field, .400 from three, 8.3 free-throw attempts and 5.0 turnovers in 38.8 minutes (four games)
Is it reasonable to characterize a game as poor in which a given player tallies 15 assists and four steals and falls just three rebounds shy of a triple-double?
I bet Chris Paul would. He posted just such numbers in the Los Angeles Clippers' 116-101 loss to the Sacramento Kings. He also turned the ball over seven times (a season high) and managed just 11 points on 2-of-10 shooting from the field.
That being said, CP3 is still awesome, and he reminded the basketball world of that with a 29-11 against Deron Williams and the Brooklyn Nets.
Current Grade: A (97 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A (No. 3)
Stats from the Week that Was: 28.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.3 blocks, .463 from the field, .313 from three, 9.8 free-throw attempts and 4.5 turnovers in 42.3 minutes (four games)
Kevin Durant is still on track for his fourth straight scoring title and his first 50-40-90 season, though the latter of those is officially in jeopardy.
Shooting 45.5 percent from the floor and 32.8 percent from beyond the arc after the All-Star Game would be all well and good for volume scorers like Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony.
But KD's more efficient than that...or should be, anyway. Perhaps, he's finally feeling the effects of having to shoulder a bigger burden on both ends of the floor without James Harden. Or perhaps we should pay it no mind, since the Oklahoma City Thunder are a more-than-respectable 13-5 since the midseason break.
Current Grade: A+ (101 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A+ (No. 2)
Stats from the Week that Was: 27.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 9.8 assists, 2.3 steals, 1.5 blocks, .597 from the field, .444 from three, 8.8 free-throw attempts and 3.5 turnovers in 38.8 minutes (four games)
Remember last month, when LeBron James went on that run of six consecutive games with 30 or more points scored on 60-plus-percent shooting?
Yeah, well, he might actually be playing even better than that at the moment. The dude's nearly averaged a triple-double since mid-March.
On paper, that's small potatoes compared to an 18-game stretch in the 1988-89 season, during which Michael Jordan tallied 11 triple-doubles and averaged 32.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and 10.8 assists.
Except, LeBron's latest efforts might actually be more impressive than those of His Airness from almost a quarter-century ago, for a few reasons:
1. M.J. was fascinated with triple-doubles back then and actively hunting them at the time, as Grantland's Bill Simmons recounts in The Book of Basketball. LeBron, on the other hand, seems to stuff the stat sheet to that extent out of both routine and necessity.
2. Jordan's Chicago Bulls posted a record of 10-8 during that 18-game stretch and were a ho-hum 9-6 that season in games that saw Michael wind up with a triple-double. As for the Miami Heat, they're 3-1 when LeBron blows up the box score, and his stellar efforts have contributed tremendously to an historic 28-game winning streak.
3. M.J. and the Bulls fell short of the NBA Finals that season. The Heat seem all but destined to snag their second consecutive title in 2013, largely on the strength of LeBron's transcendent play.
And no, this doesn't mean that I think LeBron is better than Jordan.
Current Grade: A+ (110 Percent)
Last Week's Grade (and Ranking): A+ (No. 1)