2013 NBA Playoffs: Updated Grades for Every Team Still Standing

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterMay 2, 2013

2013 NBA Playoffs: Updated Grades for Every Team Still Standing

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    The 2013 NBA playoffs are finally heating up—and not a moment too soon.

    With long series have come the usual adjustments, trends and tensions associated with familiarity. Between the Denver Nuggets sending their "hit men" after Stephen Curry, Jordan Crawford going Cheerios on Carmelo Anthony and Patrick Beverley emerging as Public Enemy No. 1 in Oklahoma City, this postseason has already given rise to its fair share of blood feuds.

    That's all to say nothing of the strife between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies, which is back and better than ever this year.

    Not surprisingly, then, the report card grades have shifted considerably over the last week among those teams left standing. The evening-out of the ongoing series has had a similar effect on the marks, as you'll surely see.

Houston Rockets

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    Is Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey a front-office savant? The luckiest man in basketball? Or something in between?

    Whatever the case may be, the Rockets' performance in Game 5 alone vindicated pretty much every roster move Dork Elvis has made since January.

    Patrick Beverley, whom Houston signed from overseas and subsequently stashed in the D-League, has been nothing short of a revelation since Kevin McHale inserted him into the team's small-ball starting lineup in Game 2. Beverley was particularly active in Game 5, between scoring (14 points), boarding (eight rebounds) and making plays on the defensive end (one steal, one block).

    But perhaps the more interesting uptick has accompanied the emergence of Francisco Garcia. Jeremy Lin's chest injury in Game 3 forced McHale's hand once again. Rather than reverting back to a big lineup, McHale split the difference by sticking Garcia on the wing alongside James Harden and Chandler Parsons.

    So far, so good. The Rockets have won each of the two games Garcia has started. The Dominican Republic native blew up in Game 5 with 18 points, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal, and has done a good job making Kevin Durant sing for his supper.

    All of which has this series headed back to Houston for Game 6—a development that few would've or could've expected, even after Russell Westbrook's untimely injury.

    Current Grade: B+

    Last Week's Grade: C+

Boston Celtics

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    Paging Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Curt Schilling and just about every other member of the 2004 Boston Red Sox: there's another team in town that's trying to duplicate your feat from nearly a decade ago.

    Like those Sox, this year's Boston Celtics are attempting to become the first team in their sports history to successfully battle back from an 0-3 series deficit—against a long-time rival from New York, no less.

    Granted, these C's have a ways to go before they can reasonably call in Johnny Damon to finish the job in Game 7. Boston is still down 3-2 to a Knicks squad that employs the best player in the series (Carmelo Anthony) and the newly crowned Sixth Man of the Year (J.R. Smith).

    But the Celtics have done a masterful job of allowing those guys to play into their preferred isolation-style ball, which inevitably ignores the more pass-happy, team-oriented style that led New York to this point in the first place. On the flip side, the old guys have come to play for Boston, as was the case in Game 5, with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry all registering standout performances.

    Now, the series shifts back to the TD Garden, where the C's will have the support of their rabid fans and, perhaps, a contingent of familiar faces from those 2004 World Series champions.

    Current Grade: B

    Last Week's Grade: C-

Golden State Warriors

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    Chances are, Mark Jackson's postgame comments regarding the Denver Nuggets' rough treatment of Stephen Curry were more in the spirit of gamesmanship and tipping off the referees ahead of Game 6 than they were honest assessments.

    After all, Jackson was something of a "tough guy" himself during his playing days and even went so far as to use "old school" tactics to prevent the Houston Rockets from setting a new single-game NBA record for made three-pointers during this past regular season.

    And, from listening to Jackson's Game 6 presser, it appears as though he recognized the utility of the Nuggets' approach and even gave them credit for it.

    Amid all of this hoopla, it's easy to forget that the Warriors still own a 3-2 advantage and will have a golden opportunity to seal this upset with the series returning to Oakland. If Steph rediscovers his stroke and Andrew Bogut produces more than the two points, five rebounds and two blocks that he tallied in 18 minutes in Game 5, the Dubs should have a second-round matchup against the San Antonio Spurs in the cards.

    Current Grade: A-

    Last Week's Grade: A

Atlanta Hawks

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    The Atlanta Hawks' first-round series against the Indiana Pacers is bringing back less-than fond memories of the 2005 NBA Finals.

    You remember those Finals, don't you? The San Antonio Spurs and the Detroit Pistons locked horns in a knockdown, drag-out defensive fight that went seven games.

    Which, on its face, would seem great. After all, what could be better than a seven-game series for the Larry O'Brien Trophy?

    Except, the home team won each of those seven games, and only one of those meetings came down to the wire. In fact, each of the first four was decided by a margin of at least 15 points. All of which is to say, those Finals may well have given way to the most anti-climactic seven-game series in NBA history—up until the Hawks and the Pacers took the plunge in 2013, that is.

    Indiana has dominated each of its three home games, while Atlanta has punked the Pacers twice at the Highlight Factory (a.k.a. Philips Arena).

    If history, both recent and somewhat distant, is any indication, this series will go the distance, with the Hawks coming out on the wrong end.

    Current Grade: C+

    Last Week's Grade: D

Memphis Grizzlies

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    The Memphis Grizzlies have the Los Angeles Clippers—and this series—right where they want them. One more win at the FedEx Forum, and the Grizzlies will be back in the Western Conference semis, with a clear shot at avenging their loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder two years ago.

    Getting there shouldn't be too much trouble for the Grizz. They dominated the Clips in Games 3 and 4 by a combined 33-point margin and were able to take similar control of the tempo and style in Game 5 on L.A.'s home floor. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are both taking care of business on the interior, and Mike Conley has done a masterful job of making Chris Paul work on both ends.

    And with Paul and Blake Griffin both hobbled for Game 6, a closeout win should be that much easier to come by for Memphis, assuming the Grizz don't get too comfortable and let the Clips back in.

    Current Grade: A-

    Last Week's Grade: B-

Chicago Bulls

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    Kirk Hinrich is "likely out" for Game 6 against the Brooklyn Nets (per ESPNChicago.com), which doesn't bode well for the Chicago Bulls.

    The Bulls were far too reliant on the erratic Nate Robinson to carry them through Game 5, which resulted in a 110-91 win for Brooklyn. Nate-Rob's numbers were solid (20 points and eight assists in 44 minutes), but Chicago could have used Captain Kirk's heady leadership and stout defense on their side.

    Especially against Deron Williams, who seized the opportunity to pile up 23 points and 10 assists against his severely undersized opponent. The loss dropped the Bulls to 7-16 since the start of the 2012-13 season in games sans Hinrich.

    As gloomy as all of this sounds, the Bulls still own the edge in this series, with Game 6 back at the Madhouse on Madison. But the longer this tilt goes, the more the banged-up Bulls will feel the ill effects of a season spent compensating for Derrick Rose's absence.

    And the likelier a first-round ouster becomes.

    Current Grade: B+

    Last Week's Grade: B+

Los Angeles Clippers

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    The Los Angeles Clippers are in some deep trouble at the moment. They've lost three in a row in their first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies—including a 103-93 knockdown at Staples Center in Game 5—and will have to bounce back in the River City in Game 6 just to stave off elimination.

    And they'll have to do so with Chris Paul playing through a bruised thumb and, perhaps, Blake Griffin sidelined by a high ankle sprain (per Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com).

    That doesn't necessarily mean that the Clips are "done," per se. Their vaunted depth will be put to the test, whether or not their stars play, and could come through.

    Hypothetically, anyway. It'd be a shame for the L.A.'s best season in franchise history to be unraveled before the Western Conference semis, but if CP3 doesn't get any help, then the Clippers' hopes of outlasting their cross-hall rivals in any significant way this season will slip right through their hands.

    Current Grade: B-

    Last Week's Grade: A 

Brooklyn Nets

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    The Brooklyn Nets are battling through their own bit of roster attrition. Joe Johnson recently admitted that the plantar fasciitis in his left foot is hampering him to the point where he wouldn't be playing if it were still the regular season (per Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com).

    That reality has essentially reduced Brooklyn's stash of reliable offensive options to two. Luckily, those two (Deron Williams and Brook Lopez) have held their own and were particularly effective in Game 5 when they combined for 51 of the Nets' 110 points.

    The question now becomes: Can Brooklyn's dynamic duo keep it up in the Windy City? The Nets' backs are still up against the wall, with Chicago owning a 3-2 lead in the series. Kirk Hinrich's likely absence and Joakim Noah's ongoing battle with foot problems have left the door that much more open for the Nets to reclaim ownership of this tiff.

    But if we know that Johnson isn't himself, then surely, Tom Thibodeau knows, too. That can't be good for Brooklyn, considering how brilliant a defensive mastermind Thibs is when operating even without that sort of "inside information."

    Current Grade: B

    Last Week's Grade: B

Indiana Pacers

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    Home is where the heart is for the Indiana Pacers.

    They've now won each of their first three home games of this postseason by an average margin of 18.3 points. As noted by Grantland's Danny Chau, the Pacers' offensive rating at home (116 points per 100 possessions) would rank as the best in these playoffs, and Paul George, this year's Most Improved Player, has been far better at Bankers Life Fieldhouse than elsewhere dating back to the regular season.

    Which is to say, Indy should thank its lucky stars it owns home-court advantage in this series against the Atlanta Hawks. Otherwise, if their two stinkers in Atlanta were any indication, the Pacers might be well on their way to a long summer. 

    The Pacers had better hope, then, that the Boston Celtics storm all the way back from down 0-3 to topple the New York Knicks, lest they have to win a road game to stay alive in these playoffs.

    Current Grade: B

    Last Week's Grade: A

San Antonio Spurs

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    The San Antonio Spurs made quick work of the Los Angeles Lakers, albeit with plenty of inside assistance from the injury bug. While the Lakers were scrambling to make up for the absences of Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Metta World Peace and (of course) Kobe Bryant, the Spurs simply went about their business on the court while getting healthy, as if they had replaced their roster with a bunch of Benjamin Buttons.

    The longer the Warriors and the Nuggets take to sort things out, the more rest the Spurs get—and the better equipped they will be to survive the slog through the West. Golden State and Denver are both beat up, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, once presumed to have their tickets booked for a return trip to the NBA Finals, might be without Russell Westbrook for the rest of these playoffs.

    All of which points to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili making their fourth trip as a group (and Timmy's fifth overall) to the Finals, assuming a) San Antonio's aging stars can stay healthy themselves and b) the Spurs aren't ground to a pulp by the Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals. 

    Current Grade: A

    Last Week's Grade: A-

New York Knicks

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    If NBA history has taught us anything, it's this: Don't taunt the Boston Celtics, especially if the team doing the taunting is the favorite in the series.

    The New York Knicks' decision to have everyone dress in black for Game 5 (at Kenyon Martin's behest) recalled Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke decided to hang celebratory balloons from the rafters in the event that his team, which entered the series as the heavy favorite over a Boston squad on its last legs, would bring L.A. its first NBA championship.

    Unfortunately for the Lakers, Celtics legend Bill Russell caught wind of this and was none too happy about it. So, being the insane competitor that he was, Russell used the balloons as additional fuel to stoke the fire under his C's squad, of which he was also the coach at the time.

    The result? Boston eked out a 108-106 win to secure its 11th title in 13 seasons.

    Fast forward to 2013, and you'll find the C's shipping the Knicks back up to Beantown in those premature funeral duds. 

    The point being, don't ever poke the bear, even more so if that bear happens to be wearing Celtics green.

    Current Grade: B

    Last Week's Grade: A-

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    So far, the Oklahoma City Thunder are serving as the perfect case study for why it takes more than one superstar for a team to achieve high-level success in the NBA.

    For the most part, Kevin Durant has been stellar since Russell Westbrook went down with a knee injury. In three games without Westbrook, Durant has averaged 38.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting 52.2 percent from the floor in 44.7 minutes.

    And yet, that hasn't been enough to save OKC from a return trip to Houston for Game 6 for a few reasons:

    1. The Thunder's defense has ranged between below-average and atrocious since Game 2. Houston has outshot OKC from the field in each of those four games.

    2. Durant's supporting cast has been spotty, at best. Serge Ibaka missed a "gimme" at the end of Game 4 to cap off an eight-point night and Kevin Martin scored three points on 1-of-10 in Game 5. Reggie Jackson (17.3 points in three starts) is the only Thunder player besides Durant to score in double figures in each of the last three games, in large part because he's absorbed the bulk of Westbrook's touches.

    3. That poor support has left Durant on an island, from which it's more difficult to do what he does best. More defensive attention from the Rockets has resulted in more mistakes (4.7 turnovers over his last three) and more missed shots on tougher looks (1-of-8 from three in Game 5) for KD than ever before.

    All of which points back to the same, time-tested adage: Even the best players in the world need star-caliber sidekicks.

    Current Grade: B+

    Last Week's Grade: A

Miami Heat

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    The Miami Heat did precisely what everyone and their mother expected they would by sweeping through the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. The Heat won each game by double digits but hardly dominated in any of the four affairs.

    At least, not to the extent that one might think a defending champion and prohibitive title favorite would. In each game, Miami allowed Milwaukee to hang around before pulling away with a quick spurt in the second half.

    The 88-77 clincher in Game 4 was particularly impressive, not because LeBron James posted a line of 30 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, three steals and one block (though that line is rather impressive), but rather because Dwyane Wade didn't even play. Head coach Erik Spoelstra opted to let Wade rest his bum knee, knowing full well that his Heat could handle the Bucks in his absence.

    Now, the Heat can sit back and relax as they await the winner of the Chicago-Brooklyn bloodbath. Whichever team emerges from that series could steal a game or two from Miami, but considering how beat-up each is and likely will be in Round 2, another quick finish by the Heat in the Eastern Conference semis wouldn't exactly shock the basketball world.

    Current Grade: A

    Last Week's Grade: A