Updated Report Card Grades for Every 2013 NBA Playoff Team in Round 2

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterMay 7, 2013

Updated Report Card Grades for Every 2013 NBA Playoff Team in Round 2

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    Remember when the 2013 NBA playoffs were shaping up to be the most disappointing dud since John Carter? Aside from the emerging brawls involving the Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors, along with the Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls, every other first-round series looked to be little more than sidewalk chalk.

    And to think, that was just two weeks ago. Since then, we've seen six Game 6s, one Game 7 and four wins by underdogs in the early going of the second round.

    The heat of the postseason (and not necessarily the sort emanating from Miami) has already forced eight teams out of the proverbial kitchen and will inevitably have four others scampering for the exit before long. In the meantime, expect the alphabetic evaluations of the remaining teams to fluctuate considerably, just as they have since we last updated our report card grades.

Golden State Warriors

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    It was deja vu all over again for the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 against the San Antonio Spurs—in more ways than one.

    You didn't have to be Shaqstradamus to predict that the Warriors would drop a game in San Antonio. They hadn't won in the River City since 1997, before Tim Duncan entered the professional ranks.

    Of greater interest, though, was how reminiscent Golden State's late-game collapse was of its finish in Game 6 against the Denver Nuggets. A calamitous conflagration of turnovers, missed shots, tired legs and inexperience (not to mention the Spurs' been-there-done-that sense of calm) conspired to sap the Warriors of a seemingly insurmountable advantage.

    In fact, no team in NBA playoff history had ever squandered a 16-point lead over the final four minutes of regulation until the Warriors let the wrong one in at the AT&T Center.

    This, after the Dubs missed seven of 10 shots and turned the ball over nine times over the final eight-and-a-half minutes before hanging on to eliminate the Nuggets on May 2. Of course, Golden State blew an opportunity to win Game 1 of that series, as well, but couldn't quite contain another aging veteran (Andre Miller) who burned them for a game-winner.

    That trend shifted just enough in Game 2 to allow the Warriors to snap their lengthy losing streak in San Antonio. The Spurs made a run in the third quarter, but could never quite overcome the damage done by Klay Thompson (34 points, 29 in the first half) and Stephen Curry (22 points) as Golden State finally (and mercifully) took care of the ball down the stretch.

    Now, the Warriors are in prime position to invoke a more favorable form of deja vu when they return home to Oracle Arena, where they were last seen strangling the postseason hopes of another top-three seed.

    Current Grade: A

    Last Week's Grade: B+

Chicago Bulls

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    The Chicago Bulls' never-say-die, can-do spirit has carried them quite a ways through these playoffs—as in, through a seven-game series against the Brooklyn Nets and onto a Game 1 road win over the Miami Heat. 

    But as much as we love to laud teams loaded with intangibles, there's an implicit understanding that heart, hustle, and sheer determination can only go so far once depth goes out the door and fatigue takes hold. 

    That appeared to be the case in Game 2, as the Heat blew by the Bulls, 115-78. Everything seemed to go wrong all at once for Chicago. The Bulls' defense allowed the Heat to shoot 60 percent from the field (including a sizzlingly efficient 9-of-18 from three). Chicago's bigs were powerless to impeded Miami's relentless attack, which racked up massive advantages in fastbreak scoring (20-2), points in the paint (56-18), points off turnovers (28-7), and rebounding (41-28).

    Though the Bulls did own the Heat in two crucial statistical departments: technical fouls (6-3) and ejections (2-0).

    A return to the friendlier confines of the Windy City in Game 3 should give the Bulls opportunity enough to make things interesting against the Heat, at the very least. Chicago has shown that it can beat any opponent on any given night.

    Do the Bulls have the bodies to do that three more times in the next five games against the defending champs? Probably not, but it sure will be fun to watch them try.  

    Current Grade: B+

    Last Week's Grade: A

Memphis Grizzlies

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    There seems to be something about the locker room that appeals to the Memphis Grizzlies. They held the Oklahoma City Thunder to 14 points in the first quarter and 17 in the third of Game 1 on May 5.

    Which, combined, was slightly fewer than the 33 points the Grizzlies yielded in the second quarter and slightly more than the 29 given up in the fourth. Not surprisingly, those were the best periods for Kevin Martin (15 in the second) and Kevin Durant (12 in the fourth).

    The point being, Memphis must do its darndest to contain OKC's top (if not only) two scorers if it's to take care of business in Round 2.

    Not that the Grizz have any reason to panic after blowing one eminently winnable game on the road. Once upon a time, they were down 0-2 to the Los Angeles Clippers, after Chris Paul hit a stunning floater in Game 2.

    All Memphis did thereafter was grind out four straight wins behind the interior talents of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, the emergence of Mike Conley at the point and the return of its defense to its former stoutness. The Grizzlies did a much better job of sealing the deal in Game 2, with a 30-19 fourth quarter that turned a five-point deficit after three into a 99-93 win to even the series.

    Current Grade: A

    Last Week's Grade: A-

Indiana Pacers

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    The Indiana Pacers were winning with size and strength. As Grantland's Zach Lowe recently noted, that wasn't so much a rebellious refutation of small ball's popularity as it was a recognition that bigger is still better in the NBA, so long as the giants involved are more than just seven-foot stiffs.

    Unfortunately, Indy's bigs didn't look like much more than that in Game 2, after playing so well in Game 1. Roy Hibbert and David West combined for just 19 points, and though Hibbert's four blocks came in handy, they hardly prevented the New York Knicks from racking up 105 points at the expense of Indy's league-leading defense.

    Not that the bigs were entirely to blame for the 26-point pounding at Madison Square Garden. If anything, the 30-2 run that the Knicks used to put the game away had much more to do with the Pacers' rash of turnovers (21 in total) and uncharacteristic reliance on three-point shots, with seven missed from beyond the arc between the late third quarter and the middle of the fourth.

    Luckily for the Pacers, they did well enough to steal Game 1 and have been far better in their own building, as they made abundantly clear over the course of three blowout wins at the expense of the Atlanta Hawks in Round 1. The odds of success are still in Indy's favor, so long as the Pacers get their collective act together (particularly on the defensive end) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Games 3 and 4.

    Current Grade: B

    Last Week's Grade: B

San Antonio Spurs

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    Normally, I'd place my full faith and credit in the San Antonio Spurs to win a series against a team like these Golden State Warriors, even after dropping one of the first two games at home. The Eternal Triumvirate of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili has accomplished more than enough over the last decade to justify it.

    But that's contingent on me believing that the Spurs are actually the better team. So far, they haven't looked like it whatsoever.

    As impressive as San Antonio's stirring comeback was in Game 1, there's no ignoring that they were down 16 points with four minutes to go in the first place, and that the Warriors appeared to be the superior squad for most of the 58 minutes played that night.

    That trend continued in Game 2, to an alarming degree. The Spurs had no answer for Klay Thompson (34 points, 8-of-9 from three). They struggled to convert from the field (39.3 percent)—particularly from deep, from whence only 5-of-21 San Antonio shots fell.

    The Spurs were a solid road team during the regular season (23-18), though they slinked away with losses from both of their visits to Oakland. If Gregg Popovich (a.k.a. He Who Started Matt Bonner in Game 2) can't find a workable solution to Golden State's voodoo in time for Game 3, the Spurs may well find themselves in the very same position that the Warriors had the Nuggets just a couple weeks ago: on the ropes, and desperately in search of a game changer.

    Current Grade: A-

    Last Week's Grade: A

New York Knicks

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    Ball movement is the name of the game for the New York Knicks. More passing leads to more variety on offense, which begets more participation from a wider swath of the roster. That, in turn, spills into a more cohesive effort on the defensive end.

    When the Knicks don't move the ball, they wind up with anemic, borderline unwatchable efforts like the losses they accumulated in Games 4 and 5 against the Boston Celtics and in Game 1 opposite the Indiana Pacers.

    Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith may be among the NBA's best takers (and makers) of terrible shots, as Grantland's Bill Simmons discussed in his latest column. But terrible shots are...well, terrible shots, regardless of who's taking them, and the more of them a team takes in a given game, the worse its odds of winning become.

    It's basic basketball math, like that once taught by Jim Harrick Jr. at the University of Georgia. Less ball movement results in more bad shots for fewer players. More ball movement gives way to more good shots for more players. New York clarified as much with its 105-point outburst against Indy's typically stingy defense in Game 2.

    Even more so during a 10:40 stretch between the third and fourth quarters that saw the Knicks outscore the Pacers 30-2.

    Current Grade: B+

    Last Week's Grade: B

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    And now for your weekly Kevin Durant Sans Russell Westbrook Update. Since losing his OKC running mate to a knee injury, Durant has averaged 35.5 points on 51.1 percent shooting, with 10.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks in 43.9 minutes.

    Durant was particularly prolific in Game 1 against the Memphis Grizzlies, posting a line of 35-15-6 with two blocks and a steal, including 12 points in the fourth quarter.

    But KD's superb play is nothing new. He was spectacular with Westbrook by his side and has been even better without him, despite the best efforts of opposing defenses to curb his improved enthusiasm.

    The biggest difference in OKC's last two wins had been the support Durant's drawn from the rest of his Thunder buddies. Kevin Martin dropped 25 points in the closing game against Houston and in Game 1 against Memphis, while Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher have done an admirable job of picking up where Westbrook left off, all things considered.

    KD went to great lengths to keep the Thunder afloat in Game 2, with 36 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists, a steal and a block. But Durant faltered somewhat down the stretch, missing his last three shots and losing the ball to Tony Allen with just under a minute to play.

    As great as KD's been, OKC can ill-afford to let its lone remaining superstar exert himself to the point of exhaustion, lest the Thunder compromise their go-to guy in crunch time.

    Current Grade: B+

    Last Week's Grade: B+

Miami Heat

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    If there's any team that can handle being behind in a playoff series, it's these Miami Heat. They fell behind in each of their last three playoff series in 2012 and were down 0-1 to the Bulls in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals.

    Last I checked, things turned out fine for Miami in each of those series. And, if their 115-78 demolition job of the Bulls in Game 2 is any indication, the Heat have little about which to fret this time around.

    LeBron James (24 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, two steals and one block) was the only member of the Heat who remembered to show up for Game 1, though even he had his issues. He managed just two points on 1-of-6 shooting in the first half of that contest, amidst the overarching malaise that came back to consume Miami down the stretch.

    James made sure to start strong in Game 2. He scored all 19 of his points in the first half, and devoted most of his time and energy in the second half to playing stout defense and getting his teammates involved on the other end.

    And to great effect, I might add. Five other Heat players wound up scoring in double figures, including 18 from Norris Cole (on 4-of-4 from three) and a team-high 21 from Ray Allen, who shot a perfect 10-of-10 at the stripe.

    Blowouts will be tough to come by at the United Center, where the Heat's 27-game winning streak met its maker during the team's last visit. On the bright side, Miami may well have recaptured the ball-sharing, sweet-shooting groove that had gone missing in Game 1 after a lengthy layoff.

    Which is bad news for the Bulls, whose toughness and opportunism may be no match for the Heat's superior talent and experience.

    Current Grade: A

    Last Week's Grade: A