The final full calendar month of the 2013-14 NBA regular season is nearly upon us. April only lasts a couple weeks in the Association, and February didn't last much longer on account of the All-Star break.
But before the basketball world gets wrapped up in March Madness at the collegiate level, let's take some time to reset the situation in the pros. Last week, we saw the Miami Heat resume their place atop these here power rankings amidst the chaos of the Feb. 20 trade deadline.
There's been plenty of movement in the seven days since trades came to a halt and buyouts became the order of the day. Read on to find out how all 30 teams stack up as we greet the final throes of winter.
As Denny Green would (probably) say, the Philadelphia 76ers are who we thought they were: a terrible team that's well on its way to Tank Town. The 76ers have now lost 12 games in a row, including their last three since shipping out Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner ahead of the Feb. 20 trade deadline.
Now comes the tricky part for the Sixers. With the team's fate as an "intentional loser" all but sealed, it'll be up to the front office and the coaching staff to contain the impending misery, lest the losing seep into the foundation and fester within the franchise for years to come.
Kudos to Pau Gasol for ripping into the Los Angeles Lakers for their lack of discipline. Just because the team stinks beyond repair doesn't mean the players and coaches should simply take a dive and improve the organization's prospects for success in the 2014 NBA draft.
Then again, if any Laker has the "right" to speak out on this or any other matter of mediocrity, it's Gasol. Between two titles, tornadoes of trade rumors and his return to being a guaranteed double-double, Gasol has plenty of equity from which to draw when spitting hot fire at others within the locker room.
And, well, Gasol isn't likely to be a Laker for much longer, per Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding. It can't hurt the slender Spaniard to fit in a parting shot or two before he takes his talents elsewhere for an eight-figure payday this summer.
Caron Butler did his best to be a good soldier in his return to his home state with the Milwaukee Bucks. But even the Racine, Wis., native couldn't stand the dysfunction and the prodigious losing it begat during the team's horrific season, with a record of 11-46 after Thursday's loss to the Indiana Pacers.
As a result, the Bucks opted to put Butler on waivers rather than make him wait out the rest of this most miserable of campaigns. Butler, as expected, was classy in departure. In a statement released by the team, he said:
It’s been a dream come true to wear the Milwaukee uniform which so many of my idols growing up wore. I’d like to thank Sen. Herb Kohl, John Hammond and Larry Drew for the opportunity to live out my dream of playing for the Bucks. The entire organization has treated me and my family in a first-class manner that we will never forget. I would be remiss if I didn’t also thank the great fans of Milwaukee, Racine and the entire state of Wisconsin for always standing with us during a challenging season. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Butler will likely choose between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat, with whom he began his NBA career, in determining a destination for the remainder of 2013-14.
The only good news for the New Orleans Pelicans these days is that the bad news isn't worse. The Pels lost Anthony Davis to a left shoulder sprain during their 108-89 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday.
According to the team, Davis will be listed as day-to-day for now, which beats the "out indefinitely" or "done for the season" tags attached to Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith. Those and other injuries have derailed what appeared to be a promising campaign at opening tip.
Instead, five losses in a row and seven in eight have them headed straight for the draft lottery, from whence the Pels' pick will belong to the Sixers unless they land among the top five.
There's a sad sincerity to Carmelo Anthony's efforts on behalf of his hapless New York Knicks. Whether it's 44 points apiece against the Orlando Magic and the Dallas Mavericks, 35 at the expense of the Atlanta Hawks or 29 opposite his 2003 draftmates on the Miami Heat, 'Melo's best efforts haven't been enough to rescue his Knicks from their own demise.
It's no wonder, then, that Anthony seemed so despondent after Dirk Nowitzki's buzzer-beater at Madison Square Garden. "You kind of ask yourself, 'Is it worth it?'" Anthony told CBS Sports' Ken Berger.
That question is certainly a valid one. Anthony undoubtedly wants to win and would probably prefer to do so in his hometown, especially after forcing his way back to New York three years ago.
But between the Knicks' current struggles, their lack of assets and cap space with which to improve next season and Anthony's own impending birthday (he turns 30 in late May), could you really blame 'Melo if he bolted the Big Apple this summer in a desperate effort to pursue a title elsewhere?
The Orlando Magic failed to make any moves ahead of last week's trade deadline, though not for a lack of effort. According to OrlandoMagic.com's John Denton, the team discussed sending Jameer Nelson to the Washington Wizards, only to see D.C.'s squad opt for the older (and cheaper) Andre Miller.
The Magic, though, didn't stand pat entirely. Once the deadline passed, GM Rob Hennigan bought out the remainder of Glen Davis' contract, thereby delivering "Big Baby" to the Los Angeles Clippers on a cheap contract.
That's not exactly encouraging news for Magic fans, though at least hoteliers all over Orlando can rest easy knowing that Davis won't be around to terrorize them any longer.
For anyone out there who's at all upset about Rajon Rondo staying in L.A. for his birthday party while the Boston Celtics traveled upstate for a game against the Sacramento Kings last week, I have three simple words to offer.
Get. Over. It.
For one, Rondo was due to have the day off since he's not yet at the point where the team wants him to play on consecutive nights. I know he's the captain and all, but is it really that important that he be forced to sit through Boston's 105-98 loss in person? The guy flew his family and friends out to L.A. for the occasion. It's not like he was about to leave them hanging.
You might take issue with Rondo not seeking permission from his coaches or at least giving the front office plenty of notice. Then again, it's not as though Rondo's been granted any courtesies over the years from GM Danny Ainge, who's dangled his All-Star point guard on the trade market ad nauseam pretty much from the time Rondo first arrived in Beantown.
Rondo's birthday hiatus may not have been the classiest move he's ever made, but I can't say I disagree with his reaction to the media's coverage of it. "It’s my business," he told CBS Boston. "It’s my choice."
It's a good thing the Atlanta Hawks have been in an absolute free fall of late. Otherwise, the Detroit Pistons would be in much worse shape as the ninth-place team in the Eastern Conference.
Not that the Pistons' playoff prospects are particularly rosy as is. They sit three-and-a-half games back of a postseason spot after losing three straight and six of seven.
Don't expect Detroit's outlook to brighten just yet either. The week to come features road games against the Houston Rockets and the Minnesota Timberwolves and a home date opposite the Chicago Bulls. Even a visit from the Knicks could prove problematic for a Pistons squad that's won just twice since John Loyer took over for Maurice Cheeks.
So long, Jimmer Fredette. It was fun while it lasted...but not really.
I remember rolling up to the Palms Resort in Las Vegas in June of 2011, just days after the Sacramento Kings traded down to the 10th pick to select the sharpshooter out of BYU.
The marquee at the hotel, owned (in part) and managed by the very same Maloof family that controlled the Kings at the time, read "Jimmer Fredette a Sacramento King"—more a bland statement of fact than the triumphant introduction of a collegiate legend.
That lukewarm welcome seemed dubious then and comes across even more dubiously now. Fredette left California's capital by way of a buyout this week, after the Kings failed to find any takers for him at the trade deadline.
He averaged all of seven points in 15 minutes per game in Sacramento, where he found himself stuck behind Isaiah Thomas and the rest of the Kings' rotating cast of guards from the jump.
Here's hoping Fredette, who's nailed 49.3 percent of his threes this season, finds a better home for himself and his sweet shooting stroke as a free agent.
Even if that home doesn't come equipped with a massive marquee.
Here's how bad the Eastern Conference is, in a nutshell: The Atlanta Hawks have lost 10 of their last 11 games, and they're still in the playoff picture.
With a three-and-a-half-game cushion, no less.
Whether the Hawks can actually hang on amidst the devastation in their frontcourt is another story entirely. They weren't exactly brimming with optimism over the signing of Mike Muscala, whom Atlanta selected with the 44th pick in the 2013 NBA draft before sending him overseas.
“Due to our current injuries, Mike’s representatives presented the concept of Mike joining us for the remainder of the season," GM Danny Ferry said in a statement released by the team. "With our roster situation and his strong play, we felt now was a good time to add Mike to our program."
He wasn't kidding either. Injuries to Al Horford, Pero Antic, Gustavo Ayon and now Paul Millsap left the Hawks with Elton Brand, Mike Scott and the since-released Dexter Pittman as their lone bigs during a 115-104 loss to the Celtics on Wednesday.
Whatever shreds of fun and respectability may have remained from the Denver Nuggets' 2012-13 season are probably gone by now. This last week saw the Nuggets go winless in four tries and fall to 1-9 in their last 10. Expand the scope a bit further, and you'll see that Denver has dropped 14 of 19 dating back to mid-January, when the team last had a winning record.
Not surprisingly, the Nuggets' futility, largely the product of injuries, has fallen hard on Brian Shaw. The first-year head coach recently had to clarify previous comments that were construed as him suggesting that he "hated" Denver's roster.
"I don’t hate the roster," Shaw told Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post. "What I hate is having to beg guys to play. That simple. That shouldn’t be a part of what coaching should be. And circumstances are what they are. None of us asked for it."
And yet, here they are, on the verge of missing the playoffs just a year after winning an NBA-franchise-record 57 games.
Who knew that Derrick Favors was such an important member of the Utah Jazz?
The team lost three in a row during his most recent hiatus to fall to 0-9 on the season when Favors isn't fit. The Jazz have won their two games since Favors returned, including a 23-point pounding of the Goran Dragic-less Phoenix Suns.
These disparities should do plenty to solidify Favors' standing as an integral cog in Utah's future. He's averaged career highs in points (13.1) and rebounds (8.9) while shooting 51.4 percent from the field in this, his first season as a full-time starter.
And at the tender age of 22, the sky is still the limit for a kid whose physical profile, skill set and Georgia roots had him pegged as the next Dwight Howard once upon a time.
Jekyll, meet Hyde. Jekyll and Hyde, meet the Brooklyn Nets.
Wednesday night saw the Nets suffer a 44-point defeat to the Blazers, marking their worst loss in more than a decade. By Thursday, Brooklyn was back at it, blasting the dysfunctional Nuggets by 23 points in Denver.
It certainly helps that the quality of competition tailed off as drastically as it did for the Nets. Portland had risen back into third place in the West by virtue of a three-game winning streak, while Denver came into its latest outing having dropped three in a row and eight of nine.
Even so, such quick turnarounds are rare occurrences in the NBA. But in the grand scheme of what's been a bizarre season in Brooklyn, this might not even rank among the five most Twilight Zone-worthy moments for these Nets.
The seesaw that is the Cleveland Cavaliers' 2013-14 season hit its peak on Wednesday, when Kyrie Irving and his short-handed supporting cast battled back from a 12-point deficit in the third quarter to beat the Thunder in OKC, 114-104.
This, after losing three in a row to the Toronto Raptors (twice) and the Washington Wizards on the heels of a season-high six-game winning streak.
After all that, the Cavs still sit a full four games back of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. But the collapse of the Hawks, combined with the awakening of Jarrett Jack (21 points in OKC) and the integration of Spencer Hawes, could portend a late push into the postseason for this subpar squad.
I don't know how many times this season I've referred to the Charlotte Bobcats as "the real deal," though this seems as good a time as any to repeat that familiar refrain. The 'Cats have won their last four games in a row to move within three games of the .500 mark and, more importantly, out of the dreaded bottom two in the Eastern Conference.
Al Jefferson has been integral to Charlotte's rise, though the team's latest win—a 92-89 nail-biter against the Memphis Grizzlies—was largely a credit to Kemba Walker. The feisty point guard tallied 31 points, eight rebounds and five assists to bolster what would ultimately be a winning case for Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
It would come as no shock, though, if Charlotte fell off a bit in the week to come. Its next four games: at San Antonio, at Oklahoma City, at Miami and home to Indiana.
In the immortal words of Dethklok, brutal.
The clock has yet to strike midnight on the Phoenix Suns' Cinderella season, though it sure is getting close.
The Suns have dropped their last three games in a row and lost Goran Dragic to a right ankle sprain during a 110-101 defeat at the hands of the T-Wolves on Tuesday.
Phoenix did well to go 14-10 in its first 24 games after Eric Bledsoe went down with another knee injury but will be hard-pressed to stay afloat without Dragic. The slippery Slovenian had been averaging a career-best 20.2 points along with 6.2 assists while shooting 50.8 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from three.
More importantly, Dragic had been the chief catalyst behind the run-and-gun style of play that has made the Suns such a success this season.
Phoenix had better hope Dragic's ankle won't keep him out for long. Otherwise, he could return to a team that's on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.
It took long enough, but the Minnesota Timberwolves are finally playing something that resembles playoff-caliber basketball. They've won four of their last five games to inch back within a game of the .500 mark—and they've done it all without Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic.
Their latest win was particularly impressive. The T-Wolves, long one of the NBA's worst fourth-quarter teams, outscored the Phoenix Suns 35-20 in the final frame to secure a 110-101 win on the road. As usual, Kevin Love catalyzed the effort, falling just one assist shy of his second triple-double in three games.
This, after Love took home Western Conference Player of the Week honors for a seven-day stretch that saw him average 36.7 points, 12.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists. The T-Wolves will need plenty more of that from their All-Star forward if they're to narrow the five-game gap between themselves and the eighth-place Phoenix Suns to any meaningful extent between now and the end of the regular season.
The Washington Wizards could be due for a steep drop in both the Eastern Conference standings and these here power rankings now that Nene's out four to six weeks with a sprained left MCL.
Until that regression comes, the Wizards can sleep comfortably knowing that the players on hand will continue to fight. They extended their current winning streak to a season-high five games with a gritty 134-129 triple-overtime win over the resurgent Toronto Raptors on Thursday, thanks in no small part to Marcin Gortat's career-high 31 points.
Washington will need efforts like that out of Gortat to avoid sliding into range of a first-round matchup with either the Miami Heat or the Indiana Pacers. The Wizards front line was already rather thin when the burly Nene was healthy and will need to scrap and claw its way for every point, rebound and block it can rack up in support of the burgeoning backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal in the interim.
Will the real Golden State Warriors please stand up?
It's one thing to lose to the Chicago Bulls at the United Center. It's another entirely to do so by 20 points to the third-worst offense in the league, per NBA.com.
Not that the Dubs have been setting the nets ablaze. Their offense ranks just 13th in efficiency and has hung around the middle of the pack all season.
I suppose that's what happens when you rely as heavily on streaky shooters as Golden State does. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for just 13 points on 5-of-18 shooting in the Windy City.
Not that anyone in the Bay Area should panic. That game was David Lee's first back in action after battling a bad case of the stomach flu.
And if ever there were a golden opportunity for Curry to catch fire again, it's Friday, when the Warriors return to Madison Square Garden for the first time since Steph dropped 54 points on the Knicks last season.
The Chicago Bulls have been on fire of late, winning seven of their last eight games, and more help could be on the way.
That is, if Jimmer Fredette qualifies as "help." According to TNT's David Aldridge, Fredette, who was bought out by the Kings this past week, has the Bulls atop his list of preferred landing spots.
Chicago could certainly use a sharpshooter of Jimmer's repute. Its offense has been the league's third-least efficient this season, with the team combining to shoot an anemic 34.1 percent from three.
For all his shooting ability (49.3 percent from three this season), Fredette's long-standing struggles on defense could hold him back in the Windy City. Then again, if Tom Thibodeau could turn Marco Belinelli into a decent defender, he could surely do the same for Fredette.
A triple-overtime loss to the Wizards needn't distract from the exemplary work the Toronto Raptors have done of late. Prior to that defeat, the Raps had won six of seven to solidify themselves as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
More impressive still, Toronto is the only team in the East that can claim to rank among the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
That won't likely be enough to disrupt a seemingly inevitable rematch between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers in the conference finals, though it should portend no worse than the Raptors' second playoff-series victory in franchise history.
For the first time in months, the Memphis Grizzlies' core is whole. Tony Allen became the last piece of the puzzle to return to action and has done so emphatically, averaging 11.7 points and six rebounds in his three games back.
But what makes Memphis more dangerous this season than last, when the team made its first appearance in the Western Conference Finals, is the sneaky depth that the front office has amassed over the course of the 2013-14 campaign.
Mike Miller and Courtney Lee have added a much-needed dose of perimeter shooting to this roster. James Johnson has been playing with his hair on fire since moving up from the D-League.
And thanks to a 19-7 record since the start of the year, the Grizz now find themselves within a half game of grinding their way back into the playoff picture out West.
Speaking of red-hot squads in the lower half of the Western Conference playoffs, how 'bout the Dallas Mavericks? They've won four in a row and 11 of 14 dating back to late January, highlighted by Dirk Nowitzki's ugly game-winner in New York.
Such heroics from Nowitzki figure to be a fixture in the NBA for a while longer, even though the giant German turns 36 in June.
To hear Nowitzki tell it, he has his sights set on playing into his 40s. "I’m a free agent this summer, and I’ll probably sign on for two or three years," Nowitzki told Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "And then I can sign a bunch of one-year deals, I guess, after that, as long as I want and as long as it feels good."
A week against weak competition has done wonders for the Portland Trail Blazers. They've gone 4-0 since last Friday, albeit with nary a single opponent with a winning record in the bunch.
Not that there's any reason to fault the Blazers for beating the teams in front of them. They've managed to pick up each of those victories absent the services of All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, who's been plagued by a groin injury.
And it's not as though Portland has simply skated by against its subpar competition. On Wednesday, the Blazers demolished the Nets by 44 points—their largest margin of victory in two years.
A certain someone spilled a lot of virtual ink singing the praises of the Houston Rockets, going so far as to peg them as the favorites in a hypothetical seven-game series with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Oops. The Rockets left L.A. on Wednesday with their third loss to the Clips in three meetings this season. This was the first time Houston had its full complement of players on hand against the Clippers, but the Rockets couldn't hold off a Clippers squad that was without J.J. Redick from the get-go and lost Jamal Crawford to a calf strain early on.
Houston certainly has the pieces to make some serious noise in the Western Conference playoffs, with Dwight Howard, James Harden and Chandler Parsons constituting the core. Clearly, though, the Rockets would do well to avoid the Clips at all costs in what's thus far proven to be a bad matchup.
It'd be easy to blame the Oklahoma City Thunder's three-game losing streak—their longest since 2009, when they last missed the playoffs—on Russell Westbrook. After all, OKC's slide coincides with Westbrook's return from knee surgery.
And, well, Russ always seems to be the scapegoat when things go wrong for the Thunder.
But there's much more at play in the Sooner State than just Russ. For one, those first two defeats came against the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Clippers, both of whom belong among the NBA's elite this season.
In the bigger picture, the Thunder's struggles can be more reasonably connected to Kendrick Perkins' absence. Perkins strained his left groin early in that blowout loss to the Heat and is expected to be out six weeks as a result.
While some might point to Perk's absence as an opportunity for the Thunder to "move on" from their overpaid behemoth, such a perspective ignores just how vital he is to OKC's cause. Perkins is a big body who takes up space on defense, sets solid screens on offense and fills out a frontcourt rotation that's dangerously thin without him.
Westbrook's rust isn't helping things in OKC, but it's Perk's absence that shows up more when considering that the Thunder hadn't given up 100 or more points in three consecutive games since November.
Until this past week, that is.
Things are looking up for the San Antonio Spurs. Kawhi Leonard is back from a broken finger, Tony Parker could return soon, and Caron Butler looks like a viable potential option to fill out the Spurs' reserves off the buyout market, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
So long as Manu Ginobili finds himself a sturdier pair of shoes, San Antonio should have little trouble building some serious momentum in advance of what figures to be another long and fruitful playoff run.
The Los Angeles Clippers have endured long stretches this season without some of their key players, most notably Chris Paul and J.J. Redick. They saw Jamal Crawford succumb to a calf strain on Wednesday. They've gotten almost nothing out of their small forwards, with Matt Barnes taking over for the struggling Jared Dudley.
And yet, here are the Clips, sitting pretty atop the Pacific Division with twice as many wins as losses through 60 games in 2013-14.
Aside from the play of the team's reserves, much of the credit for that success belongs to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The former has made a leap from "really good All-Star" to "elite superstar," while the latter has emerged as a force in the paint, leading the league in rebounding and checking in fourth in blocks per game.
If we're being honest, though, the totality of L.A.'s perseverance is a product of Doc Rivers' work on the sidelines. He's put his players in position to succeed, regardless of the circumstances, while commanding their attention like Vinny Del Negro never could.
And with Danny Granger due to sign with the Clips, per ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne, Doc's squad should only get better from here on out.
So far, so-so for Evan Turner with the Indiana Pacers. He tallied 13 points and six rebounds in his Pacers debut and followed that up with eight points (on 2-of-10 shooting), six rebounds and three assists in a way-too-close win over Milwaukee.
After just two games, though, it's far too soon to judge Turner's effectiveness as the newest member of Indy's bench mob. His all-around skills should shine through once he settles more comfortably into his more limited role, which pales in comparison to the freedom he had with the tank-tastic Sixers.
The Pacers will need Turner to be a difference-maker to some degree. Their bench has been among the league's least productive this season, despite a summer overhaul that brought Luis Scola and C.J. Watson to the Circle City.
Indy won't need much from its reserves to succeed in the postseason, but the more the team can get out of Turner, the better its odds of sailing through the early rounds and upending Miami will be.
If wearing a protective mask on his face was a hindrance for LeBron James, he certainly didn't show it. In his first game since getting raked across the face by Serge Ibaka, James piled up 31 points on an uber-efficient 13-of-19 shooting to go along with four rebounds, four assists and just one turnover.
Of course, it helps that James was matched up against the hapless Knicks. Still, he came to play when his team needed him to, using a 12-point third quarter to help the Heat pull away after a closer-than-expected first half.
That performance pushed LeBron's averages for the month of February to 30.8 points (on 57.5 percent shooting), 8.1 rebounds and 6.7 assists.
Not bad for a guy who's supposedly still playing second fiddle to Kevin Durant in the MVP race...or is he?
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