Tag:San Antonio Spurs
Posted on: February 14, 2012 1:09 pm
Edited on: February 14, 2012 4:06 pm
 

NBA Power Rankings: Breakdown, Takedown Vol. 9

Posted by Royce Young and Ben Golliver

The Spurs have plenty to smile about as they ride a 7-game winning streak. (Getty Images)

The 2011-2012 NBA season continues. Here's the ninth weekly installment of CBSSports.com's NBA Power Rankings by Eye On Basketball's Matt Moore.

What did he get right? What did he get wrong? We're here to break it down and take it down.

1. Too High: Los Angeles Clippers at No. 4. You might be thinking, "Didn't I already read this before?" The Clippers were too high last week and the Spurs too low. And wouldn't you know it, they both moved up this week. The Clippers are a fine team in the West, but fourth best in the league? Even after losing Chauncey Billups for the year? I mean, Kenyon Martin was a nice pickup but not THAT nice. It just doesn't make sense to me to place the Clippers above the Spurs, or really even the Mavericks for that matter, especially after losing a top starter. -- RY

2. Too Low: San Antonio Spurs at No. 5. The Spurs have won seven straight, risen to second in the West and are getting maybe their best player back. It's not that they're too low, it's that they should be in the conversation for the top three right now. Putting them at No. 5 is fine, I suppose, but having them behind the Clippers is criminal. I wouldn't even argue with you if you wanted to bump them ahead of Oklahoma City right now. -- RY

3. Most Overrated: Milwaukee Bucks at No. 19. It's not easy to be considered overrated when you're ranked No. 19 out of 30 but that's the case when you're the ninth best team in an Eastern Conference which goes -- maybe -- five teams deep. The Brandon Jennings distraction, the Stephen Jackson distraction, the Andrew Bogut injury, it's all bad. The Bucks are just outside the playoff picture, but would be the third worst team in the Western Conference right now, better only than the New Orleans Hornets and Sacramento Kings. By season's end, the Kings would probably pass them. 2-5 for their last seven, Milwaukee's recent wins have come against the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers. The March schedule will kill this team. -- BG

4. Most Overlooked: Dallas Mavericks at No. 9. A 4-game winning streak over Western Conference foes -- highlighted by a late Dirk Nowitzki winner against the Portland Trail Blazers in double overtime -- was all the reminder anyone needed that this team will be a major factor come playoff time. Expect them to keep getting overlooked. They might just have the toughest lead-up to the All-Star break of anyone in the league coming up -- with games against the Nuggets, 76ers, Knicks, Celtics and Lakers over the next eight days -- so there's a good chance they don't separate from the West pack until March or April. Even if the breakout never comes, this will be a feared first round match-up and the early-season questions will be a thing of the distant past. -- BG

5. Sure Thing: Oklahoma City Thunder at No. 3. How do you know that you're a really good team? You spend your week on a ridiculous road-trip that includes four games in five nights in some of the toughest buildings the NBA has to offer. You emerge 3-1 -- with wins over Portland, Golden State and Utah -- and yet all anyone wants to talk about is the loss, a close one to Sacramento on national television, with the fanbase fighting to keep its franchise in town. Watching those four Western Conference teams get up for the Thunder made it clear that OKC's reputation as the team to beat in the West is firmly established and agreed upon. Watching OKC match energy with energy on the road only underscored the point. -- BG  

6. Wild Card: New York Knicks at No. 15. So, about that whole Linsanity thing. The funny thing about it is, the Knicks have now won five straight and are back in the Eastern playoff picture. And that's with Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony returning. Which is what makes them so intriguing. Are they going to lose their mojo? Will Lin get marginalized? Or will it all be a perfect marriage? The Knicks could be rocketing up to the top 10, or the bottom could fall out any second. -- RY
Posted on: February 10, 2012 1:20 pm
Edited on: February 10, 2012 1:21 pm
 

Popovich: Ginobili will return Saturday vs. Nets

Manu Ginobili is expected to return Saturday. (Getty Images)
Posted by Ben Golliver

San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili is expected back on the court for the first time in more than a month this weekend.

MySanAntonio.com reports
that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told reporters that Ginobili will play against the New Jersey Nets on Saturday after going through a full-contact practice on Friday.

Ginobili, who has been sidelined since Jan. 2 after breaking a bone in his left hand, will not start and his minutes are reportedly expected to be limited. It was reported earlier this week that a return to the court was imminent.

The original timetable for Ginobili's return was 6-8 weeks. A Saturday return would mean that Ginobili missed just under six weeks after the injury.

The Nets contest is the third game of a 9-game road trip. The Spurs are 18-9 on the season, good for first place in the Southwest Division. San Antonio went 15-7 since Ginobili went down, making due thanks to talented rookie Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal and Danny Green

Ginobili, 34, averaged 17.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game in his five appearances before suffering the injury. He was named to the 2011 All-Star team and All-NBA third team last season.
Posted on: February 7, 2012 10:21 pm
Edited on: February 14, 2012 1:13 pm
 

NBA Power Rankings: Breakdown, Takedown Vol. 8

Posted by Royce Young and Ben Golliver

The Clippers have their hands full over the next six weeks. (Getty Images)

The 2011-2012 NBA season continues. Here's the eighth weekly installment of CBSSports.com's NBA Power Rankings by Eye On Basketball's Matt Moore.

What did he get right? What did he get wrong? We're here to break it down and take it down.

1. Too High: Los Angeles Clippers at No. 6. This isn't really a knock against the current ranking, which is right in line with their performance to date, but a prediction of the certain trouble to come. The Clippers continue to have played well more home games (13) than road games (9) and that will catch up with them. The good news is that they are off to a nice start on their current road trip, having won the first two games, but things will get tougher with match-ups in Philadelphia and in Dallas and the loss of Chauncey Billups casts a big shadow over what will be a brutal March, when the Clips will play 20 games in 31 days, including six back-to-backs plus a back-to-back-to-back. Mo Williams is great, but he's only one man. In other words, just sell your stock in them now. There's nowhere to go but down. And Blake Griffin would do very well to keep his All-Star Weekend participation to a minimum. -- BG 

2. Too Low: San Antonio Spurs at No. 7. Here are the last five games for the Spurs: Memphis, Houston, New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Memphis again -- all wins. The Spurs have climbed to the West's third seed and have done it with Manu Ginobili just a week or so away from returning. So to have them behind the Clippers, a team that potentially just lost their starting 2-guard for the season, doesn't seem right. The Spurs are playing like a top five team and are probably just finally getting stretched out. -- RY

3. Most Overrated: Orlando Magic at No. 13. I don't really care what the Magic do right now or what their record is. The sins of the past couple weeks are way too fresh in my mind to give them a top 15 ranking. They've scored in the 60s three times this season. Yeah, they won three of four last week but two of those included wins against Cleveland and Washington. The Magic will make the playoffs, assuming Dwight Howard doesn't get dealt, but this isn't a team to fear. There are simply too many issues. Good enough to beat the bad teams, average enough to beat some mediocre teams but not anywhere close to elite to beat the great teams consistently. -- RY

4. Most Overlooked: Memphis Grizzlies at No. 18. The Grizzlies have fallen a game under .500 and out of the West's top eight, but their losses in the past week were respectable. They whipped the Hawks but came up just short against OKC and San Antonio while the Celtics handled them. It's easy to completely start disregarding Memphis because of their record, but this team had a lot of preseason buzz for a reason. They need Zach Randolph back badly and when they get him, that's a group nobody will want to play in the postseason. Assuming they can do enough to get there. -- RY

5. Sure Thing: Indiana Pacers at No. 5. Through 24 games, the Pacers are right on track for their best case scenario. They're sitting pretty with potential homecourt advantage in the Eastern Conference and they're right there in the mix for the No. 2 spot on the East charts. They'll likely fall somewhere in the 3-6 range but they've got a well-balanced roster that is going to make for a very tough out in the playoffs. Is Darren Collison the weak link? Expect more discussion to surround him. The Paul George / Danny Granger / David West combination could really be something come the postseason. -- BG

6. Wild Card: Denver Nuggets at No. 10. Once the West's No. 2 seed, the Nuggets are on a 3-game skid and just got the news they will be without forward Danilo Gallinari for a month. That's a big blow. The tough part in the West is that it doesn't take too many 3-game skids before you've dropped a number of playoff seeds, given how tightly things are wrapped up betwen spots four and 11. The really brutal news for the Nuggets is that 10 of their remaining 11 games in February are against Western Conference teams, including the Mavericks twice, the Grizzlies, the Thunder, the Clippers, the Spurs and the Blazers. Oof. -- BG
Posted on: February 7, 2012 1:37 pm
Edited on: February 7, 2012 2:02 pm
 

Popovich: Manu Ginobili to return next week

Manu Ginobili is expected to return next week. (Getty Images)
Posted by Ben Golliver

Things are looking up for San Antonio Spurs All-Star guard Manu Ginobili.

MySanAntonio.com reports that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told reporters on Monday that Ginobili, who has been sidelined since Jan. 2 after breaking a bone in his left hand, is nearing a return.
“The doctors say he’s healed and healthy,” Popovich said before the Spurs’ 89-84 win over the Grizzlies. “It’s just a matter of conditioning and timing, rhythm and confidence, all those things right now.

“I’d expect him in the next week or so.”

When Ginobili does return, Popovich said he’s leaning toward bringing the former Sixth Man of the Year off the bench in order to ease him into game action.

The original timetable for Ginobili's return was 6-8 weeks. If he indeed returns next week, that would put him at the lower end of the original estimate.

In typical Spurs fashion, the team weathered what looked like a disaster on paper and kept right on winning in Ginobili's absence. Entering Tuesday's action, San Antonio sat atop the Southwest Division with a record of 17-9. The Spurs are 14-7 since Ginobili went down, making due thanks to talented rookie Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal and Danny Green

Ginobili, 34, averaged 17.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game in his five appearances before suffering the injury. He was named to the 2011 All-Star team and All-NBA third team last season.
Posted on: February 5, 2012 1:11 pm
 

Parker becomes Spurs all-time assists leader

Tony Parker became the Spurs' all-time assists leader Saturday. (Getty Images)
By Matt Moore

Tony Parker passed Avery Johnson Saturday night for all-time Spurs assist leader during San Antonio's 107-96 win over the Thunder. Parker tallied 9 assists to pass Johnson's total and take the new top spot with 4,477. 

For reference, Parker is the Spurs' all-time assist leader, and currently 72nd all-time in the NBA.  So not exactly a lot of passing going on by the top guards in San Antonio over the years. But it does put one more mark on Parker's stellar career. 

In a lot of ways, Parker was the first point guard of the modern era (turn of the century on) as a scoring point guard. He and Chauncey Billups were built of the same mold, but Billups was much more of a fill-in-the-gaps scorer versus Parker who was so much an individual creator. While certainly not the first scoring point (Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson), Parker did set the path for players like Russell Westbrook and even Derrick Rose as dynamic scorers. 

Speaking of, while dropping those nine assists last night, Parker scored 42 points on 29 shots. 

Parker's promience as a top point guard has faded in the past few years with the emergence of Chris Paul, Rose, Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo, but his consistency and effectivenessfor a contending team for the past ten years is something that should be remembered. After the game, head coach Gregg Popovich was quick to compliment Parker's longevity in acquiring the record... in the usual Popovich way. 
“He’s been here a long time,” Popovich said with a shrug and, if you looked closely enough, a smile. “He should have a lot of assists.”
via Spurs Nation » Parker plunders Thunder.

Despite Pop's ribbing, Parker entered a toug situation under Popovich and flourished, becoming one of the decade's best players and a Finals MVP. There's no doubt he, along with Duncan and Manu Ginobili, will have his jersey in the rafters of San Antonio when he's through.
Posted on: February 2, 2012 5:47 pm
Edited on: February 2, 2012 6:57 pm
 

The Power Forward Generation

Love and Griffin represent the next generation of All-Star forwards. How great can they be? (Getty Images)

By Matt Moore


How good is Blake Griffin? How good can he be?

Is Kevin Love one of those guys you're going to look back and remember when he had trouble getting on the floor in Minnesota and laugh? (Wait, he already is that guy. OK, more so?)

Why is it LaMarcus Aldridge has never been an All-Star, but Chris Kaman has?

Are these guys you can win a championship with? Are these guys legends? What is it we're witnessing, here?

All right, we're 75 words in and already miles ahead of ourselves. Let's back up and start where any discussion of the greatness of current NBA power forwards should start. With point guards.

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We're in the NBA's golden age of point guards. There have been amazing point guards before, and certainly great point guard eras. Jason Kidd, Kevin Johnson, Gary Payton, Isiah Thomas, and of course Magic Johnson, just to name a small handful. But the era we're currently in may top any before for overall talent. You have to go searching long and hard for a team without a quality starting point guard (as long as you're not starting with the Lakers). So it's easy to get caught up in debates over which is the best, in either conference.

But hidden behind that is a debate that began a year ago, has continued for the past 360 days, and which will be set aflame Thursday night as the starters for the 2012 NBA All-Star Game are announced.

Blake Griffin will be announced as the starter. He's certainly worthy of it.

Kevin Love fans will be outraged. They're going to have a point.

LaMarcus Aldridge will barely make the conversation. And that's a crime.

All three players have emerged as the best power forwards in the West and probably in the league. Blake Griffin is the reason the Clippers landed Chris Paul, the reason they are contenders for the first time. Kevin Love may be dealing with Rubio Mania, but he's still the man in Minnesota and the biggest reason the Wolves are within striking distance of a playoffs berth. And Aldridge, who was always passed over by fans for Brandon Roy and then twice for Greg Oden, is the rock holding Portland steady.

It's entirely possible one of them does not check in on Sunday, Feb. 26th, and that's more than a little bit insane.

But moving beyond the ridiculousness of the All-Star Game, the questions about each player and their long-term futures are more relevant. Aldridge is 26, entering his prime. At the moment, he's a better, more complete player than either Love or Griffin. But their ceilings are considerably higher, and even the question of which is better becomes complicated and sticky.

But are any of them legitimately "great" all-time players? Do any of them have the potential to be Hall of Fame guys? Where are they in that pursuit?

We're jumping the gun here, and we're well aware of it. Griffin is only 22 games into his second season. Love was only truly freed from captivity last season. Aldridge is just now entering his prime. There's no way to tell if they'll live up to potential, if they've peaked, if this is the best they'll ever be. We're exploring the question to give credence to the fact we have legitimately great players at this position, and to examine how great they really are.

For starters, let's look at some numbers. Let's start with this season's results for the three in question, plus Paul Millsap who is truly the dark horse candidate this season, and is only really held back by the number of touches he shares (Millsap has the lowest usage rate. I wanted to compare them to some truly great players that played in the same era so I took Dirk Nowitzki's best season -- the 2007 season which was simply incredible regardless of how it ended -- and had to basically pull one of Duncan's 2002-2006 seasons out of a hat.)



In short, Kevin Love looks pretty phenomenal and like he's on track for that. The stunner is that LaMarcus Aldridge would probably be right there if he were just rebounding a bit more. Aldridge is having his most efficient season ever, but his rebounds per game, minutes, and rate just don't add up. Without doing anything else of note, Aldrige suffers here.

But Love is really what shines in this comparison. His rebound totals are clearly boosting him along, but he's become such a terrific versatile scorer. And for a guy whose knock has always been defense, Love is in the 71st percentile in overall points per possession allowed according to Synergy Sports, and 81st percentile in post-up defense.

Griffin's numbers struggle, there's no question there. But how much of it is just youth? He's roughly 100 games into his career. Where does his start match up with the others on this list?





Now that is surprising. Griffin is top-two in points, rebounds, and assists per 36 minutes, and PER, true rebound rate, and assist percentage (those figures factor percentage of rebounds/assists of total possessions while on the floor) in those players' second years, and first in field goal percentage. Not bad, even when you consider the strange career arc of Nowitzki.

But numbers obviously don't tell the entire story.

There is a question when watching these players play if they're truly at that level. Blake Griffin is criticized for his lack of a mid-range jumper. Kevin Love isn't considered the kind of player you can simply get the ball to and ask him to get you a bucket, and his post offense is still a work in progress. They're obviously still forming their games, but the gap between those aspects and what people expect is enough to cause the question of if they will ever get to elite status.

-------------------------------

Is Griffin simply a product of his dunks? There's no question that things like, say, Rest in Perkins this week put him on a different level from a cultural perspective. He's the most prolific dunker in recent memory, and Dwight Howard put on a cape with music. The problem comes when we start to fall for an overreaction to that from a critical perspective.

"He's just dunks."

That's a pretty significant fallacy.

Griffin's leaping ability to collect and put back offensive rebounds is something that cannot be denied. He's a solid passer. His post-game shows glimpses of what is likely to be an incredible array of moves along with the kind of natural touch that you need for a player down low. There's nothing physically wrong with his jumper that isn't correctable, and he's got range to the perimeter, even if he's going to it too much this season.

But it's the drives that will continue to be his bread and butter. He works in the pick and roll, but face-up, you need help to guard him. You just do. You had better bring a few friends. Griffin's explosiveness is largely unheard of, and that's the hidden secret to all those dunks. He's not capitalizing off of blown coverages. He's whipping around, over, through defenders to get to the rim. There will come a point where the hammering Griffin endures will take its toll. It's at that point he'll have to adapt, and whether that loss of explosiveness as he ages changes his game will factor heavily into his legacy.

But you cannot watch games like the two-game tilt for the Clippers against the Thunder and Jazz and not be aware of how he can take a game over. There are only a handful of players like that in the league, and it's that special, immeasurable quantity that really reveals why you have to consider Griffin not just one of the league's best players right now, but a legend in the making.

-------------------------------

Kevin Love can get 30 points and 30 rebounds in a game. He's done it. This should not be overlooked. Being able to produce like Moses Malone is not something you find, even once in a generation. Love's game is a stat-magician's dream. But when you watch him, it's not the numbers that should impress you. It's his ability to make all the right plays.

Love isn't just a perimeter shooter or a guy who nabs the rebound from his own teammate (to be clear, he does a lot of that, too). He's able to measure whether to take the mid-range or drive. When to pass. His outlet pass remains a thing of absolute beauty. His understanding of the floor is something that sets great players apart from their peers. There's a reason Ricky Rubio manages to find Love in huge moments uncovered. It's because Love is crafty enough and able to understand the defense well enough to slip in that possession, catch, and shoot before the defense can react. He's got the range, to be sure. But he's also got the work ethic to improve and the mind to manage basketball. Does this make him among the all-time greats? No, but his rare combination of instincts and efficiency is going to get him there in a hurry.

-------------------------------

And then there's LaMarcus Aldridge.

Neither Love nor Griffin have won a playoff game. They haven't been the man on their teams for a playoff team. They haven't endured the kind of misfortune the Blazers have suffered and navigated their way through it. Aldridge is a poor man's Duncan in a lot of ways. Consistent. Quiet. Rarely emotional, largely unnoticed and brutally efficient.

Aldridge doesn't light you on fire like Love or break you into a million pieces like Griffin. Instead he simply hammers you into submission, with mid-range jumper and post move after post move. It's his curse to have a more refined game, but it's also to his benefit. Maybe neither of the younger guns can fit so easily into a coach's gameplan. Neither is as dependable, and neither know how to confound a defense as well in big moments. They may get there, but to ignore Aldridge's excellence at this point in time is criminal.

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And so it is, that while the debate over the best point guard alive continues (it's Chris Paul by the way; calling Derrick Rose a point guard is like calling an alien from Mars a citizen of Austin, Texas, they're both weird but that doesn't make it the same thing), the West is slammed with power forwards of past greatness and future legacy. But it's important to capture this moment, where we see the signs of both generations merging. Duncan and Dirk riding out the end, with Garnett fading out in the East, as Griffin sets the world aflame with a highlight reel and Kevin Love leaves you shaking your head.

But in the end, it may be Aldridge, underrated, largely forgotten, less dynamic and dominant and more proficient and capable, who goes the furthest this season of all.

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Closing note: You realize this list excludes Pau Gasol (admittedly having a terrible season), glosses over Millsap who would be right there in this conversation if he wasn't sharing touches with 50 other bigs in Utah, and the wide array of superb small forwards in the West? Let's face it, the league is stacked right now.

Posted on: February 1, 2012 1:37 pm
Edited on: February 2, 2012 1:28 pm
 

Who's contending and who's pretending?

Posted by Royce Young

Are the Lakers and Celtics challengers for a championship, or for just a postseason appearance? (Getty Images)

Almost every team has played 20 games so far this season, which is a pretty nice sample size to make a semi-educated judgment on just how good some are. We know there are a lot of competitive teams in each conference. Teams that have a quality roster, a decent record and a chance at the postseason.

But what's coming into focus more and more is who is for real and who is for fake. Not in the sense of who is actually good and who is fool's gold, but what teams should we be really watching for to make a push at a championship?

In the same way there's no reason to waste time saying the Wizards and Hornets are not contenders, I don't need to tell you that the Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls are obvious contenders. They aren't just contenders, they're the title favorites as of now. Those three teams have clearly separated themselves a bit from the pack, but that doesn't mean that there isn't another team lingering as a potential title threat. This time last season nobody was really looking at the Mavericks as a team poised to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy.

So let's break down the current field of playoff contending teams and separate the contenders from the pretenders.

Orlando Magic

After an 11-4 start, a good number of people kind of came around from "They have to trade Dwight Howard right now" to "Maybe they should keep him and make a run at it." Now, after a week of complete stinkage, maybe it's time to take another good look at blowing the hinges off the organization and starting over. If you're consistently having trouble getting out of the 60s, you're not going to win a seven-game series against a good team.

Verdict: PRETENDER

Philadelphia 76ers

A 15-6 record and the best point differential in the league is not something to be ignored. A 4-4 road record indicates that maybe the Sixers aren't quite ready to step into the conversation of competing for the East. I'm going to choose to ignore that. The Bulls and Heat are clearly the class of the East, but it's not hard for me to picture the Sixers taking down one in a seven-game series. Their depth, defense and determination will have them right in any game they play.

Verdict: CONTENDER

Utah Jazz

Rewind to last season. Jerry Sloan had resigned and Deron Williams was traded. It was understandable that the Jazz would finish out the season in the lottery. That was the plan. Get younger, find some cap flexibility and plan for the future. Except that didn't work out. The Jazz aren't a franchise that deal with losing much so this season wasn't just going to be one of tanking. But they're overachieving. They have some nice wins on the resume, but a core of Paul Millsap, Al Jefferon and Gordon Hayward aren't making a title push.

Verdict: PRETENDER

Indiana Pacers

I want to believe. I really do. The Pacers are a fun team and their resurgence over the past two seasons has been something else. David West was a nice addition and Roy Hibbert is playing really well. They've built up their resume with some good wins over the past couple weeks, but I don't see how they improved in the area that killed them last postseason -- fourth quarter execution. Danny Granger is a good player but can't shoulder the load of getting tough, key baskets in crunchtime. I can't see them beating the Bulls, Heat or even 76ers.

Verdict: PRETENDER

New York Knicks

I almost didn't even include them in this list. And not for the reason the Bulls, Heat and Thunder aren't in it. Unless Baron Davis has a superpower in that beard, the Knicks aren't getting out of the first round, and that's if they even get there. Serious obstacles are going to have to be overcome before this team actually competes for a championship.

Verdict: PRETENDER

Dallas Mavericks

It appears the championship hangover is finally wearing off. But for a while there, the defending champs had us concerned. They looked flat, uninterested and worst of all, not as good after losing J.J. Barea, Tyson Chandler and DeShawn Stevenson. But the Mavs are finding their form a bit and if Lamar Odom can ever finally wake up, Dallas goes eight deep with a nice rotation. And as long as that tall German guy is on the roster, they're a tough matchup for anyone.

Verdict CONTENDER

Houston Rockets

As I was writing down the teams I needed to mention for this, I didn't have the Rockets. And then I looked at the West standings and their record and said, "Whoa, the Rockets are 12-9? When did that happen?" I think they're going to be players at the trade deadline, but as the team stands now, they're position in the West's top eight will probably be short lived.

Verdict: PRETENDER

San Antonio Spurs

Could the Los Angeles Clippers -- the Clippers -- really be contenders? (Getty Images)
You just wait. Gregg Popovich knows what he's doing. Manu Ginobili will be healthy soon and the Spurs are going to go on a run of games in late February or March where they win like 14 of 16 and rocket up to third in the West. It's coming. I know it is.

Verdict: CONTENDER

Los Angeles Clippers

I picked the Clippers to finish second in the West but also wrote that they weren't a contender. I'm confused about the Clippers. But they definitely showed a little something this past week with a win in Denver and a win against the Thunder. Part of the reason many doubted that the Clips were ready to contend was it looked like they needed another piece for some depth. But they may already have it as Mo Williams is making a strong case for Sixth Man of the Year. Two top 15 players, a monster rim protector inside, a solid identity and veteran leadership -- the Clips kind of have it all. Only two things are holding them back -- Vinny Del Negro and a 35-year history filled with miserable failure.

Verdict: CONTENDER

Atlanta Hawks

I'll put it simply: The Hawks made no dramatic improvements to a team that's basically been the definition of pretender and then their best player was injured for pretty much the rest of the season. Their winning record without Al Horford has been a bit of a mirage as they've fortunately found a soft spot in the schedule at the worst time. Playoff team, yes. Title contender? Nah.

Verdict: PRETENDER

Portland Trail Blazers

For about five minutes, the Blazers had everyone talking about them as the prime contender to challenge Oklahoma City in the West. And then they lost their next five of eight and have slipped out of the top eight in the West. There's really not that much distinguishing this Blazer team from the one the was eliminated in last season's opening round. Is Ray Felton an upgrade over Andre Miller? Jamal Crawford an upgrade over Brandon Roy? LaMarcus Aldridge has become a legit superstar, but I don't see him carrying this roster to the Western Finals.

Verdict: PRETENDER

Memphis Grizzlies

I fear the Grizzlies were that classic chic preseason pick that everyone kind of likes that ends up going down in flames. Some would call that the "Houston Texans Disease." But Memphis didn't stumble into the second round of the postseason by accident. They upended the Spurs and then were a seventh game on the road away from advancing to the Western Finals. They're an enigma right now without Zach Randolph, but if he comes back healthy, the Grizzlies could be a nightmare matchup for teams in the playoffs.

Verdict: CONTENDER

Boston Celtics

After all of that, the Celtics are back to .500. They're 10-10 and have eased some of the fears that they might miss the playoffs. But they haven't been able to restore confidence that they're a team that's dangerous in the postseason. Kevin Garnett can't jump, which is a problem. Their offense completely fizzles for long stretches. They're actually relying on key production from guys like Mickael Pietrus and Chris Wilcox. The Celtics aren't bad, but I think ubuntu is on life support.

Verdict: PRETENDER

Denver Nuggets

Can team ball really win? Well, it's winning now and looking pretty darn good doing it. The Nuggets ran into a bad matchup last postseason and the Thunder took care of them in five games. I wouldn't say they necessarily improved this offseason after losing Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith while adding Rudy Fernandez, Corey Brewer and Andre Miller, but Al Harrington is playing wonderful basketball, Ty Lawson is blossoming and Danilo Gallinari shows flashes of being a star. Winning this way isn't easy, but I wouldn't rule the Nuggets out.

Verdict: CONTENDER

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are 2-7 on the road. They've only scored 100 points three times this season. For any other team, we'd say that's a major red flashing sign that they aren't for real. For any other team, we'd look at their offensive struggles, their chemistry issues and the fact they're looking older than ever and easily write them off. But this is the Lakers, the home of Kobe Bryant and you don't do that. But I'm going to. Point guard is a massive issue, they have no depth inside and I still have absolutely no idea why they traded Lamar Odom for nothing. This team subtracted a key piece from a group that got swept out of the playoffs by the Mavericks and they expect that adding Josh McRoberts and a new coach is going to push them over the top? Unless the Lakers have a big trade coming down the pipe, the Lakers as currently constructed aren't going anywhere.

Verdict: PRETENDER

Posted on: January 30, 2012 12:40 am
Edited on: January 30, 2012 1:35 am
 

Report Card: Heat, Mavs, Lakers roll on Sunday

Posted by Ben Golliver and Matt Moore

LeBron James topped Derrick Rose in their first head-to-head match-up of the season. (Getty Images)

Your nightly report card gives you a big picture look at what happened each night in the NBA. Grades are granted based on team or individual performances, and are graded on a curve for each element. Leave your own grades in the comments.

LeBron James jumps over John Lucas III to dunk

Words can't really express how ridiculous this dunk is from James. If you haven't seen it at least 10 times by the start of work on Monday all of your co-workers will hate you. Watch it over and over again. There's not enough plusses to add at the end of this "A." This deserves to be in the "all-time greatest dunks" conversation. -- BG


Miami Heat

The Heat have to feel pretty, pretty, pret-tay good with how Sunday's smackdown with the Chicago Bulls played out. Looking dominant for long stretches even with Dwyane Wade struggle and Derrick Rose going for 34 points, the Heat escaped after two late misses at the charity stripe from James. Chris Bosh was a crucial X-factor, contributing 24 points (on just 14 shots) while grabbing 12 rebounds and hitting all eight of his free throw attempts. James was a monster and he torched the Bulls, who were down Luol Deng due to injury. -- BG

Los Angeles Lakers

L.A.'s road struggles run so deep this season that it's no exaggeration at all to say they exited the Target Center with a big win on Sunday night. Hot shooting from deep was an obvious key -- 8-for-19 as a team, including five bombs from Bryant -- but the Andrew Bynum / Pau Gasol combination combined for a ridiculous 49 points and 13 rebounds, including 12 points in the game's final five minutes. Minnesota committed just four turnovers on the night, out-rebounded L.A. 52-41 and took 25 more attempts from the field, yet still wound up on the losing end of this one. You don't see that every day. The Lakers' shooting (40-for-79 as a team) had everything to do with that.  -- BG

Jason Terry


There will come a time when Jason Terry is not in this league and that will be sad. Too often Terry gets overlooked for the understandable idolization of Nowitzki. But Terry's ability to find, create, and deliver huge shot after huge shot should be remembered for a long time by fans in Dallas and across the league. He has an uncanny ability to make the right decision of whether to continue to the basket for a layup or pull-up, and just when you think there's no way he delivers a score, he nails it with nothing but nylon in the ball's trajectory. The bench mob won the battle for a while, but it was Terry who helped the Mavs win the war. You limit Dirk Nowitzi to ten points and this happens. Jason Terry, the itch that you can never scratch. -- MM

Vince Carter

Carter went Vinsanity for much of the first half, nailing pull-up jumpers, getting to the rim, and when the game needed a rebound and a stop for the Mavericks, Carter delivered both down the stretch. Carter providing that kind of performance for the Mavs makes them an entirely different team in the backcourt and it shows the value of his free agent signing for Dallas. Off a steal late in the game instead of pushing for a layup against two defenders, he wisely slowed the game down and set up Jason Terry for a huge shot to close the gap in the fourth quarter.  -- MM

San Antonio Bench Bombardment, LLC


Gary Neal played point guard, ran an offense and sliced and diced his way to 19 points. Danny Green and James Anderson, who have both spent time in Austin with the Spurs' Developmen team (along with Neal) hit big shot after big shot against the champs. Tiago Splitter brought 8 points and 7 rebounds in 26 minutes to help fuel the comeback. Matt Bonner played terrific defense, for crying out loud. It was simply insane, how well the Spurs' bench played, particularly in the fourth quarter, scoring on 8 of 9 possessions at one point. It was an inspiring performance that was nearly enough, had a buzzer beater with .5 left in regulation from Danny Green not been a fraction of a slice of a piece of a hair follicle too late. B+. -- MM

Gregg Popovich

How many coaches have the guts to keep their bench in that long and let them ride it out, even in overtime, to trust those young players to deliver? Two? Maybe? Popovich didn't get the win but rested his starters, nearly pulled it out, gave his young guys valuable experience, and sent a message to the first team. The fact it almost worked is pretty insane all by itself. -- MM 
 

Derrick Rose

This might seem like an incredibly harsh grade, but ask yourself whether if Rose would give himself anything better than an "F" after he bricked two late free throws that had major endgame implications? Rose had some "holy crap" moments against the Heat, feathering in pull-up jumpers and runners and finshing after contact time and time again. But while he put up 34 points and got all four of his teammates into double figures, he came up empty at the end and shot just 11-for-28 from the field. He protected the ball well, his teammates left some assists on the table for him by missing open shots and he was missing Deng, who would have been huge. He had Chicago in it until the very end. But he goes home with frustration, just like after the 2011 East Finals. That's got to feel below average. -- BG
 
Spurs' Starters


Spurs' Starters: Listless, uninspired, sloppy. If they were scoring (Tim Duncan), they weren't defending. If they were defending (Kawhi Leonard), they were shooting poorly. The bench mob redeemed the Spurs' effort, but San Antonio largely just "didn't have it." -- MM



Tony Parker


9 points on 11 shots. 4 assists, 2 turnovers, and a benching for Gary Neal, who's not a point guard, to run point. And he was outplayed by Roddy Beaubois a fellow Frenchman much younger. So yeah, a poor night for TP. D-. -- MM



Carlos Boozer's Family

Poor Boozer got punked hard by his family on national television. Of course this would happen to him. -- BG


 
 
 
 
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