Another year has come to pass, and the playoffs are right around the corner. But before we turn to matchups and seedings, let's take a second and wrap up the regular season as we give grades for the year in our fourth quarter report:
Southeast Division by Zach Harper:
||I'm not sure the regular season could have gone much better for the
. They became just the 16th team in NBA history to win 65 games or more. They set the post-merger record for consecutive wins at 27. They have had one of the best seasons ever for their best player in
, who is a shoo-in to win the 2013 MVP. The Big Three is primed and ready for the playoff run, and the complementary pieces around them are all clicking within the system. It almost seems impossible that they lost 16 games this season
||The first transition period in a long time for this
franchise was pretty much a success. They've cleared a ton of cap space and brought in a lot of roster flexibility moving forward. This year, they got to see more of what
means for them in the future and they saw an encouraging improvement by
as he was finally given more responsibility. Once again, they had to endure the inconsistency and shot selection of
, but his defense is still something that vastly helps this franchise. They could be bothersome in the playoffs but, more importantly, they have some (cap) room to breathe this offseason.
||This was a tale of two seasons for the
. The first part of the season was a waiting period.
missed a big chunk of time, and
missed the first 33 games. During that time, the Wizards barely managed a 5-28 record and were looking like a historically bad offense. Since Wall's return, they're no longer a losing team, going 24-24 in games that Wall has played this season.
had a rough start to the season but showed oodles of promise in the new year. They just need to keep plugging in talent to the organization and continue to build around Wall, who has showed a ton of improvement.
||What are we supposed to make of the
' season? We needed to see improvement from
, and that was definitely there. We needed to see flashes out of
, and that happened in a few spots this season, although he was pretty forgettable.
needed to show he's a capable big man. While he showed us solid rebounding and good rim protection, he still has a lot of work left to get out of the "project" stage of his career. Overall, the Bobs weren't the worst team in history, even though they were the worst team in the NBA this season at making shots. There is progress, but it wasn't enough to feel hopeful about the future
||This was technically a successful season for the
had a great season with rebounding and scoring around the bucket. They acquired
, and he binged on late-season statistics.
showed some pretty nice flashes here and there. And the team sucked. This is a good thing because they're trying to rebuild through the draft and develop their young talent. The young talent that they have on the roster right now showed there is development happening, even if it's just a product of getting extra minutes. Now they need to do this again next year and find their future star in the draft.
Atlantic Division by Royce Young:
New York Knicks
really went through three seasons. They started 23-10, then went 15-16 from early January to mid-March, then finished out 14-2 with one more to go Wednesday. They managed a season that featured the oldest roster in NBA history and the injuries that came along with it.
played brilliantly after having a minor knee procedure,
sort of reigned himself in and became the best sixth man in the game the final two months, and they got surprising production from players like
. The Knicks won their first division title since 1994 and appear poised to finally make it out of the first round. They don't appear to be as big an Eastern power as they'd probably have hoped but, all in all, a tremendous season.
||Considering the money the
spent in the offseason, the season probably didn't yield the kind of ideal results from management. They fired a coach after a 14-14 start, then have gone 34-19 since. They're fourth in the East, which is good, but they don't appear to be the contender that their payroll would suggest they should be. They've shown signs as
looks more like his old self and
has blossomed into maybe the best offensive center in basketball. But they still have some issues and, really, advancing out of the opening round would probably make the season a success.
||A season crippled by injuries. The
injury completely altered what this team is, changing their approach and mindset. They battled through that, and then the
one, and have been able to show flashes of their old selves. But they've also looked very old and very vulnerable. They play with pride, and they will be a tough postseason out for the Knicks. But a season right at .500 wasn't anticipated for this team, though that was partially unavoidable with the cards that they were dealt.
||What an unexpectedly horrific season. After dealing
and two promising rookies to acquire
appeared to be poised to be a legit top-tier threat in the East. They were a solid team last season and advanced in the playoffs as an 8-seed after Derrick Rose went down. But Bynum didn't play a single game, and the Sixers watched as their once hopeful season slowly slipped away. Finishing 15 games under .500 seemed like an impossibility for the Sixers back in November, but it's where they are, and it makes them one of the season's most disappointing teams.
||In seems the
are stuck in a constant state of mid-level rebuilding. They're basically running in place as a low lottery team. Winning 32 games in the NBA every season really is about the worst thing that you can do. You miss the playoffs, and you miss out on any potential franchise changing talents in the draft. But considering the Raptors don't even own their own lottery pick this year, who cares, right? They made a major move to acquire
. While that gave them a player to focus around, it also means that their perpetual mediocrity isn't likely to change unless they get bold and bring in some better pieces.
Central Division by Matt Moore:
||Indiana left a little bit on the table. They were a better team than their record showed. The
suffered through a miserable start where their offense didn't get out of the sewer grate for a month, and later in the year they lost a series of inexplicably bad losses to teams they should have and did handle until the final minutes. Not enough consistency, not enough growth, but a strong enough resume to believe they can make a ruckus in the playoffs.
||No Rose. That's really the entire season. But the
also dealt with a huge number of injuries outside of
's aborted return from ACL surgery.
, a ton of players missed important stretches of time. And that took a toll on the team. Their offense is still such a mess sometimes, and their defense wasn't as good as in years past. Whether that's injuries, personnel or fatigue is yet to be seen. But a bummer of a year for Chicago and yet still impressive without their best player.
are a mediocre 8-seed that will get obliterated by the Heat in the first round. They feature inefficient chucking guards and young guys who don't know all their rotations. But you know what, in the middle there, for a few months? They were pretty fun to watch.
||Nothing went right this year.
's minutes (and later his health).
's improvement (or health). Anything involving
. How Lawrence Frank reacted. It was just a wholly disappointing year with few bright spots. And every time things looked like they were turning, they'd stumble over their own feet. Different shoes, fellas.
||They were young. But they also gambled on a lot going right, and very little did. They needed
to be fantastic, and he was only really good for about two months. They were ravaged by injuries, but that also exposed their lack of depth. And their effort issues late in the year were miserable and might cost Byron Scott his job. So, no, things didn't go great.
Southwest Division by Royce Young:
||When it's all over for Gregg Popovich, he really needs to write "How to Manage the Regular Season For Dummies." With an extremely veteran roster, Popovich has to figure out how to make sure he gets his team to the postseason as unscathed as possible, while also winning a bunch of games. The
San Antonio Spurs
had their share of hiccups, with
and a few others missing a bunch of games. And they stumbled down the stretch, blowing a 2 1/2-game lead over the Thunder with about three weeks to go to lose the No. 1 seed. But they're No. 2 in the West and while they look a lot more beatable today than they did a month ago, it was another strong season in San Antonio.
traded Rudy Gay, the initial reaction, even from within the team, wasn't all that positive. Coach Lionel Hollins put it this way: "You can't have Champagne taste and a beer budget." But it appears management had an idea of what it was doing. After dealing Gay, the Grizzlies finished the season 26-11 and re-established themselves as a team to be taken very seriously in the playoffs. Their identity is very straightforward -- tough and defensive. If they can find crunch-time points, they could rattle some postseason cages.
||A bold, franchise altering move just a couple days before the season had the
approaching this season in a new light. Dealing
and picks, Houston brought in the cornerstone player they've been searching for in
. Their bearded star flashed the potential he's always possessed but wasn't able to fully release as a bench player overshadowed by Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Harden and
had some rough patches but figured out how to play well together. And the Rockets, one of the youngest rosters in the league, have the look of a potentially dangerous playoff team.
||It doesn't feel quite right, but we're going to have a postseason with no
. An early injury to Dirk put Dallas in a hole, and they were never able to quite dig out despite a few late-season pushes. The Mavs have been completely dismantled from the team that won a title in 2011. And while they still maintain cap space and options, it was sad to see them growing beards as motivation just to get back to .500. That's not what Dirk Nowitzki should be doing in his NBA twilight.
||The post-CP3 recovery is still fully underway. And while young pieces are in place that give the
New Orleans Pelicans
an intriguing core, there wasn't much of a step forward this season.
, still potentially disgruntled from last offseason's contract negotiations, was hurt a lot of the year. While
looks legit and
finally showed a little before getting hurt in early March, the Hornets don't necessarily look close to getting back into the postseason conversation.
might be a diamond in the rough, and the Hornets will add another talented youngster with their lottery pick in June. But the question is, will they actually be any different next season, other than in name?
Northwest Division by Matt Moore:
||Do they feel as dominant as last year? No. But then you look at the results, and there's no way around it. A spectacular point and efficiency differential, 60-plus wins and the slot as favorite for the Western Conference again.
is 24 years old.
||The best regular-season record in NBA franchise history, and they can't win the division. Tough division.
withstood the toughest schedule in the NBA and multiple injuries to thrive and win 55-plus games. An incredible year for the No-Superstar-All-Stars.
||They looked uninspired, played out and stretched to the limit of a roster's shelf life for much of the year, but they stayed in the playoff race and won more games than they lost. Another pretty good year even if their direction is very much in doubt.
||They won more games than they should have, mostly on their ability to win close games early in the season and the brilliance of
. Their bench was a train wreck, and their starters for a while looked better than they are.
Portland Trail Blazers
's not headed much of anywhere for a while outside of
and Dame, but you have to admire the effort.
||Need an incomplete icon here. The
had the most injuries of any team this year, including the Lakers. When the Lakers are like "Man, tough break, guys," you had a bad year.
Pacific Division by Zach Harper:
Los Angeles Clippers
are in the mid-50s for wins, setting a franchise record for most victories in a season. Yet something feels like it's missing with them. This team was dominant in the first two months of the season and looked like title contenders for the first time ever. Then the defense started to slip, and the offense was still good but not scarily potent. Now, the Clippers have gone from a title contending team to a team just hoping to get out of the first round in a matter of months.
is great, and
is improved. This is probably the deepest team in the league. But when are we going to see that special level of play again?
||Why do the
Golden State Warriors
get the same grade as a team that will finish with close to 10 more wins than them? It's about expectations. The Clippers increased their own expectations early in the season and then fell short of them. The Warriors lived up to the hopes of everyone wanting to see what they can do when they're relatively healthy. They survived without
on the court for much of the season, and
is becoming a star in this league as he shoots from 3-point range at a historic rate. What a fun season for them.
they acquired was disappointing all season long and never fixed the defensive problems he was supposed to erase. The
they brought in has been passive and almost apathetic since coming back from a leg injury early in the season. Their
, who has had consistency problems, has been consistently hobbled throughout much of the season. And their
had arguably the best offensive season of his career before tearing his Achilles tendon right before the playoffs got here. Other than that, things have been swell.
||I want to pretend to care about what has happened on the court with the
has been frustrating all season, and
has been sneakily moving back to being a pretty decent player. But the way this franchise has been run, coached and now sold has been embarrassing on a lot of levels. Everybody is still waiting to see where this team will play and whom they will play for before they start evaluating what to do with the roster and the direction.
||Is there anything fun about this team? Is there any light at the end of the tunnel that isn't an oncoming train? The franchise is in a transition period, and they got serious about it when they really started tanking after firing Alvin Gentry. However, they have to figure out how to draft talent consistently and not throw away money on young players who haven't made it with their initial teams for a reason. Their scouting department needs to match the level of the training staff with executing their jobs.