Updated Jan. 26
The Cavaliers' narrow win over the Lakers last week, capping a season-series sweep of the defending champs, assured the LeBron James gang an "A" on anybody's grading curve for the first half of the 2009-10 season.
|Thanks to players like Russell Westbrook, the Thunder's recent drafts have been slam dunks. (Getty Images)|
Joining Cleveland on the dean's list ...
Atlanta Hawks: They're young, which means they're probably better suited for success in January than a long run in the playoffs. We won't know the latter for another couple of months, but for now this much is clear: These guys can put on a show at regular-season prices.
Stealing Jamal Crawford from Golden State has added fuel to the Hawks' fire, creating an offensive force second only to Toronto in the East. Three early wins over Boston has sent a message: If you've got time in April to maneuver around a playoff opponent in the East, you're advised to stay clear of Atlanta.
Oklahoma City Thunder: There is no guide to building an NBA power from ashes, but maybe the Thunder should consider copyrighting one. Hitting a grand slam with its past four lottery picks no doubt would be the focal point.
But it's more than that. Watching one of those four (Kevin Durant) blossom into a superstar and another (Russell Westbrook) anchor the backcourt have given the Thunder the look of a contender. With wins already over Orlando, Atlanta and San Antonio, and two over Utah, maybe it's not just a look.
Memphis Grizzlies: Quentin Richardson for Zach Randolph. Let me guess: That didn't even warrant a headline in your local newspaper on the morning of July 17 last summer. In retrospect, it probably should have.
Until that day, the Grizzlies had done a worse job authoring the building script than the Thunder. So they went with Plan B: Desperation. Shockingly, it has worked, with Randolph's nightly 20-10 catapulting Memphis into one of the league's hottest teams the past six weeks, going 14-4.
The Cavaliers, Hawks, Thunder and Grizzlies get A's on their first-half report cards. The news is not so good for the 10 clubs equally split between D's and F's.
One of the D's ranks fifth in my weekly CBSSports.com NBA Power Rankings. Chalk it up to high expectations.