NBA Midseaon Report Card

PARLAY OF THE MONTH CASHES THURSDAY!
Bulls (-2) Spurs 109-99 W
Mavericks (-1.5) Suns 112-106 W
St. Valentine's Massacre continues tonight!
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THE NBA REPORT - IT-S ALL-STAR GAME WEEKEND AND SO WE TAKE TIME TO HAND OUT THE MID-SEASON GRADES!

GRADE: A+
    
SAN ANTONIO (46-9) - No surprise that the Spurs top our Jim Sez Report Card charts as Gregg Popovich-s gang has been lights-out all year long but how about the fact San Ant-s a delicious 29-5 SU (straightup) against the wild, wild Western Conference? It-s been the "old guard" trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker that-s led the way with a combined scoring average of almost 49 points per game but one big reason why the Spurs have shined is the fact key supporting cast characters DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner and Antonio McDyess have really chipped in when called upon ... sounds like what happened during those four championship years (1999, 2003, -05 and -07), right?

DALLAS (39-16) - The Mavericks have motored their way into the second seed (for now) in the NBA-s Western Conference and that-s pretty special stuff considering megastar Dirk Nowitzki (22.6 ppg) has missed nine games and much of the Dallas roster has been scorched with other injury woes and so a major "hats off" to underrated and unsung head coach Rock Carlisle. Note that PG Jason Kidd is averaging 8.2 assists per game and he sports an assists-to-turnover rate at better than 3.5-to-1. Doesn-t this guy ever show his age?

    
GRADE: A
    
BOSTON (40-14)
- The Celtics look better at this stage of the season than at any other time in the Doc Rivers Era and whether that-s because the main core has played through minor hurts (Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo have missed a combined 20 games, but that-s it) or whether it-s because Rivers these days trusts his bench players more than in the past the fact remains this has been a glittery season that already includes three wins in three tries against new archrival Miami.

CHICAGO (36-16) - The Bulls are 23-4 at home this year and a picture-perfect 11-0 in divisional play and most of the credit must go to PG Derrick Rose (24.5 ppg and 8.2 apg) as he-s been able to take charge of games at crunch time and allow teammates Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah (a combined 51 ppg) to get in their respective comfort zones and make hay. Maybe first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau is your front-runner right now for Coach of the Year, although we must admit that writing Popovich-s name on "Line 1" would be our choice at the current time.
  

GRADE: B+
    
MIAMI (41-15)
- Folks, the only reason we didn-t elevate the Heat to an "A" is because James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and mates have not been able to beat Boston and so that-s our proverbial slap on the wrist but know this: When Miami has been cranking it up (see 10-of-11 wins at press time) than stopping this triumvirate has been a major problem for NBA teams as this threesome is averaging 70 points a game and no doubt they-ve all gotten more comfortable sharing the ball than was the case back in November/December.

PHILADELPHIA (27-29) - The Sixers would be in the playoffs if the season ended today despite the sub-.500 record but look beyond the won/loss mark and consider how head coach Doug Collins has helped to energize the careers of Elton Brand (team-leading 15.3 ppg) and Andre Iguodala (14.3 ppg) plus he-s skillfully given the proper minutes to first-round draftee Evan Turner.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS (38-19) - Safe to say the two-time defending champs are right about where we expected some 55-plus games through this regular season but the recent lapses in Orlando, Charlotte and Cleveland knocked back the Jim Sez grade. Could it be that Kobe Bryant (25.3 ppg) is showing his age and that all the Phil Jackson-is-gonna-retire stuff is emotionally wearing down this bunch?

PORTLAND (32-24) - Give the Trail Blazers major credit for hanging tough despite the injuries to G Brandon Roy (only 23 games played) and rebounding whiz Marcus Camby (he-s missed 16 games already) as coming-of-age of F/C LaMarcus Aldridge (22.2 ppg) has been the key plus there-s been those career-type nights for other guys (see Dante Cunningham-s 18-point, 13-board game in Minnesota earlier this week).

NEW YORK (28-26) - The Knicks may be making bigger/better news in the coming days should they be able to swing this much-ballyhooed Carmelo Anthony deal with Denver but right now Mike D-Antoni-s club  gets a major "thumbs up" for battling back from a rotten start and is there a more important player on his team than Amar-e Stoudemire (26.2 ppg and 8.6 rpg)?

OKLAHOMA CITY (35-19) - The Thunder has a terrific future and its "present" ain-t too bad either with MVP candidate Kevin Durant (28.9 ppg) all the rage but what-s really neat is how head coach Scottie Brooks has this young club on a real up-tick and did anyone notice that PG Russell Westbrook (8.6 apg) might well belong in that upper tier category of league dish-men?
 

GRADE: B
    
NEW ORLEANS (33-25)
- It-s not as if the Hornets are heading into the break on a high as they-ve dropped nine of their last 11 games and even do-it-all PG Chris Paul (16.4 ppg and 9.7 apg) has been taken to school at times by other quality lead guards. Still, it-s been a born-again year for C Emeka Okafor (11.1 ppg and 10.1 rpg).

ATLANTA (34-21) - No sense in wondering where the Hawks stand in terms of the here-and-now Eastern Conference as they clearly aren-t part of the elite (see Boston, Miami and Orlando) and even head coach Larry Drew has wondered why his club doesn-t always come out with more passion and fire. Star G Joe Johnson (19.8 ppg) symbolizes this team - solid, efficient and not flashy but count us among the folks that believed Atlanta could win 55 games this year (and that won-t happen).

INDIANA (24-30) - The Pacers were going nowhere fast under coach Jim O-Brien and so the switch to assistant Frank Vogel was a no-brainer and Indy-s responded with new life but it still can-t beat the "big boys" (see two recent losses to Miami and a 21-point loss in Chicago). Know this: Forward Danny Granger (20.9 ppg) is a legit star even if he isn-t household name material.

 
GRADE: C+
    
ORLANDO (36-21) - If the Magic had all its pieces in place to start this 2010-11 season than Stan Van Gundy-s club probably would be vying for a #1 or #2 playoff seed but the machinations that surrounded star C Dwight Howard with an almost brand-new supporting cast meant Orlando needed time to jell. One major bugaboo here: The Magic-s just 15-13 SU away - not good enough!

GOLDEN STATE (26-29) - The Warriors are one of the league-s real fun teams to watch with Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry (averaging a combined 44 poi nts) ready/willing/able to deliver the dagger to opponents but playing defense was optional right from season-s start.

MEMPHIS (31-26) - No doubt the Grizzlies have run hot-and-cold this season (see four-game winning streak through Tuesday-s games) as continued development of PG Michael Conley (13.7 ppg and 6.6 apg) is biggest key in going forward but a .500-type year give or take a game would rank as a major disappointment here.

 
GRADE: C
    
DENVER (32-25) - The Nuggets have been in a permanent state of flux this year with all the above-mentioned Anthony (24.9 ppg) trade talk and so the return to the bench of boss-man George Karl-s about what we thought it would be - maybe Anthony stays puts and that-ll put a charge into the Mile High City.

CHARLOTTE (24-32) - The Bobcats have been frisky since replacing fossil-like Larry Brown on the sidelines with Paul Silas (just now signed to a one-year contract extension) but still the mindset this year was to play .500 and so we-re actually being kind here in giving out an "average" grade.

PHOENIX (27-26) - The Suns have been treading water all year long and something-s wrong with that picture 'cause (as ESPN graphics recently showed) PG Steve Nash is having one of his MVP-like seasons at 16.9 ppg and 11.3 apg. Maybe Alvin Gentry isn-t the right coach to be leading this all-finesse team.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (21-35) - Go ahead and watch all the Blake Griffin (22.7 ppg and 12.7 rpg) highlight reels you like, but this club still isn-t reaching the heights they should with rotten 5-21 road mark absolutely abysmal.

HOUSTON (26-31) - Another case where the individual pieces are better than the sum of its parts 'cause Kevin Martin (23.2 ppg) and Luis Scola (19.1 ppg) are legitimate stars but season-long loss of C Yao Ming (again!) after just five games just destroyed this club-s season.

UTAH (31-26) - A belated farewell goes out to one-time Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan who might have known what he was doing jumping off this ship ... maybe we-ll see more of rookie Gordon Hayward (3.6 ppg) the rest of the way (or maybe not!).

 
GRADE: D
    
DETROIT (21-36) - Maybe the less said the better about this now-wretched franchise that would be well-advised to move F Tayshaun Prince (14.4 ppg) for some younger pieces and/or draft picks.

MILWAUKEE (21-34) - Believe it or not, the Bucks sport six players scoring in double figures but they rarely get the big stop on "D" and they shoot it at just 42.5 percent from the floor. Ugh!

NEW JERSEY (17-40) - Anything is better than last year-s miserable season but you tell us which players are getting better on this awful squad? Bless your heart, coach Avery Johnson!

SACRAMENTO (13-40) - All the Kings- men can-t remind anyone at Arco Arena of the "good old days".

 
GRADE: F
    
CLEVELAND (10-46) - Maybe owner Dan Gilbert should have spent more time bulking up his club in the post-LeBron Era and less time agitating King James.

MINNESOTA (13-43) - Maybe you-ll laugh but there-s too much good, young talent on this Timberwolves team to be playing .232 ball. All-Star Kevin Love (21.1 ppg and 15.4 rpg) has been a nightly stat-sheet stuffer but when do they start playing like a team?

TORONTO (15-41) - The North-of-the-Border crew has five road wins and no hope. Okay, so scorer Andrea Bargnani (21.6 ppg) is one of the league-s more unsung offensive stars but his supporting cast is horrid.

WASHINGTON (15-39) - The fact that hot-shot rookie PG John Wall (14.7 ppg and 9.1 apg) has missed a dozen games surely has help to sink the Wizards and it-s safe to say this remains a "dead" franchise till further notice.

 

EXTRA, EXTRA: CATCH OUR COLLEGE BASKETBALL SATURDAY SIX-PACK OF GAME PREVIEWS INCLUDING THE BEST OF THE BRACKET BUSTER TILTS

By Jim Hurley:

When it comes to this 2010-11 College Basketball Season, we're not gonna pretend that we're the "computer" on Jeopardy - we don't have all the answers!

Still, we will say this:

The deeper and deeper we get into this month of February the more it's become obvious that there are more national championship contenders than the so-called experts claim to be.

In fact, we just heard one ESPN studio analyst - we won't "name names" but will admit we usually like what the guy has to offer - say that Kansas, Ohio State and Texas are head-and-shoulders better than the rest of what's out and that's simply an outlandish statement.

Ask us right here and right now just how many teams potentially could win six NCAA Tournament games and thus bring home the title and we'll list the three above-mentioned names along with Duke, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Syracuse, Louisville and, yes, even North Carolina. And there could be more but that's who comes rushing into our heads at this very moment.

Okay, so we omitted the likes of Top 10 teams San Diego State, BYU, Notre Dame and Georgetown - just don't think any of 'em right now have all the necessary ingredients to bring home the hardware - but to say that the country's #1, #2 and #3 teams in the current Associated Press rankings are far superior to the remainder of the NCAA Tourney field is preposterous.

Ahh, now we feel better!

We'll get to our Jim Sez Saturday Six-Pack of College Basketball Game Previews in just a second but first this important reminder:

Remember that Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the College Basketball and NBA Winners this winter week when you check in on Game Days anytime after 1 p.m. ET on Mondays-through-Fridays and after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays right here online or else at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453. Make sure to be with America's #1 Handicapper all through this thrilling and profitable b-ball ride that lasts till June!

THE COLLEGE BASKETBALL SATURDAY SIX-PACK

#4 PITTSBURGH (24-2, 12-1 Big East) at ST. JOHN'S (16-9, 8-5 Big East) - 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
Hey, there's real-live excitement inside Madison Square Garden for this bash between the Pitt Panthers and the born-again St. John's Red Storm - and that hasn't always been the case in recent years when the Johnnies were an abysmal outfit. However, the Steve Lavin Era has been met with major applause in/around Gotham City and now we'll see if SJU can make it four wins in a row following recent road triumphs at Cincinnati and Marquette along with that key home "W" versus Connecticut.

No doubt that Jamie Dixon's Panthers are on a real roll themselves - Pittsburgh's won 14 of its last 15 games including a gut-check 67-55 non-cover win against South Florida this past Wednesday night - but you do have to wonder when/if the absence of star G Ashton Gibbs (knee/missed last three games) is gonna catch up with the Steel City gang. If G Travon Goodall (20 points and just 1 turnover in the recent wins against West Virginia and Villanova) can heat up here and also provide some defensive heat on red-hot St. John's G Dwight Hardy, than Pitt could steamroll yet another conference foe.

#2 OHIO STATE (25-1, 12-1 Big 10) at #11 PURDUE (21-5, 12-3 Big 10) - 12 p.m. ET (Now scheduled for Sunday at 1pm ET)
One week ago there were the O-State Buckeyes sitting pretty with a perfect record but than came the final 13-plus minutes in Madison and any hopes of matching the unbeaten 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers went right out the window - hey, give Thad Matta's club credit for bouncing back gamely en route to last Tuesday's 71-61 non-cover win against Michigan State as G William Buford chucked in a game-high 23 points and the Buckeyes won despite netting just 21 FGs as compared to Michigan State's 27 made field goals.

Here, the 'Eyes will look to Player of the Year candidate F/C Jared Sullinger (just 11 points and 2 rebs in that win against "Sparty") to have a bounce-back game but that means he must make some key defensive stops against Purdue's JaJuan Johnson (20.7 ppg and 7.8 rpg) and no doubt this do-it-all big man is peaking right at this precise moment. One key to watch for here: Boilermakers PG Lewis Jackson didn't register a single turnover in Wednesday's 70-62 win/cover against 5-point underdog Wisconsin plus he contributed 18 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds in that tilt and anything near that sort of performance here could allow Matt Painter's guys to snag another key home win at Mackey Arena.

#8 NOTRE DAME (21-4, 10-3 Big East) at WEST VIRGINIA (16-9, 7-6 Big East) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
It's great to see/hear how many folks are endorsing Notre Dame guard Ben Hansbrough as Big East Player of the Year - but you better believe that Mike Brey's ND Fighting Irish is much more than a one-man wrecking crew.
Hansbrough (17.3 ppg and 4.1 apg) has been merely spectacular this season but underrated F Carleton Scott (11.8 ppg and 6.9 rpg) has been a consistent force and keep in mind the Irish now have had the past week to prep for this clash in Morgantown following last Sunday's epic 78-55 win at 5-point underdog South Florida - heck, that one was 41-17 at halftime as Scott's solid 13-point, 11-board effort paved the way to one of the Big East's few-and-far-between blowout games this season.

On the flip side, West Virginia blew a five-point halftime lead in last Monday's 63-52 meltdown loss at 5 ½-point fav Syracuse and the 'Neers now are getting dangerously close to blowing a potential at-large bid to next month's NCAAs. Bob Huggins' squad has dropped three of its last four games overall and this is now one of the true "got-to-have-it" games against a Top 10 club. Keep in mind West Virginia's at Pittsburgh and than at Rutgers to close out the month of February before regular-season-ending home games against Connecticut and Louisville. Yup, that's truly a brutal stretch of games.
 
WASHINGTON (18-7, 10-4 Pac-10) at #12 ARIZONA (22-4, 11-2 Pac-10) - 6 p.m. ET, ESPN
The cream of the Pac-10 crop square off in Tucson here and one thing that 'Zona head coach has on his mind is don't let any of the UW Huskies "go off" here - note that in Thursday's 79-70 win/cover versus 8-point underdog Washington State, the Cougars' Klay Thompson rattled in a game-high 30 points and that had the Wildcats worried sick before icing matters by making 24-of-26 free throws. No doubt "trips to the line" will be a key stat here as Arizona F Derrick Williams (12-of-12 from the charity stripe against Wash State en route to a 26-point outing) needs to stay super-aggressive against a Huskies team that leads the Pac-10 in scoring (85.6 ppg) and isn't afraid to unleash an all-out offensive assault starring G Isaiah Thomas (16.8 ppg) and F Matthew Bryan-Amaning (16 ppg). If Lorenzo Romar's Dawgs have their way, this game will be in the mid-to-high 90s. Stay tuned.
 
BOSTON COLLEGE (16-9, 6-5 ACC) at #19 NORTH CAROLINA (19-6, 9-2 ACC) - 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
It's true. Not many in-the-know folks believe that this year's all-too-young North Carolina Tar Heels could win it all this April but consider the following: The Chapel Hill crew still could win the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season crown - they're a game-and-a-half back of Duke (11-1) and the Blue Devils own the tie-breaker but the archrivals meet again on March 5th and right now Roy Williams' Heels have won seven of their last eight games including five double-digit triumphs during this time. No doubt freshman F Harrison Barnes (13.6 ppg) has been steady if not always spectacular but it's oft-overlooked big man Tyler Zeller (14.5 ppg) who leads this Carolina club in scoring and his inside presence here figures to be way too much for the BC Eagles to handle in this encounter inside the famed "Dean Dome".

P.S., keep in mind that the last time these clubs collided was back on Feb. 1st when North Carolina cruised to an easy 106-74 win at Chestnut Hill as the Heels shot a blistering 39-of-68 from the field (that's 57.4 percent) and the Barnes/Zeller tandem combined for 44 points while Boston College shot just 35.3 percent from the floor and star G Reggie Jackson was a silent 2-of-10 from the floor ... ouch!

And in the top Bracket Buster game on Saturday, it's ...

#25 UTAH STATE (24-2, 12-0 WAC) at SAINT MARY'S (22-5, 10-2 West Coast Conference) - 9 p.m. ET, espn2
Count us among the folks generally disappointed in the matchups the College B-Ball folks hand us on Bracket Buster Weekend but not this year: This is no doubt the pick of the litter on a Saturday that also includes George Mason at Northern Iowa and Missouri State at Valpo but here's the coup-de-grace game in prime time no less and it comes with a little extra spice now that Saint Mary's is fresh off Wednesday's resounding 74-66 loss at 16 ½-point home underdog San Diego.

Now, the WCC gang must re-gather its forces and get ready to play one of the most patient teams in America - no doubt Utah State's careful offensive sets helps along the way in making the Aggies one of the better points-per-game teams on defense (seventh nationally while allowing 58.6 ppg) but if the road folks are gonna get win #25 here than freshman PG Brockeith Pane must stay composed in this hostile setting and so let's see if he can keep his turnover total under a handful here.

NOTE: Get more College Basketball Updates in the next edition of Jim Sez.

19
Nov

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