Western Conference Midseason Grades
NOW IT'S TIME FOR THE NBA WESTERN CONFERENCE REPORT CARD GRADES
PLUS SUNDAY'S KEY COLLEGE GAMES AS WE CHECK OUT ILLINOIS AT #5 WISCONSIN AND CAL AT #11 UTAH
Okay, so we get it: The NBA's Western Conference is loaded (as usual) - there's seven teams playing .642-or-better ball and right now there's actually 10 teams in the West playing winning ball as opposed to the Eastern Conference where a mere six teams have their heads over the .500 mark.
Yup, same old/same old. Still, that doesn't mean we're about set to hand out a bunch of "A+" and "A" grades here, so get ready for our Jim Sez All-Star Game Report Card Grades for the NBA's Western Conference:
GOLDEN STATE (42-9) - Thanks to Atlanta's recent "slump", it's the G-State Warriors who represent the only team in Commish Adam Silver's league that's playing better-than-.800 ball these days and that's pretty astounding stuff considering there's a first-time head coach in place in Steve Kerr (the West's head coach in this Sunday's All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden) and two of the team's key pieces - F David Lee and C Andrew Bogut -- have missed a combined 38 games with injury woes. Okay, so G Stephon Curry (23.6 ppg and 7.0 apg) is your league MVP at this very moment and sharpshooter Klay Thompson (22.1 ppg) is shooting a sizzling 44 percent from beyond the arc but real diff-makers here include do-it-all F Draymond Green and key reserve G Shaun Livingston who locks up lots of enemy shooters. Is this team ready to make a long run through the playoffs? Stay tuned.
MEMPHIS (39-14) - Hey, about the only thing keeping the Grizzlies from getting an "A+" grade here is the fact they're just 6-5 in division play but otherwise this defense-first, well-balanced unit plays the team game that seemingly is making an NBA comeback and take note that there are four players averaging between 15.9 ppg and 18.3 ppg including Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and recently-acquired G Jeff Green. Throw into the mix the Grizz leads the NBA in points-per-game defense (95.7 ppg) and never gets outhustled and you can see why brilliant/still-underrated head coach David Joerger is getting rave reviews 'round the league from just about everyone but old coach Lionel Hollins!
HOUSTON (36-17) - True, the Rockets have been the picture of consistency with an 18-8 home record and an 18-9 road mark but gotta say we figured Kevin McHale's crew would be in the upper crust of the West standings although doing so lately without an injured Dwight Howard (he's now missed 21 games) is somewhat amazing. Scorer James Harden (27.4 ppg) is our league MVP runner-up right now behind Mr. Curry but all these recent 40-point games makes you wonder if he's gonna wind up having a Michael Jordan-like career ... hmmm.
OKLAHOMA CITY (28-25) - Okay, so we were tempted to hand out our first-ever INC (as in "Incomplete" grade) to this Thunder bunch but on second thought the 27 games missed by Kevin Durant (25.9 ppg) and the 14 games missed by G Russell Westbrook (25.8 ppg) wasn't enough to go there but we will give oft-criticized head coach Scott Brooks major props for keeping this otherwise no-name bunch on the same page. Keep in mind that OKC entered this All-Star Game break just half-game back of Phoenix for the eighth-and-final playoff berth in the West.
DALLAS (36-19) - The Mavericks have remade their team around 13-time All-Star F Dirk Nowitzki (18.3 ppg) and gotta say Rick Carlisle's club has been better than we thought with the league's third-best offense (106.3 ppg) combining with a mentally-tougher defensive team starring C Tyson Chandler. Now, we'll see if the in-season addition of PG Rajon Rondo makes 'em an "A+" type team from this point of the season on.
NEW ORLEANS (27-26) - Lots to like about this Pelicans team that is a solid 19-14 versus fellow Western Conference clubs as superstar Anthony Davis (24.5 ppg and 10.3 rpg) has been terrific even though he's missed seven games and heady G Jrue Holiday (15.2 ppg) has been a true revelation. The Pels need to bone up on defense and step up their road play (see 10-16) but let's just say N'Orleans is a year-or-so ahead of schedule.
PORTLAND (36-17) - As is the case with the Rockets, the Portland Trail Blazers have had to wing it at times without its star big man LaMarcus Aldridge (team-leading 23.6 ppg) who's missed six games because of thumb-related issues but the scoring exploits of Damon Lillard (21.5 ppg) and streaky Wesley Matthews (16.4 ppg) has helped keep the "Rip City" gang afloat. Still, would like to see Portland play better on the road where it's just 13-12 so far.
SAN ANTONIO (34-19) - If you add up all the games missed because of injuries or "recovery time" then you'll see the Spurs' stars - that's Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard -- have missed a grand total of 44 games and so that figures into this grade for the defending champs that might wind up regretting the fact they didn't play better/harder in this 2014-15 regular season. Still, the Spurs still sport the league's best scoring defense (96.7 ppg) and entered this All-Star Game break having won seven of its last 10 games.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (35-19) - It's hard to criticize a team that's 16 games above .500 but the here-and-now Clips just don't show us enough in "big spots" and they spend way too much time whining about referee calls (see PG Chris Paul and his recent rant against a female official). The Clips are just 14-12 on the road and just 13-11 against the inferior Eastern Conference and so this "average grade" is all Doc Rivers' club gets with lots of room for March/April/May improvement.
UTAH (19-34) - The Jazz has loads of problems these days besides the fact it's way back in the playoff chase as big man Enes Kantner wants out but the reality is Utah's played pretty much as expected (and thus the "C" grade) with Gordon Hayward (19.7 ppg) showing more consistency these days and Derrick Favors (8.1 rpg) finally coming around.
PHOENIX (29-25) - Not quite sure what's happened to this Suns' club that could well deal away scoring guard Goran Dragic to Houston by week's end. Phoenix has lost seven of its last 10 games and word of this squad being "soft" again is being tossed around the league. P.S., shouldn't star G Eric Bledsoe actually be scoring more than a team-best 17.2 ppg based on his nifty 45 percent accuracy rate from the floor?
SACRAMENTO (18-34) - The hire of NBA lifer coach George Karl should work wonders for the Kings who have staggered about for much of the season's first 50-plus games (see 2-8 in the last 10) but will disciplinarian Karl see eye-to-eye with star C DeMarcus "Boogie" Cousins (23.8 ppg and 12.4 rpg)?
MINNESOTA (11-42) - One would have thought all the high draft picks in recent years would have born some fruit but this remains a real train wreck franchise and the only reason we didn't hand 'em an "F" is because the Timberwolves were only supposed to 25 or 26 games. How does 6-21 at home strike you!
DENVER (20-33) - One of the real rare underachievers in the NBA's Western Conference, the Nuggets have losing records at both home and away and even the exploits of PG Ty Lawson (16.9 ppg) have not been able to save this sorry bunch.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS (13-40) - Was it just a handful of years ago that the Lakers won back-to-back titles (see 2009 and 2010) but now this franchise is junksville and the product put on the court nightly is a disgrace. As we said in one Jim Sez last week, go ahead and name the Lakers' starting five these days ... we dare you!
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will keep on piling up the profits all this week/month with lots of NBA and NCAA Basketball winners right here online or at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 - so go ahead and win with all the hardwood action today!
SUNDAY'S KEY COLLEGE GAMES
ILLINOIS (17-8, 7-5 Big 10) at #5 WISCONSIN (22-2, 10-1 Big 10) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
So, what can the Illinois Fighting Illini do for an encore after scoring 21 of the game's final 23 points in Thursday's 64-52 overtime win against 7 ½-point underdog Michigan? Well, John Groce's gang - winners of four in a row - still could use a "signature" win to wrap up an NCAA Tournament berth and this trip to Madison would qualify but the Badgers also have bigger fish to fry as Wisky would love to net a #1 seed in next month's "Big Dance" and here it shoots for an eight straight win -- the Badgers have not lost since a January 11th game at Rutgers when National Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky sat out with concussion-like symptoms.
CALIFORNIA (16-9, 6-6 Pac-12) at #11 UTAH (19-4, 9-2 Pac-12) - 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
The Utes have won three in a row and 12 of their last 14 games heading into this conference clash but get a load of this: Larry Krystkowiak's club just held Stanford to 37.7 percent shooting in Thursday's 75-59 win/cover against the 10 ½-point dog Cardinal and Utah reserve C Dallin Bachynski chipped in 13 points and 6 boards in 23 key minutes and he'll be a key figure here against a Cal club that ranks a lowly 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring (66.6 ppg).
NOTE: Catch up with all our College Basketball News & Notes plus more NBA in the next edition of Jim Sez.
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