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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Making the grade: All 30 NBA teams get their marks for Fall Semester

Whether I’m watching Kobe Bryant jack up more bad shots than a Utah bartender or betting that the Jazz won’t break 80 at home, I enjoy nothing more than sitting down to some NBA action with a couple cold brews on a cold winter night.

OK, maybe I enjoy some things more, but at the end of my day, I undoubtedly prefer a Celtics-Sonics clash to an economics night class-which partly explains why I now have about a 34 percent chance of suffering a heart attack over the next two weeks.

As Finals Week approaches, and, as former A&E editor Foster Kamer wrote at this time last year, “orange-colored tissues scatter the ground,” pressure is heating up around the NBA, too. Here’s a look at how teams have made the grade so far in 2005-2006:

Top of the class:

Detroit (13-2)-Two months ago, I wrote that the Pistons would falter without Larry Brown. Fifteen games later, playing with a chip the size of Latrell Sprewell’s rims on their shoulders, the Pistons lead the league with a plus 8.2 point differential per game. So, basically, I suck.

San Antonio (13-3)-With Michael Finley still adjusting to part-time duties, Manu Ginobili injured and Tim Duncan limited to his typical low-key early season role, the Spurs are still tougher to stop than Anna Nicole Smith at an all-you-can-eat buffet. TrimSpa, anybody?


(12-5)-The acquisition of Damon Stoudamire and his 5-foot bong has had surprisingly positive effects on the young Grizzlies. Even so, it doesn’t seem quite right to put them on a level with such rarefied company. Besides the fact that Pau Gasol looks like a guerrilla fighter, the Grizz don’t have much that would scare a good defense in an important game.

Dallas (11-5)-The Mavs still couldn’t guard a beefeater. With that said, Josh Howard, Marquis Daniels, Devin Harris and DaSagana Diop all figure to improve even more as the season continues. By playoff time, Avery Johnson’s squad could run deeper than Keith Van Horn’s hairline.

Cleveland (10-6)-Everyone’s complaining that LeBron is shooting too often these days. Funny, every single Cav starter is averaging double figures while James is shooting a respectable .479 on those “excessive” shots of his. Nobody told Rambo to stop shooting. Lay off LBJ.

Indiana (10-6)-To anybody else who saw the Pacers absolutely annihilate the Jazz at the Delta Center the other night-what’s the next step? Should we start a support group or something? At least 10,000 men were simultaneously emasculated. There are no precedents here-help me out.

Miami (10-7)-Jason Williams and Antoine Walker seem to be much better fits in Vice City than anybody expected, while Dwayne Wade (25.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 6.8 apg) is cementing his status as the best sub-6-foot-6 talent of this era. With Alonzo Mourning chipping in an absurd 4.0 blocks in just 28.6 minutes per game, the Heat have all the makings of a contender, even without Shaq.

Off probation:

Golden State (12-6)-Baron Davis has solidified the Warriors as legitimate playoff contenders in the West. Still, the Warriors went 34-48 last season, and they’ll need Jason Richardson to keep up his All Star impersonation (22.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg) to contend through April.

L.A. Clippers (11-5)-Brand/Cassell/Maggette is the best three-way threat to hit L.A. since “The Bachelor’s” last casting call. Penny-pinching GM Elgin Baylor might even discover that playoff games and sellout crowds are a good way to make money, too.

Milwaukee (9-6)-I’m officially on the bandwagon. Even without the high comedy of Andrew Bogut looking like a demented 7-foot magpie with that plastic mask on his face, this is just an interesting team to watch. And it should continue to improve as a slew of traditional half-court players adjust to T.J. Ford’s torrid offensive pace.

Minnesota (9-6)-Kevin Garnett has single-handedly carried the Timberwolves to the top of the lackluster Northwest Division. He’s going to have a tough time keeping them there, though. With Sam Cassell gone, Garnett’s only help is Wally Szczerbiak, who leads the league in consonant percentage (73.3 percent).

New Orleans/Oklahoma City (8-8)-Rookie point guard Chris Paul (16.9 ppg, 6.8 apg, 5.6 rpg, 2.06 spg) would be a legitimate All Star threat if his name were on the ballot. Nonetheless, that a .500 start through 16 games is considered a pleasant surprise says a lot about any team that prominently features Chris Anderson.

Right on the curve:

Phoenix (10-5)-The Suns are beginning to find that Leandro Barbosa (15.7 ppg in just 25.8 mpg) is better as a shooting guard than as Steve Nash’s backup. At 6-foot-8, swingman Boris Diaw (11.1 ppg, 6.2 apg, 6.0 rpg) has also emerged as a nice surprise. When Amare Stoudamire comes back, the Suns will be poised for another title shot.

Denver (9-9)-Carmelo Anthony’s third-season numbers are eerily similar to seasons one and two, and it’s kind of tough to see where all this so-called potential for improvement is. I suppose that when he adds another 20 pounds in each of the next five years and stops showing emotion altogether, he’ll be really good, right?

Seattle (8-8)-The Sonics no longer surprise anybody by outworking opponents for rebounds and open shots. At least that’s what I assume is going on. I don’t watch the Sonics.

Chicago (8-7)-Ben Gordon really should start. He should start passing, start taking better shots and start keeping his thoughts to himself until he can get his field-goal percentage above .400. Yes, it’s kind of ridiculous to sit your best player on the bench, but it’s also kind of ridiculous to have an undersized shooting guard who can’t defend other twos as your best player.

Philadelphia (8-10)-That is unless you’re Mo Cheeks, of course. Allen Iverson’s numbers-34.2 ppg, 7.7 apg, .451 FG percent-are straight out of a video game. Chris Webber is playing well again, and Andre Iguodala is a great third option. Unfortunately, their fourth guy is Kyle Korver, and it gets worse from there.

Orlando (7-9)-Dwight Howard has become a bona fide force underneath. I’m still a little distraught that he already lost the braces, but it’s all good if he continues to average 13 rebounds a night, I guess. At least Steve Francis still looks like a barracuda.

New Jersey (7-9)-I haven’t seen Jason Kidd’s son in a while. How big is his head at this point? Should Arvydas Sabonis be worried about the world record?

Pleading for a


Washington (7-8)-Gilbert Arenas is fourth in the league in scoring, but critics are calling for the talented guard to involve his teammates more. Many of them are the same critics who applauded his quirky introverted approach last year, when the Wizards never needed to force shots to get things going. He is who he is.

Boston (7-9)-Paul Pierce is playing out of his mind (27 ppg on 50 percent shooting and 9.1 rpg), and it doesn’t seem to be quite enough in Boston. So how bad is it going to get when Pierce starts pouting and criticizing management again?

L.A. Lakers (7-9)-Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant lend a championship feel to meaningless games. Players expect Kobe to make ridiculous shots at the end of games, and they expect the Lakers to go on extended runs whenever they’re down. It’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy thing. I know they’re terrible now, but Phil/Kobe is a great foundation. Jerry Buss hasn’t gone totally insane, yet.

Utah (7-10)-Larry Miller is right to sit out games. He spent the cash to assemble a well-rounded team that should be competitive. There’s no excuse for Utah to be as bad as it is. Rookie Deron Williams has been its only consistently dependable crunch-time player. Jerry Sloan hasn’t faced much criticism for Utah’s woes, but that will change if he still fails to generate anything offensively when Carlos Boozer returns.

Impending dropouts:

Sacramento (7-10)-Mike Bibby is a better player than anybody’s ever given him credit for. There you go, Mike Bibby. There’s your credit. Enjoy never playing in a big
game again.

New York (5-11)-As much as you hear about Larry Brown and the Knicks, you’d think they won the past five titles. I’ll stop contributing to that problem right now….

Portland (5-11)-At least Sebastian Telfair’s evolving skills give poor Blazers fans something to look forward to in the grim near future. Except, of course, the whiners. The whiners will be right in their element for years to come.

Toronto (3-15)-There’s an NBA team in Toronto? Shut up!

Atlanta (2-14)-The other night I got a text message at 2 a.m. that read “TAD THAGM.” “TAD THAGM” makes about as much sense to me as collecting small forwards as though you’re holding a police lineup. What gives? By my count, there were at least 10 guys in last year’s draft who would’ve been worth more to the Hawks than Marvin Williams.


Houston (4-12)-Without T-Mac, the Rockets’ awful start is void. However, to all the forecasters who thought Yao Ming would revolutionize the league: Yao is no Shaq. Not even close. Rik Smits at best.

Charlotte (5-13)-You can’t fault an expansion team for refusing to waste dough on big-name free agents.

Bernie Bickerstaff has assembled a nice group in Charlotte. Sean May is going to be a Barkley-like presence underneath when he sees more time, believe me. It’s tough to understand why the Final Four MVP even went as late as 13th in the draft. Oh yeah, because he wasn’t a legitimate 6-foot-10. That makes sense-about as much sense as my econ finals.

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