After 50 games, are they who we thought they were? Let's assess each team's season so far, taking into account its preseason goals.
Second semester report cards
Raptors: After a 2-8 start, Team Canada has left the Titanic wreckage behind with an ideal combination of Bosh, grit, Euro know-how and dynamic point guard play. Someday they may even get on TV. Grade: A
Nets: Charles Barkley picked New Jersey to win the Eastern Conference. And there's nothing the Nets could use more than Prime Chuck right now to provide some muscle in the middle. Grade: D
Knicks: From what I hear, the Bockers are bouncing back ... yeah, with a 36-win pace and a "star" center who averages seven boards. Grade: C
Sixers: A tale of two seasons, and of two Andres, who are finding that happiness is A.I. and C-Webb in your rearview mirror. Grade: D-plus
Celtics: A 16-game losing streak gets an F, but the C's are developing their promising kiddies (and positioning themselves for Lottery Love). Grade: C-minus
Pistons: No jackrabbit start this season, which is probably for the best. Maybe this year slow and steady wins the East, as in 2004 and 2005. So far, the C-Webb addition has provided a chemical boost. Grade: B
Cavaliers: There's plenty of concern in Cleveland, and for good reason, but the team is still on a pace to win 47 games and they still have LeBron. If they can make the offense functional, they're dangerous. Grade: C
Bulls: Scary, deep, gritty ... and inconsistent. If they can find a higher offensive gear, or get another scorer, they can take the conference. Grade: B
Pacers: Controversy aside, Indiana is a serious sleeper, having won six of nine and standing just four games back of conference-leading Detroit. Grade: C
Bucks: Redd's injury derailed a promising run, meaning Milwaukee is probably left to hope for a favorable bounce of the ping-pong balls, a la 2005. Grade: D
Wizards: Plenty of thrills, but ... 'til 'Tawn's return, even Agent Zero and Caron can't produce those 110-a-night pointfests. Grade: B-plus
Magic: They once led the conference, but now it's not clear that this odd collection can avoid the lottery -- which has been a disaster for Orlando the past two years. Grade: B-minus
Heat: D-Wade's giving his all, but the rest of these under-.500 jokers are once again making a mockery of the regular season . . . and apparently getting away with it. Grade: C-minus
Hawks: The Bouncing Baby Hawks have put together enough highlights to serve the legacy of Dominque and Spud Webb well. It's not clear they have a team, though. Grade: C
Bobcats: Some nice pieces and nice wins for MJ's squad, but Morrison's catastrophic season has undone a lot of good work by Okafor, Wallace, May and Carroll. Grade: C-minus
Mavericks: The perfect team for the long haul of the season? Not as spectacular as the Suns, but the reigning West champs seem to have the winning formula. Grade: A-plus
Spurs: Sleeping giants or fading stars? The Spurs still spook the West, but no one imagined they'd be seven games back and trying to stay out of the fifth seed. Grade: B-minus
Rockets: The NBA's most overlooked team has thrived with Yao sidelined, as T-Mac's back and Van Gundy's D have made them the West's best dark horse. Grade: A-minus
Hornets: Somehow the Hornets -- apparently supported by Byron Scott's backbone -- have stayed in the playoff race even with injuries to a number of key players, including CP3. Grade: B
Grizzlies: They have the worst record, play no D, fired their coach, tried and failed to sell the team, and are trying to trade their disenchanted star. Funny thing is, you can see the seeds for a quick turnaround if they can make some savvy deals and get lucky in the lottery. Grade: F-plus
Jazz: The occasional controversy aside, this has been an almost perfect bounce-back year for Sloan's style of ball, with players like Boozer, Williams and Okur working his methodical system. Grade: A-minus
Nuggets: We really won't know about this team until we see Iverson and Melo play together for a stretch. Question: Can their offense overcome their defense? Grade: Incomplete
Timberwolves: There have been bright spots, but Minnesota needs a good look in the mirror. Despite some dramatic wins and a new coach, they're still out of the playoffs. Grade: C-minus
Trail Blazers: Yes, it's been a very encouraging season, and, yes, we're grading on a curve, but the new and improved Blazers are still somewhere shy of mediocre. Love those rooks, though! Grade: B-minus
SuperSonics: No organization west of Atlanta seems more lost in space. Coming or going? Buying or selling? Building or rebuilding? Hill or Wilkens? And what of Ray and Rashard? Grade: D-plus
Suns: Their depth is an issue, but otherwise the Sublime Six -- Nash, Marion, Amare, Diaw, Bell, Barbosa -- and D'Antoni are having a dream season and re-creating the game. Grade: A-plus
Lakers: It's not quite clear yet what they've got there, but Phil and Kobe's big achievement is that the league takes the Lakers seriously once again. Should be a formidable playoff foe. Grade: A-minus
Clippers: They're slow, uninspired, and overrated, and yet the Clips have climbed back into the race and could give a smaller team like Phoenix trouble in the postseason -- again. Grade: C
Warriors: No team is more fun to watch, as long as you're not too hung up on winning and losing. They play faster than Phoenix, no lie. Grade: C
Kings: They're infuriating to watch, with the kind of chemistry you see in the last pickup game of the night. If there's a program, Artest and Bibby aren't with it. Grade: D
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Two years ago, the Bucks selected Andrew Bogut over Chris Paul as the first pick in the draft. So this coast-to-coast drive past Earl Boykins (background), Bogut and the Bucks must have been sweet for the Hornets guard, especially since it tied the game 90-90 in the last second of regulation. The Hornets eventually won in two OTs.
The Orlando Magic are slipping, and Chad Ford talks to Magic GM Otis Smith about their problems. Hear what Smith has to say about Darko Milicic, J.J. Redick, Fran Vasquez, Dwight Howard and the rest of the gang in Orlando.
• Listen: Daily Dish with Chad Ford
Sometimes what readers want to know from David Thorpe of Scouts Inc. is how they can improve their game when they go to the gym ...
Jay (Chapel Hill, NC): What is the best way to get the "spring" back into your legs after not playing for several months?
David Thorpe: Assuming you once had spring, then just start working out slowly but increase the duration and intensity every few days.
Terence (Raleigh, NC): Hey David, I am trying to improve my vertical leap for shot blocking, rebounding, and just getting above the rim. What's the most efficient training exercise for this?
David Thorpe: Lots of sprinting and 2 foot vertical jumps. Also be sure to trim excess fat.
Octavio, (Panama City, Panama): Hello David, we got love for you down here!!! Hey, how many hours or shots do you have your pro players take daily for practice?
David Thorpe: No set number -- but plan on spending hours as opposed to minutes.
Webber, Pistons outpace Kobe, Lakers
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It was that kind of night for Detroit: Even mild-mannered Rip Hamilton threw down in the Pistons' 93-78 dissection of the Lakers.
Quote of the Day
-- Royce Webb
Chad Ford's Thursday chat was a treasure trove of trade talk:
Chad Ford: I really think folks should watch them closely. The team is playing well enough that it's worth exploring. Teams like the Magic and Raptors have an abundance of point guards right now.
Chad Ford: No ... I think the consensus around the league is that KG isn't going anywhere. The Wolves are respectable enough that they'll keep trying to bail out the ship with KG at the helm.
I think what's happening with Gasol is that the Bulls are waiting until we get closer to the deadline to put their best offer forward for Gasol. They don't want Jerry West shopping or leaking their offer around the league.
I think they'll make one more push for him around Feb 20 and then we'll see if it's enough.
I remain in the camp that says West will only pull the trigger if it's a good deal for Memphis ... but owner Michael Heisley may force his hand.
Robbie (Chicago): So, Chad, if you were Paxson, what would be your final offer to the Grizz for Gasol?
Chad Ford: Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas and P. J. Brown. That gives West two young lottery picks and more cap relief. I wouldn't include Luol Deng in a trade.
If the Grizz wanted the lottery pick of the Knicks instead of Thomas, I do that as long as it was top-two protected.
Chad Ford: To me the Sonics are the sleeper team. They're going nowhere. Lewis can opt out of his deal this summer and the Sonics could lose him for nothing. Ray Allen is in the same situation as Paul Pierce, great player on a bad team. And the Sonics aren't quite bad enough to earn one of the top 2 picks.
The whole situation reeks of fire sale ... but it has been eerily quiet. If I was a GM looking to get a star injection at the trade deadline, I'd be calling Rick Sund.
Chad Ford: They're trying to move Nene ... but he has one of the worst contracts in the league right now ... good luck.
Chad Ford: They remind me a little of the Celtics in that the team is filled with young assets, but I'm not really sure they have a team. I actually think they have more talent than Boston which suggests that they could be players.
Zach Randolph is the guy they'd like to move, but other teams are targeting some combo of LaMarcus Aldridge, Travis Outlaw and the expiring contract of Jamaal Magloire.
February 9, 1992
For his memorable effort, Johnson was honored with the second All-Star Game MVP award of his career.
-- ESPN Research
It was the furthest into a game that Bryant failed to take shot since Dec. 3, 2004.
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