Posted Dec 25 2009 9:54AM
The lists were made. They were checked over twice. So who came away from Christmas morning feeling naughty or nice?
Nice. The Hawks have turned the preseason Big Three of the Eastern Conference into a Fab Four. Al Horford is undersized, Mike Woodson is underappreciated and their point differential -- trailing only the Celtics and Lakers -- is largely unknown.
Nice. Kevin Garnett is steadily making his way back into form and Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo give the Celtics as formidable a starting lineup as exists in the league. Nice addition if they can keep the naughty one Rasheed Wallace from blowing his top in the playoffs.
Naughty. So now they can score more points with the addition of Stephen Jackson. But the Bobcats don't really know what to do with Boris Diaw, dug themselves a hole with another poor start and remain hapless on the road.
Naughty. Was it eight months or eight years ago when the Bulls were locked in that classic battle with Boston? John Salmons is no Ben Gordon and the Bulls have put coach Vinny Del Negro in peril by failing to compete. See: 35-point lead blown to Sacramento.
Nice. There's an assortment of numbers that can be trotted out to prove the Cavs are better this season. There are times on the floor when that doesn't seem true. But LeBron and Shaq are getting along fabulously and they'll have everything straightened out by spring.
Nice. If Josh Howard ever gets healthy and back on the floor, the Mavs have the deepest roster top to bottom in the league. They're a team that's only going to be appreciated over the long haul. The Mavs could stand to shoot better for a team with so many weapons.
Nice. It took them five years to get over the hump and out of the first round in the playoffs. Now the Nuggets take the floor with a swagger and a confidence, not to mention the early MVP of the season in Carmelo Anthony.
Nice. For a team that's played most of the season without Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince and then lost Rodney Stuckey right after he was named Eastern Conference player of the week, the Pistons have played hard and kept themselves in the playoff picture.
Naughty. There may not have been enough coal in West Virginia to fill these stockings. Don Nelson's illness made him as sick as Warrior fans who had to wretch at the Stephen Jackson fiasco and now are pained by what's happening with Anthony Randolph in another lost season.
Nice. A season that began with no Yao Ming or Tracy McGrady has produced a high-energy, share-the-ball, never-quit attitude that has made the Rockets a joy to watch and put them in the thick of the playoff race. They never take a night off and that's always nice.
Naughty. Yes, they've had to deal with the injuries of Mike Dunleavy and Danny Granger. Yes, they are hamstrung now by the limit on Dunleavy's minutes. Yes, there have been good showings by Roy Hibbert. But they rolled over on West Coast trip and should be better.
Nice. Never mind the sub-.500 record and dismiss the talk of the Clipper Jinx. Despite playing all season without Blake Griffin and then losing point guard Eric Gordon, they're hanging tough in the West and have a chance to make a move with a healthy lineup in January.
Nice. What's not to like about the defending champions? At 31, Kobe Bryant is driven to add to his ring collection and improve on his legacy, Pau Gasol is a force up front and signed on for three more years and if they win again, Phil Jackson will likely stick around too.
Nice. Talk about a turnaround. In the wake of the Allen Iverson fiasco, they limped out of Houston 1-8 after a 25-point whipping on Nov. 11. Since then, they've had a team meeting, a real commitment to playing hard and have taken down the Mavs, Cavs and Nuggets.
Naughty. After striking out to improve the roster in the off-season, the Heat are stunningly mediocre. Now Pat Riley is questioning the conditioning of Dwyane Wade. That all adds up to the worst home-court record among playoff contenders and real concern about the future.
Nice. Admittedly, the bar was pretty low here. But the 55 points rookie Brandon Jennings dropped on the heads of the Warriors put the Bucks back on the NBA map and even got them on ESPN for the first time in two years. Now they have to pull together and make the playoffs.
Naughty. It certainly didn't help to lose Kevin Love for the start of the season. But was that really an excuse for following up a win on opening night win with a 15-game losing streak? Al Jefferson's back and Jonny Flynn's doing his best to help GM David Kahn forget Brandon Jennings.
Naughty. The standard line of thinking was that things would get better when the injured Devin Harris and Courtney Lee returned to the lineup. But that hasn't happened and now the atmosphere is dire with the Nets a real threat to sink below the Sixers' all-time worst record of 9-73.
Naughty. It didn't take long for the uninspired Hornets to get coach Byron Scott bounced from his job, maybe because they tired of hearing him telling them the truth. They're going in the right direction again, but a long way from the team that won 56 games in 2007-08.
Naughty. Or nice. What does it matter when you've essentially written off two entire seasons for a game plan that intends to buy a contender in the free agent market next summer? Will LeBron James be in New York by next season? Will Nate Robinson be off the bench by then?
Nice. A year ago at this time, the Thunder had three wins and an interim coach who was trying to lead them out of the darkness. Now the young core of Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook has its heads above water and are swimming to a bright future.
Nice. Coach Stan Van Gundy won't be happy until the Magic are celebrating a championship and, truth is, then he'll probably be complaining that the parade is too slow. But he's trying not to be negative and, as long as Dwight Howard is healthy, it's all positive here.
Naughty. Things were so desperate that the Sixers tried to turn back the clock with Allen Iverson and that did nothing to jumpstart their season. Louis Williams sat with a broken jaw. Elton Brand is unhappy with his role. Coach Eddie Jordan juggles the lineup. And nothing has worked.
Nice. They give up more points than any team in the league, but the Suns score more than everyone else too. Steve Nash's numbers are better than his MVP seasons and the fun has returned to the desert, where Phoenix is almost-perfect at home on the season.
Naughty. Well, it seemed like a good idea to bring in free agent Andre Miller. But the grumbling about roles in the backcourt began from Day One and then Greg Oden's latest injury cast a pall over what was supposed to be a breakout season. Now the Blazers try not to sink.
Nice. While Brandon Jennings got the headlines with his 55 points, nobody in Sacramento is complaining about formidable rookie Tyreke Evans. Without injured Kevin Martin, the Kings play hard for Paul Westphal and Geoff Petrie as the 35-point comeback in Chicago proved.
Naughty. In the bright sun of the summertime, it appeared that the Spurs had made all the right moves to challenge the Lakers in the West. But Richard Jefferson still struggles to fit, Manu Ginobili isn't fully healthy and Tony Parker has slipped. So have the Spurs. Badly.
Naughty. The high point of their season came on opening night when they beat LeBron and the Cavs. Since then the Raptors have often been ordinary and sometimes awful. Hedo Turkoglu has not had the impact that was expected and none of this bodes well for keeping Chris Bosh.
Naughty. Every time you want to say that the Jazz have learned their lessons and turned a corner, they go out and lay an egg. That was a skillet full of omelet in Atlanta. Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer have to stop apologizing and start bringing it every night.
Naughty. Well, as long as Congress is in sesson, the Wizards will never be the most under-performing group in the nation's capital. But this team that many had ticketed for the playoffs is confused, bickering and going nowhere. Just like Congress.
Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here.
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