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NBA report card: Grading the recent performances of five standout teams

Monday 11 March 2019 15:52, UK

NBA Report Card

Every Monday, we look back over the previous week of NBA action and put five teams under the microscope as we grade their recent performances.

As the NBA regular season enters its final month, who is peaking at the right time for a playoff run and who can't wait for the season to be over?

Detroit Pistons (34-31, Week 21 record 3-0) Grade - B+

Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons shoots the ball against the Minnesota Timberwolves 1:26
Highlights of the Minnesota Timberwolves' trip to the Detroit Pistons in Week 21 of the NBA.

Although their schedule for week 21, which saw them host the Minnesota Timberwolves ahead of a home-and-home with the Chicago Bulls, appeared simple, both of those teams had been enjoying resurgences.

The Pistons quickly snuffed them out. The Timberwolves were put to the sword as Detroit went past 130 points (in a non-overtime game) for the first time this season.

Live NBA: LA Lakers @ Detroit

Andre Drummond backed up a 31-point, 15 rebound showing against Minnesota with another monster game, as his 20 points and 24 rebounds sealed a hard-fought comeback victory in Chicago.

It was far simpler when the teams met again in Detroit, as Blake Griffin's 28 points helped the Pistons pass 130 again in a blowout win.

Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons goes to the basket against the Chicago Bulls 1:20
Highlights of the Chicago Bulls' trip to the Detroit Pistons in Week 21 of the NBA.

Reserve guard Langston Galloway made a major impact as he went 12-12 from three-point range during Week 21, providing a welcome scoring boost from the bench.

The Pistons have now won five in a row and eight of their nine games since the All-Star break and sit sixth in the Eastern Conference. From having appeared set to be scrapping to make it into the playoffs, the Pistons may well be becoming the team the 'big four' would like to avoid in the first round.

Phoenix Suns (16-52, Week 21 record 3-1) Grade - A

Phoenix Millwaukee 1:17
Highlight of the Milwaukee Bucks' trip to the Phoenix Suns in Week 21 of the NBA.

Having begun the week with the NBA's worst record, the Phoenix Suns defied the odds to beat the leaders of both conferences.

First came the East's dominant team as Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks arrived in town. With the game tied in the final minutes, the Suns rose to the occasion, coming up with a series of big plays to outlast the Milwaukee winning machine.

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A win followed against the New York Knicks as the Suns struck a blow in the battle to avoid being the worst record in the league, but more on that later.

The Suns three-game winning streak was ended in a respectable display against the Portland Trail Blazers, and then came a trip to face the Golden State Warriors, who held an 18-game winning streak in the matchup.

Andre Iguodala of the Golden State Warriors rebounds the ball against the Phoenix Suns 2:10
Highlights of the Phoenix Suns' trip to the Golden State Warriors in Week 21 of the NBA.

Devin Booker decided it was time for it to end, producing an awesome all-round display with 37 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds as the two-time reigning champions were stunned.

Kelly Oubre Jr. played a strong supporting role with 22 points, capping an impressive week for the former Washington Wizard. With top draft pick Deandre Ayton's play also improving, the Suns finally have some evidence to suggest their young core might be going somewhere.

New York Knicks (13-54, Week 21 record 0-4) Grade - D

New York Sacramento 1:36
Highlights of the Sacramento Kings' visit to the New York Knicks in Week 21 of the NBA.

In contrast, it's becoming clear that the Knicks only hope of success in the future will be by convincing a marquee free agent to join them this summer.

Nobody on the current roster is covering themselves in glory, with week 21 a particularly sobering experience.

With defeats to the Sacramento Kings (twice), Suns and Timberwolves, the Knicks extended their overall losing streak to six.

Jeff Teague of the Minnesota Timberwolves goes to the basket against the New York Knicks 0:50
Highlights of the New York Knicks' trip to the Minnesota Timberwolves in Week 21 of the NBA.

Furthermore, in the three most recent defeats, they failed to break 100 points, with turnovers plaguing their performances.

Knicks owner James Dolan ensured dysfunction levels were kept typically high at Madison Square Garden during Saturday's loss to the Kings, as he was filmed having a heckling fan ejected from the arena.

For Knicks fans, the summer can't come soon enough.

San Antonio Spurs (38-29, Week 21 record 3-0) Grade - A

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 4: Malik Beasley #25 of the Denver Nuggets handles the ball while Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs plays defense during the game on March 4, 2019 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images) 2:17
Highlights of the Denver Nuggets' clash with the San Antonio Spurs in Week 21 of the NBA.

The Spurs are back from the dead, again.

After a disastrous road trip saw the Spurs lose seven of eight games, Gregg Popovich has somehow managed to lift his team once more.

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With the poor form of the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings having relieved the pressure in the race for the lower Western Conference playoffs, the Spurs have relaxed into some strong form.

A narrow win over the Denver Nuggets, who they would face in the first round of the playoffs if the seedings were to remain as they are now, was followed up by a road victory in Atlanta.

Khris Middleton of the Milwaukee Bucks shoots the ball against the San Antonio Spurs 1:19
Highlights of the Milwaukee Bucks' trip to the San Antonio Spurs in Week 21 of the NBA.

The Spurs saved their best until last though, producing a second-half comeback - behind 29 points and 15 rebounds from LaMarcus Aldridge - to overcome the Milwaukee Bucks.

As well as the strong play of Alridge, the Spurs five-game winning streak has been boosted by a return to form for Demar DeRozan, who appears to have overcome his early January slump.

Golden State Warriors (45-21, Week 21 record 1-2) Grade - B-

Jonas Jerebko of the Golden State Warriors shoots the ball against the Boston Celtics 1:55
Highlights of the Boston Celtics' trip to the Golden State Warriors in Week 21 of the NBA.

After appearing to have found something approaching their best form ahead of the All-Star break, the Warriors have struggled to get going again since.

They fell to 4-5 since the break with a 1-2 record in Week 21, with the manner of their latest defeats just a little bit concerning.

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A blowout loss to the Boston Celtics appears to have rejuvenated a team that could still quite feasibly emerge from the East to face the Warriors in the NBA finals.

There was a typical Warriors response with a blowout victory over their nearest challengers in the West, the Denver Nuggets, behind Klay Thompson's nine made three-pointers.

However, complacency appeared to return as the lowly Suns handed the Warriors their "worst loss of the season," according to Thompson, who also hit out at the Oracle Arena crowd for failing to provide enough energy.

Live NBA: Golden State @ Houston

More worrying than the defeat itself was Kevin Durant's late exit from the game with an ankle contusion, which remains a concern despite Steve Kerr's initial assessment that it didn't seem 'too bad'.

Is this the start of the Warriors wobble the rest of the NBA was hoping for?

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