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School's out: End-of-season NBA team grades

Julian Catalfo / theScore

With the 2023-24 NBA regular season nearing its end, we're taking an academic approach and grading each team's performance based on its expectations.

In retrospect, trading John Collins and promoting Jalen Johnson to the starting lineup was savvy. However, this Hawks core still feels flawed. Among all postseason-bound teams, only the Bulls have a worse net rating from their starters.

Celtics fans can't ask for much more as Boston dominated the league without a fuss and clinched the No. 1 seed in the East with a dozen games left on the docket. Only one outcome will feel like a success, though.

Other than Cam Thomas' six-week Kobe Bryant impersonation, this Nets season was bad. We got proof that Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson aren't All-Star-level guys. At least there's only one year left on Ben Simmons' deal.

Drafting Brandon Miller saved this grade from being much lower. The franchises' hopes rest on him and the oft-injured LaMelo Ball, who's only played in 58 games over his past two seasons for the buzz-less Hornets.

With Zach Lavine's injury concerns and DeMar DeRozan's age, the Bulls - who haven't traded a player since they shipped Lauri Markkanen to the Cavaliers in 2021 - are backed into a corner. A play-in fate awaits, again.

The Cavaliers managed to tread water despite losing a number of players to injury. Evan Mobley not taking the third-year leap many expected and Donovan Mitchell being noncommittal about an extension are the main concerns.

The Mavericks have put it together for a potential deep postseason run by tinkering with their rotation around Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. The right pairings beside the duo and an improved frontcourt have helped their title chances.

The goal for this regular season was simple for the Nuggets: maintain championship-level play over 82 games and stay healthy for the postseason. Nikola Jokic and Co. accomplished those objectives.

After establishing a new NBA single-season losing streak (28 games), the 13-win Pistons are ready to hide this mark from their parents and focus on the summer. Truly shambolic stuff in the Motor City.

The Warriors fell short of expectations but regrouped to win eight of their last nine and secure a play-in berth, at minimum. Still, their tumultuous campaign showed their core isn't as infallible as it once was.

A last-ditch push saw the Rockets nearly snatch a play-in spot. The emergence of Alperen Sengun, Jalen Green's late-season display, and improved defensive play provide plenty of reasons for hope going forward.

The Pacers fell off in the latter half of the season, but they still took a massive leap. Indiana reached the inaugural In-Season Tournament final, Tyrese Haliburton became a star, and the team acquired Pascal Siakam.

Kawhi Leonard was available for the majority of the season, and the team is somewhat healthy heading into the postseason. However, it's problematic that the Clippers have the league's fifth-worst defensive rating since the All-Star break.

Though they've been consistently on the injury report, LeBron James and Anthony Davis pushed through to reach the goal of the postseason. It hasn't been a perfect year, but they'll still be the play-in team nobody wants to face.

The injury-doomed Grizzlies established new NBA records for players used in a season (31) and games lost to injury (534 and counting) in what should be considered an utterly worthless campaign for Taylor Jenkins and Co.

Injuries held the Heat back, with the undermanned squad down key players at multiple points this season. They'll need a healthy team to make another improbable deep playoff run, likely from a play-in position.

It's so difficult to succinctly describe this Bucks campaign. They'll likely clinch a top seed, but their performance under Doc Rivers, plus Giannis Antetokounmpo's calf strain, will cast a giant cloud over their postseason.

A season removed from getting outclassed in the first round by the Nuggets, the T-Wolves resemble a bona-fide title contender thanks to the NBA's best defense and stellar campaigns from Anthony Edwards and Rudy Gobert.

Zion Williamson stayed healthy and delivered an All-Star-caliber campaign for the Pelicans while leading the team in scoring. Securing a top-six spot in the West's postseason logjam would amount to a win for Willie Green and Co.

Jalen Brunson played at an All-NBA level, and the Knicks at times resembled title contenders prior to Julius Randle's season-ending injury. Still, a shot at the second seed and avoiding Boston until the conference finals remains.

This season was the best-case scenario for the Thunder. They surpassed the 50-win mark, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will be a top-three MVP candidate, Jalen Williams is a future All-Star, and Chet Holmgren had a great rookie campaign.

Despite mostly the same roster as last season, the Magic have quietly played themselves into the East's upper echelon thanks to smothering defense. Some proper playoff experience is all this young team is missing this campaign.

Another team plagued with injury troubles, the 76ers went 14-27 without Joel Embiid this season. A fully healthy Sixers team is still a worry for Eastern Conference rivals.

Despite early-season struggles due to injuries and unfamiliarity, the Suns are rounding into form. Devin Booker is on a timely heater, averaging 29.8 points per game on 50% shooting over his last six outings.

Largely overlooked among the worst teams, the Trail Blazers were often unwatchable. Hopefully Scoot Henderson - who notched an NBA single-game-record minus-58 - makes a leap. The only way to go is up.

Sacramento hasn't capitalized on last season's momentum and will likely need the play-in to return to the playoffs. In fairness, though, the Kings are only three wins behind last campaign's finish with three games to play; the West is a bloodbath.

Sure, playoff experience would've benefitted Victor Wembanyama's NBA development, but the 7-foot-4 phenom is already pulling off Shammgod dribbles and unguardable pull-up threes. The rest of the league is officially on notice.

Had the Raptors ripped off the bandage sooner with their previous core, fans might've better stomached this campaign's disappointing finish. Still, with Gradey Dick's confidence seemingly restored, Toronto has an enticing youth movement to build around.

It was a forgettable campaign for the Jazz as they continued to determine which players would remain under the Danny Ainge-Will Hardy partnership. Rookie guard Keyonte George flashed promise as a shooter and playmaker.

Few teams have been as directionless this season as the lowly Wizards after a significant roster overhaul resulted in Jordan Poole's arrival and Kristaps Porzingis' exit, among other changes.

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