NBA power rankings


nba_james1_250.jpgThe Association from top to bottom.

1. Cavaliers (41-11) Best record in the NBA and on an 11-game win streak. Going into All-Star weekend they are the team to beat. Didn’t we say that last year, too?

2. Nuggets (34-17) They’ve beaten the Lakers twice, that has to boost Denver’s confidence going forward. Although, doing the same thing in the playoffs is another matter.

3. Jazz (31-18)
Eight straight wins. Jazz are in the middle of their annual “we’re playing like contenders mid-season” stretch.

4. Lakers (39-13) Denver and Utah are hotter right now, and the Lakers have a few issues to resolve (hello Derek Fisher), but who you going to pick when the playoffs start? Exactly.

5. Magic (34-17) The comeback win over Boston means they may be putting it all together post Hedo, finally. If so, watch out.

6. Hawks (32-17) They keep getting overlooked as a contender in the East. Do that at your own peril.

7. Thunder (29-21) OKC is 7-3 in their last 10 games, and Kevin Durant is filling it up. Man is that fun to watch.

8. Suns (31-21) They have won five in a row and are climbing fast. Why do they want to trade Amare Stoudemire again?

9. Spurs (29-20) San Antonio crushes bad teams like the Clippers, but they need to beat some good teams before we buy in.

10. Celtics (32-17) This team needs to get healthy, the All-Star break couldn’t come at a better time. But the problems look deeper than that.

11. Mavericks (31-19) They are 5-5 in their last 10, which in the deepest division in basketball will have them out of the lead quick if they can’t turn it around.

12. Raptors (28-23) When they play a little defense, like the fourth quarter against the Kings, they become a dangerous team.

13. Bucks (23-26) They have found their rhythm again and have won 7 of the last 10.

14. Blazers (30-23) Any more injuries and they will be pulling guys out of the stands to play.

15. Bobcats (24-25) While the franchise is in flux, Larry Brown has quietly done a great job getting Charlotte to play defense.

16. Rockets (27-23) This team is not going to win a title, but nobody in the West wants them in the first round.

17. Heat (24-27) It’s not just that Miami is 3-7 in their last 10, but that the schedule has been pretty soft at the same time.

18. Bulls (24-25) Chicago is 6-4 in its last 10, and if they can put to Thomas situation behind them and get Noah back healthy in a couple weeks, they are playoff bound.

19. Hornets (27-24) Has anyone in New Orleans even thought about the Hornets the last two weeks? They may not for two more after the Super Bowl.

20. Grizzlies (24-26) Hallmark of a young team is thinking you are through a touch stretch, letting your foot off the gas and getting beat by Minnesota.

21. Sixers (19-31) Hey, Allen Iverson is an All-Star. There’s your bright spot.

22. Clippers (21-29) New coach Kim Hughes wants to run, but outside Baron Davis who on that team do you want handling the ball on the break?

23. Knicks (19-31) Nate Robinson is back to the bench, Chris Duhon is starting again. That should solve all their problems.

24. Timberwolves (13-38) Don’t look now, but Minnesota is 5-5 in their last 10 and beat Memphis the other day. They may be fitting the pieces together.

25. Pacers (18-33) With the loss by the Colts, the fans of Indianapolis can turn to the Pacers to brighten their… maybe not.

26. Kings (16-24) Can Kevin Martin and Tyreke Evans play together well? If not, now is the time to move Martin.

27. Wizards (17-32) If Bull Durham taught us one thing, it’s that every once in a while a team needs a rain out. Or a snow out, in this case.

28. Pistons (17-32) Chuck Daly used to get death threats. At least back then the Pistons got noticed.

29. Warriors (13-36) I’ve given up trying to figure out Don Nelson’s rotations. They give me a headache.

30. Nets (4-46) I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find something to write to pick up the spirits of Nets fans. I’ve given up.

Justin Anderson cuts under basket, reaches back for putback dunk (video)

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One player dunking on another is always fantastic.

But some of the best jams come when the dunker artfully dodges defenders in the first place.

Mavericks forward Justin Anderson did that with this putback slam against the Pacers last night.

Wednesday featured a ridiculous number of players getting dunked on (videos)

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 26:  Willie Cauley-Stein #00 of the Sacramento Kings slam dunks the ball over Marquese Chriss #0 of the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the preseason NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on October 26, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  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.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Twenty NBA teams started their seasons last night, providing a glorious onslaught of basketball unlike anything we’ve seen in months.

One of the best parts? It seems players forgot they were supposed to duck out of the way, rather than defend, dunks.

That led to some fantastic slams

Gerald Henderson on Domantas Sabonis:

Lance Stephenson on Kenneth Faried:

Jonas Valanciunas on Boban Marjanovic:

Willie-Cauley Stein on Marquese Chriss:

‘Our 49 Pulse angels’: Orlando Magic honor those killed in nightclub

A banner printed with the names of the Pulse nightclub shooting victims and 49, the number of people who died in the shooting, is unveiled in the Amway Center during a tribute prior to an NBA basketball game between the Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — There’s nothing that can give Mayra Alvear back what she lost, or ease her pain, or calm her anger.

With one gesture, she at least felt some joy again.

Underneath a softly swaying banner displaying the number 49 – commemorating the number of lives lost – and as first responders unfurled and held a massive American flag for the national anthem, the Orlando Magic paid tribute Wednesday night to the victims and survivors of the Pulse gay nightclub massacre with an emotional ceremony immediately before the team’s season-opener against the Miami Heat.

“We felt the recognition needed to be significant,” Magic president Alex Martins said. “We think part of the healing process for our community is making sure we don’t forget. And we felt it was most appropriate that we do it on opening night, so it receives the proper recognition and exposure – but also gave the greatest number of our fans the opportunity to recognize and remember.”

Some survivors were present, as were some relatives of those who were killed on June 12 in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The gunman, Omar Mateen, was killed after a three-hour standoff during an exchange of fire with SWAT team members.

“What the Orlando Magic are doing is amazing, is beautiful. I’m honored and grateful,” said Alvear, the mother of Pulse victim Amanda Alvear. “That they are lifting the number 49 out of respect, a symbol for our 49 Pulse angels, it has a deep meaning – demonstration of love and that they care, that all of them will be remembered.”

The nightclub remains fenced off, yet is still attracting a daily stream of mourners. Banners on the fence are dotted with thousands of handwritten messages from visitors, with some flowers and candles on the ground.

Martins was the chair of OneOrlando, a fund that collected $29.5 million in donations that’s being distributed to 299 claimants. At the time of the shooting, the Magic were just a few weeks removed from the hiring of Frank Vogel as their new coach, and less than three weeks away from a free-agent period where the roster would be greatly revamped.

But Martins quickly volunteered anyway, helping oversee the massive task.

“One of the ways that I felt I could help, that I could assist, was to help with the administration of the fund,” Martins said. “So I raised my hand immediately.”

The tribute coming before a Magic-Heat game was fitting, given how many of those affected by the events of that night were from South Florida.

It was particularly poignant to one survivor.

Heat employee Laura Vargas was shot twice that night. She can recall every detail – the strobe lights, the Heineken in her hand, how she was putting away her ID as she heard the first shots. She remembers watching Mateen reload a weapon, the blood pouring from her wounds, even the look on the police officer’s face when she was rescued.

Her best friend, Luis Vielma, who Vargas said was straight, was one of the victims.

“It’s not even just about me,” Vargas said. “It’s coping that he’s not there anymore. It’s a lot to carry around.”

Vargas isn’t able yet to resume work. She was at the arena the Heat call home last week for an event called “Loud And Proud” that celebrated the LGBTQ community, but couldn’t shake the feeling Mateen was there. Her flashbacks and nightmares are terrifying – she said she had “a total breakdown” recently at Disney when a fireworks show sounded like gunfire.

Nights like Wednesday, she said, make it all a bit easier.

“The love that’s come out of this is not fading,” Vargas said. “It brings me comfort to know that my best friend is one of the reasons why this world is a little bit less crappy, that his life isn’t just forgotten. No. He made a difference. And he would be happy to know that even with the chaos, the horror, he made a change.”

This was not a one-night commitment for the Magic, who have contributed both money and staff resources to the ongoing healing process and plan to continue. In addition to the banner, the team aired a video in tribute and invited singer Brandon Parsons – who composed a song called “Forty-Nine Times” – to perform pregame.

Parsons’ song included this phrase: “Takes more than just a gun, more than you to tear us down, so let your colors fly free.”

“It’s been so impactful since the day of that event,” said Otto Drozd, the Fire Chief for Orange County Fire Rescue. “This is part of the healing process. We continue to remember the 49 that lost their lives and those that were injured that night, and really, we do that because we don’t want to relive it.”

Joel Embiid hits shots, blocks Westbrook, looks good in debut


And somewhere, Sam Hinkie weeps.

After two seasons on the sidelines with foot injuries, Joel Embiid played his first NBA game Wednesday night — and he looked good — 20 points, seven rebounds, and a couple of blocked shots. The Philadelphia crowd loved him — when he opened the game with a nice move and free-throw line jumper, followed by a block of Russell Westbrook, the arena nearly exploded. He was later serenaded with “trust the process” chants as he shot free throws.

He’s still a work in progress — he tried to do too much rather than let the game come to him. That led to 7-of-17 shooting and him chasing blocks on defense and getting out of position. He played like an over-amped rookie. Which he was. (Apparently, some Philly fans were a little over-amped, too.)

But one with a world of talent. The Sixers have something here.