NBA power rankings

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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.

Watch Michael Jordan’s best highlight from each of his playoff runs (video)

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I’ve become a sucker for this highlight format.

Jazz deny rumored promise to draft D.J. Wilson

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Michigan forward D.J. Wilson said he’d stay in the draft only if he’d go in the first round. Yet, despite not doing any on-court work at the combine, the borderline first-rounder remained in the draft beyond the withdrawal deadline.

What gives?

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune:

NBA teams sometimes promise to draft a player. They never reveal that before the draft. So, Utah’s denial doesn’t mean much – even if it’s true.

The Jazz were the last team to give Wilson a full work out before he injured himself in a Spurs workout. So, this rumor could be based on circumstantial evidence rather than leak of a Utah guarantee.

Wilson would make sense for the Jazz, who could see their payroll bloat if they re-sign Gordon Hayward and George Hill (and maybe even Joe Ingles). They could move Derrick Favors, an interior who doesn’t exactly fit with Rudy Gobert. Wilson would give Utah another option with Trey Lyles as developing stretch fours behind Boris Diaw. (Utah could even move Diaw and count on Lyles/Wilson to emerge sooner than later.)

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.