NBA power rankings

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Bryant_game2.jpgOur weekly NBA rankings, where we would like to think there is a good reason to believe the Mavericks or Magic could beat the Lakers or Cavaliers in a seven-game series. But we’re not there yet.

1. Lakers (45-15) They play in cruise control most o the time, but when they focus — like they did for the final 18 minutes against Denver — they remind you why they get the top spot. Loss to Dallas on second night of a back-to-back is forgivable.

2. Cavaliers (46-14) Shaq is out until the playoffs? Any loopholes that can get Big Z back faster?

3. Mavericks (39-21) Fear Brendan Haywood. Fear him. Mavs are undefeated since the trade deadline, beating the Lakers and Hawks this week. Still don’t fully believe.

4. Magic (40-20) The Magic should make the Cavaliers nervous, but that is different than beating them

5. Nuggets (39-20) Denver can compete for the Western Conference crown with the Lakers. The question is do they believe that?

6. Hawks (37-21) Want to bet that Michael Woodson doesn’t step on to the court next game?

7. Jazz (38-21) I really can’t stand the green throwbacks. In large part because I flip past them on League Pass and for a second think the Sonics are still in the league.

8. Thunder (35-23) I have no MVP ballot, but if I did Kevin Durant would be in my top three. With a bullet.

9. Suns (37-24) They’ve only lost twice since the All-Star Game.

10. Spurs (30-21) For the past couple of weeks, Manu Ginobili has been playing some of the best basketball of his career.

11. Bucks (30-29) Six wins in a row until they traveled to Atlanta. You think they are too highly ranked, but right now they are playing like a playoff team. And the teams below them barely look the part.

12. Bulls (31-28) Derrick Rose is playing like a stud again. If you’re a free agent, doesn’t this have to be one of the most attractive options out there? Even with Vinny?

13. Blazers (35-27) They won three of four last week, but not exactly against the league elite.

14. Celtics (36-21) You lost to the Nets, be glad you’re not lower.

15. Raptors (31-27) No Chris Bosh, three straight losses. But did anybody in Canada even notice last week?

16. Heat (29-31) Miami has lost three in a row. Why? They are just not that great a team.

17. Bobcats (28-29) Focus on the new owner. They lost to the Clippers last week, don’t really want to focus on the court.

18. Hornets (31-29) I feel the same way right now about Darren Collison that I do about CP3 — wonder what he could do with better talent around him?

19. Grizzlies (30-29) Tough stretch there for a bit, but it’s a matter of perspective: If you had said before the season the Grizzlies would be above .500 and not in the bottom five of this poll, I would have laughed so hard milk came out my nose.

20. Rockets (29-29) Kevin Martin is fitting in well along side Aaron Brooks, but this is still a team in search of a Star.

21. Kings (20-39) If this were just a watchability poll, the Kings would be much higher. Watching Tyreke Evans is fun.

22. Wizards (21-36) Since the trade, Andray Blatche has been a beast. Always had it in him, never really let it out. This is the best stretch of his career

23. Clippers (24-35) My off-season free agent prediction: The Clippers get Rudy Gay by wildly overpaying for him.

24. Sixers (22-36) Lakers last Friday, then Magic, then Hawks, then Celtics. Thanks a lot for this week, Mr. Schedule maker.

25. Pacers (20-39) Well, Canseco Field House is still the best arena in the league. That’s a positive.

26. Warriors (17-41) You know Curry is playing well if the team is this bad and he still gets mentioned in rookie of the year discussions.

27 Pistons (21-38) Hey, the Tigers signed Johnny Damon, that will make sports fans in Detroit feel better… nah, it won’t. Trust me.

28. Knicks (20-38) The Mike D’Antoni honeymoon with the media may be coming to an end. Yes, Mike, that was actually a honeymoon.

29. Nets (6-53) A one-week reprieve for beating the Celtics, they climb out of the cellar.

30. Timberwolves (14-47) Sorry, but if we give the Nets a break, somebody has to go here.

Check out Lakers’ stretch of hitting 15 straight shots to end third quarter (VIDEO)

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The Lakers lost to the Wizards because they are young, inconsistent, and defend like traffic cones at times.

But that young Lakers core also has its moments.

Los Angeles strung together 15 straight made buckets to end the third quarter Tuesday night. Some of it was flukey, like Corey Brewer driving and finishing contested layups like he’s Kyrie Irving, but there were things Lakers fans should want to see such as D'Angelo Russell draining threes, Jordan Clarkson working hard off the ball and his teammates finding him, and Julius Randle just attacking.

After this run the Lakers led by 13 going into the fourth, but lost the game.

It’s official: Joakim Noah cleared to play, 20-game suspension starts tonight

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What this ultimately means is next season the Knicks should have Joakim Noah available just before Thanksgiving.

Noah has been suspended 20 games for testing positive for a banned substance, but because he was out due to knee surgery the suspension did not start until he was “physically able to play.” Noah said on Tuesday that he had been cleared, but that was just by the team doctors. He also had to be cleared by the NBA’s doctors (because if teams could cheat they would).

That happened Wednesday, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.

Noah’s first season in New York after signing a four-year, $72 million deal has been a disappointment. To put it kindly. He’s not been completely healthy, and any observer of him the past few years had to wonder if he would ever be fully healthy again. He had lost a step from the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year before the Knicks signed him. The Knicks don’t need him to necessarily be that dominant a force again (although it would be nice), but they need to get more out of him and see if he is a fit next to Kristaps Porzingis for now as the Knicks try to build a roster for next season that can play a little defense. And the triangle.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.