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.

Chris Paul finds brilliant counter to hack-a-DeAndre Jordan (video)

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I originally favored allowing Hack-a-Shaq as the NBA currently does. I found the strategy fascinated – why and when teams would use it and how their opponents would counter.

But it just became too common. Far too many games featured a parade of trips to the line, a boring stretch that made games too long. I thought the intrigue had run its course.

Then, Chris Paul pulled this move last night.

The Clippers guard saw Jonas Jerebko charging toward DeAndre Jordan to commit an intentional foul, so Paul stepped in front of an unsuspecting Jerebko and took the foul himself. That’s sent a good free-throw shooter to the line instead of the dismal Jordan.

Just an awesome heady play by Paul.

PBT Podcast: NBA All-Star Weekend talk, predictions with Sean Highkin

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NBA All-Star weekend descends upon frigid Toronto starting Friday, with everything from the Rookie/Sophomore… er, Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, the Dunk Contest/Three-Point Contest on Saturday, and the main event on Sunday.

Kurt Helin and Sean Highkin of NBC’s ProBasketballTalk break it all down, from Pau Gasol replacing Jimmy Butler to predictions on the Dunk Contest and if anyone can knock off Zach LaVine. Plus, there is plenty of “why Sting?” talk.

PBT will be in Toronto with reports from the event all weekend, so come back early and often for all the latest (plus trade talk, as all the GMs get together in one city where it’s too cold for them to go outside).

As always, you can listen to the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunesdownload it directly here, or you can check out our new PBT Podcast homepage, which has the most recent episodes available. If you have the Stitcher app, you can listen there as well.

Pistons retire Chauncey Billups’ jersey at halftime (VIDEO)

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Moments before his jersey went up to the rafters, Chauncey Billups spoke to the crowd about the night the Detroit Pistons wrapped up the 2004 NBA title by routing the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of the Finals.

“We had one motivation,” he said. “We wanted to win it here at home.”

Billups was the most valuable player in the Finals that year, and he had his No. 1 jersey retired by the Pistons on Wednesday night at halftime of their game against Denver.

He was the second player from that 2004 team honored by the Pistons this year. The Pistons retired Ben Wallace’s jersey last month at a similar ceremony – in front of a packed house on a night Detroit beat Golden State.

There were some empty seats in the upper level Wednesday, but Billups wanted to be honored while the Pistons were playing the Nuggets. Billups is a Denver native and played for the Nuggets for two stints during his career.

“This was by design, only because there’s a lot of people that contributed to my success as a player and as a man, in Denver, my hometown,” Billups said before the game. “There were several dates that I could have chosen. This one obviously stuck out.”

Billups does have a mild regret about his run of success with the Pistons. He figures they could have won more titles.

“I felt like, two and maybe three championships – we were that good,” he said.

Ben Wallace was on hand Wednesday, and so were Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince from the 2004 champions. Pistons great Isiah Thomas was also at the Palace for the ceremony.

“This is what tradition looks like,” Thomas told the crowd. “This is what it feels like.”

Five Takeaways from NBA Wednesday: How ‘Bout them Celtics!

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Traditionally, NBA players treat the last game before the All-Star break like you treated the last day of school before summer vacation. But through the slop, there were some entertaining games on Wednesday, here is what you need to know:

1) If you weren’t taking the Celtics seriously before, the Clippers think you should start. The Boston Celtics are 32-23, have the third-best defense in the NBA, and in their last 10 games are outscoring opponents by 7.9 points per 100 possessions (fifth best in the NBA in that stretch). They are legitimate. Not title contenders, but they are looking like the third best team in the East and a second-round showdown with Toronto could be interesting (especially if Danny Ainge can pull off a big move at the trade deadline — he’s trying). Brad Stevens is earning Coach of the Year votes every time the Celtics step on the court.

The latest sign the Celtics are for real — winning a shootout against the Los Angeles Clippers. Two good defensive teams decided to take the night off on that end, which was entertaining and fit the “last day of school before break” theme. Isaiah Thomas just shredded the Clippers perimeter defense on his way to 36 points and 11 assists (watching how quick he is on the dribble, he’s got to be the favorite at the All-Star Saturday skills challenge). Chris Paul countered with 35 points and 13 assists. It was an old-fashioned, 1980s-style barn burner that went to overtime when the Clippers didn’t score a field goal in the final 3:29 of regulation and the Celtics completed a comeback in a Thomas jumper. In OT, J.J. Redick started out hot, but the Celtics closed hotter and got the win. The one bit of bad news for Boston Kelly Olynyk suffered a shoulder subluxation, he will have the week off to let that rest. (We will now note that happened on the same night Kevin Love suffered a shoulder injury, too. His was just a stinger, and he will be back after the break.)

2) Kawhi Leonard drains game winner to give Spurs another win. A couple of seasons back, when the Spurs motion offense was clicking, with the game on the line they would have run a play, four guys would touch the ball, and they would get a clean look. But this is how much Gregg Popovich trusts Kawhi Leonard now: Tie game with 13.3 seconds remaining, and the play design is a 1-4 flat isolation for Leonard. That’s what you call for LeBron James or Kevin Durant. Popovich called it for Leonard. And he was rewarded with the win.



3) Chauncey Billups got his number retired in Detroit.
There is a 2004 championship banner hanging above the Detroit Pistons court in large part because for a stretch Billups was not only the ultimate leader but played as well as anyone in the league. Just ask Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. Wednesday night they honored Billups in the Motor City (well, in Auburn Hills) by retiring his number.

4) Portland beats Houston to take over final playoff spot in the Western Conference. If the playoffs started today, the Trail Blazers would be the eight seed in the West and the Rockets would be golfing. That’s because Portland beat Houston 116-103 to move to .500 and ahead of Houston in the standings by half a game. Houston had some success scoring in the first quarter thanks to some old school Dwight Howard in the post and James Harden on the drive. The problem is, when Portland adjusted and Houston’s offense sputtered, they had no defense to fall back on — Portland scored at will all night. Damian Lillard finished with 31 points, the Trail Blazers had an offensive rating on the night of 115.6, and the Rockets head into the break trying to answer the same questions they had back when Kevin McHale got fired. Houston thinks things can come together, and they can make another playoff run, but a playoff run would be based on defense and the Rockets don’t play four quarters on that end nightly.

5) Suns Markieff Morris, Aaron Goodwin scuffle on bench. After the game — a 112-104 loss to Golden State — Morris said this was no more than two guys as close as brothers having a disagreement. It’s just a little hard considering everything that has gone on in Phoenix this season — including Morris’ poor play and the towel throwing incident with now-fired coach Jeff Hornacek — to think this is not another window into the chemistry problem in the Suns locker room.