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.

Dave Joerger: Kings will play more small ball

Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger talks to reporters during the Kings basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. Joerger, who was fired by the Memphis Grizzlies at the end of last season, was hired by Kings to replace George Karl, who was fired by the Kings.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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Shortly after the Kings chose center Georgios Papagiannis with the No. 13 pick in the draft, DeMarcus Cousins tweeted, “Lord give me the strength.” Sacramento already had an abundance of centers with Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos. If Cousins wasn’t talking about yoga, Sacramento adding center Skal Labissiere with the No. 28 pick would’ve driven Cousins batty.

At least Kings coach Dave Joerger is accustomed to using two bigs, as he did with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Memphis.

Joerger, via Cowbell Kingdom:

I anticipate us playing a lot more small ball this year.

I’m not playing big.

Oh.

This is going to lead to some unhappy campers in Sacramento. It won’t be Cousins (not for getting his role reduced, at least). But this will make it hard for Cauley-Stein and Koufos to get satisfactory playing time. It’ll also make it harder for Papagiannis and Labissiere to get minutes to develop.

Like with most things, winning is the best way to quash griping. The Kings have enough wings – Rudy Gay, Matt Barnes, Arron Afflalo, Omri Casspi, Ben McLemore, Garrett Temple and Malachi Richardson – to theoretically play small effectively. If Joerger goes that route, he better find success with it. Otherwise, he could get plenty of heat – including from general manager Vlade Divac, who spoke incredibly highly of his first-round picks, the players most likely to get squeezed out of a small-ball rotation.

Dwane Casey: Jared Sullinger has Raptors’ starting PF job to lose

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 05: Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket against Patrick Patterson #54 of the Toronto Raptors in the first half at TD Garden on November 5, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Last year, Patrick Patterson declared the Raptors’ starting power-forward job his to lose.

Well, he lost it.

Luis Scola started most of the regular season before Toronto tinkered in the playoffs. Patterson claimed the job. Then, the Raptors turned to DeMarre Carroll with Norman Powel in a small-ball lineup. Finally, Toronto reverted back to Scola.

A year later, there’s still no clear, great option at the position. Scola went to the Nets. Patterson returns. Pascal Siakam and Jarrod Uthoff are rookies. First man up: Newly signed Jared Sullinger.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, via Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

“I would say Sullinger is the guy now that it would be his to lose, but I reserve the right to change my mind,” Casey said, citing the need to see how that group reacts defensively.

If Sullinger’s bar is defensive, he’ll have a tough time clearing it. He neither protects the rim nor moves well on the perimeter – making him similar to Scola. But Scola got the job last year with similar contributions.

Sullinger rebounds well, and he has some shooting range, though he hasn’t been selective enough with it.

Patterson’s ability to defend the pick-and-roll might make him a better fit next to Jonas Valanciunas, especially if Patterson has confidence in his 3-point shot.

There should be a place for Sullinger in the rotation, but if he’s starting at power forward, that speaks to a lack of quality options.

Report: Cavaliers giving championship rings to 1,000+ workers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 20: The Cleveland Cavaliers mascot Moon Dog cheers on the fans prior to the arrival of the Cavs players return to Cleveland after wining the NBA Championships on June 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Cavaliers will reportedly give David Blatt a championship ring, and Anderson Varejao also has one available.

They aren’t the only two unexpected ring recipients.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Majority owner Dan Gilbert and his partners decided to present rings to more than 1,000 full and part-time employees throughout the Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena organization, employees who’ve been fitted for rings told cleveland.com.

A conservative cost for distributing rings to employees is more than $1 million.

This is very cool by Gilbert. Obviously, lower-level team employees won’t receive the same blinged-out rings the players get. But this is a nice way to reward their hard work.

Not to go all Jerry Krause, but organizations win championships. Some pieces – LeBron James – matter much more than others, but everyone plays a part. Security guards keep players safe, preventing a dreadful incident that could derail a playoff run. Public-relations staffers ease the burden on players. Ushers improve the fan experience, which increases revenue and helps Gilbert afford a massive luxury-tax bill.

It all adds up, as Gilbert clearly recognizes.

Mike D’Antoni: Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony rejected my system, but new (old) approach with James Harden

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with Kkobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 after the game against the Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center on November 20, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 95-90.   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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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I can’t understate how revolutionary Mike D’Antoni’s offense looked with the Suns. In his first full season, 2004-05, they scored 110.4 points per game – the most anyone had scored in a decade. And it wasn’t even close. Phoenix played fast and scored efficiently.

That offense eventually got D’Antoni jobs in the NBA’s biggest markets and with two of the league’s best scorers, Carmelo Anthony (Knicks) and Kobe Bryant (Lakers).

Ian Thomsen of NBA.com:

But his coaching relationships with Anthony and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles did not turn out so well. The last two stars essentially rejected his system.

“They did,” acknowledged D’Antoni. “And they were paid 20-something million dollars for it — they were successful. So I don’t blame them. Nothing’s been proven up to that point.”

The Warriors had yet to show that D’Antoni’s offense could thrive in late May and June.

“They’re thinking, like, he’s crazy,” D’Antoni said of Anthony and Bryant. “So I don’t blame them at all. This is a much better situation.”

With the Knicks and Lakers, D’Antoni edged back from his own offensive principles in part because he wasn’t sure, either. He was in a lonely place as the proponent of a style that was rejected by NBA fundamentalists. In New York and L.A., D’Antoni lacked the proof that would be provided years later by the Warriors of Kerr, who when serving as GM of the Suns had himself objected to D’Antoni’s point of view. The inventor didn’t believe fully in his own invention.

“I wasn’t that confident,” D’Antoni insisted. “It was a little bit before analytics. Everybody was telling us that we couldn’t do it, no one was telling us we could. Analytics came in and said, hey, you can do this — this is good, actually. So now you’ve got (GM) Daryl Morey with the Rockets and how they play and different teams trying to do it, and now it’s kind of caught on.

This bucks the narrative that D’Antoni’s offense can’t work with a score-first star. If D’Antoni compromised his scheme for Kobe and Melo, we haven’t yet seen it full bore with a player like that.

We will this season in Houston, where D’Antoni has turned score-first James Harden into the Rockets’ point guard.

As D’Antoni said, it’ll be easier to sell his scheme now that it has been proven to work. But as other teams adopt elements of it, he’ll have less of a strategic advantage.

The best coaches have revolutionary ideas AND get their players to buy into them. D’Antoni’s methods are no longer as cutting-edge, but he’ll have an easier time selling his players. That’s a justifiable knock on D’Antoni’s overall coaching prowess, but he still brings positives.

We’ve seen D’Antoni’s system at full throttle, and we’ve seen him coach generational scorers. To get both simultaneously will be a fun experiment in Houston this year.