NBA power rankings


NBA_nowitzki2_250.jpgOur weekly NBA rankings, where we have a new number one, but I kind of think the second ranked team would win a seven-game series between the two.

1. Mavericks (43-21) Eleven wins in a row. Next year when some talking head says deadline trades really don’t do much for a team, remember this. However, of the 11 wins, only two are by 10 points or more. They are squeaking by more than dominating.

2. Magic (44-20) They are 7-1 in their last eight with wins over the Cavaliers and the Lakers. They are coming together at the right time, and right now they may well be the best team in the East.

3. Cavaliers (49-15) LeBron is banged up but getting rest. Big Z will be back in a few weeks. For Cleveland, it’s about being right going into April, so while a loss to Milwaukee here and there might slide you down these rankings, that’s no big deal.

4. Lakers (46-18) Three losses in a row… Mark Cuban just petitioned David Stern to start the playoffs tomorrow.

5. Nuggets (42-21) With a slowed Birdman and possibly no K-Mart, Denver is about to workout Brian Cook. There is no bigger sign of desperation.

6. Hawks (40-22) In a little stretch playing teams they should beat, and they are (save Miami, but that was the dreaded second night of a back-to-back, so they are forgiven).

7. Jazz (40-22) I find this team oddly entertaining to watch, mostly because I like teams that just execute cleanly. That and I like to watch Deron Williams.

8. Spurs (36-24) They have won four in a row, and were doing their best Freddie Krueger “this team will not die” imitation, but with Tony Parker now out expect them to fall in the coming weeks.

9. Thunder (38-24) Saw them up close and in person for the first time this season this week, and they are more long and explosive live than on television. OKC has become one of my must-see teams when they come to town.

10. Suns (40-25) They can do a little more damage in the playoffs than people think, if the duct tape and superglue that is holding Steve Nash’s body together continues to work.

11. Celtics (40-21) Ray Allen seems to have found his shot again — in the last 10 Celtics games, he is hitting 44% from three. He was the key to the comeback win over Washington. If he’s hot Boston is a lot better, but does anyone expect him to sustain it?

12. Bucks (33-29) A win against Cleveland is a win against Cleveland, I don’t care who was missing from their roster… oh, it was LeBron. Well, that’s different.

13. Heat (32-31) Lost three in a row, now have won three in a row including beating the Lakers. Here’s the thing about these rankings — in the NBA teams 12 through about 21 are not that different, it’s just who is hot that week. This week the Heat are hot.

14. Blazers (37-28) This season may not have turned out the way Blazers fans had hoped going in, but this is still a team to fear in three years. Just not this year.

15. Bobcats (30-31) Teams that play good defense are supposed to be consistent. Not sure what is going on here.

16. Grizzlies (32-31) This team needs another road trip — they are undefeated in the last eight on the road. But have dropped six in a row at home.

17. Raptors (32-29) Chris Bosh returns and the Raptors put up one of their worst stinkers of the year at home, falling to the Sixers. Explain that, would ya?

18. Hornets (31-32) I like Darren Collison as much as the next guy, but the Hornets are 10-15 without CP3 in the lineup, 21-17 with him.

19. Rockets (31-31) Landry who? Don’t remember the guy, not with Scola scoring 21 and grabbing 18 boards a game the last three.

20. Bulls (31-31) Without Joakim Noah, the Bulls are getting killed in the paint. And losing games.

21. Kings (21-42) Of the teams in the bottom half of this grid, I would rather watch the Kings play more than anyone. That is because of Tyreke.  

22. Sixers (23-39) The win in Toronto is a reminder this team has the athletes, if the other team will help out by just turning the ball over a lot.

23. Wizards (21-39) That loss in Boston, up 13 with six minutes to go, was just painful.

24. Clippers (25-38) They had a win against Utah last week. That proved to be a fluke outing for both sides.

25 Pistons (22-41) Our thoughts are with Rodney Stuckey. Don’t come back until you are ready and healthy.

26. Pacers (20-43) If you are going to be a running team, it helps to have good ball handlers.

27. Knicks (21-41) The only people happy with the Knicks recent play are in Utah — they have the Knicks first round pick this draft.

28. Warriors (17-44) If Don Nelson just didn’t show up for a game, would anyone notice?

29. Timberwolves (14-49) Kevin Love coming off the bench is a good idea, not that you can tell in the team results.

30. Nets (7-55) They head out on the road — where they have won three in a row. Don’t expect that trend to continue.

51 Questions: Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

Michael Malone
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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

One incident sums up how bad things had gotten in Denver under the Brian Shaw regime — breaking a fourth-quarter huddle in the final game of February, Nuggets players chanted “1-2-3-six weeks!”

The players didn’t like the coach, some of them didn’t like each other, and with six weeks and 24 games left in the season they had checked out. The young players (and some of the veterans) partied so much Shaw canceled shootarounds because guys couldn’t roll in for them in the morning. Shaw had lost the team long before when he’d tried to fit square pegs into the triangle holes of his offense, and it spiraled out of control from there. The culture in Denver was broken.

Mike Malone was brought in to repair that culture.

The Jeff Van Gundy disciple has shown he can do that before. Malone was starting to build something in Sacramento (they started last season 9-6 before DeMarcus Cousins got sick), where he was asked to repair a franchise culture that by the end of the Maloof era was something akin to the Lord of the Flies. Malone also turned out to be the one coach who had gotten through to Cousins. Even with his defensive mindset and Cousins in the paint, Malone had the Kings playing at the eighth-fastest pace in the league in pace, but the Kings’ owner wanted to play faster (and maybe didn’t want to miss out on the chance to hire George Karl), so Malone got sacked.

The question becomes, is Malone alone going to turn things around in Denver and bring them back to relevance?

Not alone, and not just in one season, but he will get them on the right track.

The first step to show management was behind Malone was the trading of Ty Lawson. No doubt when focused Lawson is a quality point guard (as Houston likely benefits from this season), but he was part of the problem in the end in Denver, to the point of picking up two DUIs in six months (he checked into a rehab facility after the second one). He had mentally checked out and his example was an issue the Nuggets needed to change.

That turns the keys for the offense over to rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who impressed a lot of people at Summer League after bailing on SMU to play in China last season. But he’s still a rookie with a long way to go — as the 15 turnovers in his first two preseason games attest. Things that worked in China and Summer League don’t fly against an NBA defense.

With Mudiay at the point and a team that plays half its games at high altitude, Monroe wants to take advantage of that and get out and run. Expect the Nuggets to get back to their traditional up-tempo games, but with some things Malone loves to run (such as the Rick Adelman corner action).

But for Malone, all things — including good transition basketball — starts with defense. You have to get stops and steals to run well, and the Nuggets were 26th in the league in defensive rating last season (105.5 points allowed per 100 possessions). In the first two Nuggets preseason games, that was the Nuggets focus (with mixed results).

Malone’s challenge starts with getting Kenneth Faried to buy in and play as hard on defense as he does on offense — something Faried has never done. Faried has been a defensive minus since he entered the NBA and that becomes one of Malone’s first major projects (even if it’s just to boost Faried’s trade value). Faried, who clashed with Shaw over his role, has said he’s felt energized under Malone, now the coach just has to steer that energy to the defensive end of the court.

Malone will be searching for the right center to put next to Faried, and I expect that will mean a lot of Jusuf Nurkic (who is young and shows it at times). But also expect to see some small-ball lineups with Faried at the five. Something like Mudiay, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Faried. A lineup with some athleticism and shooting that could put up points, but would they get any stops? If Gary Harris slots in for Foye, does that help the defense (Harris is guy Nuggets fans may see more and more of as the season goes on).

The roster is a work in progress, and if you were to bet on the Nuggets doing one thing this season, it should be making trades. Things are going to change.

There are nice pieces on the Nuggets, but not enough of them and with some real questions about how it all fits together. This is not a playoff team this season, not in the West.

But it’s a team that Malone could have playing a lot better late in the season than at the beginning, once some of those questions start to be answered, and the young players gain experience. That should be the goal in Denver. Begin to change the culture, get buy-in on the system, get guys playing hard again rather than dreaming of Cancun vacations by February. Change can be incremental, but Malone will start the change.

Then in a couple of years, you’ve got the team you want.

Well, so long as the Nuggets ownership doesn’t get impatient and decide it needs to change directions again.

Another Pelicans center down: Omer Asik out three weeks

Omer Asik, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver
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The Pelicans will have to play Anthony Davis at center now.

With backup center Alexis Ajinca already sidelined, starting center Omer Asik suffered his own injury.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that center Omer Asik is expected to miss the next three weeks with a right calf strain. The injury occurred during Wednesday’s practice.

If that three-week timeline is firm, Asik would miss two regular season games – at Warriors and at Trail Blazers.

Davis figured to be the most natural fit at center in Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo scheme. What happens if the Pelicans excel with him there and then stumble once Asik and Ajinca return? Because New Orleans had Bird Rights for Asik and Ajinca, re-signing them made some sense. And once they’re re-signed, Gentry must find a role for them. But that could get harder if it becomes obvious the team is best with Davis at center.

As long as Asik and Ajinca are out, Kendrick Perkins probably moves into the rotation. Jeff Adrien could also see minutes at center. Suddenly, Adrien, on an unguaranteed contract, has a much better chance of making the regular-season roster. Ryan Anderson probably plays more at power forward, too, with Davis logging more time at center.