NBA power rankings

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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.

Coach Steve Clifford: Poor defense has led to Hornets’ losing streak

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 04:  Teammates Michael Kidd-Gilchrist #14 and Marvin Williams #2 of the Charlotte Hornets react at the bench as head coach Steve Clifford reacts during their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Spectrum Center on January 4, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Hornets coach Steve Clifford points to one factor when explaining his team’s five-game losing streak – a lack of defense.

Charlotte went 0-5 on its recent road trip, surrendering an uncharacteristic 109.6 points per game during that span. The Hornets return home Wednesday night to face the Portland Trail Blazers, part of a stretch of five-game home stand which Clifford hopes will help turn things around.

But Charlotte’s fourth-year coach said nothing will get better until the Hornets start playing better man-to-man defense.

“It starts with our ability to guard our guy,” Clifford said. “When you get blown by a lot on the perimeter where you are constantly in need of help, then you are going to give up 3s – and that’s what is happening.”

The Hornets raced to a 14-9 start this season and were third-best in the league in points allowed through 23 games.

Since then, things have steadily fallen apart, culminating with Charlotte giving up at least 100 points in eight straight games. The Hornets have since dropped to 12th overall in points allowed.

The Hornets have fallen to 20-21 on the season and are on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff picture. It hasn’t helped that Nic Batum and Cody Zeller have been in and out of the lineup with injury problems, but Charlotte’s struggles on the road – where it has lost 11 of its last 13 – is concerning.

Zeller said the Hornets spent Wednesday morning watching cutups of defensive miscues over the last five road games.

“All four years I have been here it starts with defense,” Zeller said. “That is what coach Clifford preaches.”

The 7-foot center said it is mostly simple things that can be corrected.

“There are sets that we know are coming – and we just aren’t defending them right,” Zelller said. “We are making too many mistakes.”

Added guard Marco Belinelli: “We need to speak a lot more on the court and help each other.”

Getting the defensive mistakes fix won’t be easy.

After Portland, the Hornets host Toronto, Brooklyn, Washington and Golden State. All five teams rank in the top 14 in the league in scoring offense, with the Warriors being No. 1 overall and Raptors No. 3.

A year ago, Hornets general manager Rich Cho pulled off a quality late-season trade, landing “three and D” guard Courtney Lee. He proved to be the driving force on the team’s playoff run and played well in the postseason.

The problem was Lee did so well it made it impossible for the Hornets to re-sign him. Charlotte re-signed Batum and Marvin Williams, and let Lee walk in free agency. He signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the New York Knicks.

The Hornets figured with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returning this year from a shoulder injury they would be fine defensively, but the struggles are mounting.

Clifford wouldn’t discuss whether the team needs to make a similar trade before the NBA deadline.

As for the offense, Clifford likes what he sees.

Kemba Walker, a first-time All-Star candidate, is in the midst of the most productive season of his career, averaging 23 points per game while shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point range.

“I mean he’s having a great year,” Clifford said. “He’s worked really hard and it’s paying off for him.”

Chris Paul to have surgery on torn ligament in left thumb, out 6-8 weeks

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When the Clippers last were without Chris Paul (then due to a hamstring injury), they dropped six games in a row. Granted, that was without Blake Griffin, too, but this team struggles on offense without the Point God running the show.

He’s not going to be running the show again for them until March.

Paul will miss 6-8 weeks due to a torn ligament in his left thumb that will require surgery, the team announced Tuesday. He is set to have surgery on Wednesday.

Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers will get a lot more run with CP3 sidelined.

The injury happened in the second quarter of Monday night’s game against the Thunder. Paul was trying to get over the top of a Joffrey Lauvergne screen when he ran into Russell Westbrook, who had pulled up to take a three. Paul’s hand was on Westbrook’s hip and got caught in his shorts and Westbrook elevated for the shot.

It looked serious as Paul walked off the court — he kicked a chair and was cursing, a sign that he knew something was very wrong. He went straight to the locker room, where X-rays were taken that found nothing broken. It was an MRI on Tuesday that found the damage.

The Clippers are the four seed in the West but are likely about to lose ground, being without Paul until March and with Griffin still sidelined from knee surgery (but should be back in the next few weeks, according to his timetable). Starting Saturday The Clippers have 10-of-11 games on the road — and the one home game is the Warriors. That’s a brutal stretch of games under the best of circumstances, and now the clouds over this team got much darker.

PBT Podcast: Debating NBA midseason awards with Dan Feldman

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 14: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Western Conference and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets and the Western Conference warm up before the NBA All-Star Game 2016 at the Air Canada Centre on February 14, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario. 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 Elsa/Getty Images)
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Russell Westbrook or James Harden for MVP?

Is Mike D’Antoni the runaway Coach of the Year?

Can anyone catch Giannis Antetokounmpo for Most Improved Player?

The PBT staff gave their picks for midseason awards already. Now Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports debate all of that, plus Sixth Man, Defensive Player of Year, and even takeaways​ from the Warriors win over the Cavaliers Monday.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

LeBron James reminds heckling Warriors fans he has three rings (VINE)

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 13:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers stands on the court during their game against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on January 13, 2017 in Sacramento, California.  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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Monday night was not exactly the best game of the season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They looked like a team on the final night of a six-game, 12-day road trip and they were mailing it in. Then they ran into a rested Warriors team looking to gain a little confidence. The result was a Red Wedding-level blood bath.

LeBron James was none too bothered. He was downplaying the rivalry and the importance of the game before it tipped-off, and after the game he rightly said this was not going to have any impact in June.

And when Warriors fans heckled him, he reminded them of the hardware — he’s got rings. Three of them. The last one at the expense of the Warriors.

https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

I’m going to miss Vine when it goes away.

Hat tip Matt Moore Eye on Basketball.