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.

Heat have work cut out vs. surging Sixers

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MIAMI (AP) — Philadelphia 76ers reserve guard Justin Anderson scored six points on Thursday, but he played a major role nonetheless in a 128-108 playoff win over the Miami Heat.

It was Anderson who worked on the psyche of teammate Joel Embiid, the 76ers’ All-Star center who returned after missing 10 straight games because of a concussion and left-eye injury.

“Justin was hyping me up on the bench, telling me I’m one of the best players in the league and that I have to take over,” said Embiid, who wore a mask during the game. “I liked that.”

Embiid, with that added boost of confidence, produced 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks in 30 minutes. He missed his first five shots from the floor and then made five of his next six, including three 3-pointers.

In addition, Embiid made 10 of 15 free throws, wrapping up his highly successful NBA playoff debut.

On Saturday afternoon, the teams will meet again at AmericanAirlines Arena in a first-round series the Heat trails 2-1.

Certainly, the Heat will try to corral Embiid, but Miami gave its own star center, Hassan Whiteside, just 13 minutes on Thursday, in part because of foul trouble.

Whiteside produced just five points, two rebounds and one block. He made his only shots from the field, but his four fouls helped to keep him off the court.

“I want to get more minutes,” said Whiteside, who led the NBA with 3.7 blocks in 2015-2016 and with 14.1 rebounds last season. “Even with the fouls, I could’ve been out there. I would not have fouled out.”

This season, Whiteside is averaging 14.0 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. But, on average, his minutes per game are down seven minutes from last season and even more in the playoffs.

Whiteside said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra “wants me to just be in a corner and set picks.”

Spoelstra, meanwhile, said “it’s part of my job to figure out how he can get to his strengths and make an impact on defense and rebounding.”

Aside from the two centers, the other big story line in this series revolves around the 76ers, a young team that won 18 of its past 19 games. After years of horrendous records amid a major teardown and rebuild effort, the 76ers have looked like the best team in the league during the past month.

They didn’t just beat the Heat on Thursday — they ran them over, making 18 of 34 3-pointers (52.9 percent). They also shot 50.6 percent overall and were plus-eight on rebounds and plus-14 on paint points.

Ben Simmons, the 76ers’ star point guard, nearly had a triple-double with 19 points, a game-high 12 rebounds and seven assists.

JJ Redick, one of the top shooters in the league, scored just 10 points, but 76ers teammates Dario Saric and Marco Belinelli each scored 21 points and each hit four 3-pointers to help the offense flow.

Miami was led by 23 points and eight assists from point guard Goran Dragic. Heat reserve forward Justise Winslow scored a season-high 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. But Miami’s top three shooting guards — Tyler Johnson, Dwyane Wade and Wayne Ellington — combined for just 21 points.

The game’s biggest factor was Embiid, who had been listed as unlikely to play until Thursday afternoon, when he was cleared by doctors.

Embiid had a 7-0 run in the fourth quarter, which continued a trend. In Philadelphia’s two wins in this series, they have outscored the Heat by 31 and 21 points, respectively.

Anderson said Embiid has been a team player throughout.

“One of the things (Embiid) told me during (Thursday’s) game was to tell Coach that he didn’t want any plays run for him,” Anderson said. “He just wanted to play within the scheme.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo laid waste to Aron Baynes with this dunk

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For the first time this series Friday night, the Bucks looked like the more talented team.

That got them a comfortable win at home against the Celtics and set up a huge Game 4 on Sunday, with the Celtics still up 2-1 in the series. This looked more like the Bucks team that some of us picked to win the series, the team with the long and superior athletes unleashed on defense to challenge everything Boston tried. Milwaukee also got a big game out of Thon Maker at the five, which helped spread the floor because he’s a threat from three (as a team, the Bucks were 16-of-33 from deep) that the Celtics had to cover. That opens up driving lanes.

Giannis Antetokounmpo took advantage of those lanes laid waste to Aron Baynes with this dunk.

🛫 THE GREEK FREAK TAKES FLIGHT! 🛬

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Damn. That’s not fair.

🇬🇷💥

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Game 4 is Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee… and let’s just say I’m not betting Baynes will be able to turn the tables and put the Greek Freak in a poster.

Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers completes pass to become part owner of Bucks

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Aaron Rodgers is regularly be seen courtside at Milwaukee Bucks games, having professed his love of the sport many times. Here was there Friday night for the Bucks’ Game 3 win, sitting courtside with girlfriend Danica Patrick.

This time, he was doing it as part owner of the team.

Milwaukee announced between the first and second quarters that the Packers QB1 is now part-owner of the Bucks, having bought a minority stake in the team.

“I have proudly called Wisconsin my home for the past 13 years, and I am thankful for the friendships and the opportunities I have been given to live and play here,” Rodgers in a released statement. “I am excited and honored to deepen my connection to the region by joining Wes Edens, Marc Lasry, Jamie Dinan, Mike Fascitelli and the ownership group of the Milwaukee Bucks. As a huge fan of the NBA and the sport of basketball, this is a dream come true for me, and I look forward to furthering my affinity for Wisconsin sports as a minority owner in a team I love and support.”

Rodgers is a California native who attended Cal in the Bay Area for college and now — like many an NBA player — splits his time between living where he works in Wisconsin and Southern California.

This is a smart time to buy into the Bucks — and not just because they won Friday. Milwaukee moves into a brand new building next season which should generate a lot more revenue for the franchise. Plus, the Bucks are poised to make a leap forward in the East as a team behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and a solid supporting cast (likely led by a new coach next season), which will lead to more revenue as they become a team to see on the road, one that fills buildings.

Pelicans look to pull off sweep of Trail Blazers

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Before the 2017-18 regular season began, any conversation regarding the New Orleans Pelicans and brooms had something to do with the possibility the team would clean house.

That would have meant parting ways with coach Alvin Gentry and general manager Dell Demps if the Pelicans missed the playoffs for a third consecutive year despite having one of the NBA’s best players in Anthony Davis.

But now, the broom means something very different.

Energized on both ends of the court, the Pelicans have the broom ready Saturday at the Smoothie King Center to sweep the faltering Portland Trail Blazers out of the Western Conference playoffs with a fourth consecutive victory in the first-round series.

With a win Saturday, the Pelicans would become the first playoff team seeded sixth or lower to sweep a first-round playoff series since the 2001 Charlotte Hornets swept the Miami Heat 3-0 in a best-of-five series.

“Closeout games are the hardest,” said New Orleans guard Rajon Rondo, a 32-year-old veteran who is the Pelicans’ second-oldest player, someone who has served as an on-court coach to his younger teammates. “That’s what I’m going to try to explain to these guys. The first three might have been tough, but this last one is going to be very tough.”

In routing the Blazers 119-102 on Thursday to take a 3-0 series lead, the Pelicans fed off a raucous sellout crowd and led by as many as 33 points in the second half, allowing Gentry to rest his starters. Davis finished with 28 points and 11 rebounds while nursing a sore left thumb, and forward Nikola Mirotic, acquired after center DeMarcus Cousins went down in late January with a season-ending Achilles injury, scored a career-playoff-high 30 points, with 14 in the first quarter.

Even though Portland’s normally potent guard tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum had their best game of the series — combining for 42 of the Blazers’ 102 points — Lillard had trouble shaking free of the Pelicans’ trapping defense, which forced the ball out of his hands. Lillard made just 5 of 14 shots, including 3 of 9 from 3-point range.

“They whooped our butt,” said McCollum. “They beat us in every facet of the game: loose balls, rebounds, free-throw line, energy plays, 3-pointers in transition. … You name it, and they did it.”

The Pelicans have made a conscious decision to swarm Lillard and McCollum at every opportunity, daring other Blazers to beat them. Portland hasn’t adjusted properly to the strategy. Lillard has shot 32.7 percent in the three losses.

“I don’t think (defensive assistant coach) Darren Erman has gotten the credit that he deserves,” Gentry said. “He put together a great defensive game plan. It was him that brought the game plan to me and said, ‘This is what I want to do against them.'”

“You have to continue to mix it up and give them different looks,” Gentry added. “Even doing that, those guys got some shots off and made some real difficult shots. We’ve just got to make sure that we stay locked in and not let them get into one of those zones when it starts to go in and it doesn’t matter what kind of shot they’re shooting that it’s going to go in.”

Making matters worse for the Blazers is their injury status. Both Moe Harkless (left knee) and Evan Turner (right toe) are questionable for Game 4.

Portland coach Terry Stotts said the Pelicans have been tough to handle because a different player each night has shredded the Blazers’ defense.

“Going into the series, those four guys (Davis, Jrue Holiday, Mirotic and Rondo) have played extremely well,” Stotts said. “(Mirotic) is the third different guy who’s had a 30-point night. He’s very efficient, and he made a lot of smart basketball plays as well.”