NBA power rankings

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Thumbnail image for James_dunk.jpgOur weekly NBA rankings, where we wonder where would we would rank Kentucky on this list?

1. Cavaliers (52-15) Is beating the Celtics a statement win anymore? Frankly, the only statement game left for the Cavaliers to win is the one that closes out the NBA Finals. Everything else shouldn’t matter.

2. Magic (47-21) We’re going to overlook that loss to the Bobcats (second night of a back-to-back). Sort of. It’s why you’re not number one this week. But overall this team should make Cleveland nervous.

3. Nuggets (45-21) Their coach is missing games due to cancer, their front line gets injured as easily as if it were made of paper mache — and they keep on winning. Six in a row now.

4. Lakers (48-18) Pau Gasol tries to prove he’s tough on Amundson, which can actually decrease your toughness quotient.

5. Mavericks (45-22) I can hear the cries: “It’s not fair! One loss and you drop all the way from first to fifth?” Yes, when it’s the Knicks that beat you.

6. Hawks (42-23) Another team that lost to the Knicks this week. They should have fallen father, but redeemed themselves with a couple wins to follow.

7. Spurs (39-25) No Tony Parker? No problem, two wins. Of course, those were against the Timberwolves and Clippers, which combined should really only count for one win. Let’s see how it goes against Orlando.

8. Thunder (41-24) Remember how last year Portland came into the playoffs the hot young team, only to lose in the first round because they found out that playoff hoops is a different animal? The Thunder may learn that lesson this year.

9. Bucks (36-29) Six wins in a row, nine in their last 10. Bogut and Salmons are playing well. Nobody wants this team in the first round. 

10. Jazz (42-24) Still playing very well over the last month or more, but the losses to the Thunder and Bucks (due in part to injuries) drops them down the ladder a little.

11. Suns (41-26) The loss to the Lakers was a reminder they while they are good they are on the second tier in the West.

12. Blazers (41-28) Portland has won four in row, but against the dregs of the league. No style points earned.

13. Bobcats (34-31) If the playoffs started today, Bobcats and Hawks in the first round. Tell me you don’t want to watch that one.

14. Celtics (41-24) Three losses in last four. Can the Celtics get out of the first round of the playoffs?

15. Heat (35-32) Jermaine O’Neal is playing better and better as the season wears on. Didn’t see that one coming.

16. Rockets (33-31) After a heaping of softies, things get a little tougher this week with Denver, Memphis and the Celtics.

17. Grizzlies (35-32) I still am amazed when I watch Z-Bo play this well game-to-game.

18. Hornets (32-35) Chris Paul is working out before games, doing some shoot around, and looking good. How do you get both him and Collison minutes?

19. Raptors (32-33) Jose Calderon as starter does not fix the defensive woes.

20. Warriors (18-47) Don Nelson is chasing Lenny Wilkins to be the winningest coach in NBA history, yet if he does it with this team does that seem just?

21. Kings (23-44) Just about every other team on the bottom of this list has packed it in for the season mentally. Not the Kings, they bust it every night, still. That is saying something.

22. Pistons (23-43) You’d say this is when the team needs to start rebuilding, but last off-seasons mistakes make that impossible now.

23. Bulls (31-34) New promotion at the United Center — fill out a form in the lobby and you could be chosen to be a starting guard for the Bulls. Injuries have reduced them to this. In fact if you win the contest, you may want to make sure your health insurance is up to date.

24. Knicks (23-43) The beatdown of Dallas would normally move them up higher, if they hadn’t looked so bad the rest of the time.

25. Sixers (23-43) Eddie Jordan may well be toast after the season, but the shakeup needs to be bigger than that to really change things.

26. Pacers (21-45) More than any other team this season, I just don’t like watching them play basketball.

27. Wizards (21-43) I wanted to believe they could find a way to win more, but seven losses in a row reminds you this league is about talent. And the Wizards have none.

28. Clippers (25-42) They have set themselves up for a fast rebuilding. Which they will blow, because they are the Clippers.

29. Timberwolves (14-53) I’m close to moving them back to 30, they have just quit on the season.

30. Nets (7-59) You keep thinking — hoping — that they get some more wins and not set the record, but they keep blowing leads and losing close ones.

Byron Scott says he wants to coach again, should have played his veterans even more

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott watches the action against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
Associated Press
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Deposed Lakers’ coach Byron Scott did a media tour on Thursday — radio interviews up and down the dial, plus speaking to some members of the Los Angeles media.

It was a tour d’ force of all the things that had Lakers’ fans shaking their heads all season long. Take this quote given to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.

“If I knew this was coming, I would have played Lou [Williams], Brandon [Bass] and guys like that a whole lot more,” Scott said, referring to his veterans in an interview with this newspaper. “They gave me the best chance to win.”

He didn’t know his job was in danger? That would make one.

Scott was asked to do two contradictory things as Lakers coach: Put Kobe Bryant in the spotlight his final couple seasons while also developing the Lakers’ young talent. That was never going to lead to many wins — and Lakers’ brass understood that.

However, if your team is one of the two worst defensive teams in the league in consecutive years, that’s also not all about the roster. That’s about not getting buy-in from the players and effort to play whatever system he put in place. These Lakers teams didn’t hustle for Scott.

Scott admitted he was old school, but told Rich Eisen on the Rich Eisen Show (hat tip Eye on Basketball) that so is Gregg Popovich, and he’s doing just fine. Which shows a lack of understanding of the nuance with which Popovich works. Unlike the coach with a touch for praise at the right time in San Antonio, Scott’s old-school, tough-love ways turned off the young Lakers — it wasn’t just having them come off the bench, it was what was seen by the young players as a lack of communication as to why. A lack of coaching them up.

But Scott took credit on ESPN’s “The Jump” for the improved play and development of D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle last season. He said he needed to rein in Russell’s ego and get him to be professional, and he said his plan “worked.” Whether Russell’s development happened because of or in spite of Scott depends on who you ask, but the young potential star’s relationship with his coach was not good. That’s one thing Luke Walton was brought in to change.

Scott said multiple times over the course of the day he wants to coach again. His last two jobs — Cleveland post LeBron and with the Lakers — were about developing young talent and none of those five teams finished better than 12 games under .500. I’d say that would damage future job prospects, but this is the NBA so who knows. He may get another chance in a few years.

Erik Spoelstra starts to lose it on Luol Deng inbounds attempt (VIDEO)

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There were just 20.7 seconds left in overtime and the Miami Heat were down six — they needed a quick bucket.

Luol Deng was inbounding the ball near halfcourt and was looking for a way to get the ball deep down by the basket for a quick bucket — he seemed willing to take a risk rather than make the safe play to a wide open Josh Richardson in the backcourt.

After a couple of seconds of watching this, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra almost loses it on Deng, and the pass goes to Richardson. Enjoy the video.

Toronto hung on and won the game, evening the series at 1-1 headed back to Miami.

How crazy will summer free agent market be? How about reported $50 million for Festus Ezeli.

Golden State Warriors center Festus Ezeli, left, reacts after a dunk past Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. The Warriors won 106-94. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Associated Press
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Festus Ezeli averaged 7 points and 5.6 rebounds a game in just under 17 minutes a night in the 46 games he played last season, having missed time to have he knee scoped (he missed the entire 2013-14 season with surgery on that same knee). He’s averaged less than nine minutes per game in the playoffs, but played a key role defending the paint in the Warriors Game 2 win against the Trail Blazers.

What does that make him worth as a restricted free agent this summer?

Likely three years, $50 million a source told Sean Deveney of the Sporting News.

According to several league executives, that is likely to be what it takes to land Warriors restricted free agent center Festus Ezeli this summer. “Obviously there are health issues you’re worried about,” one general manager told Sporting News. “So I don’t think you’d want to go beyond three years. But he still has a lot of upside and he can get better in a bigger role.”

That’s $16.6 million a season, on average. The crazy number is market forces coming together on a couple of fronts. First, is that the market itself will be flooded with cash as the new television deal money kicks in and the salary cap spikes by $22 million up to an estimated (by the league) $92 million next season. Around two-thirds of the teams in the league will have the cap space for a max player, but there are not near that many players of that quality on the market. Meaning some guys are going to get over paid because teams will be looking to spend.

Second, big men in the NBA get overpaid. Always has been. Especially rim-protecting bigs right now, something needed to counter some of the impacts of small ball slashers in the half court. It’s simple supply and demand — if you want a rotation level guard in free agency you have plenty of options, but if you want an athletic 7-footer there are just a few of those around.

Still, who is going to pay $50 million for Ezeli? Maybe the Lakers.

The Lakers, a source said, will have interest in Ezeli, seeing his size and rim-protecting defense as an ideal complement to forward Julius Randle. L.A., of course, just hired Warriors assistant Luke Walton to be its coach. Ezeli had the best months of his career in November and December, with Walton filling in while Kerr recovered from back surgery, and before Ezeli’s knee injury.

The Warriors have the right to match any offer, Ezeli is a restricted free agent. Whether they would match something in the $50 million ballpark for Ezeli will be a factor of other moves they make this summer — if the Kevin Durant whispers are true the Warriors then can’t afford Ezeli, and what the team plans to do with Andrew Bogut long term.

Still, $50 million for Ezeli.

It’s going to be one wild summer.

Raptors hold on in overtime, even series with Heat

TORONTO, ON - MAY 03:  Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors hits a half-court buzzer beater to tie Game One and send it into overtime during the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami Heat during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 3, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t pretty, but the Toronto Raptors came away with a win and salvaged a tied series in their first two home games. For the second consecutive game, they went to overtime with the Miami Heat, only this time, it was the Heat that came up cold at the end, and Toronto prevailed, 96-92.

From an efficiency standpoint, Kyle Lowry wasn’t much better than he’s been thus far in the postseason, shooting just 7-for-22 from the field, but he hit two key jumpers in the final minutes of regulation that extended Toronto’s lead, forcing Miami to play from behind and tying the game on threes from Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic.

But it was Jonas Valanciunas who proved most effective late for Toronto. He finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds, and for long stretches, the only reliable offense for the Raptors was dumping the ball in to him. Valanciunas bailed the Raptors out late with a rebound and tip-in to break an 80-80 tie after DeMar DeRozan (who shot a forgettable 9-for-24 on the night) missed two consecutive free throws.

The Heat failed to score in the first three minutes of overtime, and their continued penchant for turning the ball over did them in several times down the stretch as they failed to execute.

A bright spot for Miami was Dragic, who scored 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting despite receiving eight stitches to his lower lip after catching an elbow in the first half.

Splitting the first two home games isn’t ideal for the Raptors, but they had every opportunity to go down 2-0 after controlling most of the first three quarters and managed to prevail. Plus, Lowry’s late-fourth-quarter heroics could be enough to get him going again.