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.

PBT Podcast: NBA first round playoff series breakdowns

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LeBron James‘ Cavaliers looks to be in a battle royal in the first round — and they could lose to Victor Oladipo‘s Pacers.

Miami’s defense and versatility is challenging the Sixers and shaking the faith of all those that just jumped on the bandwagon.

Utah stole a game in Oklahoma City showing great grit and resolve, not to mention a lot of Donovan Mitchell.

Anthony Davis has done everything but walk on water for the Pelicans.

The first round of the NBA playoffs has been filled with fascinating storylines — and we are just two games into each series. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all eight first-round series in this podcast, starting in the East and the tight races there, then move into the West. There’s even some “who wants to pay Jabari Parker this summer?” talk thrown in.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

James Dolan says Knicks must build around ‘great’ Kristaps Porzingis, offers fair rebuke of meddling charges

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Phil Jackson received a standing ovation in his first game at Madison Square Garden as Knicks president. Don’t forget how excited New York was for Jackson, who coached the Bulls and Lakers to 11 championships and played for the Knicks’ last title team. He was welcomed as a potential savior.

The common refrain: Jackson would have a chance to succeed if Knicks owner James Dolan didn’t meddle.

Immediately, Dolan said he would cede control to Jackson “willingly and gratefully.” Dolan later pledged to honor Jackson’s full five-year contract.

But fans turned on Jackson as he did an awful job and the Knicks struggled. Dolan opted into the final two years of Jackson’s contract, anyway, as he said he would all along. Fans got angrier. When Jackson publicly flaunted Kristaps Porzingis trade talks, outrage reached a fever pitch. Finally, Dolan stepped in to fire Jackson.

Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“A great player in hockey is the difference, but a great player in basketball is the team.

“And I think we have a great player in Porzingis. We just have to build around him.”

“Everybody who wants to talk about the Knicks wants to ask me about Phil Jackson,” Dolan said, smiling and shaking his head. “The entire market wanted to me to hire him and when I did, the entire market said it was a great move. The only thing was, everyone said that I shouldn’t interfere with him.

“Three years later, everyone wanted to know when I was going to do something about Phil. The same people who told me not to interfere wanted me to interfere. But that’s OK. I just think that Phil underestimated the job.”

Dolan makes a salient point about how people perceive his involvement. The problem isn’t that Dolan meddles. It’s that he makes poor decisions.

Hiring Jackson – an out-of-touch former coach with no front-office experience – was a poor decision. I’m not enthused about Steve Mills as Jackson’s replacement, either, though we’ll see how that plays out.

Building around Porzingis is a better decision. He’s an extremely talented 22-year-old.

But it’s hardly a foolproof plan. Porzingis is recovering from a torn ACL. Dolan said Porzingis could return in December – or miss next season entirely.

Either way, the Knicks must surround Porzingis with better teammates. Dolan will and should be a part of that process. Whether he’ll positively affect it is another matter.

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.

Rumor: Lakers, Kawhi Leonard share mutual interest

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The Spurs seem like they won’t trade Kawhi Leonard.

That won’t stop teams from trying.

There’s a clear disconnect between Leonard and San Antonio. Even the potential of a player as good as Leonard becoming available has teams salivating.

The Clippers are reportedly assembling a trade offer for the L.A. native. Los Angeles’ other team – the Lakers – are also apparently expected to factor prominently.

Sean Deveney of Sporting News:

“I think they go in hard for Leonard once the season is over and once the dust settles in San Antonio,” one executive told Sporting News. “(Leonard) wants to go to LA. There probably won’t be public demands on that, but he has leverage. He is going to be a free agent (in 2019). He’s an LA guy and he can just let teams know he won’t re-sign next year with anyone but the Lakers.”

But make no mistake, the Lakers are the favorite here.

“I would say that’s the most likely thing,” another general manager told Sporting News. “He’s going to be their target any way you look at it, this summer or next summer. There’s not many other ways to explain what’s been going on with that situation other than him trying to get out of San Antonio.”

Of course, every team wants Leonard. He’s an elite two-way player when healthy. But teams will go to differing lengths to pursue him. If the Lakers will “go hard for Leonard,” that means something beyond just desiring him.

Under Magic Johnson, the Lakers have made no secret of their plan to acquire stars. That has largely been centered on 2018 free agents, but with that well drying up, talk has turned to 2019 free agents. If the Lakers can get a top 2019 free agent – Leonard – sooner, why wouldn’t they?

One reason is the cost. Trading with San Antonio would require dealing at least some combination of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. Signing Leonard outright in 2019 would be simpler.

But a trade is the only surefire way of getting Leonard. If the Lakers don’t trade for him, another team could. With promising young players and cap space, the Lakers have the tools to make an intriguing offer for Leonard.

Or, more likely, the Spurs could keep him. Their relationship isn’t necessarily beyond repair, and they can offer him a super-max contract extension this summer.

They might not offer it. Even if they do, he might not take it. If he doesn’t, he could pledge to re-sign with only certain teams – like the Lakers – and steer trade talks that way. You can see how the thinking develops:

Leonard might be unhappy in San Antonio. He grew up in Southern California. Therefore, he’ll engineer his way to the Lakers?

Maybe, and maybe these anonymous executives know something to that effect. But this mostly sounds lazily speculative.