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.

Report: Rockets return Donatas Motiejunas to restricted free agency, working on new contract with him

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Rockets had Donatas Motiejunas in a bind.

He was beholden to them on a four-year, $31 million deal and unable to sign with other teams. Motiejunas’ choices: Report for a physical or wait in limbo.

But apparently Houston has allowed him out of that constraint.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

This means Motiejunas can’t sign with the Nets, who signed him to the original offer sheet, for one year.

I bet it also means Motiejunas and Houston have agreed to a new contract. Otherwise, why release him from the offer sheet? The Rockets would be giving up a tremendous amount of leverage out of the goodness of their hearts – unless this is just a prelude to a new deal with Houston.

John Wall pushes down Jusuf Nurkic from behind in retaliation (video)

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John Wall didn’t like how Jusuf Nurkic bumped him, so Wall shoved the Nuggets center from behind and sent him to the floor.

An overreaction to the bump? Probably. Wall got hit with a technical foul.

But I’m mostly just impressed Wall was strong enough to push over Nurkic.

DeMar DeRozan throws down massive dunk against Timberwolves (VIDEO)

derozan
AP
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DeMar DeRozan is having one of those seasons for the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors. During Thursday night’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, 124-110, DeRozan scored 27 points while adding eight rebounds, five assists, and shooting a whopping 13 free throws.

DeRozan also sealed the victory in the final minute with a huge put back dunk.

The Raptors led by 9 points with a minute left as they were inbounding the ball. A long pass from the baseline to a streaking DeMarre Carroll resulted in a blocked layup, but DeRozan was there to clean up the mess.

Via CJZero on Twitter:

Three things we learned Thursday: Memphis, Marc Gasol just win every close game

Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) shoots between Portland Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu, from left, center Mason Plumlee, and forward Jake Layman (10) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
Associated Press
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Here’s what you missed Thursday around the NBA while you were drinking homemade glow-in-the-dark beer with jellyfish genes in it (no, you try it first, I insist)…

1) Don’t play Memphis in a close game, they just find a way to win.
Last week, when Mike Conley went down with a back injury and was going to miss six weeks (give or take), we questioned if Memphis could keep their heads above water. They promptly went out and lost to a very good Toronto team.

Since then they have won five in a row, capped by an impressive 88-86 win over Portland Tuesday. Impressive because:

• Memphis is now 12-0 in games that were within 3 points in the final minute. You get in a close game with Memphis, you lose. (Statistically, we know some of that is luck, that there will be some regression to the mean, but that stat has propelled a team has been outscored by nine points this season, one that should be 12-12, to the 16-8 record they have.)

• Memphis trailed Portland 79-68 with less than five minutes to go, and still won.

Marc Gasol had 36 points and has been an absolute beast since Conley went down, doing whatever it takes to win.

• Toney Douglas — a guy the Grizzlies just picked up off the street this week, basically — comes in and is clutch down the stretch for them, including hitting the game-winning free throws with 0.5 seconds left (Damian Lillard tried to argue the call, to no avail).

The schedule gets tough for Memphis the next couple of weeks — Golden State, home-and-home with Cleveland, then Boston and Utah looming not long after — but do not doubt the Grizzlies. No team is as resilient as this bunch.

2) Bulls prove Spurs aren’t perfect on the road. It was bound to happen, the San Antonio Spurs were 13-0 on the road, they were going to stumble at some point. That point turned out to be Thursday night in Chicago, where the Spurs came out of the gate like they went out and had a big pregame meal of Lou Malnati’s pizza — 32 points on 30.6 percent shooting in the first half for San Antonio. The Spurs didn’t defend poorly, for example Kawhi Leonard held Jimmy Butler to no first-half points — in fact, midway through the first quarter Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez had scored almost all the Bulls’ buckets — but the San Antonio offense was dreadful. Throw a little credit to the Chicago defense if you want, but this was more San Antonio stumbling than a Chicago return to the Thibodeau era.

The Bulls were up 12 at the half and were able to hang on despite a strong second 24 minutes from Leonard (17 of his 24 came in the second half) and get the win. Dwyane Wade had 20 points and hit a couple of key buckets late to stabilize Chicago. For a Bulls team that is going to be in a playoff battle all season — they are the seven seed right now, one game ahead of the Pacers in ninth — these kinds of wins at home can prove huge.

3) What is it with Minnesota and second half? On the road, the Minnesota Timberwolves had played the Toronto Raptors even for the first 24 minutes — it was 59-59 at the half. And yet, there was a sense of dread for Timberwolves fans because all season their young team has just come apart in the third quarter — and then Toronto opened the second half on an 11-2 run. Minnesota, to their credit, crawls back into it, but midway through the fourth the Raptors go on a 17-4 run sparked by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and the Raptors pull away for the 124-110 win. The Timberwolves lost another game because they can’t defend well.

Minnesota shows flashes of the kind of brilliance that has everyone thinking they might be a contender in a few years. But we all expected too much too soon from this group. Those impressive stretches are followed by ones where they play like a young team, they don’t defend well, and they throw those good efforts away. Not that they were going to beat a good Toronto team on the road, but the Timberwolves can be frustrating to watch. Patience is hard, and Minnesota fans are being asked to show a lot of it. We can debate if it’s time to bring Ricky Rubio off the bench and let Kris Dunn sink or swim, but that’s not the core problem. Ultimately, the Timberwolves are young and playing like it. They don’t know how and aren’t putting in the effort to defend well yet. Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, they can be the core of a contender eventually, but there is a lot of learning to do along the way. Tom Thibodeau can teach them. But it’s going to require patience.