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.

Fans to vote on “Best Dunk,” “Best Assist,” other categories handed out at NBA Awards show

zach lavine
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Fans are going to get their say at the NBA Awards Show, coming June 26 on TNT. Drake will be the host, and we to come up with an under/over on the number of players Drake gives a bro hug to during the ceremony.

That’s the night the NBA will hand out its Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, and every other major postseason award — except for All-NBA Team, which has to come earlier. The media have already cast their votes for these awards.

Where the fans get to come in is the fun awards, categories created just for this event:

• Dunk of the Year
• Best Style
• Block of the Year
• Assist of the Year
• Game Winner of the Year
• Top Performance of the Year

The NBA already narrowed down the list of choices for each category to three, and voting opens tonight. Just go to  www.nba.com/nbaawards and cast your ballot, or on Twitter or Facebook just post the #AwardName and First/Last Name of their winner (for example, #DunkOfTheYear  Larry Nance).

These awards should add some energy — and good highlights — to what has the potential to be a stuffy event. It’s a bunch of NBA players in suits in a ballroom in New York, this is going to feel like a branding event at times. The NBA is hoping the fans can liven it up.

Here are the categories, with the hashtags for voting:

#DunkOfTheYear
• Los Angeles Lakers’ Larry Nance, Jr. vs. Brooklyn

• Minnesota’s Zach LaVine vs. Phoenix

• Oklahoma City’s Victor Oladipo vs. Atlanta

#BestStyle
• Cleveland’s Iman Shumpert
• Chicago’s Dwyane Wade
• Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook

#BlockOfTheYear
• San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard vs. Houston
• New York’s Kristaps Porzingis vs. Brooklyn
• Miami’s Hassan Whiteside vs. Toronto

#GameWinnerOfTheYear
• Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving vs. Golden State
• Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook vs. Denver
• Phoenix’s Tyler Ulis vs. Boston

#TopPerformanceOfTheYear
• Phoenix’s Devin Booker 70-point game vs. Boston
• Houston’s James Harden nets 53-16-17 triple double vs. New York
• Golden State’s Klay Thompson scores 60 in three quarters vs. Indiana
• Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook with most points in a triple-double, 57-13-11, vs. Orlando

#AssistOfTheYear
• Golden State’s Draymond Green to Stephen Curry to Kevin Durant
• Denver’s Nikola Jokic with no-look pass
• LA Clippers’ Chris Paul with wraparound pass

Report: USC’s Elijah Stewart intended to declare for NBA draft, forgot

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Declaring for the NBA draft is like declaring bankruptcy: You can’t just bellow it and expect it to take effect. You actually have to fill out the paperwork.

That’s why USC’s Elijah Stewart wasn’t among the 192 early entrants to the 2017 NBA draft.

Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress:

Stewart:

Givony’s report will do little but embarrass Stewart. It’s unlikely Stewart would’ve been drafted, and he likely would have withdrawn to return to USC for his senior season. Perhaps, he would’ve gotten helpful feedback from the NBA before that point, but that’s minimal.

The real problem, though, isn’t Stewart’s inattentiveness, to whatever extent is exists. It’s that the NCAA won’t allow players to maintain eligibility while having an agent.

If Stewart had proper representation, there’d be no questioning whether he intended to declare for the draft. His agent would’ve handled it, one way or the other.

If the NCAA were truly about educating players, it’d allow them to have guidance from experienced professional agents. Agents don’t have to conflict with amateurism (not that amateurism is a worthy goal, anyway).

But teaching players is not the NCAA’s true goal. The NCAA prioritizes keeping its cartel in tact and money flowing to coaches and administrators.

Agents might steer players from that corrupt system entirely or at least help them leverage their immense power to gain better compensation than a wage-fixed scholarship.

This incident should spark discussion about the unseemly lengths the NCAA goes to to protect its money-makers from its revenue-generators. Instead, it’s much easier to make Stewart a punchline.

Kevin Durant gets a hoot out of meme with Draymond Green

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You’ve seen the Draymond GreenKevin Durant meme, right?

Here’s the video with my favorite caption:

In the latest episode of “Still KD,” Durant watches the meme, reads other captions and calls it “hilarious.”

Russell Westbrook: ‘Oklahoma City is a place that I want to be’

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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The Thunder want to sign Russell Westbrook to a contract extension that projects to be worth about $207 million over five years.

But does he want to sign it?

Westbrook, via Royce Young of ESPN:

“That’s something, like I said, I haven’t thought about anything, obviously,” Westbrook said. “Everybody knows that I like Oklahoma City and I love being here and I love everybody here. But I haven’t even thought about that. Obviously, Oklahoma City is a place that I want to be.”

Westbrook noted that his wife is expecting their first child in May, and that’s where his focus is right now. Asked whether there’s a timetable on his decision about a potential extension, Westbrook lightheartedly jabbed back.

“No. What did I just say? Like you don’t care about my baby?” he said. “You must not. You didn’t hear that part, huh?”

Though it was painted as Westbrook showing his loyalty to the Thunder in stark contrast to the departed Kevin Durant, Westbrook’s renegotiation-and-extension last summer was also his way of receiving the highest-possible salary.

This is a different case.*

*So, it seems. It’s unclear whether the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will allow Oklahoma City to renegotiate Westbrook’s 2017-18 salary up to the designated-veteran-player rate, but I’m presuming not.

Westbrook will have 10 years of experience when an extension would kick in. A typical advantage of a designated-veteran-player contract is allowing a player with eight or nine years experience, who’s typically limited to a starting salary of 30% of the salary cap, to receive a starting salary of 35% of the salary cap. But Westbrook will be eligible for 35% of the salary by then simply due to his years of service.

In other words, an extension signed this summer would pay Westbrook the exact same amount he could receive as a free agent in 2018.

So, would Westbrook sign that extension? It’d guarantee him a huge salary and protect him in the event of injury or decline. But Westbrook is so good, he’s extremely likely to get the max in 2018-19 no matter what. With only minimal risk, maybe he’d rather maintain flexibility.

Westbrook appeared to embrace leading the team, and he truly seems happy in Oklahoma City in a way I didn’t expect when he signed last summer. His image is so tied to loyalty to the Thunder, it’d be tough to spin an exit.

But Oklahoma City is relatively locked into a roster that will have a hard time winning multiple playoff series. Westbrook wants to win.

I don’t know whether he’ll accept an extension this summer rather than delaying a year, but if he won’t ink a deal this year, that should be a concerning indicator to the Thunder about their chances of re-signing him in 2018.