NBA power rankings

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James_game2.jpgOur weekly NBA rankings, where we start to see teams get ready for the playoffs. Or try to improve their lottery position. Either way.

1. Cavaliers (56-15) Seven game win streak, best record in the NBA, and they get Big Z back this week. The only intrigue left for the last few weeks of the season is to see what team they get to destroy in the first round.

2. Magic (49-21) Rashard Lewis gets called out for not living up to his $18.5 million, he goes out and drops 24 and 11 on the Heat. And that’s the team’s big problem?

3. Lakers (52-18) LA has to get prepared for the playoffs without Andrew Bynum (he’ll be back next month). Had to do that the last two years, and they went to the Finals.

4. Nuggets (47-23) Injury questions about along the front line (not to mention the coach), and Denver’s next five games include Boston, Orlando and Dallas. Rockies-like mountains for this team to climb.

5. Mavericks (46-23) If Rodrigue Beaubois were a rookie on a lesser team, where he got a lot of burn, his name would pop up in Rookie of the Year conversations.

6. Hawks (45-24) Monday night game against the streaking Bucks, then on Wednesday they face Orlando. Atlanta has big playoff aspirations, these are the types of teams they need to beat in the playoffs.

7. Bucks (38-30) They are 14-2 since they traded for John Salmons. How much will they pay to keep him around this summer?  

8. Suns (44-26) Four wins in a row, and the last one against Portland was the kind of ground it out win the Suns will need in the playoffs.

9. Celtics (45-24) Four wins in a row and those old legs have looked fresh the last week. Can that really last into the playoffs? Boston fans gave a little extra in the church offering plate yesterday hoping to make it so.

10. Thunder (42-26) They dropped a game to the Pacers? Ugh. The mistake of a young team. Which we forget these Thunder are.

11. Jazz (45-25) The last five has seen wins against the bottom feeders — Washington, Minnesota and a CP3less New Orleans — but losses to Oklahoma City and Phoenix. They need to beat some good teams before the playoffs.

12. Spurs (41-27) Loss to Hawks Sunday, next four games are Thunder, Lakers, Cavaliers and Celtics. Tough road for a team trying to stay out of the eight seed.

13. Blazers (42-29) Go ahead and say they are only beating teams below .500 lately — I will because they are — but the fact is they are still beating them.

14. Heat (36-34) Teams at the top of the East all want to avoid Dwyane Wade in the first round — they know they can win the series, but he will make it harder than it has to be.

15. Rockets (36-32) The Aaron Brooks/Kevin Martin backcourt is already one of the most dynamic in the NBA. All they need is a powerhouse center and… oh yea. Yao.

16. Grizzlies (37-33) Heavy stretch of road games to end the season, but with this team that may be the best thing.

17. Bobcats (35-34) Don’t look at the team on the court the last week, look at that shiny new owner we’ve got.

18. Raptors (34-34) I’d say they were desperately holding on to the final playoff spot in the East, except everybody below them is crumbling.

19. Hornets (33-38) This week the Chris Paul and Darren Collison share the ball experiment begins. That should be interesting.

20. Kings (24-46) Big sigh of relief that Tyreke Evans will not miss the rest of the season. He’s the only thing making this team watchable (of course, they beat the Clippers without him).

21. Bulls (32-37) On paper, an enticing team for free agents. If said free agents watched them play this week, not so much.

22. Pacers (24-46) The Pacers with a couple of wins this week. It helps when Danny Granger drops 29. Still does not make this team watchable.

23. Sixers (24-46) Playing out the string, and having to do it against playoff teams. The next few weeks will be ugly.

24. Knicks (25-45) They are .500 in their last four games. Take the small victories, Knicks fans.

25. Clippers (26-44) I bought a cool San Diego Clippers throwback T-shirt this week. That’s about the only interesting news I have on this team.

26. Warriors (19-50) Warriors fans don’t care about these rankings, the team is for sale. That is the only ray of hope this franchise had.

27. Pistons (23-47) At least Stuckey is healthy because this team is not.

28. Wizards (21-47) Eleven losses in a row now, time to get to the end of the season and hit the reset button.

29. Timberwolves (14-56) Saw them in person against LA… they are that bad. But they are still trying for Kurt Rambis, most of the time.

30. Nets (7-62) I want to move you out of last, I really do. Just give me a win to do it with.

Raptors troll Bucks after closing in Game 6 with RapsIn6.com website (VIDEO)

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Despite a disastrous fourth quarter performance, the Toronto Raptors closed the series against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night. The Raptors came away from Game 6 with a 92-89 victory and a chance to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round.

Meanwhile, the rivalry between the Raptors and the Bucks appears to be alive and well, as the Raptors pushed a video on social media after the game ended that was pointed toward the Bucks.

In it, the Raptors mascot registers a domain name for the team at RapsIn6.com, then proceeds to sip tea in the style of the famous Kermit meme.

In case you are out of the loop, this is a reference to Brandon Jennings saying Milwaukee would beat the Miami Heat in six games back in 2013.

Meanwhile, game ops at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee played the theme song from the children’s TV show “Barney” during Raptors player introductions.

Nothing really happens if you go to RapsIn6.com. There’s nothing on the website save for the video the Raptors posted to social media, which you can watch above.

Toronto has their core together and presumably will for a little while. The Bucks are a growing young team. I’m cool with them duking it out in the postseason for years to come.

Bucks storm back at home, Raptors hang on for 92-89 win, advance to second round

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Nothing can be easy for the Raptors.

They were cruising, up 25 in the third quarter, whipping the ball around on offense, hitting threes, making sharp rotations on defense, and generally overwhelming a Bucks team that did not look ready for the moment.

Then everything changed. The Raptors offense went ice cold, and the ball movement stopped, and the Bucks were getting big plays from Giannis Antetokounmpo and — out of nowhere — Jason Terry. Across the third-and-fourth quarters the Bucks went on a 34-7 run, hitting 5-of-7 from three, one of those a Terry three to put the Bucks up 80-78.

The Raptors then responded like a veteran team, going on a 9-0 run led by DeMar DeRozan, who was the best Toronto player in the series. The Bucks had their chances, but shot 6-of-14 on free throws in the fourth, and Milwaukee started to look tired like the comeback had taken too much out of them. They made the mental mistakes of a young team learning hard lessons.

Toronto hung on for a 92-89 win, and they take the series 4-2.

The Raptors will open their conference semifinal series against the Cavaliers on Monday night in Cleveland.

The star of the night for Toronto was clearly DeRozan, who finished with 32 points on 12-of-24 shooting. Beyond that, he was quick with the recognition of double-teams and was moving the ball, plus had a key defensive play late. However, his biggest moment was this dunk.

The Bucks came out with some desperation early. Antetokounmpo had 14 in the first quarter and got his team off to a good start, but the Raptors settled down, got the ball inside, kicked out for threes, and led by 28-24 at the half.

Milwaukee fell into playing a lot of isolation basketball, while the Raptors were moving the ball and finding the mismatches. The result was a 13-point second quarter from the Bucks (who shot just 3-of-17 from outside the paint in the first half and 1-of-9 from three), and a 51-38 Raptors lead at the half. DeRozan had 16 at the break.

The second half saw the Raptors seem to pull away, going up 25 at one point and being in total control.

Then the Bucks made it interesting. It started with a 15-3 run at the end of the third, which carried over to the fourth quarter and soon the lead was in single digits. The key was some ball movement for the Bucks, some made threes, great play from Antetokounmpo.

However, the larger issue was the Raptors just came apart on offense. From the 6 minute mark of the third quarter through the middle of the fourth, the Raptors were 4-of-16 shooting total, 2-of-8 from three, and that was led by DeRozan suddenly going 1-of-6. The Raptors let them back in the game.

What veteran teams know how to do — and what the Bucks are still learning — is how to bounce back from those stretches. Kyle Lowry made some solid plays, DeRozan dunked, the Raptors got some stops, and they found a way to hang on for the win.

DeRozan and Lowry — 13 points — were the only Raptors to finish in double figures.

Antetokounmpo had 34 for the Bucks and carried his team for long stretches. Khris Middleton added 19, and Matthew Dellavedova had a dozen off the bench.

 

Serge Ibaka, Giannis Antetokounmpo trade massive blocks during Raptors-Bucks (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is a long dude. So is Toronto Raptors big man Serge Ibaka. The two faced off in Game 6 at the Bradley Center on Thursday night, so it makes sense the two wound up using one of their most impressive physical assets against each other.

Let the battle of length begin!

Via Twitter:

That’s Ibaka blocking the Milwaukee Bucks star on an attempt at the rim, on a dunk no less. That was impressive, no doubt, but just a minute later, it was Antetokounpmo coming through with a big time block on DeMar DeRozan:

But DeRozan got his revenge later in the fourth quarter, throwing down a dunk over the Bucks defense that was perhaps the finger in the wall needed to stop the leak that was Toronto’s disastrous final period.

DeRozan and the Raptors got the last laugh, winning the closeout game on the road, 92-89. Toronto will go on to play the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semi finals.

Should the Trail Blazers go after Pacers star Paul George? CJ McCollum says yes

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The Portland Trail Blazers need to do something drastic this offseason. Fans in Oregon should be expecting something big with a roster of players prime for the trade market and three first round picks in GM Neil Olshey’s pocket for the 2017 NBA Draft.

Who should Portland go after? That is a tough question to answer.

The Blazers are not exactly a huge free agent destination, although the city is changing its reputation toward NBA players in recent years with the help of star players Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who have fully embraced Oregon’s largest city.

McCollum, in fact, has his own opinion on who the Blazers should go after this summer: Indiana Pacers star Paul George.

Via Twitter:

George, who is under contract for 2017-18 but has a player option for 2018-19, has been rumored to desire playing in Los Angeles. In any case, fans around the league are looking at George as a potential trade candidate.

He would certainly do well on the Blazers, who had a disappointing 41-41 season in 2016-17. After a surprising effort last year, the Trail Blazers were slotted to expand upon their finish in 2016. But a sluggish start from Damian Lillard mixed with one of the worst defensive rosters in the NBA found them battling for the No. 8 seed come the end of the season. Even still, a miraculous stretch of good play after the All-Star Game was what it took for the Blazers to beat out the likes of Denver, Dallas, and Sacramento for the final playoff spot.

We know now that the Blazers were swept by the top-seeded Golden State Warriors, and up here in the Northwest it only solidified the fact Portland needs to get better on the wing.

Last season, Al-Farouq Aminu showed he could shoot a league average percentage from 3-point range, which helped relieve some pressure off Lillard and CJ McCollum. But Aminu regressed to shooting 33 percent from deep in 2017, and although Maurice Harkless did an excellent job as a young starter he’s not yet the kind of dynamic offensive player the Blazers need to be a Top 4 team in the West.

Aminu projects for Portland better as a 4, and with Jusuf Nurkic now anchoring the center position, the goal for Portland will be to strengthen the wing and flesh out the bench.

George would be an excellent get, but the Blazers would need to have the salaries match in any trade with Indiana. Allen Crabbe seems the most likely option, given his RFA match for Portland was a clear move to retain an asset. Evan Turner occupied a lot of guard minutes for Portland, and it seems the Blazers aim to keep him.

Meanwhile, you have other players like Meyers Leonard and Ed Davis who still have some value and could help Portland’s cap situation or work as part of a trade with Indiana.

Having watched Portland closely the past six seasons or so, and seeing how parts of this roster has developed, it would make the most sense to add a third star to this team. Turner hamstrings the bench unit with his gargantuan $17 million salary next season, so building out the bench unit under him still won’t put the Blazers in a position to compete with the top teams in the West without another star.

I think the clearest way to capitalize on the prime part of the careers for Lillard and McCollum is to grab another star right now. George might be out of reach — and he reportedly wants to play in LA anyway — but I think the Blazers should think big this offseason. Whether that means trading for George or doing something else bold remains to be seen.