NBA power rankings, where the Nets are up to 28th

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ilgauskas_return.jpgThis week, each of the top teams have a loss they regret, so we balance things out by not tinkering with the top… but the Spurs and Suns are climbing fast. And the Nets are 28th.

1. Cavaliers (58-16) The true sign of a quality team – they get a little bored this time of year and just want the playoffs to start. That would be your Cavaliers most nights.

2. Magic (52-22) The dramatic last second loss to the Hawks because nobody put a body on Josh Smith stung. But better to learn the hard lessons now rather than the second round of the playoffs.

3. Lakers (54-19) Last week’s drubbing at the hands of Oklahoma City does not mean the Thunder would win a first-round playoff matchup with Los Angeles. That said, the Lakers would prefer to avoid OKC in the first round.

4. Suns (47-26) The way he’s playing lately Amare Stoudemire could have won the Space Jam game all by himself. Seven wins in a row for Phoenix, but this week’s victims were Golden State, New York and Minnesota. Can’t read much into those.

5. Mavericks (48-26) Dirk has great footwork — would he be better on Dancing With The Stars than Mark Cuban?

6. Hawks (47-26) They sandwich the dramatic win over the Magic with losses to the Sixers and Bucks. I expect in the playoffs you see the more focused Hawks, but who knows if they can’t build momentum now.

7. Nuggets (48-26) A couple bad games this week, but nobody in Denver noticed because sports fans there are all still walking around muttering, “Brady Quinn? He’s the answer to our problems?”

8. Spurs (48-26) Kevin Garnett said Manu Ginobili imposed his will on the game Sunday. Manu’s been imposing his will on a lot of games lately.

9. Bucks (40-32) Everyone keeps saying the scramble between the Hawks and Celtics for third in the East is about avoiding Cleveland in the second round. It really should be about avoiding the hot Bucks in the first.

10. Blazers (45-29) Quality wins over Dallas and Oklahoma City this week. It has taken all season, but they may be putting it all together at the right time.

11. Celtics (47-26) What is it about the Celtics and third quarters? San Antonio’s 12-0 run to start the third quarter Sunday was just the latest in a long line of bad third quarters by Boston.

12. Jazz (48-26) Carlos Boozer hints he might stay in Utah next season. Yea, we can certainly believe everything he says about free agency.

13. Heat (40-34) Wade plays in Chicago, he sees the Bulls roster up close, and I’m willing to bet checked Chicago off the list of possible free agent destinations.  

14. Thunder (44-28) So young, so talented. The question is: Under the bright lights of the playoffs will they finally be a little dazed and take a step back? They haven’t all season.

15. Bobcats (38-34) Three game win streak! They’ve turned it on and are playing great! Oh, all the wins were against the Wizards or Minnesota? Never mind.

16. Bulls (35-38) They’ve won three of four. But that’s not the reason they are just half a game out of the last playoff spot, Toronto’s utter collapse is.

17. Grizzlies (38-35) Welcome to the Western Conference — Memphis would be three games ahead of a Bulls team almost in the playoffs, instead they are 6.5 games out and going nowhere.

18. Rockets (36-36) Injuries continue to ravage this roster in an unfair way.

19. Hornets (34-40) Chris Paul returns, and they drop two game in a row. Just been that kind of year for the Hornets/

20. Raptors (34-34) This team is just falling apart. It’s hard to watch. Especially if you’re Chris Bosh.

21. Sixers (26-47) Wins against the hot Bucks and Hawks — are the guys playing for Eddie Jordan’s job? Nah.

22. Pacers (27-47) You should watch this team for Danny Granger. Actually, he may be the only reason to watch this team.

23. Warriors (21-52) Golden State is the best D-League team playing in the NBA.

24. Clippers (27-46) Among the things shown on the video board at Clippers home games to entice season ticket holders to renew was a big picture highlight package from the draft lottery party the team threw. Go with what you know.

25. Kings (24-50) The players are trying, but this team is hard to watch without Tyreke Evans.

26. Knicks (26-46) Incoming Nets owner and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov said he wanted to buy the Knicks first, but were told they were not for sale. That sound you hear is the wailing of Knicks fans upon learning this news.

27. Pistons (23-50) Congratulations on being the team the Nets beat for their ninth win.

28. Nets (9-64) It’s amazing how much better they’ve looked once truly desperate to get a win. Not good, mind you, but better.

29. Wizards (21-54) Fifteen straight losses. No, they don’t get to count Gilbert Arenas avoiding jail time as a win.

20. Timberwolves (14-60) Two separate 15-game losing streaks in one season. Damn. That’s hard to do.

PBT Podcast: Cavaliers, Bucks, Central Division Preview with Dan Feldman

Associated Press
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LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the East — I’m not picking against his team to win the Eastern Conference until someone beats them. This year’s Cavaliers may be deeper than previous years.

However, much of the Central Division is intriguing this season. Milwaukee is a team that, on paper, should take a step forward, but never seem to do that two years in a row. Still, they have Giannis Antetokounmpo and that makes them must watch. Detroit has one of the best centers in the game in Andre Drummond, and they have Marcus Smart on the roster now, but can Reggie Jackson bounce back? Then there are the Bulls and Pacers, both of whom are rebuilding.

Kurt Helin and Detroit-based Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down the Central Division in this latest PBT Podcast.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Reports: Dwyane Wade “leaning heavily” toward joining Cavaliers

Associated Press
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This race may have been decided before it ever started.

While Miami has the draw of home, and Paul George and Russell Westbrook have come hard at him, it seems Dwyane Wade always knew where he wanted to be after Chicago — reunited with LeBron James. Just now in Cleveland. From Joe Vardon of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Dwyane Wade is leaning heavily toward the Cavaliers as his new team once he clears waivers and may have already decided on a reunion with LeBron James, league sources with knowledge of Wade’s thinking told cleveland.com…

Wade has given no indication publicly what he will do, and at least three teams — the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, and his old team the Miami Heat — are interested in him. His agent is taking calls from those teams and others, and Wade told the Associated Press he would do his due diligence as well.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN confirmed this.

This is not a shock.

What does Wade want in a destination? A chance to make another run at a ring, minutes, and a comfort level with the organization. Cleveland provides all of those, plus easy access to the Gravy Fries at Greenhouse Tavern (which may not be on Wade’s in-season approved list by his nutritionist).

Even without Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers are and should be the favorite to come out of the East, then take their swings at the Warriors (or whoever comes out of the West, I feel obligated to write just to be nice to the folks in Houston and Oklahoma City). The Cavaliers are smack in the middle of the NBA’s second tier. Wade averaged an efficient 18.3 points per game for the Bulls last season, and he can for stretches still dial-up his vintage self and dominate games.

Wade would probably start at the two over J.R. Smith, and even if he came off the bench he could get just about all the minutes his aging knees will handle. That said, I’m not sure the Cavs can play Wade and Derrick Rose together, particularly during the playoffs, due to spacing and defensive issues. And obviously, with his good friend LeBron there, Wade has comfort with the organization (just don’t expect him to sign more than a one-year deal).

This was always the most likely outcome, Wade and LeBron together again for one more run.

John Wall urges Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers to defend Kaepernick

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When Donald Trump ranted last Friday night to slam the NFL, then turn around Saturday morning and revoke his invitation to the Warriors to visit the White House — in a classic “you’re not breaking up with me, I’m breaking up with you” move — the biggest names in the NBA responded. LeBron James, Chris Paul, Adam Silver, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Bill Russell, Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and many others responded to stand behind the Warriors and behind NFL protestors and Colin Kaepernick.

John Wall said at media day he thinks the NFL’s biggest stars need to go after Trump as well, specifically calling out Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in an interview on CSN MidAtlantic (seen above).

“Most of our franchise guys or big-time players in the league are African-Americans. You have Chris Paul, you have Dwyane Wade, you have Carmelo Anthony, you have LeBron James that went and talked at the ESPYs….

“So you have guys like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers — love those guys, very talented. Until those guys come out and speak, I don’t think the NFL is going to make any adjustments. Remember when we were dealing with our stuff, with [former Clippers owner] Donald Sterling and all that type of things, it was like, ‘Well if LeBron and those guys don’t come out, if Kobe don’t come out and say nothing, it’s never going to be a stand taken.’ When those guys came out and started talking, what happened? He’s fired. The stand stood. Until those guys in the NFL come up and stand up for Kaepernick and for those guys … until they do that, I don’t think anything’s going to change.”

I’m not sure Donald Sterling was the best analogy because the league was more than happy to push him out the door once the window opened, he had been an embarrassment for a long time. The players’ words helped, but they were one part of a much larger push.

But his point is valid. NFL owners — including the ones who backed and donated to Trump during the election — called him out, and rightfully so. What kind of person comes out in favor of concussions and against player safety and long-term health? But where are the voices of the two biggest names at the most prominent position in the NFL?

Three questions the Boston Celtics must answer this season

AP
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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season:
53-29, lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

I know what you did last summer: Sent Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons, a move they could potentially regret after dealing Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. The Celtics also signed big time free agent Gordon Hayward away from the Utah Jazz. Finally, Boston took Jayson Tatum in the 2017 NBA Draft.

THREE QUESTIONS THE CELTICS MUST ANSWER:

1) Can Irving lead without diminishing the role of other starters? I think it’s a complete misnomer to think that Irving is solely a one-on-one, isolation type player. However, fans do like to get in a very black-and-white mode when analyzing players, and bias can show strongly here.

Irving has said that he wants to be more of a team player when it comes to the Celtics, which is good news for Brad Stevens and company. Irving is an excellent offensive player, and his talents should not be wasted, but there is some concern that he might dominate too much of the ball and won’t give a guy like Hayward and enough room to operate. That might’ve worked okay last season when Thomas was the engine that made the Celtics go, but Boston arguably has a better starting five this season than last.

I think there is real issues here when it comes to fit moving forward, and it is going to center around whether Irving can play team defense and handle the leeway he will be given on offense. Remember, the other thing here that hasn’t been talked about much is the extra operating space that Irving will be granted now that he is out of LeBron James‘s shadow. It might be very tantalizing to take advantage of that situation, but for Boston’s success he will need to find a happy place in between.

2) What kind of bench depth can the young players produce? Boston didn’t want to trade Avery Bradley away, but they also didn’t want to pay him. That issue becomes doubly as important now that they used Jae Crowder, the successor that wing spot, to deal for Irving.

The Celtics are a top-heavy team this season even if they did get better. They will rely more and more on guys like Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and the rookie Tatum.

Marcus Morris will be a huge part of their rotation as will Aron Banes with Kelly Olynyk in Miami. Danny Ainge is playing the long term look here, so it won’t necessarily matter if the team isn’t on par next season to him. However, a championship style run for this season will depend on immediate production from the three young wing players.

3) Are they good enough to get past the Cavaliers this time around? This is the big question that everyone in Boston wants to answer. The Cavaliers are their longtime rivals in the Eastern Conference, and now that they have swapped roster pieces it will be more than just basketball on the floor. It will be a social curiosity.

Whether or not the Celtics will be good enough to get past LeBron James will really depend on the answers to questions one and two above. The only way that Boston can replicate their production from last season will be to jell together quickly. That means getting a real rhythm on offense between Hayward, Horford, and Irving.

It also means finding a way to play defense with Irving at the point guard position. It’s all well and good to say that both Thomas and Irving have been liabilities on defense, but now teams have game tape on what Stevens did with his squad on that end of the floor come playoff time. This team will need to stiffen and do some things to mix it up to make sure they aren’t beat by their own game film next spring.