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


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.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert with the crazy high alley-oop finish (VIDEO)

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I love that the Jazz were going to be themselves against the Warriors — two of our three best players are big men in Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, and we are going to use them whether you go small or not. Those two have the athleticism to make that work in a way few teams can’t. The result was a close game, one ultimately won by the Warriors because Stephen Curry can do Stephen Curry things, but you had to love the way the Jazz played.

And you had to love this finish by Gobert in the fourth quarter.

This alley-oop is pretty well defended, but there’s not much a defender can do when you can lob the ball above the box on the backboard, and Gobert can just go get it and finish.

Kobe Bryant farewell tour starts in his hometown of Philadelphia

Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets
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Tuesday night’s Lakers/76ers game a “showdown” of the two worst teams in the NBA — and it’s Philadelphia’s best chance to get its first win of the season.

But that storyline is being overshadowed — Kobe Bryant announced this is his last NBA season, and that makes Tuesday night his farewell to his hometown of Philadelphia.

“So much of my game was developed in Philadelphia,” Kobe said Sunday while talking about this game. “At Lower Merion High School and coach (Greg) Downer, playing in the Sunny Hill League and all the great coaches, playing at Tustin playground and Ardmore playground and so many great memories there. It’s going to be a very special night.”

As they are known to do, Sixers fans have had a love/hate relationship with Kobe. He has been booed there before — most notably during the 2002 All-Star Game (after Kobe’s Lakers beat the Sixers in the Finals the season before, when Kobe said he was coming to Philly to “cut the heart out” of a gritty Sixers’ team). But this is one of the higher hoops IQ fan bases around the league too — they know the game, and they know greatness.

With that, expect Kobe to get a warm reception in his final trip to his hometown. And expect Kobe to savor it.

“I would hope that he has more fun, and appears less frustrated, and also gets more appreciation,” Lakers’ GM Mitch Kupchak said of Kobe making his announcement. “He’ll get it at home, but on the road too, because people will have to recognize this is his last year and they are watching one of the all-time greats.”

Sixers fans will recognize that before the game, but once the ball goes in the air for the opening tip those same fans will want to see their team get a win after starting the season 18-0.

The fact is the Sixers play harder more consistently than the Lakers, but they haven’t been able to close out games. Miami needed a big comeback to beat them, Boston only won by four, the Grizzlies had to come from behind as well, and Houston beat them by two. Brett Brown has his charges putting out the effort, and they are desperate for a win.

The problem is late in games, when other teams tighten up their defense, the talent gap shows and the Sixers cannot hang on. Their advantage now is that the talent gap with the Lakers is much smaller — the Lakers have shooters (Kobe, Lou Williams, Nick Young) but not ones who take smart shots. You can defend the Lakers late.

Is that enough to get the Sixers their first win of the season?

If so, that is a rough way for Kobe to start his farewell tour.

Five Takeaways from NBA Monday: Why do Rockets often lack energy?

Dwight Howard, James Harden, Arron Afflalo
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This season the Eastern Conference has been deeper and a little better than the West — and that was on display Monday night when the Bulls beat the Spurs, and the Hawks beat the Thunder. Two wins showing the East is for real. Pistons fans told me on Twitter they should be in the Monday night big win mix also, and while I like Detroit (check out our discussion of them in the latest PBT podcast) beating Houston is no longer impressive. Our man Dan Feldman was at that game in Detroit and wrote this first takeaway from that game — what is wrong with Houston’s energy level?

1) Why have the Rockets so often lacked energy this season? “Talking about it is not going to do nothing,” Dwight Howard said. “There’s no Xs and Os that we can draw up. Talking about it in meetings is not going to do nothing. We’ve just got to go do it. We haven’t so far, and something has to change.”

“That’s a good question,” James Harden said in his entire answer, effectively ending the interview after a 116-105 loss to the Pistons dropped Houston to 7-11.

For what Howard provides in vague frustration and Harden in mystery, Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff believes he has uncovered what ails his team.

Bickerstaff pinned much of Houston’s defensive regression on its offensive finishing. As he explained, when the Rockets get all the way to the rim and miss, it’s too easy for opponents — with a Houston player under the basket and a loose ball getting kicked out — to run for easy shots.

The Rockets are attempting 39.2% of their shots in the restricted area, up from 34.7% last season. But they’re shooting just 58.6% there, down from 60.4% last season. Those extra misses at the rim have added up. But Bickerstaff believes his team will regress up to the mean.

“We play a certain style of basketball that we believe works,” Bickerstaff said. “It’s worked for us in the past. We’ll continue to play that way. We’ll continue to be aggressive getting to the paint, getting to the rim. We’ve just got to be stronger in our finishes, and things will change for us.”
—Dan Feldman

2) Bulls execute better than Spurs down stretch (you read that right), pick up big win. With two of the top six defenses in the Association coming into the game, you had to expect San Antonio/Chicago was going to be ugly, gritty, and come down to execution in the clutch. Let’s be honest, that sounds like a recipe for a Spurs win. But on Monday night all those things went the Bulls way — Chicago didn’t score a field goal the final six minutes of the game and still won 92-89. The pairing of Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic played better defense than we’d expect, and the Bulls as a team kept the Spurs from looking Spursian — San Antonio was 2-of-14 from three and seemed to rely more on beating guys one-on-one (specifically Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker) than most games. The Bulls offense late is too much Derrick Rose and he can’t carry a team like he once did (although Butler couldn’t do much do to Leonard’s defense). But it was enough for one night — this was a huge home win for the Bulls.

I have been hesitant to buy into Chicago this season as the potential second best team in the East, they look like the same old Bulls to me. However, the bottom line now is they are 10-5 and have beaten the Spurs, Thunder, Cavaliers and Pacers. That has to get you into one of the top tiers.


3) Atlanta’s team ball beats Westbrook/Durant Thunder for a day. It’s not as simple and clean as that headline makes it sound, but this game had that feel. The Hawks looked like Spurs northeast on Monday night, with ball movement that had them shooting 57 percent in the first quarter and opening up a double-digit lead. Then as happened all game one of the Thunder stars would spark a run — sometimes Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook other times — and the game would be tight again. It went back and forth like that all night. It was Westbrook who had the fourth quarter push (17 of his 34 in the final frame) to make things interesting, but Jeff Teague finishing in traffic late (he ended the night with 25) and Kent Bazemore making the defensive play of the night was enough. Big win for the Hawks.

4) Stephen Curry game winner keeps Warriors perfect. The Utah Jazz play big, their success is based around a front line of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert (two bigs who are quick), and they were not going to go small and try to match up with the Warriors. Good for them. The Jazz were going to be the Jazz and go down swinging, and Favors had 23 and Gordon Hayward had 23. And it was not enough. Draymond Green was Mr. Energy. And when the game was on the line late, Curry could create the sliver of space he needs to knock down the game winner to make Golden State 19-0.

5) DeMarcus Cousins is back, drops 31 on Dallas and Sacramento gets the win. The Sacramento Kings with DeMarcus Cousins in the lineup are 6-5 on the season and a dangerous team. It’s the 1-7 without him that holds them back. Cousins had 16 fourth quarter points (31 points, nine rebounds and six assists on the night), and that combined with some impressive defense down the stretch got the Kings a much-needed win. That defense late has to be the most heartening thing for Kings fans — they have been bad on that end of the floor. A little Cousins and a little defense and suddenly things look much better in Sacramento. Now they just have to do it consistently. And keep Cousins healthy.

Gasol gets double-double as Bulls beat Spurs 92-89

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CHICAGO (AP) — Pau Gasol punctuated his big block on LaMarcus Aldridge with a triumphant yell.

The ugly final four minutes went to Gasol and the Chicago Bulls.

Gasol had 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots, and the Bulls snapped San Antonio’s five-game winning streak with a 92-89 victory over the Spurs on Monday night.

Jimmy Butler scored 14 points and reserve Doug McDermott had 12 for Chicago, which was coming off a 104-92 loss at Indiana on Friday night. Joakim Noah contributed eight points, seven assists and 11 rebounds despite battling foul trouble in the final minutes of the opener of a four-game homestand.

“Everyone contributed tonight in a positive way,” Gasol said. “Jo was outstanding and almost had a triple double off the bench with his energy, making plays offensively as well as defensively. Everyone really contributed and it was good to see.”

Gasol rejected Aldridge on a drive with 1:06 left, and then hit one of two foul shots on the other end for a 90-89 lead. After Manu Ginobili missed for San Antonio, Butler hit two free throws with 10.6 seconds to go.

The Spurs had one last chance, but Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker each missed 3-point attempts in the final seconds. Parker’s try was partially blocked by Derrick Rose, who finished with 11 points and six assists.

“We had a play for Kawhi, and an option for Manu, it just didn’t work out,” Parker said. “That happens sometimes. It was good defense by Chicago.”

Leonard had 25 points and eight rebounds for San Antonio, which had won nine of 10. Aldridge added 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Parker had 13 points and nine assists.

The Spurs had just one field goal in the final four minutes.

“We are not good offensively, and may not be until March,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “Offense will take a while. We have a lot of guys getting used to each other, and how to play together.”

The Spurs led 73-70 after three quarters, but the Bull opened the fourth with an 11-2 run. Tony Snell sparked the surge with a 3-pointer and a driving layup.

Chicago played without guards Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks. Brooks has a left hamstring injury, and Hinrich is recovering from a hip pointer.

“It was one of those nights where everybody that stepped out on the floor not only contributed but contributed in a big way,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.



Spurs: Tim Duncan had 12 rebounds, but San Antonio was hurt by a 51-47 deficit on the boards. … The Spurs went 2 for 14 from 3-point range, compared to 6 for 16 for the Bulls. … San Antonio went 13-3 in November.

Bulls: Noah played in his 557th game with Chicago, passing Dave Corzine for ninth on the franchise list. … The Bulls had an 8-4 record in November.