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.

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

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Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

Rob Carr/Getty Images
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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more and Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.