NBA power rankings, where the Magic almost pass the Cavs. Almost.

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It is your penultimate NBA Rankings. Then in a couple weeks we dispense with these thing and start a playoffs to determine who is best. As God intended. Yes, college football, I’m looking at you.

1. Cavaliers (60-17) We all feel like Cleveland did for the first three quarters in Boston Sunday, “Are the playoffs here yet?” Let’s just get to the Cavs and Magic Eastern Conference Finals.

2. Magic (54-23) Name the only team in the league to beat each of the other 29 teams at least once? They are playing as well as anyone right now.

3. Lakers (55-22) I hate having the Lakers ranked third. Hate it because they don’t deserve it. They dropped three of four last week. But then I look around the West and think, “Who can beat them in a best of seven?” And so here were are.

4. Spurs (47-29) They beat the Lakers and the Magic in the same week. Matt is right, the Spurs may want the Lakers in the first round, best chance of the upset

5. Suns (50-27) Let the parade of 50-27 teams begin — there are four in the West. Just five games left for them to shake out the seedings.  

6. Hawks (49-27) Joe Johnson being out for two games doesn’t help. Avoiding the Bucks in the first round not as big a priority now, but avoiding Cleveland in the second round should be.

7. Heat (43-34) Eight wins in a row for the Heat moves them up the rankings, and with Wade it makes them the new team Atlanta and Boston may want to avoid in the first round.  

8. Nuggets (50-27) With Kenyon Martin, they are contenders in the West. Without…. Not so much.

9. Mavericks (50-27) Everyone asks what happened to Caron Butler, but I want to know what happened to the Maverick’s defense? It’s been terrible, inside and out. They are fouling a lot, on top of everything else, and are 5-5 in their last 10.

10. Jazz (50-27) They’ve beaten everybody in front of them. Except the Lakers when LA was rested and focused.

11. Blazers (47-30) Greg Oden decision time is coming.

12. Celtics (48-28) Ray Allen is starting to step up his game for the playoffs. He and Rondo may have to carry this team on offense in the playoffs, Pierce is just not the player he was two years ago.

13. Thunder (48-28) I love to watch Russell Westbrook play. Makes me wish Ben Howland didn’t put him in such a tight box in college, the guy needs to run free.

14. Bucks (42-34) Ouch. Just, ouch.

15. Bobcats (40-36) We’d be screaming “playoff sleeper alert, look for upset” if they weren’t likely to get Orlando in the first round. Still a tough out for the Magic.

16. Bulls (37-39) One game back of Toronto (two, really, with the tiebreak), the game Sunday night becomes huge. But Bulls are looking like a playoff team now that they are healthy.

17. Raptors (38-38) It would be four wins in a row if Chris Bosh hit that layup. That is a kick in the gut for a team trying to stay in the playoffs.  

18. Grizzlies (39-37) A few injuries, a slow start, a lot of blown leads and you have a team that should be in the playoffs looking in from the outside.

19. Pacers (29-48) Indiana is 7-3 in its last 10 — way to play yourselves out of the lottery odds. Well done.

20. Warriors (23-53) Congratulations to Nellie. This team is playing for him to get the record, 5-5 in their last 10. And a few cupcakes ahead (as much as any team is a cupcake if you have 23 wins).

21. Rockets (38-38) What happened to the Rockets commitment to defense?

22. Hornets (35-43) Chris Paul comes back and they drop five of seven. That is a team that has packed it in for the year.

23. Knicks (27-49) David Lee is putting up monster numbers. But yes, by all means, let him go so you can bring in more guys from the outside in the next couple years.

24. Knicks (27-49) David Lee is putting up monster numbers. But
yes, by all means, let him go so you can bring in more guys from the
outside in the next couple years.

25. Sixers (26-50) Donovan McNabb is traded, the Phillies start their season. Fortunately, the fine folks of Philadelphia don’t have to pay attention to the Sixers anymore. If they still were.

26. Clippers (27-50) There is no timeline for the Clippers to screw up the selection of their next coach.

27. Wizards (23-53) At least they broke the losing streak.

28. Nets (11-66) They went 2-2 last week. For the good of the franchise, they are lucky there is no way they can catch the Timberwolves.

29. Pistons (23-53) That is 11 losses in a row, currently the worst streak in the NBA. They are trying to finish the year on the bottom.

30. Timberwolves (15-62) Trying to come up with a reason to move them up… nope. Nothing good.

Rockets bench hams it up over Andre Roberson missed free throw (video)

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Russell Westbrook might not want to talk about his supporting cast distinctively, but it’s a real issue for the Thunder, who trail the Rockets 3-1 in their first-round series.

Even Andre Roberson, who has impressively defended James Harden, brings a glaring weakness: free throws. Roberson is 2-for-17 from the line in the playoffs, including 2-for-12 in Game 4 yesterday. Houston even repeatedly intentionally fouled him late.

It was agonizing for all but the most partisan Rockets supporters – though even Houston’s bench, while at least implicitly mocking Roberson, appeared put off that he missed yet again.

Isaiah Thomas: ‘Mentally and emotionally, I’m not here’

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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Isaiah Thomas previously explained his emotions in a statement, but the Celtics guard spoke publicly yesterday for the first time since the death of his sister in a car crash just before the playoffs.

Thomas, via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:

“Mentally and emotionally I’m not here,” Thomas said after Game 4, the first time he has spoken publicly since his sister’s death. “So I just feed off of what the guys give me. They give me a lot of confidence. I can’t do it without those guys. They believe in me. Being here is what makes me sane and makes me feel somewhat normal through these tough times.”

Thomas has played well for Boston, which won twice in Chicago to even its series with the Bulls, 2-2. It’s remarkable considering the heavy emotional burden and extra travel, going to Seattle for his sister’s funeral then joining the Celtics in Chicago.

His teammates have clearly rallied around him, and that surely helps. But I can’t even imagine how he’s simultaneously handling such a tragic family situation and the biggest games of his career.

Kyrie Irving knocks flamingo from Pacers fan’s hands (video)

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Pacers super fan Matt Asen brings his lucky flamingo to each game.

He also annoyed the heck out of Kyrie Irving by trying to hand it, rather than the ball, to the Cavaliers guard.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.