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.

Watch Brad Stevens remain completely stoic after Avery Bradley’s game-winning 3 (video)

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Avery Bradley hit a perfectly dramatic shot Friday – a 3-pointer down two with time expiring against the conference’s best team.

When it fell, the Celtics justifiably went wild.

Well, not all the Celtics:

Tweet of the Day: Stephen Curry and crying Jordan

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Stephen Curry is a Carolina guy and a huge Panthers fan — he’s been that way since childhood, this was not a bandwagon jump.

Before the Super Bowl Sunday, he got to pound the drum for the Panthers (who also gave him a locker for the day).

We all know how the game went, it wasn’t a good day for Panthers’ fans. Curry handled it beautifully in this tweet.

Five Takeaways From NBA Sunday: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant at Super Bowl

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Sunday was all about Coldplay… was there something else going on? If you didn’t watch Sunday’s NBA games because you were prepping for a Super Bowl only someone who bet the under could love, here is what you missed from around the NBA Sunday. Which includes some Super Bowl talk.

1) Stephen Curry pounding a drum was not enough for the Panthers. Curry is a Carolina guy — he did not just jump on the Cam Newton/Panthers bandwagon, he’s been a fan for a long time. The Panthers rewarded him on Sunday with a locker and jersey.

They also let him pound the drum for the team pregame. Turns out, that was not enough (apparently Curry cannot secure a win without some help from Draymond Green). But he handled it beautifully on Twitter after the game.

2) Kevin Durant joined the media for a day to be a photographer at the Super Bowl. Kevin Durant’s relationship with the media has been about as smooth as a Kardashian marriage, but since he was in the Bay Area this weekend to take on the Warriors (another Golden State win), he decided to join the media for a day and be a photographer for the Players Tribune. You know, the website that will break Durant’s plans this summer. Follow this link and you can see his account and his photos.

Associated Press
Associated Press

Now, on to actual basketball….

3) Nikola Vucevic saves Magic with fade-away game winner. Orlando looked to be in control of their game with the Hawks, up 11 entering the fourth quarter and leading by eight with 3:30 left in the game — then Atlanta went on an 8-0 run. A Kent Bazemore three with :48 left tied the game at 94-94 (Bazemore finished with 23 points on the day).

But as he had done earlier in the year, Vucevic hit a game-winning fade away (this time over some good defense from Al Horford), and Orlando got the victory.

4) Chris Paul starts slow, finishes fast and Clippers pick up a road win in Miami. Chris Paul and the entire Clippers team started this game out looking like they had the South Beach Flu (after a night on the town). CP3 opened the game 0-of-9. But Paul was 6-of-10 in the second half, and when his shots fell it opened up the roll for a couple of huge DeAndre Jordan alley-oops.

The Clippers got 22 from CP3, another 20 from Jamal Crawford off the bench, and the Clippers kept right on winning with a 100-93 victory against Miami. If you want to nit-pick this team and how the teams above them in the West might attack flaws in the playoffs, go right ahead, but you’ll be missing a fantastic show in the meantime. The Clippers are playing well on the offensive end and just keep winning without Griffin in the lineup.

5) Brad Stevens gets the most out of the talent he has in Boston, George Karl does not in Sacramento. So that matchup went as you would expect. Brad Stevens has proven to be one of GM Danny Ainge’s best moves — and Ainge assembled a title team. He has a team of nice role players as the third seed in the East, with a fantastic defense and enough offense from Isaiah Thomas to get the job done. On the other side, George Karl’s job is in jeopardy in part because he can’t get buy-in from a team with some good talent (except for Rajon Rondo, who likes Karl because Karl has given him carte blanche in the offense). This game was just a contrast of organizations, and as you would expect the Celtics won handily 128-119.

Also, know that Thomas can play a little defense — he blocked a DeMarcus Cousins‘ shot.

Paul shakes off awful start, leads Clippers past Heat 100-93

Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) drives to the basket past Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) and forward Amare Stoudemire, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
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MIAMI (AP) — Chris Paul had the worst possible start to his shooting day.

His finish, however, was perfect.

Paul’s consecutive 3-pointers in the final minutes were daggers to a Miami comeback, and his game-high 22 points helped the Los Angeles Clippers hang on to beat the Heat 100-93 on Sunday.

“I kept shooting it,” Paul said, “because sooner or later it had to go in.”

J.J. Redick scored 14 points, Wesley Johnson had 10 and DeAndre Jordan and Cole Aldrich grabbed 11 rebounds each for the Clippers, who won despite a 1-for-15 start from the field and swept the two-game season series with Miami.

“That was a team win because nobody really had it going,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “But our defense really had it going all game.”

Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic all scored 17 points for Miami. Luol Deng added 15 points for the Heat, and Hassan Whiteside finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.

“They did to us what we’ve been doing the last few games, just grinding an opponent,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s what they did to us, then made the bigger plays down the stretch.”

Paul was 0 for 7 in the opening period, the worst one-quarter shooting performance of his NBA career, and was 0 for 9 before he finally got a shot to fall. But his 3-pointers in the fourth snuffed out a Miami rally, and his lob that set up Jordan for a dunk was the clincher for the Clippers – who, after that horrid start, shot 55 percent the rest of the way.

Redick made a layup on the game’s first possession and the Clippers proceeded to misfire on their next 14 shots, but recovered to win for the 11th time in their last 13 road games, most of that with Blake Griffin sidelined by injuries.

“We’re just trying to hold it down until our big fella comes back,” Paul said.

Miami went to the oft-used strategy of intentionally fouling Jordan in the third quarter to slow the Clippers’ offense. And while it worked to a point – Jordan went 3 for 10 from the free throw line in the quarter – Miami couldn’t score. The Heat were 4 for 20 in the third, got down by as many as 11 and never led again.

“They made big plays down the stretch,” Wade said. “That’s the way we’ve been winning of late, so we can’t be mad at that. We got a little taste of our own medicine.”

TIP-INS

Clippers: G Austin Rivers will miss four to six weeks with a broken left hand. For now, the Clippers aren’t planning on making any roster changes to add depth. “We may have to make a decision but we’re just going to try to ride it out,” Doc Rivers said. … Paul has faced the Heat 19 times, and his teams are 13-6 in those games.

Heat: Whiteside took his first charge of the season. … Wade’s first point of the day gave him outright possession of 41st place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He came into the game tied with John Stockton at 19,711 points. … Deng has scored at least 15 points in five of his last six games.

 

SUPER SATELLITE

The Clippers were using a different plane than usual for their postgame flight from Miami to Philadelphia, for Super Bowl 50 reasons. They changed planes in order to have satellite television access so they wouldn’t miss any of the Carolina-Denver game.

“It’s really nice of the NBA to have us play today and then travel during the Super Bowl,” Doc Rivers said. “Just really a great move. But at least we get to watch it.”