Offseason Power Rankings

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Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? Mix together equal parts of ego and cap space to throw around, and you get one wild off-season. Everybody was making moves. There were decisions and The Decision.

And at the end of it all, the Lakers are on top.

Since most of the moves have shaken out, we’ve decided to do an NBA off-season power rankings. This is a ranking of NBA teams as we see them lined up for the next NBA title. The teams are accompanied by the betting odds for them to win the next NBA title (from Bodog Sports).

1. Lakers (odds to win next title 11/4)
They are the two-time defending NBA champions and good luck prying that trophy out of Kobe Bryant’s fingers no matter what kind of shape they are in. Scarier yet for the league, these Lakers should be better. Steve Blake is a better triangle point guard than the departed Jordan Farmar. Matt Barnes brings more toughness. If Andrew Bynum’s surgically-repaired knees can hold up for a season, the Lakers will head into next playoffs better than the last two years. They are still the king of the mountain.

2. Heat (7/4) Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh make the most talented trio the NBA has seen since the 1980s. Those three made a financial sacrifice to play together and will do the same on the court — their fantasy value goes down but their winning will go up. Pat Riley did a fantastic job with the rest of the roster — Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller being the keys. Erik Spoelstra will be under a lot of pressure, but he is a coach who can handle it. Still, there are questions. How long will it take for the group to gel? (Not long.) Who defends the paint on defense? (This is a bigger issue — Joel Anthony has fight but is undersized, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Jamaal Magloire will try but are not young.) With those big men, can the Heat match up with Orlando and Dwight Howard, Boston and it’s long front line or the Lakers with Bynum and Gasol? They’ll be good, maybe very good in the regular season, but the title will have to be earned.

3. Magic (11/1) They didn’t do much this off-season, other than be involved in Chris Paul rumors. Oh, and they got Chris Duhon, let us never forget that. But as much as they get overlooked, the Magic did not have to do much. This team has been to the NBA finals and the Eastern Conference finals the last two years. They kept JJ Redick and you’ll see more of him and less of Vince Carter. They will stick with their system of Dwight Howard and guys who can shoot the three, because it works. Jameer Nelson is still good and will have a chip on his shoulder. They still play defense. Overlook Orlando at your own peril, they are contenders.

4. Celtics (12/1) I picture Danny Ainge like John Belushi in the Blues Brothers, running around saying “we’re getting the band back together.” Then doing whatever it takes to make that happen, including pissing off Aretha Franklin. One smart move was picking up Jermaine O’Neal, who gives them some front line depth until Kendrick Perkins returns, and a lot more offense down low than Perk ever could. But it all comes down to health around the playoffs — fully healthy they are a serious contender, if not they are gone early. And while that is true of every team, with the age of the Celtics it is more of a risk than most places.

5. Thunder (18/1) For OKC, it’s about growth, not additions. They locked up Kevin Durant for five years. They got a little size to help combat the Lakers by drafting Cole Aldrich. They got Daequan Cook to spell Westbrook some, plus added guard depth with Mo Peterson. But if the Thunder just improve along the trajectory they already are on, they are about to make a big leap next season.

6. Bulls (15/1) If it wasn’t for the Miami Miracle, everybody would be talking about what a great offseason the Bulls had. They needed scoring inside, they got Carlos Boozer. They needed better play at the two, they got Ronnie Brewer. They needed better outside shooting, they got Kyle Korver. They got a coach who will preach defense first again in Tom Thibodeau. Add that to the core of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng and you have a good team. With a new coach and new systems, it may take a while to gel, but come the playoffs this team should be scaring opponents.  

7. Spurs (28/1) I know, you’ve been hearing this for years and you’re done buying, but I really mean it this time — the Spurs have one more dangerous run in them. This season or next, the one year all the core guys can stay healthy, they are going to make one last big run in the Tim Duncan era. The key reason is Tiago Splitter, the best center for the last several years in Europe who the Spurs finally convinced to come to the states. He may not start, but you can bet he finishes games. And he will be the best big man Duncan has had next to him since the Admiral retired. Add in Tony Parker, George Hill and Manu Ginobili with a solid supporting cast and smart coaching and… it’s going to happen. Trust me.

8. Mavericks (18/1) It wasn’t for lack of effort. Mark Cuban busted it, Donnie Nelson tried everything, but the Mavericks go into the next season with the same roster that finished the last one. Which is not a bad roster. They kept Dirk Nowitzki and Brendan Haywood, look for Rod Beaubois to get more burn (he should have in the playoffs last year, but we’re letting that go and moving on now). They are on that tier one step back of the Lakers, but if for whatever reason the Lakers stumble Dallas is near the top of the West. And you can bet Cuban isn’t done trying.

9. Blazers (35/1) Their one big offseason move — essentially trading Kevin Pritchard for Rich Cho as general manager — is not going to have a big impact on the court. They added some good young talent with Wesley Mathews and draft pick Luke Babbit. The real key here is healthy — remember the Blazers were the up-and-coming young team two years ago, then injuries descended on them last season like they offended the basketball gods. If they can stay healthy — especially at center with Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla — they could surprise a lot of teams.

10. Rockets (35/1) It’s really simple: If Yao Ming is healthy, this ranking is too low. If not, it is too high. This summer the Rockets picked up some people to help keep Yao’s minutes down — Brad Miller and rookie Fredrick Paterson. They’re nice, but it is all about Yao. They have the backcourt (Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin), they have the role players (they kept Luis Scola) but Yao is the key.

11. Jazz (30/1) They lost Carlos Boozer, they replaced him with Al Jefferson. They lost Wesley Mathews and replaced him with Raja Bell. Goodbye Kyle Korver, hello Gordon Hayward. This was really a fantastic offseason by the Jazz — it could have been a disaster but they replaced key losses and may have even upgraded a little. The Jazz remain in that tough middle ground of good (52 wins last season, probably just a few less this season) but not good enough to challenge the elite. Still, fantastic offseason to replace those that bolted.

12. Bucks (40/1) The senator/owner opened up his wallet and now the team nobody in the East wanted to play in the first round (until Andrew Bogut went down) is going to be better. Brandon Jennings will not be a rookie anymore, and the Bucks have paid to keep John Salmons. They added solid depth along the front line with Drew Gooden and draftee Larry Sanders. They got Keyon Dooling and Chris Douglas-Roberts to solidify the backcourt. This is a good team that can get a top four seed in the East and advance to the second round. Not sure they can beat the elite, but this is a very good team.

13. Hawks (28/1) Meet the new Hawks, same as the old Hawks. They kept Joe Johnson (at a steep price) but did not add any size around him. New coach Larry Drew may be able to get more out of this squad — maybe get them to
play better defense and conv
ert that to offense going the other way. Maybe Jeff Teague can give them a boost at the point. Even still, this is a good team – maybe a 50 win team again — that can’t beat the East elite. They are what we thought they were.

14. Nuggets (18/1) Kenyon Martin is going to miss much of next season, and they need him to come back right for the playoffs to have any chance. They tried hard to get more size but missed on all their attempts. They did land Al Harrington and Sheldon Williams, but that’s not the answer. They have Carmelo Anthony, they have Chauncey Billups. This is a good team. But they do not have the talent to beat the Lakers or the top of the West. Right now, they are what they are, good but not great.

15. Suns (35/1) They lost Amare Stoudemire, and the window for Steve Nash and his back will not be open that much longer, so the Suns took some risks. They had to. They traded for Hedo Turkoglu, who when motivated is a good fit in the Suns system. He can also take on some of the ball-handling duties for the team. I love the Josh Childress signing and having him back in the league. Hakim Warrick was a quality pick up. However, it’s hard to see how the Suns really got better, while teams around them did. It’s hard to see them back in the Western Conference finals with this roster.

16. Grizzlies (50/1) They didn’t make big moves this summer — Tony Allen is a nice signing for depth, and Xavier Henry can be a boost if they stop messing around and sign him. But mostly they are counting on what worked last year working better this year. A better O.J.Mayo, a better Zach Randolph, a better Marc Gasol. And new max-deal man Rudy Gay stepping up to really lead. Seems like the kind of thing that could fall apart, plus the Grizzlies will not be sneaking up on anyone this year.

17. Hornets (40/1) Trade rumors swirl and ownership is in transition, or isn’t, we can’t tell. Two things that usually spell trouble for a team. But this team still has Chris Paul, back fully healthy, plus David West. Draftees Craig Brackins and Quincy Pondexter can provide something their first year. Emeka Okafor gives you more than his reputation would suggest. Basically, this team isn’t that bad. It isn’t good, not nearly as good as Chris Paul wants, but it isn’t a train wreck either. And they have some big contracts coming off the books to give them some flexibility for the future.

18. Warriors (75/1) The biggest off-season move in the Bay Area was not the signing of David Lee, it was Joe Lacob and Peter Guber buying the team. This team desperately needed new ownership, and now with that will come some big changes on the basketball operations side (once the owners get full control). Gone will be Don Nelson, which means draftee Ekpe Udoh might actually get to play. They traded a way a lot of talent this summer, however still have Stephen Curry and Lee. It’s hard to predict how good or bad they will be exactly. But now there is hope for the future in the Bay Area, and that alone is a huge boost for the fans.

19. Sixers (100/1) The biggest thing that will speed the Sixers turnaround — players will buy into what new coach Doug Collins is selling in a way they never did with Eddie Jordan. They have some players, too. Philly drafted Evan Turner No. 2 and will pair him with Jrue Holiday in the backcourt. Turner looked a little lost at Summer League, but he is still figuring out how to fit his game into the NBA. They still have Andre Iguodala. They lost Samuel Dalembert but picked up Spencer Hawes and Andres Nocioni. If Collins can get something out of Elton Brand, this ranking will be too low.

20. Kings (150/1) This team is going to be very entertaining. Draft pick DeMarcus Cousins and Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans will play very well off each other. Samuel Dalembert is a good fit along the front line. The Kings got bigger and better and are building a nice foundation. Not sure how far it will take them this year, but they are building.

21. Knicks (35/1) Amare Stoudemire up front and Raymond Felton running the show make this team a lot better. Anthony Randolph could have a breakout year. New York is building a roster that fits with the Mike D’Antoni system. Things are looking up. But they won 29 games last year, there was a lot of room for improvement. They still need one more big piece like Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul before New York will be all the way back.

22. Bobcats (50/1) They won 44 games last season then this summer they lost Raymond Felton and traded away Tyson Chandler. They got Erick Dampier in a trade, but will cut him to get under the luxury tax threshold. Sounds like they got worse, which means no return trip to the playoffs, unless Tyrus Thomas and D.J. Augustine really step up their games. We will be rooting for Shaun Livingston to do well also. But it’s hard to be very optimistic here.

23. Clippers (100/1) It’s like they get two first-round picks this season — Blake Griffin can finally play, plus Al-Faroqu Aminu. The Clippers also made some nice pickups by drafting Eric Bledsoe and bringing in Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye. All that with the core that includes Chris Kaman and Eric Gordon. Still, everything comes down to this: Can new coach Vinny Del Negro get Baron Davis to play well with others, and to care for 82 games? Or even 75 games would be good. On paper the Clippers have playoff talent, even in the West. But Davis has to be on board. And how much do you want to bet on that?

24. Wizards (50/1) They got the building block in John Wall. He is potentially that good and flashed it at Summer League. He is a blur end-to-end. Pair him with Gilbert Arenas in the starting backcourt, with Kirk Hinrich and Josh Howard coming in off the bench and you have a good guard rotation. Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee should get a lot of spectacular dunks in transition with feeds from Wall, who is a blur end-to-end. But that is the key — the Wizards have to run. They have to get Wall in the open court. Assistant coach Sam Cassell said that was the plan, we’ll see if the team follows through.

25. Nets (150/1) They swung for the fences this summer and struck out. Still, they should be better this year. Drafting Derrick Favors was smart, he has potential but like a lot of this team he still needs to grow. They made a great signing with Anthony Morrow plus picked up a solid backup PG in Jordan Farmar. Avery Johnson will have them playing hard. Still a lot left to do for Mikhail Prokhorov before they are in Brooklyn in two years.

26. Pacers (100/1) They want to run, they don’t have a point guard who is comfortable in that offense, and they didn’t get one. Second round draft pick Lance Stephenson is nice and could become the guy who can run the show at the point, and first-round draft pick Paul George has potential. But the Pacers stood pat. So for now, this team remains the Danny Granger show. They won 32 games last year, hard to see them improving on that now.

27. Pistons (100/1) They won 27 games last year, and they drafted a big man who needs some work in Greg Monroe. That’s basically it. They are bringing the same team back. Maybe they can’t make any big moves until the for-sale team has a new owner, but it is about time to blow this thing up and rebuild.

28. Timberwolves (150/1) They have Darko Milicic for four more years. They have the chance to rehabilitate Michael Beasley. We could spend all day mocking David Kahn and the Wolves because they seem to have no plan, at least not one that blends with the triangle offense Kurt Rambis wants to run. But there is some talent on the roster. They did draft Wesley Johnson to play the three, and they do have Kevin Love, a quality four. Luke Ridnour is an upgrade at the point. Martell Webster can shoot the rock. I have no idea what the master plan is, but the roster has a few nice pieces.

29. Raptors (150/1) They lost Chris Bosh. They have
put together a roster that looks like it’s in the EuroLeague. Things are going to get worse before they get better. Toronto fans are happy to see Hedo Turkoglu gone, but that is another offensive option now playing elsewhere. Look for DeMar DeRozan to have a big year, for Amir Johnson to get his chance, for draftees Ed Davis and Solomon Alabi to play well, but this team is about to take a step back.

30. Cleveland Cavaliers (60/1) Do we really need to go into what a bad offseason this was in Cleveland? Byron Scott is at the helm now of a major rebuilding project that is going to see some tough years until some good young pieces can be put in place.

Isaiah Thomas’ big fourth quarter carries Celtics past Hornets 108-98

Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) raises his arms as he celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer against the Charlotte Hornets during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017. Thomas had 35 points as the Celtics defeated the Hornets 108-98. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Associated Press
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BOSTON (AP) — Isaiah Thomas scored 17 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, and the surging Boston Celtics beat the Charlotte Hornets 108-98 on Monday night for their ninth victory in 11games.

It was Thomas’ 25th straight game with 20 or more points. He’s been putting up big final quarters of late – scoring 20 or more three times this season. No other NBA player had done it more than once entering Monday.

Al Horford had 22 points, while Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder added 15 apiece for Boston, which has won all three meetings with Charlotte this season.

Kemba Walker scored 24 points and Marvin Williams had 21 for the Hornets, who lost their fifth straight – all on the road.

Thomas scored 13 straight points, pushing Boston ahead 93-83 with his 3-pointer from the left wing with 7 1/2 minutes left.

Boston led 80-71 entering the final period.

TIP-INS

Hornets: Entered averaging the second-fewest turnovers in the league at 12.1 per game. They had 11.

Celtics: G Avery Bradley returned after missing four straight games because of a strained right Achilles. He scored five points on 2-of -9 shooting. … Thomas scored a team-record 29 points in the final quarter of a victory against Miami on Dec. 30 to finish with 52.

INSPIRING WORDS

Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown addressed the crowd before the game on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Without notes, he quoted King in saying: “The day our lives begin to end, the day we become silent about things that matter.”

NICE CATCH

New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount sat courtside behind a basket and made a two-handed grab of a ball flying out of bounds.

SPORTS TRANSITION

It was the nightcap of a hockey/basketball doubleheader, and 6-foot-4 Celtics guard Marcus Smart entered TD Garden wearing a winter jacket and hat. He paused and stood seemingly unnoticed as a group of youngsters and parents – most wearing Boston Bruins colors – walked down a hall to meet some of the hockey players.

Smart smiled when a media member said, “I don’t think anyone noticed you.”

Later, 6-foot-9 Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara headed past folks walking in for the basketball game.

 

Clippers guard Chris Paul leaves game with sprained thumb, more tests coming

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The Clippers have now won seven games in a row, but if they don’t have Chris Paul in the lineup that streak is going to turn around very quickly (remember just a couple of weeks ago when he missed seven games with a hamstring strain?).

Which is why Paul leaving the game with what the team has called a sprained thumb is potentially troubling news. Paul was trying to get over the top of a Joffrey Lauvergne screen when he ran into Russell Westbrook who had pulled up to take a three, Paul’s hand hitting Westbrook’s hip and seemingly getting caught up in his shorts. Paul walked off the court and went straight to the locker room, making it seem worse than the team said it is so far.

From the press release from the Clippers:

X-rays during the game were negative, but further tests still need to be done to determine the extent of the injury, which occurred in the second quarter after Paul jammed his left hand on Russell Westbrook’s right leg.

The Clippers held on without Paul for the comfortable win over the Thunder, 120-98.

The Clippers are the four seed in the West but could fall down that ladder if Paul is out for any stretch of time. Starting Saturday The Clippers have 10-of-11 games on the road — and the one home game is the Warriors. That’s going to be a tough run of games even with Paul.

Kevin Durant scores 21, Stephen Curry 20 to help Warriors cruise past Cavs (VIDEOS)

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Pretty much everything the Warriors did Monday against the Cavaliers worked — transition buckets, pull-up threes, drive-and-dish plays, curls off screens, you name it and the Warriors got enough space to get a shot they wanted. Then they knocked them down. Which is why the Warriors won going away.

Stephen Curry had a big night with 20 points and 11 assists, which you can see highlights of above. It was a big night for Curry’s confidence: In the Cavaliers four-straight wins against the Warriors, Cleveland trapped Curry off picks, were physical, and when Curry tried to make the playground passes that worked against other teams Cavaliers’ help defenders made steals and were off in transition the other way. Monday night Curry took the pressure in stride, used his handles to create space, used his gravity to draw defenders to him, then he whipped smart passes around the floor. Curry had 10 assists and zero turnovers in the first half.

Kevin Durant benefitted from some of those passes and had 21 points on the night, and he chipped in three blocks.

 

Get out of my head: Golden State routs Cleveland in last regular season meeting before Finals

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No regular season game is going to erase the memory of blowing a 3-1 NBA Finals lead.

No January game is an accurate crystal ball into an NBA Finals matchup.

But the Warriors can put to rest the “Cleveland is in their heads” rhetoric and take a little confidence away from an absolute drubbing of the NBA Champions on national television Monday night.

Golden State caught fire midway through the first quarter and led by 15 after one, put up 78 points in the first half to lead by 29 at the break, and it all happened so fast it left Tyronn Lue’s face as the meme of the night.

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From there, the Warriors cruised in (sloppily at times, but cruised) for the 126-91 win.

“It was very important to come out and get off to a good start, but more importantly to hold on to that, to continue to keep our foot on the gas,” Draymond Green, speaking to the blown leads issue in his postgame TNT interview. “We did that the entire night, they had one little stretch there, I think it was the end of the third quarter, but other than that we kept our foot on the gas the entire time.”

Everyone in a Warriors uniform looked sharp. Klay Thompson had 26 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. Kevin Durant had 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting. Stephen Curry had 20 points and 11 assists. Green had a triple-double with 11 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists.

Conversely, for the Cavaliers LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love were a combined 13-of-43 (30.2 percent shooting), with just five assists to 13 turnovers between them. As a team, the Cavaliers shot 35.2 percent overall and 9-of-34 from three (26.5 percent). Love didn’t play in the second half due to lower back soreness.

The Cavaliers looked like the team on the last night of a six-game road trip counting the minutes until they got back home, which is exactly what they were.

Neither side thinks this game portends anything going forward.

“It wasn’t about sending a message,” Green said in his interview. “At the end of the day, that’s the defending champs, we played them guys in two straight Finals, you’re not sending a message with a regular season win.”

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel good for the Warriors (and is cathartic for their fans).

The only real moment of drama in the game was when Green shouldered LeBron to the ground in the second quarter and picked up a Flagrant 1 for his efforts.

Golden State started the game slow, getting good looks but shooting just 1-of-7 from three. Still, it felt like with the looks they were getting the shots would fall at some point, and they did as the Warriors hit six of their next eight from deep. Cleveland tried to match that but found no rhythm, shooting 2-of-12 from three early. With the hot shooting continuing for them, the Warriors stretched the lead up as high as 22, but the Cavaliers had Richard Jefferson come in and muck the game up, LeBron started attacking off the drive, and the Cavaliers cut the lead down to 14.

Then the Warriors got a couple of live-ball turnovers — including Curry stripping LeBron — and converted those to fast-break buckets the other way, then all that was left was Lue looking dazed. The Warriors were moving the ball and not getting sucked into isolation, racking up 26 first half assists. The Warriors also were out and running and had 34 fast break points in the first half — credit Golden State for pushing the tempo, but the Cavaliers transition defense was a horror show. And not in a cool, “Let the Right One In” kind of way, but in the “Cavs fans never want to see that again” kind of way. Dazed Lue is right there with them.

No more meetings between these teams until the Finals we all expect to see. It’s six months of these teams getting better, trying to stay healthy, and gaining confidence going into that series. Cleveland has plenty of confidence. Golden State just got a little more.