NBA Power Rankings, where the preseason games don’t matter. Sort of.

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Here are our rankings to start off the season. Preseason games do not matter, which is why the Lakers are still on top of this poll. Then again, we bounced the Magic up to No. 2 because of their undefeated preseason. So we’re not consistent. We’re clearly not in midseason form yet.

1. Lakers. Former champions get the top spot, but no Andrew Bynum and a gimpy Kobe Bryant may see them move down a few notches quickly. Meanwhile Sasha Vujacic is set to marry a once-great tennis star who had a series of injuries and now can’t get her grove back… Lakers hope that is not an omen.

2. Magic. Preseason games are meaningless, but Orlando certainly looked good in them, going 7-0. Do not sleep on this team, it’s a contender.

3. Heat. Dwyane Wade is back, so the team we saw in the preseason — the team that looked like last year’s Cavaliers basically — is gone. That team chemistry better happen fast with Boston and Orlando on the docket the first week.

4. Celtics. They went 7-1 in the preseason but now the games get serious and they have Shaq likely the starting center. They’ll need to prove their defense is the same with him in.

5. Thunder. They enter this season with serious expectations — second best in the West, Durant an MVP candidate, everybody getting up for them. This feels like a team that gets it, that is professional, that can handle what is coming. But we will see.

6. Jazz. Lots of changes this season and we are not sold that Al Jefferson will be better than Carlos Boozer, but an 8-0 preseason moves you up a few notches.

7. Spurs. The Big Three are healthy to start the season, but Tiago Splitter is not. Starting DeJuan Blair at center may hurt their defense. A lot.

8. Mavericks. Mark Cuban is convinced the depth in Dallas makes them a threat to the Lakers. No, it doesn’t but it might make them second best in the West during the regular season.

9. Blazers. They want to bounce back and remind everyone that just a couple seasons ago they were the up and coming young team in the west. Which will be hard to do until they get a healthy center.

10 Bulls. Killer offseason, big expectations. But Derrick Rose hit just 23.8 percent of his threes in preseason, so nobody is going to respect his jumper yet. And Boozer is out.

11. Rockets. Yao Ming is on a time limit, 24 minutes a game. We’ll see what he can do in those limits. That and if he stays healthy.

12. Bucks. We have the Bulls ahead of them this week, which may change fast. The Bucks could be the fourth best team in the East. This is a good team that made nice offseason moves.

13. Hawks. They had a bad offseason if you are thinking about winning a championship this year or what this team will look like in five years. But for this year, they will once again be pretty good.

14. Grizzlies. I’m skeptical about teams that don’t make moves in the offseason and instead count on growth from players not likely to get better. But an 8-0 preseason record shows me this team may be better than expected. If Marc Gasol misses serious time it could be a real setback.

15. Suns. They haven’t looked great this preseason, by their own admission. But they still roll Steve Nash out there every night and as long as his back holds up they will be fun to watch and dangerous to play.

16. Nuggets. If they can ignore the Melodrama they are a good team and will move up the rankings. Big if. Also, Sheldon Williams is the starting four as Al Harrington is injured (but expected to play some in the opener), which is not good.

17. Bobcats. D.J, Augustin has had a very good preseason as the starting point guard. If he can keep it up when the games matter and the defenses are focused, the Bobcats are back on their way to the playoffs in the east.

18. Kings. It’s going to be fun to see just how good Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins will be together.

19. Warriors. They have a great guard combo, but it may take a while for this team to meld under Keith Smart. On the bright side — new owners any day now!

20. Knicks. They have a great power forward, one who may have to play some center. Do they have a good enough point guard is the real question?

21. Pistons. They have good talent right now. Will they still have good talent after the trading deadline?

22. Hornets. Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, David West. Good add with Jerryd Bayless. But a 1-7 preseason has to give you pause.

23. Cavaliers. Expect the total collapse if you want, but they went 6-2 in preseason. They won’t be that good in the regular season, but maybe they are better than we think.

24. Wizards. John Wall is fun to watch. How well that translates into wins remains to be seen. But we’ll be watching.

25. Pacers. They shot 40.3 percent as a team in preseason. The Nets were the worst shooting team in the regular season last year at 42.9 percent. It’s preseason, so we let it go, but just something to watch.

26. Sixers. They shot the exact same percentage as a team as the Pacers did this preseason. How they will overcome it — more Iguodala.

27. Clippers. Blake Griffin was very impressive this preseason. The Clippers (1-7) were not.

28. Nets. They looked a little better this preseason, but they had so far to come that they’ll have to prove they deserve to move up the rankings.

29. Timberwolves. Kevin Love looked good this preseason. That’s one.

30. Raptors. Their defense looked actually worse than last year, and if that is the case this is going to be a long cold winter in Toronto.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

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The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.

Joel Embiid, his mask, Sixers three point shooting too much for Heat in Game 3

Associated Press
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Joel Embiid is back and all is right with the world in Philadelphia.

From the opening tip Tuesday night, this felt like an old-school playoff game. It was chippy, with the referees futilely trying to use technicals to settle people down. Dwyane Wade was yanking on Justin Anderson’s arm away from the play. Justise Winslow was stomping on Joel Embiid’d goggles. Goran Dragic’s hatred of Marco Belinelli was on full display.

All of which is to say it was what we want in a playoff game — intense. No love lost. It was a battle royal for three quarters.

Then in the fourth quarter it quickly became a blowout. Because Philadelphia — with Joel Embiid back in the lineup — is that good. And that dangerous. Especially when they hit 18 threes on the night.

The Sixers won the fourth quarter 32-14, behind Embiid and Ben Simmons combining for 15 in the quarter and playing great defense. With that, the Sixers won Game 3 on the road 128-108. Philly now has a 2-1 lead in the series, with Game 4 on Saturday in Miami (and that game becomes vital for the Heat).

Embiid is a force of nature, even if he was showing some rust in this game after missing three weeks with a concussion and orbital bone fracture. Embiid was a disruptive force on defense from the opening tip, finishing with four blocks but that doesn’t begin to get into the number of shots he altered. His ability to make plays on the perimeter and recover is impressive and was on full display.

On offense, he led the Sixers with 23 points, on just 11 shots. He was 3-of-4 from three and got to the line for 15 free throws — Hassan Whiteside could not handle him in the paint, or when Embiid got the ball and drove.

When Embiid sat the Sixers’ pace instantly picked up, they were getting transition chances, moving the ball around and getting good look threes. Philly hit 18-of-34 threes (52.9 percent) and when the outside shots are falling it opens up the drives and everything the Sixers want to do in the paint.

It was a tale of two teams for the Sixers — one with Embiid, and a faster one when he sat — and Miami had trouble adjusting to the different but effective versions of the Heat.

Simmons finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists. He also did this, which is some insane handles for a guy 6’10”.

Handles so smooth!

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Dario Saric and Belinelli each had 21 for the Sixers.

Goran Dragic playing his best game of the series, finishing with 23 points on 13 shots.

The game was choppy for stretches, there were turnovers and an uneven feel to the game in the first half, but it was close with the Heat up 64-63 at the break. Both teams made runs, but the other always answered. It was close through the third quarter, too.

Then in the fourth, the Sixers found themselves on both ends, and it was over. The Heat play hard, play smart, but they don’t have the talent of the Sixers and when Philly finds its groove there is little Miami can do.

Justise Winslow stepped on Joel Embiid’s mask (VIDEO)

AP
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Joel Embiid started for the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night. The Game 3 matchup between the Miami Heat and Philadelphia was an important one with the teams tied, 1-1.

Embiid had previously vented his frustration on social media about the perceived slowness of his return to the floor from an orbital fracture.

Now, the Cameroonian big man is back for the Sixers and playing with a huge mask and goggles.

But the mask didn’t come without its problems for Embiid. It clearly affected his shooting and ability to handle the ball, as evidenced by a missed alley-oop in the second quarter, among other things.

There’s also the matter of how other players are treating Embiid and his mask. At one point, Embiid’s googles ended up on the floor and Heat forward Justise Winslow purposely stepped on them.

Via Twitter:

That’s harsh.

Embiid will have to adjust to using the mask since it’s unlikely he will be cleared to play without it soon. Hopefully he has some backups just in case the first couple sets get broken.

Tractors worth $50,000 stolen from Scottie Pippen’s farm

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HAMBURG, Ark. (AP) — Authorities in rural Arkansas are investigating the theft of more than $50,000 worth of equipment from a farm owned by former NBA star Scottie Pippen.

Investigator Mark Griever of the Ashley County Sheriff’s Office says two tractors were stolen from the farm in Hamburg, about 110 miles (180 kilometers) southeast of Little Rock. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Pippen’s family is offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

Griever says Pippen owns the livestock farm with his brother.

Pippen, who now lives in Florida, is a native of Hamburg. Pippen won six NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls alongside Michael Jordan in the 1990s.