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NBA Power Rankings, where the top still looks like last year’s finals

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, where nothing confuses us more than the Suns playing at the 20th fastest pace in the league.

1. Lakers (3-0). Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol have been the best front line in basketball through the first week. Kobe’s knee isn’t right, but it hasn’t mattered yet. Oh, and we told you Steve Blake was a huge pickup for them.

2. Celtics (2-1). They beat the Heat opening night… and you can’t read much into that. Not that Boston isn’t well built to give Miami problems, but the first game of the season is no time to make playoff assertions.

3. Heat (2-1). Along the same lines as the Celtics note, Heat fans should not just write off Orlando after one regular season game (Orlando was on a back-to-back and won’t shoot that poorly again). The overwhelming of a lesser New Jersey team, that you will see again.

4. Blazers (3-0). They said they wanted to reclaim their place as the young, up-and-coming team in the West. So far, so good. They are playing well at both ends of the floor.

5. Hawks (3-0). Hawks are killing it on offense, and that has been enough so far. But they killed it on offense last season, if the defense doesn’t improve it will catch up with them.

6. Mavericks (2-1). All that depth and some Jason Kidd three-quarter court shots has it looking like this could be a very good regular season for the Mavericks.

7. Magic (1-1). That loss to the Heat came on the second night of a back-to-back, when tired legs can turn good shooting teams into bad ones (and the Heat defense deserves some credit). The bad-shooting Magic will turn it around this week.

8. Hornets (3-0). New Orleans is the poster child for the preseason not mattering. They looked terrible in preseason, then Chris Paul flips the switch and they are undefeated first week in.

9. Spurs (1-1). In an era of rebuilding for superstar teams, the Spurs have remained loyal. Their big three will be together for another few years. Can those players reward management for that loyalty is the question?

10. Thunder (2-1). Oklahoma City is shooting just 39.9 percent from the field and just 20.7 percent from three. But they are winning because they are still attacking the rim, getting fouled and getting to the line. When they didn’t do that the Jazz blew them out. The shooting woes will turn around.

11. Nuggets (2-1). What Carmelo Anthony distraction? Have no idea what you’re talking about, they are playing just fine considering the front line is so banged up.

12. Grizzlies (2-1). Zach Randolph is out with a sore tailbone, but Marc Gasol is back from a sprained ankle. Memphis will need both of them to keep this up.

13. Bulls (1-1). It is the Derrick Rose show, they have nobody else who can create offense like him (until Boozer returns). That is a very entertaining show, by the way.

14. Jazz (1-2). It’s taking them some time to find their footing on offense with the new personnel, but they found it Sunday and blew out the Thunder. Was that an aberration or have they started to get it?

15. Kings (2-1). They’d be 3-0 if it were not for a total collapse in New Jersey. The Kings offense is fast and fun to watch, but the defense is going to improve or hold them back.

16. Bucks (1-2). Their offense and defense will get better, you have to think. Right now they are pretty average.

17. Warriors (2-1). Another from the really good on offense, really bad on defense category. But if you take away Stephen Curry and put Ron Artest on Monta Ellis, things don’t go so well.

18. Suns (1-2). It’s three games in, but the Suns are 20th in the league in pace. What happened to the team from last season? Can we blame Hedo for this too?

19. Pacers (2-1). Roy Hibbert has 11 assists versus just 2 turnovers in the Pacers two wins — the ball is not sticking with him and letting the defense adjust. That’s a big step forward for this team.

20. Nets (2-1). Come from behind wins against the Pistons and Kings — they would not have done that last year.

21. Knicks (1-2). Raymond Felton is still not comfortable just attacking off the pick-and-roll, and I drafted Danilo Gallinari on my fantasy team so I should have warned all of you he would turn to ice because of it. Still, better than last year.

22. Bobcats (0-3). Last season the Bobcats made the playoffs because they had one of the best defenses in the league. Three games in, they are 29th in defensive efficiency. If that keeps up, it will get ugly fast.

23. Rockets (0-3). Who are the Rockets? Their guards dominate and they should run more, but when Yao is in the team just looks lost and never really adjusts to the half court. The transition of Yao back into the rotation has been painful.

24. Pistons (0-3). Ben Gordon and Rodney Stuckey have been kept the offense going and the team does attack. But three heartbreaking losses? Either they fight through and win a few in a row, or this could become a season-long pattern.

25. Raptors (1-1). The Raptors are playing good defense. Yes, we believe this to be a mirage.

26. Timberwolves (1-2). Michael Beasley said they had to be the worst team in the NBA after they got blown out by Memphis. If Beasley says you’re the worst team in the league…

27. Cavaliers (1-2). Do you think the win over the Celtics was the real Cavaliers, or the two ugly losses? We lean toward the latter right now.

28. Wizards (0-2). Orlando then Atlanta is a tough way to open the season. We’ll get a better feel for just where the Wizards really stand in the next couple weeks.

29. Sixers (0-3). This team is worse than we thought. It’s worse than Doug Collins thought. But apparently the people of Philadelphia understood and are now solely focused on the Eagles.

30. Clippers (0-3). Blake Griffin is just flat out fun to watch. More Eric Gordon and Bledsoe will help in the backcourt. But this team is being out scored by 15.8 points per 100 possessions so far, worst in the NBA. So they get the bottom spot.

It’s official: NBA, NBPA announce new CBA signed

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  NBA commissioner, Adam Silver speaks during a press conference prior to the NBA match between Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets at the O2 Arena on January 12, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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When was the last time you saw any labor contract — not just the NBA, not just pro sports, but in any business — get done before either side could opt-out, let alone the actual deadline?

That’s what happened with the NBA’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The teams had until Dec. 15 of last year to opt out, with the real deadline for a new deal being July 1 of this year. Yet the two sides reached a deal before either side even opted out.

Thursday the NBA and National Basketball Players’ Association announced that the new CBA had been signed. It’s a seven-year deal that kicks in July 1.

The deal got done primarily for two reasons. One, the league is awash in cash with the new television deal and neither side wanted to put that at risk. Second, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA Executive Director Michelle Roberts do not have the long, scarred history of their predecessors (David Stern and Billy Hunter), so they didn’t come to the table with distrust and looking to settle old scores.

The new CBA is largely status quo, which is another reason it got done quickly. Here are the highlights.

• The roughly 50/50 split of revenue remains in place (the players get between 49-51 percent of “basketball-related income” depending on if the league meets revenue goals). It’s always about the money, once this got done the rest tends to fall in line. The rising tide of the new national television contract has floated all boats and nobody wanted to rock that boat.

• The college one-and-done rule will remain. However, both sides will continue to look at the issue. (Will it change eventually? It’s a negotiation, if one side really wants the limit moved they are going to have to give something else up.)

• A new “designated player” rule, which we should just call the Kevin Durant rule. The rule allows teams that have a player they drafted that is entering their seventh or eighth year in the NBA to be offered a longer, larger contract extension — five years starting at 35 percent of the salary cap, same as 10-year veterans. The qualifications are the player has to be with the team that drafted him (or have been traded during his rookie deal, the first three seasons), and have been MVP or made the All-NBA team that season (or two of the previous three). Other teams could only offer four years starting at 30 percent of the cap. For example, Golden State can and will offer Stephen Curry that extension this summer. The more interesting test will be DeMarcus Cousins — the Kings say they will offer it and Cousins has said he will sign it.

• The NBA players’ union now will handle negotiations for player-likeness rights (such as those used in video games). This is something the union wanted and they see as a growth area of revenue, and how were the owners going to push back on the idea of players controlling their own images?

• The preseason will be shortened by three or four games, allowing the regular season to start a week to 10 days earlier. That additional time will be used to reduce the number of back-to-backs and nearly eliminate four games in five nights situations.

• The scaled salaries for rookies will increase.

• There will be some changes to cap holds that will make it harder to do what Kawhi Leonard and Andre Drummond did with their rookie deals, delaying signing an obvious max extension to allow the team to use that cap space to put a better team around them.

• The NBA will create a fund to help with medical expenses and more for retired players who need it.

• NBA teams can have up to three “two-way contracts” that will pay between $50,000 and $75,000. This is something the NBA borrowed from the NHL. These players will have two salaries on the books, their D-League salary and an NBA salary (the minimum, most likely) and will get pro-rated portions of said salaries depending on where they are playing. Teams will be able to move the player between the leagues much more freely.

• There will be changes to the NBA’s domestic violence policy which will clarify the disciplinary procedures in dealing with domestic violence incidents. This will include fines and suspensions, but also will go beyond that and include counseling and other steps to end the cycle.

There was the time Barack Obama taunted Joakim Noah for his shot, so Noah shut him down

Barack Obama
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Barack Obama is the biggest basketball fan ever in the White House, and the best basketball player ever to be president (Abraham Lincoln maybe could have given him a run for his money, except the game hadn’t been invented yet).

Over the past eight years, Obama has hosted a number of pick-up basketball games with NBA players, celebrities, and government officials. It’s pretty standard for half of Washington D.C. to pick up the hobby of the president, and when Obama took office suddenly everyone was a baller. Or wanted to be.

At GQ, they put together a great oral history of some of those games, and there are a bunch of great stories. But this one with Joakim Noah is my favorite.

David Axelrod: [The President] ticked off Joakim Noah because the president was trash-talking him about his shot, [which is], shall we say, unorthodox. The president said, “Where’d you get that shot? That’s the ugliest shot I’ve ever seen.” So at some point, Noah decided, “Okay, let’s see about yours.” And he completely smothered the President. I mean he was guarding him and the President could not go anywhere. But I will say that with all of that, somehow playing against all these NBA players, he mysteriously was able to hit the winning shot.

Obama is a lefty with — according to those who played against him — some old man at the Y in his game. He’s crafty.

Here’s another good story, but you should go read the entire piece.

Marty Nesbitt: The first possession when the president had the ball, Chris Paul was guarding him. He took a couple of dribbles right, and then he crossed over and went left, and then he threw this behind-the-head pass to Pau Gasol, who made a lay-up. It was spectacular. I was teasing Chris Paul a little bit. He said, “Hey, man, I led the NBA in steals. If I wanted to take that—” And I said, “No question, but you didn’t know the man could really play, right? So he surprised you.” He just didn’t expect that Barack could play as well as he could.

Chris Paul (Guard, Los Angeles Clippers): I was shocked at how good he was. Nice lefty jump shot. But he got lucky one time on the break. I sort of jumped out, made him guess which way to go and he made the right play, crossed over, made it look like he crossed me up. It’ll never happen again. Hopefully now that he’s out of office we’ll have some time to see if it was real.

I’m going to miss having a Baller-in-Chief in the White House.

TNT to cover NBA games with only former players, no traditional play-by-play men

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Grant Hill #33 of the Phoenix Suns looks to move the ball as Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers defends in the first quarter of Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 19, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — TNT will use broadcast teams featuring only former players and no traditional play-by-play men during five NBA doubleheaders later this season.

The “Players Only” schedule runs Monday nights from Feb. 27 to March 27 and includes matchups such as Golden State-Oklahoma City on March 20 and Cleveland-San Antonio a week later.

Brent Barry will serve as the primary host of one team with Derek Fisher and Grant Hill, while Greg Anthony partners with Kevin McHale and Richard Hamilton on the other.

Lisa Leslie and Dennis Scott will serve as reporters.

Turner Sports says Thursday that Chris Webber will anchor the studio coverage with Isiah Thomas and Baron Davis, and that additional NBA players will contribute to the five-week program.

James Harden presents fan with game ball on her 100th birthday (video)

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden took some time out after the Houston Rockets’ win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks to give a fan a present on a her 100th birthday.

Video shows Harden signing a ball for the woman and spending a few moments sitting next to her in her courtside seat and posing for pictures Wednesday night.

Harden told ESPN’s Doris Burke in an interview that he told the woman how “blessed” he was to be able to have a chance to meet her.

The Houston guard also put on a good show for the fan during the game, scoring 38 points in a 111-92 victory over the Bucks.