NBA Power Rankings, where the Hornets are all the buzz

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, where we are starting to believe in the Hornets but not the Hawks. Oh, and just bench Baron Davis.

1. Lakers (7-0). Best offense in the NBA so far, defense is solid (10th in league in defensive points given up per possession) and all that without Andrew Bynum. The schedule is pretty soft, but the Lakers are destroying it.

2. Celtics (6-1). Wins this week against the Thunder, Bulls and Bucks — good week for old men.

3. Hornets (7-0). Sure, Chris Paul is a god and all but the Hornets are doing it with defense. How? David West is really playing hard on that end of the floor, meaning Emeka Okafor doesn’t have to help as much, and everything keeps its form.

4. Heat (4-2). Losses came to the Celtics — a very big, long front line — and the Hornets, who got a huge night out of Okafor. Sensing a pattern here? Are big front lines going to be an issue for the Heat?

5. Hawks (6-1). Pardon us if we are not terribly impressed with this record — the six wins come against the Grizzlies, Sixers, Wizards, Cavs, Pistons and T-Wolves. This week the Magic, Jazz and Bucks are better tests.

6. Magic (4-1). The defense is getting it done, but they are going to have to shoot better than 35.7 from three to keep winning games. They are a little banged up with Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter sore but likely to play.

7. Spurs (4-1). Richard Jefferson has been the best player on the team. Didn’t think we’d be typing that sentence.

8. Nuggets (4-2). Thing to watch: How the Bulls fans welcome Carmelo Anthony to the United Center Monday night. The Nuggets look pretty good considering how Chauncey Billups has not shot the ball well at all.

9. Mavericks (3-2). Dirk Nowitzki is playing his best basketball in a few years. The rest of the Mavericks are off their offensive game (Brendan Haywood, two points of fewer in four of the last five), and the team is 20th in offensive efficiency. Expect that to improve.

10. Blazers (5-3). Don’t read much into the blowout at the hands of the Lakers, second night of a back-to-back, sixth game in nine days. Still, they have got start rebounding the ball better — they are grabbing just 66.8 percent of opponent missed shots, third worst in the league.

11. Warriors (4-2). We’re not convinced they are really better than the next few teams below them, but they are playing better right now so they get the love. Best thing Keith Smart is done? The Warriors are 11th in defensive efficiency right now. The Jazz scored just 78 points on them.

12. Thunder (3-3). Turnovers killed them against Boston. The offense is stagnant and relies too much on isolation. The defense isn’t creating turnovers that lead to fast break points. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are good enough to win them some games, but the Thunder are not yet right.

13. Jazz (3-3). They have not found their footing and this week head out on the road to Miami, Orlando and Atlanta. Tough spot.

14. Suns (3-3). Steve Nash’s assist percentage — percent of team field goal he assists on when he is on the floor — is down to 40 percent, lowest it has been since he came to Phoenix. You get the feeling that is more about his teammates than Nash.

15. Bulls (2-3). Chicago is 18th in defensive efficiency in the league, not what we expected from a Tom Thibodeau coached team. The return of Carlos Boozer is not going to help at that end of the floor, either.

16. Grizzlies (3-4). Rudy Gay is on fire and the Grizzlies are about to start a home stand. Things could be looking up in Memphis. Whether or not that brings people to the gate is another issue.

17. Knicks (3-3). We told you Knicks fans, you were going to love Ronny Turiaf.

18. Kings (3-3). DeMarcus Cousins, welcome to the NBA. You have the skills, but it is not going to be easy.

19. Cavaliers (3-3). If the playoffs started today, they would be the four seed in the East because they lead the division.

20. Bucks (2-5). Their offense is just terrible (29th in league in offensive efficiency) and while their defense can keep them close they’ve got to put the ball in the peach basket to win.

21. Sixers (2-5). After a terrible first week they had a decent second one, winning two and hanging in two others. Maybe they aren’t as bad as we thought.

22. Pacers (2-3). Thought Darren Collison was going to fix this, but he hasn’t — the Pacers are 28th in the league in offensive efficiency. Not good.

23. Nets (2-4). Paging the real Brook Lopez, please report to Newark. Whoever is filling in for the real Lopez is not nearly as good.

24. Pistons (2-5). A 2-2 week despite benching Rodney Stuckey and starting Tracy McGrady for a game. The problems here are deep and systemic, but Rip Hamilton can still win you some games.

25. Bobcats (1-5). It seems like every year we write about the Bobcats slow start. Why is that?

26. Rockets (1-5). You can be glass half full — all five losses are to quality teams. But this team has struggled when Yao is in the game, and now for the next month they will be without Aaron Brooks.

27. Raptors (1-5). Remember when last week we said the Raptors were playing good defense. Scratch that.

28. Wizards (1-4). Gilbert Arenas is back and with John Wall this team should get better. Have yet to see it on the court, but they should.

29. Clippers (1-6). Put me in the “keep Baron Davis on the bench, play Bledsoe and Gordon more” camp. It may mean more losses short term but Baron is not the future. And more Eric Gordon is good for everyone.

30. Timberwolves (1-6). Yes Orlando and Miami are good, but to lose by a combined 74? Wolves fans, not sure how much your team will move out of this spot this season.

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.

Rumor: Lakers, Kawhi Leonard share mutual interest

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The Spurs seem like they won’t trade Kawhi Leonard.

That won’t stop teams from trying.

There’s a clear disconnect between Leonard and San Antonio. Even the potential of a player as good as Leonard becoming available has teams salivating.

The Clippers are reportedly assembling a trade offer for the L.A. native. Los Angeles’ other team – the Lakers – are also apparently expected to factor prominently.

Sean Deveney of Sporting News:

“I think they go in hard for Leonard once the season is over and once the dust settles in San Antonio,” one executive told Sporting News. “(Leonard) wants to go to LA. There probably won’t be public demands on that, but he has leverage. He is going to be a free agent (in 2019). He’s an LA guy and he can just let teams know he won’t re-sign next year with anyone but the Lakers.”

But make no mistake, the Lakers are the favorite here.

“I would say that’s the most likely thing,” another general manager told Sporting News. “He’s going to be their target any way you look at it, this summer or next summer. There’s not many other ways to explain what’s been going on with that situation other than him trying to get out of San Antonio.”

Of course, every team wants Leonard. He’s an elite two-way player when healthy. But teams will go to differing lengths to pursue him. If the Lakers will “go hard for Leonard,” that means something beyond just desiring him.

Under Magic Johnson, the Lakers have made no secret of their plan to acquire stars. That has largely been centered on 2018 free agents, but with that well drying up, talk has turned to 2019 free agents. If the Lakers can get a top 2019 free agent – Leonard – sooner, why wouldn’t they?

One reason is the cost. Trading with San Antonio would require dealing at least some combination of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. Signing Leonard outright in 2019 would be simpler.

But a trade is the only surefire way of getting Leonard. If the Lakers don’t trade for him, another team could. With promising young players and cap space, the Lakers have the tools to make an intriguing offer for Leonard.

Or, more likely, the Spurs could keep him. Their relationship isn’t necessarily beyond repair, and they can offer him a super-max contract extension this summer.

They might not offer it. Even if they do, he might not take it. If he doesn’t, he could pledge to re-sign with only certain teams – like the Lakers – and steer trade talks that way. You can see how the thinking develops:

Leonard might be unhappy in San Antonio. He grew up in Southern California. Therefore, he’ll engineer his way to the Lakers?

Maybe, and maybe these anonymous executives know something to that effect. But this mostly sounds lazily speculative.

PBT Extra: Disciplined Celtics highlight bad habits of Milwaukee Bucks

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Giannis Antetokounmpo has been every bit the top five NBA player in the postseason — 32.5 points per game on 63.2 percent shooting, plus with 11 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game.

Yet the Bucks are down 0-2 to Boston.

The Celtics have had a strong series from Al Horford and Terry Rozier, but the real difference is in the discipline this team has shown all season — Boston knows who it is. Clearly, Milwaukee does not. They turn the ball over too much and make too many mistakes.

I get into all of that in this PBT Extra, and I wonder if that’s something the Bucks can really turn around mid-playoffs.

Ettore Messina to coach Spurs in Game 3 following death of Gregg Popovich’s wife

AP Photo/Eric Gay
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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin, died yesterday.

That sad news was felt throughout the NBA, and it obviously affects San Antonio most closely. That includes for tonight’s Game 3 against the Warriors.

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

Ettore Messina was a longtime head coach in Europe. The Spurs lead assistant also took over for a few regular-season games Popovich missed. So, making – rather than advising – coaching decisions won’t be a brand new challenge to Messina.

But down 2-0 to defending-champion Golden State is a tough place to make an NBA playoff debut.

On the bright side, there will be no pressure. Not only has San Antonio been outclassed the first two games of the series, focus is rightly on the Popovich family. A win would be a pleasant surprise and help Messina – who’s up for the Hornets job – in his pursuit of a head-coaching position. A loss would be quickly forgotten with more important matters at hand.

To that end, hopefully the time away allows Popovich the space he needs to grieve. That matters far more than a basketball game.