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NBA Power Rankings, where we have a new number one

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, or, how Laker fans shouldn’t panic unless they get up by 18 against the Jazz.

1. Hornets (8-0). They are not going to win 82, or 72, or even 62. But what this kind of start does is make it very likely they are playoff bound. And after watching them and CP3 the first couple weeks, you think anyone wants them in the first round?

2. Celtics (8-2). A bunch of old guys who are supposed to start slow, all their centers are banged up, and yet is there any question they are the best team in the East right now?

3. Lakers (8-2). Two losses in one week will cause some Lakers fans to reach for the panic button, because they can be a bunch of nervous poodles. But as Suns coach Alvin Gentry said, Phoenix hit 22 threes and still had to hang on to win. The Lakers are fine, just entering their disinterested part of the season.

4. Spurs (8-1). Seven straight wins for the Spurs. Tony Parker is dealing, Manu is Manu again, and when Matt Bonner is hitting 80 percent from three you know they have it going. It all comes down to health with these guys.

5. Jazz (7-3). I dare you to take a big lead on them. Just dare you. They head out on a tough road trip to the Southwest and find themselves, come back as real threats in the West.

6. Mavericks (6-3). The Mavs are doing it on defense — they are fourth in the league in defensive efficiency, giving up 100.1 points per 100 possessions. That should scare teams because you know the offense will come around.

7. Heat (6-4). Dwyane Wade is right, they are the best 6-4 (now) team in the league. But they are still a 6-4 team, and like the rest of them they have flaws.

8. Magic (6-3). They have hit 34.7 percent of their threes, jus 19th best in the league. Down from 37.5 percent last season. That’s a big drop for a team that relies heavily on the deep ball.

9. Hawks (7-4). They’re good on offense, not that good on defense. In fact, 11 games in they are giving up 1.1 more points per 100 possessions than last season. Remember, Larry Drew, movement in the offense is meaningless without some defense.

10. Bulls (5-3). Three straight wins, including one over Denver. If the goal was just to be good until Boozer gets back, mission accomplished.

11. Nuggets (5-4). You saw what they are capable of — they beat the Lakers. You saw what they are capable of — they gave up 54 points to the Indiana Pacers in a quarter. You want to predict this team night to night?

12. Thunder (5-4). They have not blown our doors off yet — as we all hoped and expected — and this week they get the Jazz, the Celtics then the Bucks on a back-to-back after Boston. Tough week for anyone.

13. Warriors (6-4). They are 4-0 at home, 2-4 on the road. Love the new owners for offering steep discounts to tonight’s game as a thank you. And apology for much of the last decade.

14. Bucks (5-5). Three straight wins this week, not giving up more than 91 points to anyone. They are giving up just 96.9 points per 100 possessions, best in the Association.

15. Suns (5-4). Second in the league in offensive efficiency, 29th in defense. Those Suns are back. But when they are knocking down 22 threes a game — and they can do that a lot more often than you think — they can beat anyone.

16. Blazers (6-5). The news that this Brandon Roy, the hobbled one, is the one we will see from now on makes me feel robbed of what could have been.

17. Pacers (4-4). The Pacers offense looked better this week and, it should be noted, they have slowed the pace a little. They are currently 10th in the league in possessions per game. That might work for them.

18. Grizzlies (4-6). Interesting stat of the day — the Grizzlies create more turnovers than any team in the league (per possession). One if five trips down the court the other team turns it over.

19. Pistons (4-6). They are 4-3 over the last two weeks, which is better than we expected of them. But the question remains: Do you keep this roster together to fight for the 8 seed?

20. Cavaliers (4-5). Antawn Jamison has been solid since his return, and that kind of sums up where the Cavaliers are at — their veteran leader is solid. Still, the eight seed if the playoffs start today.

21. Rockets (3-6). Still not good, but a couple nice wins over the Pacers and Knicks this week. This is a good offensive team, despite everything.

22. Nets (3-6). Is Avery Johnson completely hoarse yet yelling about the defense?

23. Bobcats (3-7). The team in the bottom 10 we expect to move up. They are not this bad and it looks like Gerald Wallace may have found himself.

24. Raptors (2-8). Hedo Turkoglu hits a game winner for the Suns and the entire city of Toronto cringes.

25. Timberwolves (3-8). Kevin Love and Michael Beasley actually make this team a threat on any given night. Not every night, but there will be some. The roster has some talent on it, it remains a question of fit and usage.

26. Wizards (2-6). Every day without John Wall just feels like waiting around for the real part of the season to start again.

27. Knicks (3-7). Losses to Minnesota and Houston because they can’t knock down an outside shot to save their lives. Is that D’Antoni’s fault?

28. Kings (3-6). The worst defense in the NBA right now. Bar none.

29. Sixers (2-8). When you watch a lot of League Pass, when you watch a lot of games, there become teams that just bore you, the ones you don’t get excited to see. Meet your Sixers.

30. Clippers (1-9). No Baron Davis is a good thing for this team long term, but it doesn’t mean wins now. Still, a highlight reel every night from these guys.

Watch highlights of USA’s 111-74 rout of Argentina in exhibition game

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Argentina isn’t considered a medal contender heading into the Rio Olympics. Their golden generation — led by Manu Ginobili — has picked up a lot of speed on the downhill side of their careers at this point.

They didn’t provide much of a challenge for Team USA in an exhibition game Friday night in Las Vegas, one won by the USA 111-74. Kevin Durant impressed playing with his new teammates in dropping 23 points, Paul George had 18, and the Americans had their way in the game.

Which is what we’re going to see a lot of in Rio — the USA’s talent level is just steps above any other team in the tournament.

Kevin Durant: Nobody has said something negative to my face about joining Warriors

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 07:  Kevin Durant speaks to the media during the press conference where he was introduced as a member of the Golden State Warriors after they signed him as a free agent on July 7, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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When Kevin Durant chose the Warriors, he received criticism from all angles.

Fans burned his jersey. Charles Barkley decried the decision. Markieff Morris said, “That ain’t right.” Durant’s former Thunder teammates leaked their displeasure with the process.

Durant was so reluctant to face the backlash, he stayed in his bed luxurious rental house for two days.

It, uh, worked.

Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports:

Though he has heard some criticism from Barkley and fellow Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, various talking heads and people in social media who believe he has cheated the system and cut corners to a ring, Durant said the reaction to his choice hasn’t been too bad: “All that stuff happens on the Internet. I haven’t had one person come to me and say anything negative. … It’s easy for the critics on the outside to tell you what to do, to tell you how to play. I’m the one that’s going through it, so I can’t really worry about the outside noise. The work don’t stop. Everything stays the same.”

This is a good reminder how insulated NBA players, especially stars, can be.

And it adds to why Durant signing with Golden State makes sense. While we’re debating his legacy and discussing the backlash (and the backlash to the backlash and the backlash to the backlash to the backlash and the…), he’ll be playing high-level basketball with his friends in a desirable city for a max salary.

Sure, it’s not all rosy. Durant altered his relationship with his friend Russell Westbrook, and Durant will have to return to Oklahoma City for a game. There, he’ll face plenty of booing fans.

But, all in all, Durant should have little trouble tuning out the critics.

They’re too far away for him to hear them much.

US romps over Argentina in first Olympic exhibition

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 22:  Paul George #13 of the United States passes the ball up the court against Argentina during a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at T-Mobile Arena on July 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The United States won 111-74.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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LAS VEGAS (AP) New team. Same old result.

Full of new star power – and dominant on the inside – the U.S. men’s basketball team opened its bid for a third straight Olympic gold medal Friday night with a 111-74 exhibition romp over Argentina.

A game that was over almost before it began showed the U.S. has to improve its shooting and conditioning. It also showed that there is plenty of talent among a group of players that seem to want to play well for each other and their country despite the absence of Olympic stalwarts Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

“There’s a willingness from these guys to work on anything we need and to work hard,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “These are very good guys.”

A U.S. team that hasn’t lost a game in 10 years had little trouble with Argentina, which some consider a medal contender in Rio. Paul George scored 14 first-half points, Kevin Durant added 12, and the U.S. blew open the game early before an appreciative crowd on the Las Vegas Strip.

Even with Bryant retired and James taking this Olympics off, there was no real talent drop off on a team heavily favored to win gold once again. The depth of the U.S. showed as coach Mike Krzyzewski rotated players in and out, searching for the right combinations on a team with 10 new players from 2012.

“Nothing is for sure,” Durant said. “We want to get this gold and right now we have a job to do. We have to prepare the right way.”

Count the Argentines among those who were impressed at the first real game for the Olympic team.

“Obviously, they have the best talent and the best size in the world,” Argentina’s Luis Scola said. “That’s a big difference in their favor.”

The game was the first of five exhibitions the U.S. will play before traveling to Rio to defend the gold medal. The U.S. team has spent the last week practicing in Las Vegas in preparation for the tour and the games.

There weren’t any opening night jitters, though the U.S. shot only 45 percent and missed all but 14 of 41 3-pointers. With DeMarcus Cousins pulling down 15 rebounds in just 16 minutes, the U.S. dominated inside, outrebounding Argentina 53-30.

“The big thing is getting in shape and they are not there where they will be,” Krzyzewski said. “But we really have an inside presence on the boards.”

For Durant the game was a chance to play with a pair of his new Golden State teammates, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. It was also a chance for Durant and Carmelo Anthony – the only two players from the 2012 team – to demonstrate that this will be their team in Rio.

Both players cheered from the bench as the minutes were spread around, jumping up to clap for teammates. Every U.S. player got quality time, with Green’s 12 minutes the least played by any American.

“We’re going to have fun and we’re going to enjoy ourselves,” Anthony said. “If it’s not fun it’s not worth it. We’re going to enjoy ourselves but at the same time we’re going to be focused in trying to get that gold medal.”

Durant finished as the game’s high scorer with 23 points, while George had 18 and Carmelo Anthony 17. Andres Nocioni had 15 for Argentina, while Manu Ginobili added 11 for Argentina, which lost to the U.S. in the semifinals of the 2012 Olympics.

Though at times little defense was played, there was plenty of offense to keep the crowd at the new T-Mobile Arena happy. The teams combined to put up 70 3-point attempts, 41 of them from the U.S.

Oddsmakers had made the U.S. a prohibitive 29.5-point favorite in what at times looked a lot like an NBA All-Star game. But while the U.S. team is loaded with 12 NBA players, the Argentines had only three on their roster and the talent difference showed.

While the team is full of new players, the gold medal run will be the last for Krzyzewski, the national coach for the last decade. His teams have lost only one game during his reign, which will end after the Olympics with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich taking over.

Kevin Durant gets first taste of playing with Warriors teammates in USA exhibition

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 22:  Kevin Durant #5 of the United States drives against Facundo Campazzo #7 of Argentina during a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at T-Mobile Arena on July 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The United States won 111-74.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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LAS VEGAS — It wasn’t the highest of stakes, but after a heavily hyped announcement and all the fallout that resulted from it, Kevin Durant has now played organized basketball with some of his new Golden State Warriors teammates.

In a 111-74 blowout win over Argentina in an exhibition game at Las Vegas’ brand-new T-Mobile Arena, Durant shared the court with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, who will make up three-fifths of the most formidable starting lineup in the NBA. Durant looked plenty comfortable, leading all scorers with 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting and making four three-pointers. Thompson and Green came off the bench, but the three Warriors shared the court in the second quarter.

Not that Durant was really thinking about it.

“I was just lost in the game,” he said afterwards. “I didn’t really notice, I was lost in the game and trying to play the right way. We worry about what Coach K wants us to do. I’m sure they felt the same way. We didn’t talk about it.”

Green concurred.

“It was great,” he said of playing with Durant for the first time. “You don’t really pay attention to the fact that we’re teammates [in the NBA]. We’re all teammates. We’re all going for the same goal.”

To be sure, these exhibition games — and even the real games in Rio next month — are nothing like what the Warriors will experience playing together when the regular season kicks off in the fall. The Olympics feature the top talent from all over the world, but the disparity in talent between the USA’s group and any other country is so staggering that most of the games are likely going to turn out like this one.

Green didn’t want to compare this experience with something like the NBA Finals.

“It’s a little different,” Green said. “Because when you’re in the Finals, No. 1 you play a team seven times, No. 2 you already know the guys. We know [Manu] Ginobili, [Andres] Nocioni, [Luis] Scola. We’ve played against those guys a bunch of times, but not at a level where you know everything they do. When you’re in the Finals, I know everything Kyrie does. It’s just a matter of, can you stop it or not? Just because you know he’s gonna do it doesn’t mean you can stop it. Here, it’s a little different because of these guys we’ve never played before.”

Next week, Durant will play his first game at his new home when the USA faces off with China on Tuesday in Oakland. They’re all looking forward to it, especially Green.

“Definitely looking forward to getting back home,” Green said. “I think it will be something special, especially with the KD announcement. Him coming in there for the first time with a USA jersey. It’ll be pretty unique.”

The last time Durant played at Oracle Arena, the circumstances were very different. Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder took an unexpected 3-1 lead over the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals before dropping three straight games, leading to a Warriors trip to the Finals and, ultimately, Durant’s exit from Oklahoma City.

This time around, Durant will have the fans at Oracle on his side. Not that he needs any preparation.

Said Green, with a smile: “He knows all about Oracle.”