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.

Pat Riley: Friend talked me out of going Dan Gilbert when LeBron James left

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When LeBron James left Cleveland, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert released his infamous letter.

When LeBron left Miami, Heat president Pat Riley issued a classy statement.

The difference was nearly not as stark following Riley’s final meeting with LeBron in 2014 in Las Vegas.

Wright Thompson of ESPN:

Riley told his lieutenant, Andy Elisburg, to get the two championship trophies LeBron had won and pack them in their hard-shell carrying cases. Elisburg also brought charts and an easel for a presentation about the free agents the Heat would pursue. The day of the meeting, a hotel bellhop followed them with a luggage cart carrying the presentation and the two trophies. Riley brought wine from a Napa vineyard named Promise. It was the same label Maverick Carter had presented Riley with when they did the deal four years earlier. Riley respects Carter, and when he walked into the suite and saw James with agent Rich Paul and friend Randy Mims but no Maverick, part of him knew the meeting wasn’t sincere. He told Elisburg to keep the trophies and easel in the hall. James and his associates were watching a World Cup game, which they kept glancing at during the presentation. At one point, Riley asked if they’d mute the TV.

Riley flew home worried and got a text telling him to be ready for a call. About 15 minutes later, his phone rang and Paul was on the other end. The agent handed the phone to LeBron, who started by saying, “I want to thank you for four years …”

“I was silent,” Riley says. “I didn’t say anything. My mind began to just go. And it was over. I was very angry when LeBron left. It was personal for me. It just was. I had a very good friend who talked me off the ledge and kept me from going out there and saying something like Dan Gilbert. I’m glad I didn’t do it.”

The most shocking element of Gilbert’s letter wasn’t that he wrote it. People say dumb things, especially in the heat of the moment. But it was surprising nobody stopped Gilbert from publishing it. Of course, he runs the franchise. But nobody felt empowered to tell him it was a bad idea?

Riley was obviously fortunate to get that message and wise to heed it. But even he has let his disdain for LeBron leaving slip out a couple times.

John Wall doesn’t sound super enthused about Dennis Schroder’s summer-workout request

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The Wizards and Hawks are knotted in a 2-2 first-round series.

A subplot: John Wall vs. Dennis Schroder. They have a history – Schroder starting random trash talk and then telling a teammate to hack Wall’s recently injured wrist, according to Wall – and Wall stared down Schroder after a dunk in Game 2.

A sub-subplot: Wall’s and Schroder’s summer plans.

Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Wall, via Chase Hughes of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

“I’ve never heard of that going on in the middle of a series,” Wall said Monday after shootaround for Game 4 later tonight at Phillips Arena. “I’m not talking about it right now. I’m locked into a series competing with a guy that’s playing well for his team, competing for his team. That’s probably a conversation I’ll have later on, but I’m locked into Wizards versus Hawks.”

Aside from that, Wall tends to be a loner during the summer when he’s getting ready. He was supposed to work out with Damian Lillard a few seasons ago, but even that didn’t come to fruition. Teammate Brandon Jennings sensed that about Wall.

“I really don’t work out with anybody, to be honest,” Wall said. “Brandon said the same thing, ‘You’re the type of guy that don’t like to work out with people.’ I just always worked out by myself a lot.”

Maybe Schroder thinks Wall will see himself in the Atlanta point guard – a fearless young player trying to prove himself by standing up to established players. And maybe Wall does.

But I suspect Wall just sees Schroder as a pest.

If that’s the case, it certainly won’t change until this series ends.

Marcus Smart responds to Jimmy Butler: ‘It ain’t hard to find me’ (video)

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Jimmy Butler said Marcus Smart is “not about that life.”

Smart, via MassLive:

Laugh at that. This about the Celtics versus Chicago Bulls, not Marcus Smart versus Jimmy. I ain’t got to sit here and say this and that. I’m this. I’m that. I ain’t that type of guy. My actions speak louder than words. It ain’t hard to find me. But, right now, I’m focused on my teammates and this series.

That led to a few excellent follow-up questions:

Are you about that life?

Like I said before, I ain’t got to talk about what I am about. I just show you. I can show you, but I’m not going to tell you. Like I said, it ain’t hard to find me. You heard him. He said, “I don’t think Marcus Smart is about that life.” Last time I checked, if you’re going to say somebody ain’t about that life, you should know, right? But like I said, we’re going to keep this Chicago Bulls vs. Boston Celtics, not Marcus vs. Jimmy.

Has anyone accused you not being tough before?

Never.

What was your reaction to that?

Haha.

Smart flops too much. He gets overly emotional.

But he’s way too tough to let Butler’s comments pass without rebuttal.

The real test will come on the court in Game 5 tomorrow.

Damian Lillard ‘obsessed’ with beating Warriors

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The Warriors just eliminated the Trail Blazers for the second straight year.

Portland star Damian Lillard sounds hardened by the experience.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

After the Portland Trail Blazers were swept by the Golden State Warriors on Monday, point guard Damian Lillard told ESPN he’s developed a newfound obsession with trying to take down the Warriors.

“You have to be obsessed with that because you know that they’re so good that they’re going to be there,” Lillard said after a 128-103 loss in Game 4. “That’s who you’re going to have to get through to get to where you want to get to. That’s what it is.”

I have no doubt this will drive Lillard. He just finds way to lift himself.

But will the rest of the Trail Blazers keep up with a team that features Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson?

C.J. McCollum is a solid co-star, but it gets dicey beyond that with several players locked into expensive long-term contracts. Portland will have to pry enough production from Jusuf Nurkic, Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, Allen Crabbe, Noah Vonleh, Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard and the Nos. 15, 20 and 26 picks in the upcoming draft.

The Trail Blazers have a path upward, but needing to climb as high as Golden State, the road is narrow.