NBA Power Rankings, where the Spurs, they jingle, jangle, jingle

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, or, how the West looks better than the East right now by a long shot.

1. Spurs (11-1). Distraction? What are you talking about? Right now the Spurs are focused and playing the best basketball in the association — and the offense is really clicking with Parker dishing a little more.

2. Lakers (12-2). Los Angeles is playing well, but we need to note they have played one of the five softest schedules in the league so far. They’re beating who they are supposed to beat, though, and big wins over bad opponents are a good sign.

3. Hornets (11-1). Jarrett Jack can be a nice backup point guard and play a little two, sure, but what really matters is that Chris Paul likes him, and all that really matters for New Orleans is what makes Chris Paul happy.

4. Magic (9-3). Four wins in a row, but not against he strongest of competition (although they did beat Memphis, something the Heat couldn’t do. Monday night against the Spurs is a much better test.

5. Thunder (9-4). Big jump up the board because despite Kevin Durant having to sit a game they beat Boston, Utah and Milwaukee in one week. They are getting their swagger back.

6. Mavericks (8-4). What Dallas is doing poorly so far? Getting the ball on the offensive glass. What Dallas is doing well so far? Not fouling on defense.

7. Jazz (9-5). All credit to Jerry Sloan, I thought this team would take a step back this season and so far they are what they always are — a good, professional side.

8. Celtics (9-4). The Celtics are playing with the passion usually reserved for a road trip in February already. I suppose we should have expected that. They need Rondo back soon, mostly for his defense.

9. Heat (8-5). The long front line of Memphis pushed the Haslem-less Heat around at the end of their loss this week. Pat Riley needs to do something about that, but his options are limited.

10. Hawks (8-5). Al Horford is tearing it up this season, 17.4 points and 9.7 rebounds a game, a true shooing percentage of 68.5 percent (third best in the league) and a PER of 27.8 (behind only Chris Paul).

11. Bulls (7-4). Tom Thibodeau has them running, the Bulls are playing at the fourth fastest pace in the league.

12. Nuggets (7-6). Carmelo Antony isn’t playing much defense, JR Smith and coach Karl are butting heads — despite all the rumors everything remains the same as it ever was in Denver.

13. Blazers (8-6). Brandon Roy and Greg Oden will never be quite the forces that will lead this team everyone had hoped for. Rich Cho’s job has gotten a lot harder.

14. Pacers (5-6). They are cruising along in the middle of the East, which for them is a big step forward.

15. Warriors (7-6). Hey, new owners, lots of hope. Look at that and not that Sunday night game against the Lakers. Ignore the man behind the curtain.

16. Cavaliers (5-7). Nice win against Boston this week, but suddenly it’s trendy for every middle of the road team to beat Boston. Can they play Antawn Jamison and JJ Hickson together?

17. Suns (6-7). Without Steve Nash this team is not good on offense, and they are terrible on defense either way. Nash may be back Monday night.

18. Bucks (5-8). I think they are the best 5-8 team in the league, for what that’s worth. Which isn’t much. Andrew Bogut can’t fully extend his arm on his shot release, which is why he is shooting 46.3 percent on free throws.

19. Knicks (6-8). Three wins in a row, following a week with three losses in a row to bad teams. Inconsistent. Why? Well, this goes a long way in explaining it.

20. Bobcats (5-8). Stephen Jackson with the franchise’s first triple double — that took a long time.

21. Grizzlies (5-9). OJ Mayo has not been good this season (PER of 10.4 best example). Despite that they get a quality win against the Heat, ending a five-game losing streak.

22. Raptors (5-9). Three straight wins including one over Boston. And they’re doing it with defense. Didn’t see that coming.

23. Pistons (5-8). When an opposing coach (Phil Jackson) questions your team’s effort and the response is “yea, he’s probably right” things are bad.

24. Wizards (4-8). Gilbert Arenas is racking up big, inefficient numbers. John Wall should be back this week.

25. Rockets (3-9). Kyle Lowry is no Aaron Brooks, and no Yao Ming now for a couple more weeks. They have lost three in a row.

26. Nets (4-9). The offense really needs to be more about Devin Harris.

27. Kings (4-8). If the Kings start to play defense consistently like they did against the Hornets they are going to start winning some games and moving up these rankings. But we need to see it to believe it.

28. Timberwolves (4-10). Man, Ron Artest just took Kevin Love out of his game. They could use Jonny Flynn back to provide some scoring punch.

29. Sixers (3-10). The Sixers offense has been terrible the last week or so. The defense isn’t great, but the offense is terrible.

30. Clippers (1-13). Blake Griffin’s highlights mask a bad team right now. And Baron Davis coming back soon isn’t really going to help that.

Lowry scores 24 points as Raptors beat Spurs 86-83

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TORONTO (AP) — Kyle Lowry scored nine of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, DeMar DeRozan added 21 and the Toronto Raptors beat San Antonio 86-83 on Friday night to snap a four-game losing streak against the Spurs.

Jonas Valanciunas had 15 points and 11 rebounds as the Raptors improved to 17-3 at home, the second-best home record in the NBA behind San Antonio’s mark of 19-2.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 17 points and 14 rebounds, Pau Gasol scored 15 points and Patty Mills had 13 as San Antonio lost for the fourth time in six road games. The Spurs are 11-15 away from home.

It had been more than two years since Toronto last beat San Antonio. The Raptors won 97-94 at home on Dec. 9, 2015.

San Antonio guard Manu Ginobili missed his second straight game because of a sore right thigh. Ginobili returned to Texas after the Spurs won at Brooklyn on Wednesday.

The Spurs trailed 70-69 after a 3-pointer by Bryn Forbes at 6:52 of the fourth, but DeRozan and Lowry connected on back-to-back possessions, giving Toronto a 74-69 lead with 5:11 remaining.

After a jump shot by Mills, Toronto reeled off a 6-0 run including baskets by Lowry, Valanciunas and DeRozan to lead 80-71 with 2:40 left.

Another 3-pointer by Forbes made it 86-83 with six seconds left. DeRozan was fouled but missed both free throws, giving San Antonio a chance to tie, but the Spurs couldn’t get a shot off in time.

After making seven of 23 shots in the first quarter, the Raptors hit 11 of 20 attempts in the second, including a buzzer-beating jumper from DeRozan that gave Toronto a 44-37 lead at halftime.

Toronto led 55-41 on DeRozan’s three-point play at 7:33 of the third but Aldridge did all the scoring in an 8-0 Spurs run that cut the gap to 63-60 heading to the fourth.

 

Memphis pays tribute to Zach Randolph as he returns to FedEx Forum

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Zach Randolph found his career around in Memphis.

He had fantastic on-the-court years in Portland, then bounced to New York and Los Angeles, but it was in Memphis that he became a beloved figure in the community who embraced it, plus on the court played a big role in the best years in the Grizzlies franchise.

He took the bigger check in Sacramento last summer, and when he returned to FedEx Forum in a Kings uniform Friday he was greeted with nothing but love.

🙌🏽 The @memgrizz pay tribute to @macbo50! #ThisIsWhyWePlay

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Randolph has earned this. Hope he savored it.

 

 

Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins: All-Star nods bode well for Pelicans pairing

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins figure they’ve proved they can co-exist to spectacular and prolific effect.

Both big men have been named All-Star starters, giving them hope they’ll be paired together beyond this season, which is Cousins’ last under contract.

“First time I’ve ever been in an All-Star game with a teammate,” the 6-foot-11 Cousins noted after practice on Friday, one day after All-Star starters were announced. “This is big for the entire city, the organization and just our team moving forward. It kind of shows what this combo has the potential to have.”

The 6-10 Davis, who was the Pelicans’ lone All-Star last season, sounded equally pleased by the results a decision by New Orleans to counter the trend of guard-heavy “small ball” by pairing dynamic big men who can dominate inside, handle the ball and shoot with range.

“The biggest question was, was it going to work? I think we just proved that it is and it can work,” Davis said. “We feel like we complement each other.”

The 24-year old Davis is averaging 26.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. Cousins, 27, has averaged 25.3 points, 12.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.6 blocks. Their exploits have filled highlight reels, sometimes on plays involving one setting up the other – above the rim or otherwise.

“I’m mostly happy for DeMarcus,” Davis said. “To be a starter, that’s huge – huge for him. He’s having a hell of a season. It’s well deserved.”

The comparable production from both Davis and Cousins shows that “both of those guys are willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “Both of those guys are willing to leave a little bit of their game off the floor so the other guy can be good.”

There’s just one problem.

New Orleans hasn’t won enough to be firmly on a path toward postseason play.

At 23-21, the Pelicans entered Friday night’s action tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for seventh in the eight-team Western Conference playoff picture.

The Pelicans’ past two results were a microcosm of their season. On Tuesday night, New Orleans beat Eastern Conference-leading Boston. The following night, they lost at Atlanta, which entered the game with the worst record in the NBA.

“We’ve had flashes throughout the year,” Cousins said. “We’re still trying to find that consistency. There’s still a lot of things we need to work.”

Cousins acknowledged the Pelicans have yet to master “being the team we want to be at all times … no matter if we’re playing Golden State or the Atlanta Hawks.”

The Pelicans have yet to string more than three consecutive victories together this season and had developed a habit of losing to teams with losing records well before their Atlanta collapse. New Orleans has dropped home dates with Orlando, Sacramento, Dallas and New York. They’ve lost twice at Memphis.

If that trend continues, it could sour Cousins on the prospect of re-signing with New Orleans.

“I wasn’t really concerned about accolades. I’ve gotten accolades. I’ve done everything except win,” said Cousins, who spent his first seven seasons in Sacramento before his trade to the Pelicans following the 2017 All-Star game in New Orleans. “With the whole (trade) going down, what I thought I had a chance to do was win, and that’s why I was OK with it.”

Still, Cousins sounded confident he won’t be dealt to another club when asked if he liked the league’s decision to move up the trade deadline to Feb. 8 this season, before the All-Star break.

“I don’t really care because I don’t think I’m getting traded,” Cousins said. “Hopefully I’ve never got to deal with it again.”

If the Pelicans aren’t able to make a major addition with a trade, they could get a boost from the expected return of small forward Solomon Hill from an offseason hamstring tear. Valued by the club for his defense, Hill, a former starter, is scheduled to return for the final month or so off the regular season.

In any event, the Pelicans have 38 games to make their push, starting at home Saturday night against Memphis.

 

Thunder’s Paul George finding his role, doing a little bit of everything for new team

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Thunder coach Billy Donovan can’t pinpoint the best thing about Paul George.

Oklahoma City’s versatile forward averages just over 20 points per game, leads the league in steals and is third in 3-point goals while shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc.

“I think that’s what makes him the player he is,” Donovan said. “There’s a lot of players in the league that are great offensive players, but they’re not great defensive players. I think arguably, it would be hard to make a case either way of what end of the floor he’s better on, offense or defense, because he’s that special.”

George believes he’s having an All-Star season in first year with Oklahoma City after being traded from the Indiana Pacers. There have been challenges as he has tried to fit in with superstars Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony and it’s still unclear where he will play next season because of his upcoming free agency.

Still, he has remained focused enough to be a top-notch performer. As he has found his way, the Thunder have rallied from an 8-12 start and have gone 17-8 since heading into Saturday’s game at Cleveland.

“He can score it, attack the rim and he defends,” Lakers rookie guard Kyle Kuzma said. “Anytime you do that, you’re going to be a pretty damn good player.”

George was first team All-Defense in 2014 and second-team in 2013 and 2016, and he was a defensive stopper for Team USA when it won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. He says without hesitation that he wants to be Defensive Player of the Year this season and feels he should have won the award in the past.

“I think I have the makeup, I think I have the intangibles,” George told The Associated Press. “I’m physically capable of doing the things necessary. I thought 2013-14 I thought I was hands down the best perimeter defender on the league and I thought I was overlooked.”

George is averaging a career-best 2.2 steals per game. Having another top-notch perimeter defender in Andre Roberson to share some of the responsibility allows him to gamble more than in the past. He also credits carrying less of the offensive load.

“It gives me more energy, not having to create or generate offense every possession,” George said. “I can conserve energy that way. It allows me to really ramp up the defense on the other end, which is another reason why I’ve been able to accumulate so many steals. I have the energy, the endurance to keep flying around and keep being productive.”

An example of his all-around play this season was a five-steal performance against the Sacramento Kings. He made just 7 of 17 shots but was a critical factor in Oklahoma City’s win.

He hasn’t always emphasized defense, but he was forced to as a rookie for the Pacers during the 2010-11 season. Frank Vogel took over as coach at midseason and saw enough grit and improvement on that end to insert him into the starting lineup in March. He came of age during the playoff series that season against the Chicago Bulls when he faced league MVP Derrick Rose. George gave up some points, but he battled and helped the Pacers hold Rose to 37 percent shooting in the series.

“My mindset was I knew I was outmatched from a standpoint of staying in front of him,” George said. “That’s what really got me going in trying to think things through, trying to see what I can do that can disrupt the MVP. I tried to use my length. I tried to make it as hard as possible. I knew he was going to get his 20s, get his 30s, but how can I make it as hard as possible, and how can I wear this guy down? You’re not going to be able to shut down a guy like that at that stage.”

From that point, George embraced the role of defensive stopper while evolving into an all-around offensive player. He was the league’s Most Improved Player in 2013 and made the first of his four All-Star appearances. Last season, he averaged a career-best 23.7 points for the Pacers. Now, he can still create when needed and he has learned to be more of a catch-and-shoot scorer.

“He’s a beast out there,” Kings guard Buddy Hield said. “He’s great. He can score the ball from three, the mid-range and the post. He’s tough to guard so you have to pick your poison with him, and it’s hard to do.”