NBA Power Rankings: There are some long winning streaks out there

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, where if it were a seven-game series we’d take any of the next three teams below Dallas to come out on top, but when you win 12 in a row you get to keep the top spot.

1. Mavericks (19-4). They’ve won an even dozen in a row now. In the last 10 Dirk Nowitzki is shooting a ridiculous 62.5 percent overall, 46.2 percent from three. Second best shooter among the Mavs’ starters by percentage in the last 10? Tyson Chandler, of course (54.5 percent).

2. Celtics (19-4). Winners of 10 in a row and they are doing it with reduced practices to keep the team fresh. They are still suffering injuries but without Rajon Rondo they went 3-1. They went 6-1 without Shaq.

3. Spurs (20-3). After they beat the Blazers Sunday Nate McMillan called the Spurs the best team in the NBA right now. Hard to argue that, there may be a couple teams hotter right now but better?

4. Heat (17-8). They have won 8 in a row, and most importantly they are getting out and running now, getting out in transition where they have the most unstoppable players on the planet.

5. Jazz (17-8). Utah has been consistently beating the weaker teams in the league but have lost to the teams above them on this list (and the Thunder). Can they win when it matters?

6. Lakers (17-7). Los Angeles is in the middle of a six-game road trip with every game left against teams under .500. The Lakers often sleepwalk through these kinds of trips, just something to watch. They lost the only meaningful game, to the Bulls, because Derrick Rose got inside on them, but Andrew Bynum returns this week and that may change things.

7. Knicks (16-9). They are red hot right now, looking good against the softest schedule in the league… wait, they beat Denver, right? Pretty good team they topped Sunday and they held on to do it. Boston and Miami on the schedule this week will be a tougher test.

8. Thunder (17-8). Um, did you see what James Harden did to JJ Hickson?

9. Bulls (14-8). Carlos Boozer and Derrick Rose are still figuring it out — Boozer is putting up numbers a lot of nights but the flow isn’t right — but the Bulls are winning with defense. Yes, with Boozer and Rose in the lineup. Tom Thibodeau is a magician.

10. Magic (16-8). They are dropping like a stone down the rankings and down the standings if things don’t turn around. The recent bout with the flu for half the team hurt, but the questions about if this squad can really get it done or if a move should be made persist.

11. Hawks (16-9). They are 5-2 since Joe Johnson went down, and the losses are to the Heat and Spurs. This team is still plenty solid right now.

12. Nuggets (14-9). They have lost three of four and have the Magic, Thunder and two against the Spurs in the next five. And at some point, don’t the Anthony rumors wear on this squad?

13. Pacers (11-11). Bulls, Lakers, Celtics and the Heat this week. This team has had some big wins this year but that is a tough order.

14. Blazers (12-12). The definition of a .500 team? When you’re 14th in the league in offensive efficiency and 15th in defensive efficiency.

15. Hornets (14-9). They are 3-7 in their last 10, because their offense is just so ineffective. Which is hard to believe with Chris Paul on the team but there you are.

16. Suns (11-12). Robin Lopez is set to return this week, which will help in the paint on defense, but the Suns also need a more consistent offense.

17. Grizzlies (10-14). Last season this was just about when the Grizzlies figured it out and put together a nice little run that got them close to the playoffs. The schedule gets easier the next few weeks, do we see it again?

18. Rockets (9-14). The Rockets are 6-4 in their last 10, but how do they adjust when Aaron Brooks and Yao Ming return?

19. Bucks (9-13). They have won three of their last four now that Andrew Bogut is back. Not exactly pretty basketball but they are getting it done — as of right now they are the 8 seed in the East.

20. Bobcats (8-15). They had a quality win against Denver last week, but the thumping Saturday by the Celtics tells you where they stand in the East right now.

21. Sixers (8-15). They are 5-2 in their last 10 and we said last week this is a team whose numbers are better than their record. It is starting to turn around.

22. Raptors (9-15). Their terrible defense is really starting to catch up with them.

23. Pistons (7-18). Four losses in a row on the road last week, because the Pistons are just not a good road team.

24. Wizards (6-16). They have yet to win on the road. If there was a way to get the Pistons and the Wizards to play a game where they were both on the road then somebody would have to win.

25. Warriors (8-15). They have lost six in a row, but the schedule lightens up for them after Monday against Utah.

26. Clippers (5-20). We’re giving them moral victories for the one-point losses to the Lakers and Grizzlies last week. We shouldn’t but if they’re doing that with this owner, it should count for something.

27. Cavaliers (7-17). Changes to the lineup don’t help — if you move the guys scoring (Daniel Gibson, Antawn Jamison) from the bench to the starting lineup then your bench stinks. Doesn’t matter where the deck chairs are on the Titanic. Eight losses in a row.

28. Timberwolves (6-18). I kind of liked the new black uniforms. I may well be alone there.

29. Nets (6-18). Seven losses in a row. They tried to make a game of it with the Lakers but this team needs more offense, and their best answer to that plays in Denver.

30. Kings (5-16). No Tyreke Evans this week. They got a win against the Wizards last week but looking forward it only looks worse for this squad.

Dwight Howard still feeling ‘super’ expectations with Hornets

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DETROIT – Dwight Howard went from leading Orlando in the NBA Finals to playing in star-studded Los Angeles to joining a Houston team that also fancied itself a contender to being the highest-paid player in his hometown Atlanta to… landing in Charlotte, a small-market franchise with modest ambitions.

The spotlight finally off the former No. 1 pick, Howard doesn’t feel reduced pressure.

“Everybody expects me to be Superman every single night,” Howard said.

Howard is diving into his new situation – his third team in three years – headfirst. He’s leading pregame huddles and the Hornets onto the court.

“I have the most experience,” said Howard, in his 14th season. “So, it’s not to come in and fit in. It’s to come in and be a leader.”

This is the latest referendum on Howard. Despite eight All-NBA selections (most of them first-team) and three Defensive Player of the Year awards, he faces relentless criticism of his legacy.

His exit from the Magic was so ugly, it’s known as the Dwightmare. His feuding with the Lakers great is the stuff of legend in Kobe Bryant mythology. Howard never clicked with James Harden with the Rockets. The Hawks unloaded him for a paltry return in what was more salary rearrangement than salary dump, and his former teammates reportedly cheered.

Howard just seems to rub people the wrong way.

That makes his latest test in Charlotte so interesting. Howard is supplanting maybe Kemba Walker as the face of the team and definitely Cody Zeller as starting center. The Hornets have found success with Zeller, going 63-53 when he starts and 57-73 otherwise the last three seasons.

“The nature of his game, he plays in a way to help other people play better,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of Zeller. “He is a screener. He is a ball-mover.”

In other words, the type of player teammates love.

Is Howard?

Howard is still solidly productive. In Charlotte’s season-opening loss to the Pistons, he posted 10 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks – and ruffled a few feathers. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

https://twitter.com/Vincent_Ellis56/status/921100491362365440

Dirty-work players who irritate opponents are revered. High-priced players who irritate their teammates are loathed.

Howard walks a fine line.

He returned to Atlanta with emotion and expectations. By the end of his time with the Hawks, everyone seemed unhappy. Still, Howard says he’s grateful for the opportunity to play in front of people, especially his grandparents, who watched him grow up.

“Atlanta is going to be my home,” Howard said. “The Hawks is always going to be my favorite team.”

It’s just never easy for Howard.

Even a career Basketball Reference pegs as 99% likely to end in the Hall of Fame based on his tangible accomplishments stirs controversy.

“He’s a Hall of Famer right now if he never played another game,” Clifford said.

Said Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who coached Howard in Orlando: “It’s mind-boggling to me that would be any debate there.”

It’s probably easier for Van Gundy and Howard to recall their time together fondly than it was to enjoy it while partnered. Clifford, who was an assistant in Orlando and Los Angeles while Howard was there, is just getting into his time as Howard’s head coach.

It’s those middle moments, in the throes of long seasons, that have proven difficult for Howard and those around him.

Here he is in Charlotte, hosting the Hawks tonight, and facing another challenge. The Hornets would probably be happy just making the playoffs and ecstatic advancing, which would be their first playoff-series victory since reemerging as the Bobcats in 2004. Howard, who has reached three conference finals, is counting on himself to lead them there – even if nobody else is anymore.

Kobe Bryant still has it, bounces shot in from near half court

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This was a Nike gala, an event with a basketball theme. The court was lit up from below, there were tables at half court, and people had drinks in their hands.

Kobe Bryant was there, stylishly dressed in black. So was famous model Winnie Harlow.

Know that regardless of the setting, Kobe still has game.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelicans Friday

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Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.

Report: Kevin Love was frustrated with move to center

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With Derrick Rose having to start at point guard (until Isiah Thomas returns sometime in early 2018) and Dwyane Wade starting at the two, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had no choice but to move Kevin Love to starting at center. The Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing to open up driving lanes and options for LeBron James. Start Tristan Thompson at the five (with Love at the four and Jae Crowder coming off the bench) and it adds another non-shooter to the mix that allows opposing defenses to just pack the paint and force LeBron to be a jump shooter.

That doesn’t mean everyone liked the change.

Love admitted to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was frustrated with the move at first.

“It’s been a little bit of a change for me,” Love admitted. “I still find myself spacing a little bit wanting to roll a little bit more and on the defensive end just playing the primary big on their team the whole time on the defensive end. It’s been a little bit different figuring things out on that end, but it comes with the growth I’m talking about. We need to do that and hopefully be a machine when things start clicking.”

Lue put it this way.

“We’re going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he’s enjoying it.”

While in certain matchups, when the opposition has a more traditional center, the Cavs may go back to the Love/Thompson front line for a stretch. But the small ball lineup is the way Cleveland should be leaning, even with its clear defensive deficiencies. We saw that in the opener with Love’s dagger three in the fourth quarter.

Love is adjusting, he’s already sacrificed a lot to play with LeBron. This is just another step in that evolution.