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.

James Harden, Chris Paul lead Rockets to 13th straight victory

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HOUSTON (AP) — Nursing a sore knee, James Harden said he came close to not playing Saturday night.

When team doctors warned him that it would be painful, but he could play through it, he said, “Let’s go.”

Harden scored 31 points and Chris Paul had 25 and the Rockets beat the Milwaukee Bucks 115-111 for their 13th straight victory.

The winning streak is the Rockets’ longest since a franchise-best 22 straight in 2007-08.

Harden hit a step-back 3-pointer over Malcolm Brogdon and was fouled, giving Houston an 11-point lead with less than six minutes remaining. In the last two minutes, Paul hit back-to-back mid-range jumpers on consecutive possessions to put the game out of reach.

“Mentally, this was a big win for us,” Paul said. “We never let go of the rope. Every time they made a little push, we stayed right there down the stretch. James was out there, basically, on one leg. The mental toughness we showed as a team is what we take from this game.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals for Milwaukee. Khris Middleton had 23 points, and Brogdon added 20. Milwaukee has lost three in a row after winning six of seven.

“Harden made some tough shots and Chris Paul made some big shots down the stretch as well,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “We gave ourselves a chance, but we just came up short.”

The Rockets grinded through frustrations, 15 turnovers and a below-average shooting night. Paul had a technical foul, Harden had a delay of game warning, and the Rockets faced serious adversity for the first time in weeks. Entering Saturday, Houston had dominated teams in its streak, winning all but two games by double figures with an average margin of victory of 16.9 points.

“We just didn’t have our best stuff tonight,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But we found a way. It was one of those typical grind games where you’ve just got to find a way somehow.”

Paul scored 23 of his 25 points in the second half, overcoming a rocky first half where he missed all five shots he attempted and turned the ball over five times.

“I had never coached him in a back-to-back, but I’m thinking he’s kind of dead,” D’Antoni said. “Then, all of a sudden, he comes out in the third quarter and turns into Superman.”

Paul made 7 of 8 shots in the second half, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, also making all eight free throws in the game.

Harden scored 20 points or more for the 29th straight game, matching Houston’s franchise record set by Moses Malone.

Both Harden and Clint Capela (left heel contusion) were game-time decisions after suffering injuries on different collision plays in Friday night’s win over San Antonio. Capela sat out the game, and P.J. Tucker started in his place, getting 10 points and 10 rebounds in 38 minutes.

Behind Tucker, Nene scored a season-high 16 points, largely on thunderous one-handed dunks. The Rockets were outscored by the Bucks 44-40 in the paint and outrebounded 40-38.

Milwaukee and Houston traded blows in the first half, with the Rockets leading by three at the end of the first quarter. They were tied at 55 at the half. The Rockets haven’t trailed at the half since Nov. 25 in a 117-102 win over the Knicks.

The Rockets took an 84-79 lead into the fourth quarter.

At 24-4, the Rockets are tied for their best 28-game start in franchise history, matching the 1993-94 season when they won their first championship.

 

Knicks shut out Carmelo Anthony in 2nd half, beat Thunder 111-96

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NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony‘s return to Madison Square Garden was much like the 6 1/2 years he spent playing for the Knicks.

A video played on the overhead scoreboard as part of a huge welcome from the fans and franchise, followed by a fast start that gave Anthony hope he could have everything he wanted.

Then things fell flat until the finish.

The Knicks shut out their former All-Star in the second half and beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-96 on Saturday night for their fourth straight victory.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling for me, coming back here knowing the goal that I had and what I wanted to accomplish here and falling short in that category,” Anthony said.

Michael Beasley tied his season high with 30 points in place of injured Kristaps Porzingis, and Doug McDermott, acquired with Enes Kanter for Anthony, added 11 of his 13 after halftime to help the Knicks break open the game.

“This game was kind (of) about him and I thought we did a really good job of not letting that distract us and just focus on winning the game,” McDermott said. “And it felt great, especially being a part of the trade (with) Enes.

Anthony scored 12 points in the first half but was 0 for 5 after, perhaps low on energy after the Thunder’s three-overtime victory at Philadelphia a night earlier.

He made a 3-pointer for the Thunder’s first basket of the game after refocusing following a video tribute that caught him off guard, but finished 5 of 18 from the field as the Knicks played with passion and precision they lacked in Anthony’s final years in New York.

“You got to beat the best to be the best,” Beasley said. “He’s one of the best of our era.”

Russell Westbrook had 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Thunder, who were trying to sweep a three-game trip that began with Paul George‘s winning return to Indiana on Wednesday.

But they couldn’t deliver a victory for Anthony back at Madison Square Garden, even with the Knicks playing without leading scorer Porzingis because of a knee injury.

“I think the guys just, they were ready for tonight’s game,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “And we caught them after a triple-overtime game so that probably helped us too, but our guys played hard all night which probably wore them down.”

Anthony received a pair of loud cheers during pregame introductions, before and at the end of a video tribute showing his highlights on the court and his charitable efforts off it that was played after the first four Thunder starters were announced. But the boos became more noticeable once play got underway, and soon they were coming every time he touched the ball.

“That was expected,” Anthony said. “They can’t cheer for me, I’m on another team.”

Later, the cheers were all for the Knicks, who after trading their leading scorer on the eve of training camp are a surprising 16-13 – better than Anthony’s new team (14-15). Anthony was booed one last time as he was removed with 1.4 seconds remaining.

Beasley had a hand in 12 of the Knicks’ final 15 points of the third quarter, scoring nine himself and assisting on Ron Baker‘s 3-pointer. That turned a two-point lead into an 80-73 advantage over the final 3 1/2 minutes of the period.

The Knicks pushed it into double digits in the fourth behind five straight points from McDermott – originally it was six by a 3-pointer was changed to a 2 after review – and he later made it 100-87 with a 3-pointer with 6:02 remaining.

The Thunder played without starting center Steven Adams because of a concussion.

 

Manu Ginobili game-winner caps 13-0 closing run to rally Spurs past Mavericks

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — At 40 years old, Manu Ginobili‘s refusal to slow down in his 16th season with the Spurs has been a source of inspiration to the team’s young core.

The man and the mantra helped propel San Antonio to an improbable victory over Dallas on Saturday night.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 22 points and 14 rebounds and the Spurs scored the final 13 points of the game, rallying for a 98-96 victory over the Mavericks.

Aldridge’s fall-away, 11-foot jumper tied the game at 96 with 23.4 seconds remaining and Ginobili’s driving layup with 3.1 seconds was the game-winning shot.

“He’s our grandpa,” 21-year-old Dejounte Murray said, chuckling afterwards. “He’s a beast, man. You’ve all seen what he’s done for this organization and he’s still around giving his wisdom to all the new guys. To see him coming in every day, I mean there’s not one day I’ve seen Manu not show up at the facility. Being a young guy, I’ve got to be there every day.”

Ginobili’s layup off the left side of the glass gave the Spurs their first lead of the game after trailing by as many as 16 points.

“We did a lot of good things, but the ending is unforgiveable,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.

Maxi Kleber had 21 points and Dirk Nowitzki added 19 for Dallas in the final regular season matchup between the Southwest Division rivals.

Kleber’s 3-pointer gave Dallas a 96-85 lead with 4:11 remaining, but the Spurs held them scoreless the remainder of the game.

The Mavericks drought included a turnover when Wes Matthews was unable to inbound the ball with 23.4 seconds remaining. Mathews threw the ball at Ginobili’s legs to avoid a 5-second violation, but the Spurs gained possession when the ball ricocheted off Matthews just as he stepped inbounds.

“We did everything right to lose,” Nowitzki said. “We missed shots offensively, bad turnover, gave them some offensive rebounds. Letting Ginobili go left down the stretch to lay it in. We literally had to do everything perfect to lose this one and we did.”

Aldridge had his 12th double-double of the season to help offset the absences of starters Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Danny Green.

Coming off a 15-point blowout in Houston on Friday night, San Antonio was able to avoid its third straight loss.

“We played with everybody in Houston and hoped to play a good game in which we could grow and learn from our mistakes while playing against the best team in the NBA right now and I don’t think we got anything out of it,” Ginobili said. “So, if after that poor effort we came here and played badly again and lost, it would’ve been a tough one. We are proud of this win.”

The Spurs missed their first five shots, all short jumpers from Aldridge and Pau Gasol, on their way to shooting 30 percent in the opening quarter. The Mavericks took advantage, charging to a 31-18 lead after the first quarter.

San Antonio’s reserves reversed the team’s fortunes in the third quarter.

Davis Bertans finished with 13 points and Ginobili added 12 off the bench.

 

LeBron James finishes left-handed alley-oop with head behind backboard

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We have reached the point with LeBron James and his legendary career that the incredible almost seems ordinary — he has made our jaws drop so many times it’s hard for him to clear the bar of amazing anymore.

He did Saturday night against Utah.

In transition, LeBron gave up the ball to Jeff Green, who returned the favor with an alley-oop pass. Just not a particularly good one, it was behind James.

So he reaches back with his left hand and throws it down as he ducks his head under the backboard. Then LeBron stops and stares at his left hand, like he can’t believe what he just did.

We can’t either.