Boston Celtics v Charlotte Bobcats

NBA Power Rankings, cue Glenn Frey because the Heat is on…

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, where Mavs fans are going climb on me for dropping them down to five, and I get that. I just think the four teams above them are better.

1. Celtics (22-4). They’ve won 13 in a row. Remember how we have said that Doc Rivers is willing to sacrifice regular season games to keep players healthy. Well, not a lot of sacrifice.

2. Spurs (23-3). Manu Ginobili is bucking for the “best closer in the game” title with his play last week. The Spurs have Orlando, Washington and the Suns on the schedule this week — nearly every team in the weekend’s big trades.

3. Heat (21-8). A dozen wins in a row but if they lose Monday to the Mavericks and Saturday in Los Angeles the whole “they can’t beat a good team” meme will continue. Even though it isn’t true. It was that soft schedule which helped turn things around far more than that team meeting in Dallas, however.

4. Lakers (21-7). Either their defense has looked better since Andrew Bynum returned or they played some bad teams. Actually, a little bit of both.

5. Mavericks (21-5). Would have said the two games in Florida this week are a good test, but not sure what to make of Orlando yet (and they need some time to figure it out). So it’s the Heat. This Miami team is playing with more confidence then when the Mavericks beat them last time.

6. Thunder (19-9). They are 7-3 in their last 10, but they keep winning close games (12 by seven points or less) and that concerns me. Those kinds of things tend to balance out.

7. Jazz (19-9). Look for a run out of the Jazz. The return of Mehmet Okur (who may come off the bench for a while) will give them some scoring and options up front. Plus, pretty soft schedule for a few weeks.

8. Bulls (16-9). That loss to the Clippers shows how much they will miss Noah — if you can score inside you can beat the Bulls for the next couple months.

9. Hawks (17-12). Joe Johnson is back and shot 9-of-30 in two games. So, not much of a boost there. They really miss Jamal Crawford.

10. Nuggets (16-10). You could say that when Kenyon Martin gets back soon they can step up into that second tier in the West with Dallas and San Antonio. Except for that whole “going to trade Melo” thing.

11. Magic (16-10). Do you have any idea where this team will be ranked in two weeks? I don’t. Tough time to integrate new guys with the next four games being the Hawks, Mavericks, Spurs and Celtics.

12. Hornets (16-11). Moral victory against the Heat? Maybe if it wasn’t for falling to the Pistons on Sunday when they were without Rodney Stuckey and Rip Hamilton. New Orleans continues to slip and we’d blame the owner if there were one.

13. Knicks (16-12). Three straight losses as teams are just collapsing down on Stoudemire. The role players need to step up more consistently, and the Knicks need to get better backups for Stoudemire and Felton.

14. Blazers (14-14). There are going to be some trades to shake up this roster in the next two months. But is Andre Miller really a guy they are going to send out?

15. Suns (13-13). Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez make a nice tandem at center and they can protect the paint. On the other side, at this point in their careers Vince Carter is no Jason Richardson in this system. Carter needs the ball in his hands, and that means it’s not in Nash’s.

16. Sixers (11-16). They are No. 16 with a bullet — they are 7-3 in their last 10 and would be are the eighth seed in the East if the playoffs started today. I think they’re going to make the playoffs, which is not something I would have said mid-November.

17. Rockets (12-15). They went 3-1 last week. Now they can forget about trying to integrate Yao and just go out and run. This is a fun team to watch when they just let it go.

18. Pacers (12-14). Danny Granger is averaging 18 points a game in the last 10 shooting 37.1 percent. Not efficient. But that sums up the Pacers right now (that and poor rebounding).

19. Grizzlies (12-16). Zach Randolph is averaging 2014 in his last 10. Why did I not draft him on to my fantasy team again?

20. Bucks (10-15). If you go 1-2 on the week against the Jazz, Mavericks and Spurs is that good? It could have been worse, I guess. Now they need to get by without Brandon Jennings for at least a month with a foot injury.

21. Bobcats (9-17). That gentle breeze you feel caressing your cheek? It’s trade winds coming to Charlotte and they are going to get stronger

22. Raptors (10-18). Well, at least Leandro Barbosa can hit half courters.

23. Pistons (9-19). They beat the Hawks and Hornets, then fall to the Clippers, so you tell me what is up with this team?

24. Warriors (9-17). David Lee averaging 15 points a game but on just 43.5 shooting in his last 10. There are nine boards a game too, from him.

25. Clippers (7-21). Two wins in a row on the road. You can’t stop the Clippers…

26. Nets (8-20). Sasha Vujacic may provide them some offensive spark — which shows you how bad their offense is.

27. Cavaliers (8-19). They are 1-9 in their last 10 but fought hard against the Heat and beat the Knicks. Maybe they are turning it back around.

28. Wizards (6-19). They needed to ship out Gilbert Arenas and make this John Wall’s team. Now they just need to get Wall back.

29. Timberwolves (6-22). They are 0-5 on a road trip but can salvage one win against the Clippers Monday. Love vs. Griffin.

30. Kings (5-20). In their last 10 games the Kings are shooting 43.9 percent, while their opponents are shooting 47.7 percent. You don’t win a lot of games with that kind of gap.

Playoff Preview: Four questions to answer about Hawks vs. Cavaliers

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 01:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks to drive against Thabo Sefolosha #25 of the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on April 1, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Last season this big playoff showdown — the top two seeds in the East — turned into a rout as Cleveland swept Atlanta out of the playoffs. This time around both teams are healthier: The Cavaliers have Kevin Love and a healthy Kyrie Irving; the Hawks have Thabo Sefolosha back, Kyle Korver (knocked out of the series in Game 2) and a healthy Paul Millsap. Here are three things to keep an eye on through this series, followed by a prediction.

1) Can Atlanta slow LeBron James? The key to the Hawks’ chances in this series is their defense, which ranked second in the NBA over the course of the season and was Spurs-like after the All-Star break. Atlanta held Boston to 38 percent shooting for that five-game series. However, when the Hawks and Cavs met this regular season LeBron averaged 27.3 points and shot 58 percent. Atlanta did not have an answer for him. Thabo Sefolosha (who missed this playoff series last year, thank you NYPD) will draw time on him, as will Kent Bazemore and Paul Millsap. None of them are a great matchup. The Hawks need to limit LeBron’s transition opportunities, and they need to force him to be a jump shooter — he got 14 points per game in the paint against Detroit, Atlanta has to limit that. Which is much easier said than done. And sometimes he just nails the jumper anyway (although he did struggle with it vs. Detroit). LeBron is going to get his; Atlanta has to at least make him work for it and be less efficient.

2) Who wins the Kyrie Irving vs. Jeff Teague point guard matchup? As good as that LeBron guy was, Irving was the Cavaliers best player and the guy knocking down key shots in the first round against Detroit. Irving was hot from deep in the first round, hitting 16-of -34 from three. However, Irving can over-dribble and not move the ball at times, which is death against the Hawks defense. The Cavs need to beat Atlanta with passing. Teague needs to defend Irving with energy, but he must score as well and make Irving work on the defensive end. Teague led the Hawks with 16.5 points per game against Boston, and in the Hawks three games against Cleveland this season averaged 20.7 points and 7.3 assists. For the Hawks to have any chance Teague has to play this matchup to a standstill.

3) Can Atlanta keep Cleveland off the offensive glass? Despite the considerable rebounding prowess of Millsap, the Hawks were the sixth worst defensive rebounding team in the league this season. Cleveland was a top 10 offensive rebounding team this season, and their starting lineup with Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love can generate a lot of second chance looks. Which is something the Hawks simply cannot afford this series — it’s tough enough to defend the Cavaliers without giving them second chances. In those regular season matchups, the Hawks struggled with this, which is part of the reason the Cavaliers swept all three meetings.

4) Might this be Kevin Love’s breakout series? This is a good matchup for Love, despite the Hawks having some good individual defenders. Atlanta often will switch pick-and-rolls, which should allow Love to either pop out for a clean look at a jumper, or head to the post and overwhelm a smaller defender. Love and Irving in the pick-and-roll (with LeBron still hanging out on the court as a distraction) could be challenging for Atlanta to stop. However, the real key for Love is that he’s going to have to defend the All-Star Millsap — if Love can do a solid job there the Cavaliers odds of winning go way up.

Prediction: Cavaliers in five. These are not going to be easy games for Cleveland, you’re far more likely to see six games in this series rather than another sweep. But Atlanta needs everything to go perfectly in this series to win, and the Cavaliers have a focused LeBron James who is not going to let that happen.

Report: Latest Kings’ coaching interview? David Blatt.

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach David Blatt of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 28, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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For those of you keeping tabs, so far the Sacramento Kings coaching search has included at least contact and sometimes interviews with Mark Jackson, Luke Walton, Nate McMillan, Vinny Del Negro, Mike Woodson, Sam Mitchell, Kevin McHale, and Patrick Ewing. And that’s the ones we know about.

Now one more name gets added to the list: David Blatt. From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com that Blatt will become the latest in a string of recent head coaches to interview for the post, with the Kings determined to commission a broad search in their hunt for George Karl’s replacement.

Blatt has also interviewed for the New York Knicks job and is rumored to be still in consideration, although Blatt does not meet Phil Jackson’s requirements of having a relationship with Jackson or wanting to run the triangle.

The top priority for whoever becomes the Kings next coach is to establish a strong relationship with DeMarcus Cousins, the team’s top 10 NBA talent but also a mercurial person. Cousins did not want George Karl to be hired as coach, owner Vivek Ranadive did that anyway (having already let go of Cousins’ favorite Mike Malone), then when Karl talked about “no player being untradable” and pushing that narrative the relationship between coach and star was dead. The team never recovered.

The next coach has to get Cousins on his side. Is Blatt a guy who can do that? In Cleveland, he came in with an “I won a lot in Europe you must respect me” attitude — rather than being humble and trying to earn that respect, ala Steve Kerr in Golden State — and LeBron James and the rest of the Cavaliers never bought in. Blatt never had that locker room. Can Blatt change? Will he have learned from that mistake?

The Kings are wisely doing a broad and thorough coaching search, so it may be a while before we find out if Vlade Divac and the Sacramento brain trust think Blatt has learned those hard lessons.

Report: Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel’s contract up, no talks yet about extension

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 26:  Head Coach Frank Vogel of the Indiana Pacers shouts to an official in the first half of Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Toronto Raptors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on April 26, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Frank Vogel is one of the 10 best coaches in the NBA. The Indiana Pacers are better with him in the big chair.

But is he going to be back next season?

Probably, only because it’s hard to imagine otherwise, but the door has been opened reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Are the Pacers’ serious? Team president Larry Bird wouldn’t answer the question, but neither did he throw water on the rumor to put the flames out.

Vogel wouldn’t need to worry about employment, he would instantly jump to near the top of every coaching search list out there (and the ones that will come up next year).

The question is, why would the Pacers do this? Can you pick apart is end-of-game management in Game 4, and question his rotations? Sure. Did he make a mistake with his timeout call late in Game 7? Probably. He’s not perfect.

However, this is a team whose second and third best players are Monta Ellis and George Hill, and they have a thin bench — Vogel did more with less he was given by Larry Bird than just about any coach could have. This team has limitations and he has done a fantastic job putting players in positions where they could succeed.

I imagine in a couple of weeks the Pacers will announce a new deal with Vogel. But the door is now open to change.

Raptors hang on through rough finish to beat Pacers 89-84, advance to second round

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To paraphrase the great Rasheed Wallace: “Both teams played hard. Not well, but both teams played hard.”

Game 7s can be filled with tight play and poor decisions, and the final few minutes of this Game 7 between the Raptors and Pacers certainly saw that. It saw the Raptors score just 11 fourth quarter points — and saw the referees swallow their whistles on a clear foul that would have given the Pacers a better chance at a win — but none of that matters to a Toronto fan base starved for a playoff series win.

They don’t care about style points, just give them the “W.” The Raptors and their fans can finally exhale.

Toronto had a 16-point lead, tried desperately to run out the clock in the final five minutes, and in doing so opened the door again for Indiana and made it tight at the end, but Toronto hung on for an 89-84 win.

Toronto wins the series and now advances on to the second round for the first time since the Vince Carter era. The Raptors will face the Heat starting this Tuesday at home in Toronto.

“I think everybody wrote the Raptors off and gave us up for dead,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said after the win. “But that locker room is full of fighters and scrappers and guys that are really getting into it now.”

Casey is wrong in the micro — I certainly don’t remember any “Toronto can’t win Game 7 at home” stories in the press — but right in the macro that his team carried a heavy “they can’t get out of the first round” burden all season, a reputation that almost was an anchor for them in the closing minutes of this game.

But they survived. And advanced.

Paul George was the best player on the floor and finished the game with 26 points, but it was the play he didn’t make (and the foul the Raptors got away with on that play) that will be the talk of Game 7.

Toronto had a small lead most of the game, but a couple of runs (one in the third quarter, another early in the fourth) had stretched it out to 16. Leading the way was DeMar DeRozan, who wasn’t efficient (10-of-32 shooting) but did put up 30 points and was attacking hard. The other key in this game for the Raptors was on the glass where they grabbed the offensive rebound on 35 percent of their missed shots, which led to 17 second-chance points on the night.

But everyone knew Toronto was not going to just be able to coast in for the win. It was going to be hard.

With five minutes left Toronto started to try to run out the clock — Shaquille O’Neal called it “prevent offense” — and the team wouldn’t even really start its attack until there were five seconds or so on the clock. The result was, predictably enough, difficult and contested shots. Meanwhile, the Pacers kept hitting shots and went on a 15-2 run, with Solomon Hill throwing down a huge dunk and Monta Ellis hitting a three that made it a three-point game with 2:36 left.

Then Kyle Lowry answered with a driving layup that had the Raptors up 87-82 with 2:10 left. That would be the last bucket of the game.

Indiana had its chances, but both Ellis and George had turnovers.

George had a chance with the team down 5 and :26 seconds left to go for a quick two and then play the foul game, but as he drove and got cut off he went up and rather than bank in a 10-footer he threw a lot to Ian Mahinmi — and DeRozan shoved Mahinmi while the big man was in the air, causing the pass to go sailing over Mahinmi’s head. It was a clear foul by DeRozan that was not called — and George should have just shot the ball there — but with that the Pacers chances few away as well.

It wasn’t pretty for the Raptors. They do not care. Their loyal and long-suffering fans were rewarded with a first round win, that monkey is off their backs.

But they are going to have to play a lot better and a lot looser against a veteran Miami team if the Raptors want to make the franchise’s first-ever conference finals.