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NBA Power Rankings: Dallas sweeps through Florida, right to the top

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, where the top four teams are all 9-1 in their last 10 and probably could be ranked in any order.

1. Mavericks (23-5). They move into the top spot on the strength of their sweep of Miami and Orlando on back-to-back nights. That depth Mark Cuban touted really helps them in the regular season

2. Spurs (26-4). Wondering if these Spurs are for real? We say they are but the next five games — Lakers, Mavericks, Thunder, Knicks and Celtics — will be a real test of that.

3. Heat (23-9). That domination of the Lakers was a good confidence boost. The game will be meaningless if these teams meet again in June, but right now it is a validation — especially of their defense. And couldn’t we all use a little validation?

4. Celtics (23-5). The one loss to Orlando was not that bad, but they miss Rondo when the game is tight and that is going to hurt them until he is back. Whenever that is.

5. Thunder (21-10). We’re discounting the loss to New York — second night of a back-to-back, fourth game in five days and then you have to run with the Knicks? That was a schedule maker’s loss. They are still 7-3 in their last 10.

6. Jazz (21-9). Congrats to Jerry Sloan for moving past Pat Riley on the all-time wins list. That guy does it year after year — it’s time to give him Coach of the Year.

7. Lakers (21-9). Last year after LeBron thumped the Lakers on Christmas on national television the Lakers won five of their next six. Just something to watch, to see if that really was a wakeup call.

8. Magic (18-12). Orlando beat Boston and San Antonio this week. We are pretty skeptical how much better the big trades make them long term, but right now they look pretty good, don’t they?

9. Knicks (18-12). They ran the Thunder off the floor then played one quarter of pretty good defense against the Bulls and that was enough. Two big wins in one week, plus Spike Lee is back doing NBA commercials. It’s all good.

10. Bulls (19-10). Loss to the Knicks then needed overtime to get by the Pistons. The numbers say their defense has been better without Noah but it doesn’t feel like it when you watch them.

11. Hornets (18-12). Chris Paul is really, really good. That can never be said enough. Dude is shooting 45.5 percent from three this season. Remember when he couldn’t hit the three?

12. Hawks (19-13). In his five games since returning, Joe Johnson is shooting 40.7 percent overall and 32.1 percent from three. Not good.

13. Blazers (15-15). A very good team at home in the Rose Garden that struggles on the road. This week they are on the road a lot.

14. Nuggets (16-13). They expect to have Carmelo Anthony back on Tuesday, which would be a big boost. The Nuggets have lost three in a row despite good play from Chauncey Billups.

15. Rockets (14-15). Four straight wins. All against pretty soft competition but the fact is they are beating the teams they are supposed to.

16. Sixers (11-16). They had a 2-2 week — wins over Orlando and Denver, losses to Boston and Chicago. That’s a tough week, so 2-2 is pretty darn good.

17. Pacers (13-15). I thought Darren Collison would have a bigger positive impact on this team than he has. And Danny Granger is shooting 39 percent in his last 10 games.

18. Suns (13-16). They may get Vince Carter back next weekend. When you’ve lost three in a row and are in danger of not making the playoffs you look forward to Vince Carter.

19. Bucks (10-15). They are going to need more wins like the impressive one over the Lakers, because the schedule gets brutal the next couple weeks.

20. Grizzlies (13-17). January means a lot of time on the road for a team that needs to find a groove if they are going to get in the playoffs.

21. Warriors (11-18). Monta Ellis is a stud. Flat out scoring machine. Just fun to watch.

22. Clippers (9-22). If you stop watching Blake Griffin dunks for a few minutes you notice the Clips are 5-5 in their last 10.

23. Raptors (10-19). The Raptors are out of Toronto a lot next month, on the road and missing some Canadian winter. They’d like to thank the schedule maker for that, but they’ll need to find a way to win some of those games.

24. Pistons (10-20). No team’s fans were more convinced we had this team pegged wrong before the season — and they let us know it. This was a team that could make the playoffs they said. Some people don’t like to gloat about being right. I’m not one of those people.

25. Nets (9-21). Sasha Vujacic is averaging 11 points a game and the Nets have played some decent defense lately. Not that it has meant a lot of wins or anything.

26. Bobcats (9-19). Paul Silas is a fine replacement for Larry Brown, but until the roster is fixed the coach won’t really matter.

27. Timberwolves (7-24). They beat Cleveland and are now 2-8 in their last 10. Which is enough to move up two spots.

28. Cavaliers (8-22). If you look at their point per possession differential they are the worst team in the league. Which is saying maybe this ranking is generous, but it is Christmas time and we’re feeling generous still.

29. Wizards (7-21). It would be nice for Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee to show some fight on the court, too.

30. Kings (5-22). They actually hang in games then lose them in the fourth quarter — they came from ahead to lose twice last week. Which is just a little more salt in the wounds of Kings fans. Sorry.

Mike D’Antoni: Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony rejected my system, but new (old) approach with James Harden

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with Kkobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 after the game against the Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center on November 20, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 95-90.   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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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I can’t understate how revolutionary Mike D’Antoni’s offense looked with the Suns. In his first full season, 2004-05, they scored 110.4 points per game – the most anyone had scored in a decade. And it wasn’t even close. Phoenix played fast and scored efficiently.

That offense eventually got D’Antoni jobs in the NBA’s biggest markets and with two of the league’s best scorers, Carmelo Anthony (Knicks) and Kobe Bryant (Lakers).

Ian Thomsen of NBA.com:

But his coaching relationships with Anthony and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles did not turn out so well. The last two stars essentially rejected his system.

“They did,” acknowledged D’Antoni. “And they were paid 20-something million dollars for it — they were successful. So I don’t blame them. Nothing’s been proven up to that point.”

The Warriors had yet to show that D’Antoni’s offense could thrive in late May and June.

“They’re thinking, like, he’s crazy,” D’Antoni said of Anthony and Bryant. “So I don’t blame them at all. This is a much better situation.”

With the Knicks and Lakers, D’Antoni edged back from his own offensive principles in part because he wasn’t sure, either. He was in a lonely place as the proponent of a style that was rejected by NBA fundamentalists. In New York and L.A., D’Antoni lacked the proof that would be provided years later by the Warriors of Kerr, who when serving as GM of the Suns had himself objected to D’Antoni’s point of view. The inventor didn’t believe fully in his own invention.

“I wasn’t that confident,” D’Antoni insisted. “It was a little bit before analytics. Everybody was telling us that we couldn’t do it, no one was telling us we could. Analytics came in and said, hey, you can do this — this is good, actually. So now you’ve got (GM) Daryl Morey with the Rockets and how they play and different teams trying to do it, and now it’s kind of caught on.

This bucks the narrative that D’Antoni’s offense can’t work with a score-first star. If D’Antoni compromised his scheme for Kobe and Melo, we haven’t yet seen it full bore with a player like that.

We will this season in Houston, where D’Antoni has turned score-first James Harden into the Rockets’ point guard.

As D’Antoni said, it’ll be easier to sell his scheme now that it has been proven to work. But as other teams adopt elements of it, he’ll have less of a strategic advantage.

The best coaches have revolutionary ideas AND get their players to buy into them. D’Antoni’s methods are no longer as cutting-edge, but he’ll have an easier time selling his players. That’s a justifiable knock on D’Antoni’s overall coaching prowess, but he still brings positives.

We’ve seen D’Antoni’s system at full throttle, and we’ve seen him coach generational scorers. To get both simultaneously will be a fun experiment in Houston this year.

Paul Pierce: Clippers are a super team

PLAYA VISTA, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  L-R; Paul Pierce #34, Austin Rivers #25, DeAndre Jordan #6, J.J. Redick #4, head coach Doc Rivers, Blake Griffin #32, Jamal Crawford #11, Luc Mbah A Moute #12 and Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers pose for a photo during media day at the Los Angeles Clippers Training Center on September 26, 2016 in Playa Vista, California. 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. Mandatory copyright notice.  (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
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Derrick Rose opened the super-team floodgates by declaring the Knicks one.

Paul Pierce is trying to get the Clippers into the conversation.

Pierce, via Jesse Dougherty of the Los Angeles Times:

“To me, I think we have a super team here,” Pierce stated at Clippers media day on Monday. “You look at Chris Paul who’s been first-team all-NBA … Blake Griffin first-team … DeAndre Jordan currently first-team All-NBA.

“I mean how many teams can currently say that? You have the best three-point shooter in the NBA (J.J. Redick). You have the Sixth Man of the Year (Jamal Crawford). I mean why is this not a super team? What defines super team? When you look at those stats and you hear when I’m saying, this could very well easily be what’s considered a super team.”

If the Knicks are a super team, so are the Clippers – and Cavaliers and Spurs and Grizzlies and Bulls and…

But New York can’t be the standard.

With four players who made an All-NBA team last year – Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson – the Warriors are the undisputed super team.

Relative to Golden State, the Clippers don’t hold up.

All four All-NBA Warriors are expected to remain elite. Paul is 31 and coming off injury, and Griffin had an injury/suspension-ravaged season that kept him from making All-NBA last year.

Jordan made All-NBA at center, where a bevvy of players have cycled through in recent years. None of the All-NBA Warriors relied on that wide-open position to make it.

Golden State has two players – Curry and Durant – better than any Clipper.

Redick is one of the NBA’s most underrated players, but he’s not a star, leaving the Clippers with just three to the Warriors’ four. Crawford’s Sixth Man of the Year award last year was dubious, and I’d rather have Golden State reserve Andre Iguodala.

With three All-NBA players in or near their prime, the Clippers might have been a super team in a different era. They stack up reasonably well in stature with Pierce’s 2008 Celtics, who also had Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo.

But the Warriors have pushed the bounds of what a super team can be so far, I’d consider them the league’s only super team now.

At least Pierce’s claim sparks discussion of the term and his team’s credentials – unlike the response Rose inspired: laughter.

Cavaliers keep re-watching their Game 7 victory over the Warriors

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots a three-point basket against the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Cavaliers’ win over the Warriors in Game 7 of the NBA Finals was an all-timer.

LeBron James bringing a championship to title-starved Cleveland, the Cavs topping the 73-win defending champions who’d built a 3-1 lead, Kyrie Irving‘s shot, Kevin Love‘s defensive stand – the game had it all.

The Cavaliers obviously enjoyed it. And enjoyed it, and enjoyed it and…

LeBron James, via Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

“I’ve seen it a few times,” James said. “It was on NBA TV throughout the summer. I watch it from a fan’s perspective. I see what we could’ve done better, but I also watch it for enjoyment, to see those three zeros on the clock.”

Irving, via Windhorst:

“I was rewatching the games and talking to my teammates about it, sending them snapchats of me watching,” Irving said. “I got chills. My stomach was dropping knowing the ball is going in but knowing exactly, emotionally how I felt at the time. It still gets me excited thinking about it. It’s such a huge moment for not only Cleveland but our team, our families, our friends.”

Iman Shumpert, via Windhorst:

“I’ve watched it over and over,” Iman Shumpert said. “Oh, it was enjoyable.”

At some point, the Cavs have to refocus on the upcoming season. Maybe they already have.

But I’m not going to tell them to stop reliving Game 7. It was a big deal. Enjoy it.

This can even be healthy if it motivates them to chase that euphoric feeling again.

And if it just distracts them from their goal of repeating? There are worse things – like being stuck on a Game 7 loss.

Report: Rockets give Gary Payton II fully guaranteed salary

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Gary Payton II #0 of the Houston Rockets poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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The Rockets scooped up undrafted point guard Gary Payton II shortly after the draft ended.

How did they do it?

Fully guaranteeing his deal, according to Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders.

I rated Payton a borderline first-rounder coming out of Oregon State, but he went undrafted. Perhaps, the league just deemed him unworthy. Or maybe the teams that liked him most weren’t positioned to draft him. Or maybe teams opted for lesser players in the second round who were willing to spend a year overseas or in the D-League.

Houston guaranteeing his deal certainly points to a robust market for the point guard. It could also indicate the Rockets plan to keep him into the regular season.

Payton gives the Rockets 15 players with guaranteed salaries plus restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas, who has an outstanding qualifying offer and seems likely to return. There’s no obvious candidate for Houston to waive to reach the regular-season roster limit of 15 – and it could be Payton. This could just be a (more expensive than usual) way of getting Payton onto the Rockets’ D-League affiliate. They won’t be the only team to eat a guaranteed salary this season.

With James Harden (yup), Patrick Beverley, Pablo Prigioni and Tyler Ennis at point guard, Houston doesn’t have a pressing need for Payton. But Ennis, who has accomplished little in two NBA seasons, should be on notice. That Houston values Payton so highly could mean Ennis is the odd man out. Both players, and everyone else, will have the preseason to prove themselves.

Payton, son of the former SuperSonics guard, has major defensive potential. Running an NBA offense will be a tall order, but he has enough raw skills to offer intrigue on that end. He’ll need his defense to buy him time.