Tim Duncan,  Kobe Bryant

NBA Power Rankings: Who said the Spurs were over the hill?

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, where that Spurs/Celtics game Wednesday is looking like the game of the week.

1. Spurs (29-4). They beat a suddenly reeling Mavericks team as well as the Lakers this week. By the way, Tim Duncan has put up an average of 16 points and 10 rebounds a game in the Spurs last 10, plus anchored their defense. Every team could use an over the hill guy playing like that.

2. Heat (26-9). Five wins in a row and they are playing the best ball in the East right now. Why? Because their big three have got it going and are starting to play like we expected, and carrying that supporting cast along.

3. Celtics (25-7). They had lost two in a row due to injuries before Rajon Rondo returned to the lineup Sunday. What does that mean? That the Celtics are not easily cruising to the Eastern Conference’s top seed. But Boston knows it’s about being healthy starting in late April that really matters.

4. Magic (21-12). Five wins in a row because the offense is a little better. And so is the defense — didn’t see that coming. We still question the trades and taking on all that extra salary long term, but in the short term we’re starting to believe.

5. Mavericks (25-8). Three losses in a row with Dirk Nowitzki out and while he may be back soon now Caron Butler may be done for the rest of the season. That could mean a lot more Shawn Marion, which raises depth questions.

6. Lakers (23-11). You see flashes of better play from the Lakers then they get blown out at home by Memphis (and the Grizzlies were on the second night of a back-to-back). Go ahead and say they are bored right now, but because of that they are not developing good habits they will need later. Their offense was best in the NBA but has fallen to fourth.

7. Bulls (22-10). Chicago is 8-2 in their last 10 and it’s because they’ve held opponents to 41 percent shooting in that stretch. Without Noah for some of it (they are 6-2 without him).

8. Thunder (23-12). The Thunder are being held back by being an average defensive team (17th in the league in defensive efficiency). That will cost them in the playoffs, too, if they can’t right that ship.

9. Jazz (23-11). Mehmet Okur was back, and then his back (and back pain) took him out again. The Jazz are a Jekyll and Hyde team from game-to-game and even quarter-to-quarter.

10. Hornets (20-14). They play at the fourth slowest pace in the league — if you had Chris Paul on your roster wouldn’t you run more?

11. Nuggets (19-13). I know it’s not going to matter, ‘Melo is gone no matter what, but I’d like to see this team play at full strength for a few weeks just to see what they would have been like.

12. Knicks (19-14). Some tough games coming up, starting with the Spurs Tuesday followed by a West Coast road swing. Still, solidly a playoff team right now, and that was all you could really hope for with this roster. And it’s a step in the right direction.

13. Blazers (18-16). Call it the Ewing Theory if you wish, but the Blazers are 8-3 without Brandon Roy this season and just beat a hot Rockets team Sunday.

14. Hawks (22-14). Great note from Hoopinion: At 19-5 against sub-.500 teams and 3-9 against teams above .500 the Hawks are currently the perfect gauge for NBA quality.

15. Rockets (16-17). After playing well of late on Sunday the Rockets lost to the Blazers and looked like a team that needed a star to take over for them. Daryl Morey would love to get in the Carmelo Anthony talks for that reason.

16. Grizzlies (15-19). This team just brings it against the Lakers. And the OJ Mayo move to the bench seems to have sparked him personally. When the Grizzlies bring the consistent defensive effort they can beat a lot of teams, but about half the time they don’t bother.

17. Sixers (13-20). A long road trip without Andre Iguodala for much of it has been tough, but the Sixers are still 5-5 in their last 10. They head home Monday night.

18. Bucks (13-18). They only play the Heat and Magic this week, as the Bucks are in the brutal point of their schedule.

19. Pacers (14-18). Here’s the Pacers problem in a nutshell — they shot 37 percent against the Knicks on Sunday. The Knicks. It was a sloppy shooting game both ways but the Pacers should be better than that.

20. Warriors (13-20). Monta Ellis in the All-Star game? I can see that. Just tough to be a guard in the West and get in because who are you going to leave out? Deron Williams? Steve Nash? Tony Parker? Russell Westbrook?

21. Suns (14-18). They are 3-7 in their last 10 and lost to the Kings this week. The Suns are in real trouble.

22. Bobcats (11-20). Paul Silas and the faster pace have the Bobcats looking better than they have all season. But Gerald Wallace injuring his ankle, again, will not help.

23. Clippers (10-24). Blake Griffin for the All-Star game? I can see that, but forward in the West may be the single deepest spot on the ballot. So do you leave of Tim Duncan? Dirk Nowitzki? Pau Gasol?

24. Raptors (11-22). During Summer League we were hyping DeMar DeRozan as a guy who could have a breakout year, and he’s finally staring to show it.

25. Pistons (11-22). They caught the Celtics at the right time, but if you thought maybe they were turning a corner we hope you didn’t watch the Suns game.

26. Timberwolves (9-25). The Wolves are on fire from three-point range — 48 percent as a team in the last five games — and that has got them on a little hot streak (3-2 in those five games).

27. Kings (7-24). Even if you don’t watch the whole game, tune in for the end of Kings games to see dramatic endings. The Kings got two wins in one week, a legitimate one over the Suns and a lucky one over the Grizzlies.

28. Nets (9-25). Well, at least they are not in the running for the worst record in NBA history this year. But this is a long, slow and painful rebuilding process.

29. Wizards (7-21). Soft part of the schedule for the next couple weeks, including road games in Philly, Charlotte and Minnesota. Win one of those and the Wizards will have one road win this season.

30. Cavaliers (8-22). They are 1-9 in their last 10 and that one win was in overtime against the Knicks. They are bad at both ends of the floor and watching their trade wire will be more interesting than their games.

Report: Patrick Beverley to drop from All-Star Saturday Skills Challenge title

Patrick Beverley
Associated Press
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Last season, the Rockets’ Patrick Beverley won the NBA All-Star Saturday skills challenge because of his jump shot. In head-to-head battles with the Hawks’ Jeff Teague and the Bucks (now a Sun) Brandon Knight, Beverley fell behind on the passing part of the competition but made up the ground by knocking down his jump shot at the end.

He was set to come to Toronto to defend his skills title but has been forced to back out due to injury, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

After tweaking his ankle Wednesday night in a loss to Portland, Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley will not travel to Toronto to defend his skills competition title at All-Star Weekend, league sources told The Vertical.

Beverley wants to rest the ankle over the All-Star break for the Rockets’ final push to make the Western Conference playoffs.

This has yet to be confirmed by the NBA, nor has a replacement been named, but no doubt Woj is accurate on this. No player would risk further injury for a skills competition.

The Rockets have lost six-of-eight, and with the loss to the Blazers Wednesday night have fallen out of the playoffs in the Western Conference. They will need all their players healthy, including Beverley, but they will also need a lot more than that to climb back in the race — they need to start playing defense, they need to stop becoming disinterested for large stretches of the game, and they need someone in that locker room to step up and be a serious leader of men.

Report: LeBron James might not play for Team USA in 2016 Olympics because Kobe Bryant won’t

Kobe Bryant (L) and team mate Lebron James of the U.S. sit on the bench during the game against France during their men's Group A basketball match at the London 2012 Olympic Games in the Basketball arena July 29, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar
REUTERS/Mike Segar
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LeBron James admires Kobe Bryant.

How much?

Kobe pulling his name from 2016 Olympic consideration (perhaps an informed preemptive gesture just before the roster finalists were announced) might keep LeBron off Team USA.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

Bryant not pursuing a spot on the U.S. Olympic basketball team this summer is a very real reason James might also not join the team, according to NBA sources.

James is that disappointed the Rio Olympics will not serve as the final, ultimate celebration of Bryant’s career—and more so that James won’t have the priceless honor of being Bryant’s co-star teammate when it ends.

I don’t buy this.

Kobe said during the 2012 Olympics those would be his final Olympics. Two weeks later, LeBron said he wanted to play in 2016.

Did playing with Kobe on Team USA become more important to LeBron over the last few years?

I suppose it’s possible. Many got behind sending Kobe to Rio as a sendoff into retirement. Perhaps, LeBron got attached to the idea and became bitter once it fell through.

I just have a hard time believing LeBron would tie his decision so strongly to another player. Remember, he left one of his best friends, Dwyane Wade, in Miami to sign with the Cavaliers. Would Kobe’s presence really dictate LeBron’s outlook?

LeBron has been mum on his plans for Team USA. I’m sure the length of Cleveland’s playoff run and the toll it takes on his body will factor. He might not yet know what he’ll do.

The ball is in his court, which can be challenging. There has been backlash from media and fans against players who turn down Team USA, and LeBron could be trying to avoid that.

I trust Ding was told LeBron felt this way, but nobody – including me, including Ding – can know what’s in LeBron’s head. But this report strikes me as LeBron setting up the ability to attribute his absence to Kobe’s rather than facing the full brunt of reaction that comes to turning down Team USA.

Did the Clippers reenact Paul Pierce being stabbed during pregame introductions? (video)

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The Clippers got hyped for Paul Pierce‘s potential last game in Boston by… reenacting the time Pierce got stabbed there? If not, it sure looks like it.

Mock fighting is the norm for the Clippers’ pregame, but I haven’t seen a single player targeted like this. Whatever gets you pumped, I guess.

Markieff Morris flips off Suns fan (video)

Phoenix Suns' Markieff Morris reacts to a call during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
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Markieff Morris‘ frustrations last night didn’t end with his scuffle with teammate Archie Goodwin. They didn’t end with the Suns’ loss to the Warriors, either.

As Morris was leaving the court, a fan heckled him: “Markieff, you f—ing suck. I can’t wait until you’re traded.” Though Morris probably agrees with the second sentence, he flipped off the fan:

Though it’s difficult to confirm that video was from last night, it jibes with a previous report of the incident.

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7

Morris will likely at least be fined. Considering his previous behavioral problems this season – he threw a towel at Jeff Hornacek – I wouldn’t completely rule out a suspension. But a fine seems most likely.