NBA Power Rankings: Antonio McDyess’ tip keeps Spurs on top

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, where the Heat and Mavericks are hot, but are they really better than the Spurs and Celtics

1. Spurs (42-8, Last Week #1). They are on the annual rodeo road trip (a rodeo kicks them out of their arena for a couple weeks) and early on they got a quality win over the Lakers because Antonio McDyess wanted a rebound more than Lamar Odom. They are starting to get more out of Tiago Splitter, which is good for Tim Duncan.

2. Celtics (38-12, LW #2). They are 1-1 so far in tests against the best last week. They beat Orlando Sunday but lost to Dallas two nights before. This week the Lakers and Heat are on the schedule. Our thoughts are still with Marquis Daniels.

3. Heat (37-14, LW #3). Six wins in a row including one nice one against Orlando. This week is revenge week, taking on teams that beat them before, and that started with a win over the Clippers Sunday. Indiana and Boston fit the bill this week.

4. Mavericks (35-15, LW #7). Eight wins in a row and they get Peja Stojakovic back Monday night. (How much a guy who couldn’t get off the bench in New Orleans and Toronto really helps them remains to be seen.) The Mavs, when healthy, have played very well against the league’s elite, including a win this week against Boston.

5. Bulls (34-15, LW #4). They slip one spot because the Mavericks are winners of 8 in a row, but the Bulls are still 8-2 in their last 10 and playing well. People are not mentioning them among the contenders in the East, it might be time.

6. Lakers (35-16, LW #6). The Lakers are out on their annual Grammys road trip (preparations for the Grammys kicks them out of their arena for a couple weeks). They started it with a win in New Orleans and this trip could mold them into contenders, especially if Pau Gasol is more aggressive.

7. Thunder (33-17, LW #9). They knocked off the Hornets, Suns and Jazz last week, a sign that they are knocking on the door of the elite teams in the West again. Do they play enough defense to walk through that door?

8. Magic (32-20, LW #5). It’s too early to panic, but they are 5-5 in their last 10 games. For all the moves and potential of this roster, are they really there with the Celtics Heat and Bulls?

9. Hawks (33-18, LW #10). They are 9-11 this season against teams over .500, and 10 of their next 15 are against those teams.

10. Hornets (32-20, LW #8). With Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza out the Hornets defense will suffer. Just more pressure on Chris Paul to carry the team.

11. Nuggets (30-21, LW #11). We tried to say this for months — if Josh Kronke and Masai Ujiri waiting too long they would lose leverage in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes. We’re at that point now.

12. Jazz (30-22, LW #12). Deron Williams is back but Raja Bell hit the nail on the head saying they are just not a good pick-and-roll defensive team.

13. Blazers (27-24, LW #13). This week pretty much summed up the Blazers this season – they beat the Spurs (behind a huge night from LaMarcus Aldridge) but then lost to Indiana and Denver. They almost gave Cleveland a win. You never know what this team will do on a given night.

14. Grizzlies (27-25, LW #15). Zach Randolph should have been an All-Star, but I see little chance of David Stern adding him as the extra player he can add on.

15. Knicks (26-24, LW #14). They gave Timofey Mozgov the start Sunday and he is back in the rotation, but this team is still not the same inside on defense without Ronny Turiaf. A big who can protect the rim has to be an offseason priority.

16. Sixers (23-27, LW #16). How much would you pay to keep Thaddeus Young with the team this summer? He’s a restricted free agent that should draw some interest.

17. Suns (23-25, LW #17). Two Steve Nash questions. Is he the guy David Stern adds to the West All-Stars? (He’s the smart bet.) Shouldn’t the Suns be listening to offers for him?

18. Warriors (22-27, LW #22). Um, they are actually playing some defense in the Bay Area lately. Don’t tell anyone.

19. Pacers (21-27, LW #25). They have won four in a row and interim coach Frank Vogel has them playing loose and aggressive. They are attacking. But the Raptors, Cavs and Nets were three of those wins, games they should have won anyway. They had a nice win against Portland, but games at Miami and at Milwaukee this week are better tests.

20. Bobcats (21-29, LW #18). Brutal stretch for a team trying to stay in the East playoff hunt (they are currently one game out of the 8 seed) — Celtics, Hawks, Lakers and Bulls on the schedule in the next week and a half.

21. Bucks (19-30, LW #19). They have lost four in a row. They are looking a little demoralized and mixing in some bad defensive games to go with the usually horrific offensive production.

22. Rockets (24-28, LW #21). Kevin Martin is putting up a lot of points, but he’s shooting just 40.1 percent in the last 10. The best player on this team of late has been Luis Scola.

23. Pistons (19-32, LW #23). Our “Free Rip Hamilton” campaign got him active for one game. But that entire situation is still just screwed up.

24. Clippers (19-31, LW #20). They are out on their Grammy trip (like the Lakers) and the road has not been kind to the Clips (six losses in a row away from Staples). The good news is they get to come back to Staples for two games in February. The bad news: Those two games are the Lakers and Celtics.

25. Nets (15-37, LW #26). Anthony Morrow and Devin Harris make a nice back court.

26. Kings (12-35, LW #24). The Kings are in the middle of a tough stretch of games, but even in the losses they are playing teams hard.

27. Wizards (13-37, LW #27). John Wall got into the All-Star Rookie Challenge… hey, we’re looking for positives and that is one.

28. Raptors (14-37, LW #29). They ended their 13-game losing streak against the Timberwolves, so guess who they jump in the rankings?

29. Timberwolves (11-39, LW #28). Kevin Love is a deserving All-Star, despite this team’s record. As for those three-way Carmelo Anthony trade rumors with the Wolves, not even Kahn would make that bad a trade for Minny.

30. Cavaliers (8-43, LW #30). They will set the record for futility tonight in Dallas, it will be 25 losses in a row. Mark you calendars now — they host the winless-on-the-road Wizards Sunday in a game we will watch, just like we gawk at car accidents.

Report: Heat to explore Hassan Whiteside trade options

Associated Press
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Is there much demand for Hassan Whiteside around the NBA marketplace?

The pro-Whiteside camp can point to some raw numbers: He averaged 14 points and 11.4 rebounds a game this season (and 17 and 14 a season ago), he shot 54 percent from the floor, and had a PER of 24.1.

However, his shortcomings were on full display in the playoffs. In the first two games, when Philadelphia played small, Whiteside didn’t have a place on the court and saw limited minutes. When Joel Embiid returned things got worse — in the three games matched up against Embiid, when Whiteside was on the court the Heat were outscored by 11.9 points per 100 possessions. Whiteside played just 10 minutes in Game 5, where he was 0-of-4 from the field, picked up three fouls, and was -14. All through the series, Whiteside complained about his lack of minutes.

Whiteside and Erik Spoelstra are not on the same page, and the Heat would like to move him in a trade… but good luck with that. From Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.

The Heat is expected to explore a Whiteside trade, with the center due $24.4 million and $27.1 million in the final two years of his contract.

In a tight financial market, the Heat are going to struggle to find a team with the space (or willing to create the space) to take on $51.5 million over two seasons. Even if they do, the Heat are going to have to attach sweeteners — multiple first round picks, or a pick and young players that interest teams (Kelly Olynyk or Bam Adebayo, for example). It’s going to be a lot to give up to get out of that contract. Maybe in the summer of 2019, when the market loosens up and Whiteside is an expiring contract, they more easily can find a deal. This summer it would be difficult.

But expect the Heat (and Whiteside’s agent) to look for a trade. It’s time to part ways, it just may not be that simple to do.

PBT Podcast: What went wrong and what’s next for Trail Blazers?

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It was embarrassing, and left both fans and players of the Trail Blazers angry and frustrated — Portland was unceremoniously swept out of the playoffs by the New Orleans Pelicans.

Now what happens in Portland? Is Terry Stotts in danger as the coach? What about GM Neil Olshey? Would they consider trading C.J. McCollum? Is there any way to offload the contract of Evan Turner?

Kurt Helin and the Northeast’s own Dane Carbaugh of NBC Sports break it all down in this latest podcast, and Blazers fans may not like the answers. The pair also touch on other series around the league, like do the Pelicans have a shot against the Warriors? And, as required by NBA law, they touch on the Sixers run.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Pacers head to Cleveland looking to put pressure back on Cavaliers

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CLEVELAND, Ohio (AP) — The Indiana Pacers are in no better position to pull off a historic upset in this first-round playoff series with the Cleveland Cavaliers than when they awoke Sunday morning.

The Pacers had a chance to put the Cavs, at the time reeling with playoff inexperience and the crushing weight of expectations with LeBron James, squarely behind the eight ball in this series by winning Game 4.

But Indiana fell behind by a huge deficit in the first half for the second consecutive game, erased it in the third and early fourth quarters again, but couldn’t sustain the momentum. Kyle Korver and James made enough plays down the stretch for the Cavs to win, 104-100, tying this series at 2-2 with Game 5 on Wednesday in Cleveland.

James has never lost a first-round series in 12 previous playoffs. Now, he has two of the next three games at home to try and keep his streak alive.

“I think just tying the series up and coming back home is something we feel good about,” said Kevin Love, who like every other Cav not named James has mostly struggled in this series. “We feel like it’s a best-of-three type series and at the end of the day, if it comes to it, we have two games at home. We like our advantage and we’re going to use that to our advantage (Wednesday) night.”

The Pacers trailed by 17 at halftime of Game 3 but steamrolled the Cavs in the second half and pulled out a 92-90 win behind 30 points from Bojan Bogdanovic, a playoff career high. They were down 10 through two quarters in Game 4 but fought back and were ahead 93-91 with 3:49 remaining before Korver connected on two deep 3s.

Indiana won Game 1 behind a playoff career-high 32 points from Victor Oladipo, who has struggled since (19-of-53 shooting in the last three games). Domantas Sabonis played a big role in the Pacers’ comeback Sunday, scoring a playoff career-best 19 off the bench.

The Pacers are getting the best night of someone’s playoff career almost each game of this series, and it’s been good enough for two wins. Then again, the Cavs’ two wins were by a combined seven points, and outside of James (32.5 ppg this series) almost no one is scoring.

Love is the next closest at 12.0 points in this series and JR Smith is third with 10.0 points.

“We’re not losing confidence,” point guard Darren Collison said, according to the Indianapolis Star. “This team is the defending Eastern Conference champions. Whatever you want to say about them, this is a very good team. They’ve been through a lot over the last few years. We’re fine. There’s no need to overreact or panic. We’re going to go into their building and we’re going to give the same effort.”

The Cavaliers say point guard George Hill (back spasms) is questionable to play in Game 5. He missed Game 4 with the same injury — four injections before the game were not enough to ease the pain to the point where he could play.

Jose Calderon started for Hill on Sunday and scored five points in 19 minutes. The Cavs are 24-9 this year (regular season and playoffs) when Calderon starts.

Hill is the only player on either team listed on the injury report. But Love suffered an injury to his left thumb in Game 1 and it’s affected him. He’s shooting 17-of-47 in the series with 11 turnovers. Catching and gripping the ball have been obvious problems.

“I’ve been able to get up a lot of shots,” Love said. “I think initially it was painful and in the few days that followed, but now it’s kind of subsided and I’m just getting my feel back in my left thumb.”

Report: Kawhi Leonard to return to San Antonio around exit interviews. Then…

Associated Press
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Nobody is sure how the Kawhi Leonard situation is going to play out with the Spurs. As is the nature of the NBA, the GMs of other teams are starting to circle the Spurs like vultures, on the chance that this time Gregg Popovich cannot smooth out the relationship with his star player and needs to trade him. Leonard spent the playoffs away from the team, working out and talking to doctors in New York while “his group” shielded him from attempts from San Antonio to reach out.

Now has come the time for the sides to talk, and that will happen soon reports Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News.

What happens during and after that meeting is anyone’s guess.

The Spurs will only move Leonard as a last resort, and they have two things on their side. First, Gregg Popovich, who has maintained a healthy relationship with his star pupil through all of this. LaMarcus Aldridge told Popovich he wanted to be traded last summer, and over the course of some dinner meetings and self-reflection, Popovich was able to both keep Aldridge in the fold and put him in positions to be an All-NBA level player this season. The key is that both sides were willing to talk with an open mind, are Leonard and his advisors open to that?

Second, the Spurs have the ultimate hammer — the $219 million designated veteran extension (the contract James Harden and Russell Westbrook signed this year). Put that on the table and Leonard will sign it. The question is will the Spurs put it out there? Probably not if Leonard makes it clear he doesn’t want to be in San Antonio any longer. That’s when the trade talks start to gain traction.

But we’re not there yet. Not even close. Let the meetings play out first.