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.

PBT Extra: Cavaliers’ new GM aces first big test with Kyrie Irving trade

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Everyone in the NBA — heck, nearly everyone living in the Western hemisphere — knew Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland. That should kill the Cavaliers’ leverage and make it hard to get enough quality back.

New GM Koby Altman — the guy thrust into the job when David Griffin was shown the door — pulled it off brilliantly.

That’s what I talk about in this new PBT Extra. With Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, the Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the East this season. The Brooklyn Nets pick gives them flexibility going forward, whatever LeBron James decides to do next season.

First time at the plate in the big leagues and Altman crushed it to straight away center field.

Cavaliers-Celtics deal first offseason trade involving players who just met in NBA Finals or conference finals

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The Cavaliers and Celtics played in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. The teams were widely expected to meet there again.

Yet, Cleveland and Boston just completed a blockbuster trade – Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

That seemed odd.

In fact, it’s unprecedented.

That is an incredible fact, one which speaks to LeBron Jamescachet. The Cavs are emphasizing this season, LeBron’s last before a player option, by loading up with veterans Thomas and Crowder. With LeBron still reigning in Cleveland, the Celtics are delaying their peak by acquiring the younger Irving.

Adding to the intrigue: the Cavs and Celtics are still favored to meet in this year’s conference finals. At minimum, they’ll face off in a(n even more) highly anticipated opening-night matchup.

PBT Extra: What does Kyrie Irving trade mean for LeBron James?

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In the end, the entire Kyrie Irving blockbuster trade was about LeBron James. It started because Kyrie Irving wanted out of LeBron’s enormous shadow. Cleveland went with this trade because Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder help them win now, and whatever LeBron decides to do next summer the Brooklyn pick (and maybe Ante Zizic) helps them build for the future.

But what does this trade mean to LeBron James?

Honestly, it doesn’t change much. That’s what I get into in this latest PBT Extra. LeBron is leaving his options open, but maybe this deal could help Cleveland keep him if it makes them more competitive with the Warriors.

Rumor: Young Bulls ‘can’t stand’ Dwyane Wade

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After a loss last January, Dwyane Wade (in conjunction with since-traded Jimmy Butler) lashed out at his Bulls teammates for not caring enough. Those younger players didn’t receive the message gratefully, questioning why Wade didn’t practice more.

The simple answer: Wade is 35, and he and his team are better served if he saves himself for games. But Wade also should have known his schedule left him ill-suited to criticize harder-working teammates.

The whole saga exposed the inherent tension that occurs when an accomplished veteran with declining skills is thrust into a leadership position on a mediocre team.

Consider that backdrop as Wade and Chicago dance around a buyout.

Nick Friedell on ESPN discussing Wade getting bought out:

This is inevitable. It’s coming. It’s a matter of when, not if.

But right now, guys, it’s just kind of a staring contest. Everybody’s looking at each other saying, “OK, how much money are you willing to give up?”

And Gar Forman, the Bulls’ GM, at summer league, said, “Oh, we’re not having conversations.” I don’t think that’s the case. I think Dwyane’s agents and the Bulls are wanting to get this thing done.

But I’d really be surprised if it happened before the season. I still think it’s more likely that it’ll happen probably somewhere in December or January.

But this is a divorce that’s going to happen. It’s just going to take some time.

The young players on the Bulls really can’t stand Dwyane, and it’s the little secret in Chicago. They have had enough.

Wade’s January criticism was reportedly particularly directed at Nikola Mirotic and Michael Carter-Williams, neither of whom are on the roster. (Mirotic, a restricted free agent, will likely return.) Even if Wade’s comments cast a wider net, Jerian Grant, Paul Zipser, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio are the only young players still on the team from that time. None of those players deserve much influence in how the franchise operates.

Still, no matter what the young players want, it’s clear Wade no longer fits on a rebuilding Chicago. They might get their wish.

Wade is set to earn $23.8 million in the final season of an expiring contract. That salary could prove useful in a bigger trade.

If bought out, Wade would count as dead money against Chicago’s cap at his buyout amount. They Bulls should obviously be amenable if he sacrifices enough, but a small discount doesn’t justify locking into that money rather than having a trade chip available.

If Chicago is deep into the cellar as expected after the trade deadline, a buyout would be completely logical then. Maybe the Bulls even assess the trade market sooner and conclude Wade’s huge expiring contract won’t facilitate a trade.

It’s easy to see a buyout happening eventually. In the meantime, Wade and his younger teammates will just have to get along. I trust Wade’s professionalism to make this situation at least tenable, but Fred Hoiberg might have his hands full building cooperation with all the people involved.