Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Gregg Popovich

NBA Power Rankings: Spurs still sitting pretty, Heat slip

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, every team seemed to have a nice win and an ugly loss, balancing the karmic scales.

1. Spurs (45-9, Last Week #1). They are 5-2 on the rodeo road trip so far (still to come the Nets and Bulls). Their one loss this week was just one of those game where nothing falls (sorry Sixers, wasn’t all your defense).

2. Celtics (39-14, LW #2). Losses to the Bobcats and Lakers, a rash of injuries piled up, and then they go out Sunday and remind the Heat they are still the team to beat in the East. Injuries or no, don’t expect the Celtics to rush guys back, they are thinking about June not February.

3. Mavericks (38-16, LW #4). One loss in the last 13 and that by one point. Peja Stojakovic has shot 40 percent overall and 29 percent from three since joining the Mavs, but did drop 22 on Houston so maybe he is figuring it out. The real question, how much better does this team become when Roddy Beaubois returns soon?

4. Lakers (38-17, LW #6). What was more telling, the win over Boston, or the loss to Orlando? Still, they are 4-1 so far on the Grammy road trip with the Nets and Cavaliers left on the tour.

5. Heat (39-15, LW #3). After Sunday’s loss you would think Pat Riley would be looking for some help along the front line to combat the Celtics, but does he really have any trade options?

6. Bulls (36-16, LW #5). If he wasn’t already in your “best point guard in the game” conversation, Derrick Rose outplayed Deron Williams and Chris Paul last week. They have the Spurs this Thursday and the Heat the following Thursday, which will start to give us a real grasp of how good this team really is.

7. Magic (35-21, LW #8). They have not wowed in recent weeks with losses to elite teams, but the win Sunday over the Lakers gives some hope. Still, we need to see this over a stretch of ground to be convinced.

8. Thunder (34-19, LW #7). Some sloppy losses to the Grizzlies and Warriors this week, which would have dropped them if every team below them didn’t have some sloppy losses, too. The defense isn’t good enough for the offense to have an off night.

9. Hawks (33-20, LW #9). Two ugly losses for the Hawks last week. Not likely any late trade activity, not a lot of parts they can move, but if this is the team that goes to the playoffs it’s a repeat of last season. At best.

10. Hornets (33-23, LW #10). They are not right without Emeka Okafor in the paint (2-5 without him). Got a nice win over Orlando this week, though.

11. Blazers (30-24, LW #13). Nice wins this week, including over the Bulls, in part because LaMarcus Aldridge is on a tear. And please, rest Brandon Roy longer, for the sake of his knees. For the sake of basketball fans everywhere who want to see him right.

12. Grizzlies (30-26, LW #14). They are 8-2 in their last 10 and that includes wins over Orlando, Oklahoma City and Denver. They are currently the 9 seed in the West, one game back of the Blazers and one-and-a-half behind the Jazz and Nuggets. One of those teams is going stumble and Memphis will catch them.

13. Nuggets (31-24, LW #11). At least we know in the next 10 days the ‘Melodrama will end. One way or another.

14. Jazz (31-24, LW #12). Teams often get a little boost from a mid-season coaching change. And we’re rooting for Tyrone Corbin, but he can’t make Al Jefferson into Carlos Boozer, or make Mehmet Okur healthy. Which is what the Jazz really need.

15. Sixers (26-28, LW #16). Big wins over the Spurs and Hawks this week. Remember this team started this season 3-13, they are 20-14 since.

16. Pacers (24-28, LW #19). They are playing faster since Frank Vogel took over, but they are rebounding better two. And they re 7-1 for Vogel.

17. Knicks (27-26, LW #15). They really are a Mike D’Antoni team — if they can’t outscore you in spite of their defense they can’t beat you.

18. Suns (26-26, LW #17). Unlike the Knicks they are trying to play some defense. But they are three games out of the last playoff spot in the West and it’s going to be tough to make that ground up unless they become more consistent fast.

19. Warriors (24-29, LW #18). There was a David Lee sighting Sunday. While Monta Ellis is carrying the load the Warriors need Lee for balance.

20. Bobcats (23-31, LW #20). Few things make us smile like seeing Shaun Livingston doing well. With D.J. Augustin nursing a sore wrist he may get more run (and against the Lakers he could destroy Derek Fisher).

21. Rockets (25-30, LW #22). They want to move Aaron Brooks, and to pick up the scoring slack there is… Chuck Hayes? He’s been a scoring machine lately.

22. Bucks (20-33, LW #21). Brandon Jennings’ return has pumped no life into the moribund Bucks offense, mostly because he is shooting 33 percent since coming back.

23. Pistons (20-35, LW #23). Rodney Stuckey is back to starting, but that has not made Jon Kuester happy. Although, is there anything that makes him happy?

24. Nets (17-38, LW #25). Two wins this week, and we’ll even count the one against Cleveland.

25. Wizards (15-38, LW #27). They got a road win (over Cleveland), which prompted John Wall to say, “We’re a great team. We just got a lot to learn.” John, I think you and I have different definitions of “great.”

26. Clippers (20-34, LW #24). Losses to the Cavaliers and the Raptors in one week — that is impressively bad. Who said this team would make the playoffs again?

27. Timberwolves (13-41, LW #29). Kevin Love has 40 consecutive double-doubles, just four shy of the NBA record.

28. Raptors (15-40, LW #28). Rookie Ed Davis seems to be figuring some things out, like how to rebound at the NBA level.

29. Kings (13-38, LW #26). Long term this franchise needs to figure out how to get DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans to coexist as one unit, or make a drastic move.

30. Cavaliers (9-46, LW #30). They broke the streak. Then they came out the next game with no effort whatsoever and lost to the Wizards. Model of the inconsistent effort: J.J. Hickson.

Karl-Anthony Towns beats out Isaiah Thomas to take Skills Challenge title

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 09:  Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves reacts after hitting a basket against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on November 9, 2015 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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TORONTO — In a new twist to the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the NBA made the decision this year to add big men to a competition that has traditionally focused on point guards. The new wrinkle created new layers of intrigue, an unusual amount of controversy and, ultimately, a new champion: Timberwolves rookie center Karl-Anthony Towns.

C.J. McCollum beat out Jordan Clarkson in the first round, and Isaiah Thomas took care of Emmanuel Mudiay. In something of an upset, Towns handled Draymond Green, who is the NBA’s leader in triple-doubles.

The other matchup in the first round came with some controversy: DeMarcus Cousins missed all three attempts at the chest pass into the ring but moved on in the obstacle course and ultimately defeated Anthony Davis. This led to widespread criticism on social media for Cousins being allowed to advance without completing all the drills.

But Towns beat out Cousins in the semifinals, thereby preventing a nightmare scenario where a winner might have to have an asterisk next to his title.

Thomas beat McCollum in the guards’ semifinals. McCollum lost his dribble early on in the round and never really recovered.

The final round between Towns and Thomas went down to the wire, but Towns’ three-pointer went down first, giving him the title.

 

Russell Westbrook on Lakers speculation: “Nah, I like where I am now”

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 08:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 8, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Thunder defeated the Suns 122-106.  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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TORONTO — No matter what Russell Westbrook does, he cannot escape the rumors that have followed him for years. He grew up in Los Angeles and played college basketball at UCLA—so, it’s only logical that when he hits free agency in the summer of 2017, he’ll look to sign with the Lakers, right?

Westbrook did his best to shut that down on Saturday after practice with the Western Conference All-Stars.

“Nah,” Westbrook said. “I like where I am now. Oklahoma City is a great place for me.”

Westbrook admitted that he grew up a Lakers fan, but said he never thought of playing there as a kid.

“I never thought I’d play in the NBA,” he said. “I was just watching them.”

Westbrook has another full season to go before his contract with the Thunder is up, so it’s going to be a while before there’s any resolution here. A lot, of course, will depend on what Kevin Durant does this summer.

If Durant sticks around and the Thunder make another deep playoff run next season, it becomes more likely that Westbrook will stay. But if Durant goes somewhere else, there’s a good chance Westbrook follows suit. For now, all they can do is deflect the speculation that will be there no matter what they say.

Gregg Popovich says he thinks more about Warriors than any team he ever faced

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Gregg Popovich and his Spurs have gone up against some powerhouse teams in the past 17 years. There were the Shaq/Kobe Bryant Lakers, Steve Nash and the seven-seconds-or-less Suns, The Kobe/Pau Gasol Lakers, LeBron James‘ Miami Heat teams, and the list goes on.

But nobody has given him more to think about than Stephen Curry and the Warriors.

That’s what he said on ESPN Radio Friday, as reported by Marc Stein of ESPN.

“I’ve spent more time thinking about Golden State than I have any other team I’ve ever thought about in my whole career,” Popovich told ESPN Radio on Friday. “Because they are really fun. I’d go buy a ticket and go watch them play. And when I see them move the ball, I get very envious. When I see them shoot uncontested shots more than anybody else in the league, it’s inspiring. It’s just great basketball.

“So I’m actually enjoying them very much. You try to solve them, but they’re in a sense unsolvable because it’s a particular mix of talent that they have. It’s not just that Steph [Curry] can make shots or that Klay can make shots or that Draymond Green is versatile. Everybody on the court can pass, catch and shoot. And they all get it.”

When you think about those legendary teams Popovich faced, they may have been a little less mentally taxing to gameplan for. The Shaq/Kobe Lakers ran the triangle (an offense Popovich was familiar with), but most of what made them great was exceptional talent — two future Hall of Famers at their peaks. The Spurs tried to bully the Suns, and then they developed a motion offense that eventually shredded the Heat.

The Warriors are different, and Popovich gets to a fundamental problem in defeating them:

“They’re talented. But they’re also very, very smart.”

That’s what’s hard to plan for — smart players and smart teams adjust, and the Warriors by design loaded their roster with high IQ guys. If you adjust, they counter. And for the last season-and-a-half, that has worked brilliantly.

LeBron James on Kevin Love trade rumors: “They’re false”

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TORONTO — The rumors were out there: the Boston Celtics were interested in Kevin Love and were talking trade with Cleveland.

LeBron James would have none of that.

“It’s false,” LeBron said of the rumors when speaking to the media after the Eastern Conference’s All-Star Game practice Saturday. “It’s the only thing I can look at it and say it’s false. That’s the last thing guys are worried about right now are trade talks from our team.”

That echoed what Carmelo Anthony said. The buzz around Toronto (where the NBA has gathered for All-Star Weekend) that there wasn’t a lot of to the talks and if there was any momentum has stalled out.

Still, there will be talks, and there will be plenty of Cavaliers trade rumors in the run-up to the Feb. 18 trade deadline. Cleveland could use some shooting from the wing and quality depth to provide versatility going up against Golden State or San Antonio in the Finals.

LeBron just wants to make sure the talks don’t impact the locker room.

“One thing about this business is you can only control what you can control. Things that you can’t control, you can’t let it bother you, and I’ve learned that over the years,” LeBron said. “There is so much that goes on in professional sports that if you just focus on what you can control, everything else will take care of itself.”

The Love rumors likely will continue to flare up this week, but they are not going to move him unless another team makes a Godfather offer.

The Cavaliers have been 10.1 points per 100 possessions better this season when Love is on the court compared to off it (and their defense does get marginally better when he plays). When Love, LeBron, and Kyrie Irving are on the court together the Cavaliers outscore opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions. Those are massive numbers.

The Cavaliers are a win-now team, if you’re going to break up part of that trio it has to be for something that makes the team demonstrably better. And that kind of superstar trade is rare at the February deadline anymore.