NBA Power Rankings: All-Star influenced edition

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With teams only playing one or two games this weekend due to the All-Star break, we decided to let the weekend activities influence the power rankings. Like dunking over a car moves you up. But just a little.

1. Celtics (40-14, LW #2). Doc Rivers played Kevin Garnett 7:32 in the All Star Game and LeBron James 32:20. Take that Erik Spoelstra.

2. Spurs (46-10, Last Week #1). Derrick Rose shredded them on national television last Thursday. What should we take away from that? Only that it was the last game of a 9-game road trip and the last game before a vacation.

3. Mavericks (40-16, LW #3). Dallas is 9-1 in the last 10 and got better by adding Roddy Beaubois to the lineup this week. They head into the final months 2.5 games ahead of the Lakers, they will need that home court advantage to stand a chance against L.A. in the playoffs.

4. Heat (41-15, LW #5). LeBron James with the All-Star triple-double, joining Jordan as the only other guy to do that.

5. Bulls (38-16, LW #6). They keep looking to trade for a two guard. What they get depends on what they will give up, but it shouldn’t be much for Anthony Parker.

6. Magic (36-21, LW #7). Dwight Howard was non-existent in this All-Star Game. Next year the game is in Orlando, expect him to win MVP.

7. Lakers (38-17, LW #4). Kobe’s All-Star MVP not enough to wipe away stain of loss to Cleveland. People around the Lakers were less shocked by that loss than the fans — if the Lakers don’t respect an opponent they barely show up. Throw in last game of a road trip and it was a trap game. By the way, the Lakers have one of the toughest schedules in the league from here on out.

8. Thunder (35-19, LW #8). It was clear that Kevin Durant came out trying to win the All-Star MVP as well, but he shot 5-for-14 in the first half while Kobe was hot.

9. Blazers (32-24, LW #11). LaMarcus Aldridge has been playing like a guy who was ticked about not being an All-Star. They have played well of late, the question is how they blend in Brandon Roy on his return.

10. Grizzlies (31-26, LW #12). They are currently tied for the eighth seed in the West, but they are playing better than several of the teams ahead of them now. They keep it up and they are in the playoffs easy.

11. Hawks (34-21, LW #9). Joe Johnson was an East best +10 in the All-Star Game. As for his Hawks, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them take steps back heading into the playoffs.

12. Hornets (33-25, LW #10). Ten points and 7 dimes for Chris Paul in the All-Star Game. They are the six seed in the West and that seems a likely landing spot. Of course, right now that would mean the Lakers in the first round.

13. Sixers (27-29, LW #15). They are 7-3 in their last 10 before the break. This is a playoff team that will show better against one of the East’s three powers than most fans expect.

14. Nuggets (32-25, LW #13). At least it ends this week.

15. Jazz (31-26, LW #14). They are 3-7 in their last 10 and considering all the changes, this team needed the break more than most. We’ll see now if Ty Corbin can rally the squad.

16. Knicks (28-26, LW #17). How good are they with Carmelo Anthony and no role players? We’re about to find out I think.

17. Pacers (24-30, LW #16). They are playing better under interim coach Frank Vogel, but I’m still not sure what the long-term plan is.

18. Suns (27-27, LW #18). Suns fans may dream of the playoffs, but the hard part of the Suns schedule is ahead of them. Need to make up 2.5 games against that schedule

19. Warriors (26-29, LW #19). Another team playing well of late with playoff dreams, but they play 12 of next 15 on the road. Tough to climb up through that.

20. Bobcats (24-32, LW #20). There are some serious talks about moving Gerald Wallace or Stephen Jackson right now, expect one of them to move in the coming days.

21. Rockets (26-31, LW #21). Look for them to make a move or two at the deadline — but not to help this year. For them it is about rebuilding.

22. Bucks (21-34, LW #22). They are 3.5 games out of the last playoff spot in the East, they get Brandon Jennings back and the schedule gets easier form here on out. If one team makes a late playoff run…

23. Pistons (21-36, LW #23). The Tom Gores era hasn’t started yet, but it sounded All-Star weekend in L.A. like it will very soon.

24. Clippers (21-35, LW #26). Blake Griffin may have figured out this weekend just how big a star he really is now. Especially in Los Angeles.

25. Wizards (15-39, LW #25). John Wall’s bounce-pass ally-oop to Blake Griffin still may have been the best play of the entire All-Star Weekend.

26. Timberwolves (13-43, LW #27). Kevin Love did not get an All-Star double-double, just four boards and two points (on a nice top of the key jumper).

27. Nets (17-40, LW #24). Avery Johnson is going to have to be putting some new pieces together on the fly, one way or another.

28. Raptors (15-41, LW #28). They are here because their defense is so, so, so bad.

29. Kings (13-40, LW #29). With DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans on the team they should not be this far down the rankings. And no, they are not going to Anaheim. Not long term anyway.

30. Cavaliers (10-46, LW #30). Even beating the Lakers will not move them out of last in the poll. Sorry.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

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It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.

Report: Optimism remains for Kawhi Leonard returning this season

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly planned to return for last Thursday’s Spurs-Pelicans game – but didn’t.

A couple games later, and Leonard remains out. Will he actually play again this season?

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Leonard resumed working out in San Antonio on Feb. 27 and is feeling “much better,” according to the source. Eleven games remain in the regular season, but there remains optimism he will return this season, the source said.

Sources told ESPN that Leonard’s target date to return from the quadriceps tendinopathy that has kept him out for all but nine games this season has always been “mid-March.”

It’s March 21. We’re nearing the end of what anyone would consider mid-March.

A month ago, Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said time was running out for Leonard to return and acclimate to the lineup. But Popovich has sounded more open lately to Leonard – whose own doctors must still clear him – returning whenever the forward is ready.

San Antonio (41-31, tied for fifth in the West) has probably done enough without Leonard to make the playoffs. The Spurs have a 3.0-game buffer over the Nuggets and 3.5-game buffer over the Clippers for playoff position.

But San Antonio would become far more dangerous in the playoffs – a threat to any team, including the Rockets and Warriors – if Leonard returns to full strength.

First, he must just get back on the court at all, and maybe that’ll happen sooner than later. The way this injury has gone, though, it’s hard to believe anything until we see it.

LeBron James on NBA play-in tournament: “No, no, no. That’s wack.”

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It’s a long way off, but there has been some discussion in the league office — and some momentum built up in some corners — for a play-in tournament for the NBA playoffs. While multiple variations of how this would work are in play, it involves some combination of teams seeded seven to 10 in a few single-elimination (or home-and-home) games to see who gets into the 16-team playoffs. The goal is to keep more teams — and more fan bases — engaged in the playoff chase longer.

LeBron James is not a fan. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“No, no, no,” James said Wednesday. “That’s wack. That’s wack. Why? You got to earn your spot to be in the postseason. No consolation for finishing last. That’s corny. That’s corny. That’s wack. To play for what? What are they playing for?”

So, how do you really feel?

“[Make the playoffs by winning the tournament], even if my record is better than yours? Nah, that’s wack,” James said.

As fans, we love drama and unpredictability — it’s what we love about March Madness, the upsets that ruin our bracket — and a play-in tournament would bring some to the often predictable NBA table.

However, LeBron has a point. Using the Western Conference and the current standings as an example, how excited are fans and the front offices of the Jazz and Nuggets going to be about an extra game or two for the right to get smacked down by Houston in the first round? Or for the Timberwolves to maybe be out after a game where they lose to the Clippers in a play-in, rather than getting to take on Golden State? Will this really sell well?

The only way this gets backing of most players and the union is if it could help shorten the season — if television and other revenue from these games allowed the 82 game season to drop to 72 (or whatever) and keep the money the same, then players would listen. However, that much money seems unlikely.

Maybe a mid-season NBA Tournament held in one city could generate the needed revenue to shorten the season. Maybe. But that seems more likely than a play-in.

Kyle Korver to miss Wednesday vs. Toronto after death of his brother

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I can’t imagine what this is like.

Cavaliers’ sharpshooter Kyle Korver will not be with the Cavaliers for an interesting showdown with Toronto on Wednesday night due to the death of his younger brother, Kirk. Korver has been given a leave of absence from the team.

Kirk Korver, 27, played four years of college ball at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

There are four Korver brothers, all of whom played college basketball or at a higher level. Kirk was the youngest of them, he reportedly fell seriously ill about a week ago.

Our thoughts are with the entire Korver family.

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