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.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: “it would mean a lot”

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).

Kevin Hart plays Shaq, Saturday Night Live takes on Inside The NBA

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Notoriously undersized actor — and NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game MVP — Kevin Hart playing the notoriously oversized Shaquille O’Neal is brilliant.

That was at the heart of it when Saturday Night Live took on Inside the NBA on its Christmas show Saturday night. Hart was into it poking fun at Shaq’s penchant for going off with his own word salad during the show.

Charles Barkley and Shaq are rich satire targets, and SNL went right at them. Well done.