NBA Power Rankings: Trade deadline edition

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The trade deadline shook the league last week, and the ripple impacts our NBA Power Rankings. But at the top it is all Texas.

1. Spurs (49-10, Last Week #2). No deadline moves for this group, nor should there have been. They are 6 games up on the Mavericks and Celtics for best record in the league, and they will not be caught. They are going to have home court for as long as they last in the playoffs.

2. Mavericks (43-16, LW #3). Winners of six in a row and nine of 10, led by a powerful offense. Yes, Dirk Nowtizki is playing well, but Jason Kidd has been quietly excellent of late. Roddy Buckets is still trying to find his way.

3. Celtics (42-15, LW #1). They made one of the more surprising trades at the deadline, sending Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City. That may come back to haunt them in the playoffs, but it wasn’t the reason they lost to Denver this week.

4. Lakers (42-19, LW #7). No moves at the trade deadline. Four wins in row after the break. Maybe we shouldn’t read too much into losses by older teams at the end of longer road trips.

5. Bulls (40-17, LW #5). They did not mortgage the future to get a second-tier wing at the trade deadline. Because they are smart. But Bulls fans, do not think Rasual Butler is the answer — his PER this season is worse than Keith Bogans’. The bigger key is Joakim Noah is starting to beast again.

6. Heat (43-17, LW #4). They drop games to the Bulls and Knicks where their end-of-game execution can be called into question. Their schedule now gets tough — Orlando, San Antonio twice, the Lakers, Chicago, Portland, Atlanta and Oklahoma City are on the books in the next few weeks.

7. Magic (38-22, LW #6). Dwight Howard is averaging 27 and 15 the last 10 games, but the really impressive part is he is shooting 67.8 percent in that stretch. He’s even hitting free throws. But is that enough to lift this team up?

8. Thunder (36-22, LW #8). They are the trade deadline winners because Kendrick Perkins brings exactly the toughness and rebounding they need out of a center. But we won’t see that for a few weeks as he is still injured.

9. Blazers (33-26, LW #9). We love the Gerald Wallace move on paper, but it’s going to take a little while to come together. The loss to the Lakers, that happens (well, not that much at the Rose Garden, but still). The ugly loss to the Hawks, that is something else entirely.

10. Hornets (35-26, LW #12). We like the Carl Landry trade, especially since they’ve struggled through with injuries to Emeka Okafor and David West. They now head out on a five-game road trip where we will get a real sense of how good they are. Or are not.

11. Grizzlies (33-28, LW #10). Zach Randolph is playing like a guy who wants a fat new deal, averaging 20 and 13 over his last 10 games.

12. Hawks (36-23, LW #11). The Hawks defense looked a lot better Sunday with Kirk Hinrich at the point. If that continues they will move up the rankings (but they are still not going to be elite).

13. Sixers (30-29, LW #13). We said this in the game recap but it bears repeating — the Sixers are over .500 for the first time since they were 2-1 under Eddie Jordan. Doug Collins should get some coach of the year consideration.

14. Nuggets (34-26, LW #14). Their two games without Carmelo Anthony have been their two best defensive games in recent memory. Keep defending like that and hey will make the playoffs. Easily.

15. Knicks (30-27, LW #16). They got their man. The loss to the Cavaliers followed by the win over Miami may be what we get out of a talented but still pretty thin lineup the rest of this season. Chauncey Billups has fit in well, he does not fear the big stage or end of game shots.

16. Suns (30-27, LW #18). Three wins in a row. The guy that really makes a difference for this team has been Marcin Gortat coming off the bench. He fits this system well for a big man.

17. Jazz (32-28, LW #15). No Deron Williams, and they are 1-5 since Jerry Sloan walked away. It’s just hard to be optimistic in the short term.

18. Rockets (30-31, LW #21). Goodbye Shane Battier. Goodbye Aaron Brooks. Hello Hasheem Thabeet. Clearly the Rockets are looking to rebuild… then they go win four in a row. They remain a scrappy team that is just hard to play against.

19. Pacers (26-32, LW #17). They learn that while the NBA’s salary cap may be soft, the trade deadline is hard and fast. No roster changes, and if they are going to hang on to the eighth seed in the East they will have to do it largely on the road.

20. Bobcats (26-33, LW #20). Our own Matt Moore said it well, Charlotte did well at the trade deadline because it looked long term over short for the first time in a long time.

21. Warriors (26-32, LW #19). Monta Ellis has gone cold from the floor (he shot 34 percent last week) and this team can’t win much unless he is hot.

22. Bucks (22-36, LW #22). Just a disappointing season because of the offense… which has too much talent to be this bad. More Brandon Jennings and a healthy Andrew Bogut would help, but it may be next season before we get those things.

23. Pistons (22-39, LW #23). The ownership change cannot go through soon enough because this franchise needs a strong hand at the helm fast. The John Kuester situation with rebellious players is just an embarrassment.

24. Clippers (21-39, LW #24). They got rid of Baron Davis’ contract and that was a trade deadline win. It’s the only win they had last week, however.

25. Timberwolves (14-46, LW #26). I like the idea of taking a shot on Anthony Randolph at the trade deadline. Kevin Love is up to 46 consecutive double-double games.

26. Nets (17-42, LW #27). They move up one spot because they went out and made the bold move  and got Deron Williams at the deadline. I like the trade, I like the long term potential. Doesn’t mean they won on the court last week.

27. Raptors (16-44, LW #28). They looked good beating the Bulls last week, and just terrible in their other three games.

28. Kings (14-43, LW #29). If this team moves to Anaheim it will be a sad statement on the league. The Honda Center in Anaheim is 18 years old and the NHL’s Ducks are not drawing big there (near the bottom of that league in attendance). But it has luxury boxes and a big television market. That is what it is all about now.

29. Wizards (15-43, LW #25). Nick Young and John Wall are making this team pretty entertaining of late. Not really good in any way, but entertaining.

30. Cavaliers (11-48, LW #30). If Baron Davis really has turned a corner and plays motivated, he will help a young team. I’m just not sold that Baron Davis will be around long. But at least they got a pick out of the deal, down draft or not.

Three Things to Know: Kawhi Leonard is back, but Spurs have work to do fitting him in

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. We’re coming to you a little later in the morning in than usual due to the breaking news about the 2021 All-Star Game going to Indiana.

1) Kawhi Leonard is back with the Spurs, but loss to Mavericks shows they have work to do fitting him in. There were moments when Kawhi Leonard looked like his fearsome self Tuesday night: Tipping a rebound to himself then knocking down a midrange jumper off it, draining a pull-up three in transition, hitting some runners as he attacked off the pick-and-roll. Leonard was back, a bit rusty as one would expect, but had 13 points in 15 minutes against the Mavericks on Tuesday night.

That was the good news. Leonard also showed a lot of rust, as is too be expected, and he didn’t play after midway through the third quarter after he hit his minutes limit near 15.

There’s going to be an adjustment period on offense. Through the first 27 games of the season, everything flowed through LaMarcus Aldridge while he was out there. Gregg Popovich promised Aldridge over the summer they would use him more and in spots where he was more comfortable, but that was easier to do when he was their best player on the floor. Now Aldridge and Leonard — and the rest of the Spurs — have to figure out a new dance. That will take a little time.

The good news is the Spurs racked up so many wins to start the season, they have plenty of cushion to lose a few — like to a feisty Dallas team on Tuesday 95-89, in a game where the Spurs offense looked out of synch for long stretches — and be just fine. As always, Gregg Popovich and the Spurs are looking at the big picture.

2) Young Knicks, Lakers put on a show in Madison Square Garden. Knicks win in overtime. ESPN trained its cameras on the rising stars of the NBA Tuesday night — and those teams have been the most entertaining ones this season. We know that the Warriors and Cavaliers will be playing late into May (and probably June), but both are picking their spots right now.

The Lakers and Knicks are trying to figure it out and get better every night. There’s an energy around teams like those two (and Philadelphia, who we get to in our third thing) that we don’t see from the big guns right now. These teams are just fun to watch, and they put on a real show in Madison Square Garden Tuesday night, a game that went to overtime before the Knicks pulled out the win. There was Kyle Kuzma‘s three to force OT, Lonzo Ball looking more and more comfortable ( 17 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists), Knicks rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina not looking like a newbie with 13 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds, and finally there was a whole lot of Kristaps Porzingis, who dropped 37 points and had five blocks on the night. The end of the game was just back-and-forth entertainment.

The Lakers aren’t making the playoffs, and the Knicks could but likely will not stick around long if and when they do, but during the regular season teams like these on the rise are the fun ones to watch.

3) Joel Embiid dropped 28 and 12 on the Timberwolves, but Game of Thrones theory is more interesting. I think Joel Embiid is right about Game of Thrones… oh, wait, we should probably talk about basketball first for a bit. Embiid is really good at that, too.

Embiid went head-to-head with Karl-Anthony Towns in a showdown of the best young bigs in the game Tuesday, and Embiid came out on top. Towns finished the night with 19 points (6-of-16 shooting) and 16 boards, but Embiid dropped 28 points (also on 16 shots) and had 12 rebounds and 8 assists. Plus, Embiid led his team to the win (with a little help from J.J. Redick‘s 25).

Now on to the important stuff. ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne — a big Game of Thrones fan herself — talked about the HBO cultural phenomenon with Embiid during a car ride interview she did with him.

“I’ve studied the whole show,” he says, and it’s clear to Embiid that Kit Harington’s character, Jon Snow, will not end up on the Iron Throne.

“That’s what everybody thinks is going to happen,” Embiid says. “But the whole show has been that you don’t know what’s going to happen. Jon Snow will not be the king.”

The show seems to be pointing toward some kind of Daenerys Targaryen/Jon Snow power sharing structure when it ends after next season, but Embiid is right in that what the show does is not reward the characters that the audience likes or thinks will do their jobs well. Just ask Ned Stark… well, you could ask him if his head were still attached. There are some serious twists still to come. Personally, I want to see Sansa Stark on the throne with Arya Stark next to her, but that’s not going to happen either. Which is the best part of the show.

Embiid is right — Game of Thrones trolls its fans. And Embiid knows trolling, so I trust he’s right on this.

Report: Indiana to host 2021 NBA All-Star Game

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You knew Indiana was serious about hosting the All-Star Game when it made Larry Bird cram his 6’9″ frame into an Indy Car — built for much smaller men — and drive five blocks down Fifth Avenue in New York to deliver the city’s application directly to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

It worked.

For the first time since 1985, the All-Star Game is headed to Indianapolis, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Adam Silver is in Indiana for a 4 p.m. (local time) press conference where this will be officially announced. It’s done.

Indianapolis can handle this, no problem, it got rave reviews (from media members I spoke to, at least) when hosting the Super Bowl and NCAA Final Four. It also brings the All-Star Game to the coolest NBA building, Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

A number of other cities — Houston, Orlando, and San Francisco among them — had been in the running for the 2021 game.

The 2018 All-Star Game next February will be in Los Angeles. After that, it heads to Charlotte in 2019, then Chicago in 2020. It looks like the game will stay in the Midwest for the following year in 2021.

Kristaps Porzingis went off against Lakers: 37 points, 5 blocks (VIDEO)

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I’d say the Lakers didn’t have any answers for Kristaps Porzingis Tuesday night, but no team has an answer for Kristaps Porzingis when he is on.

And he was on vs. the Lakers: 37 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocked shots. He also hit five triples (on just eight attempts). Check out the video above.

Despite all that it took overtime against an improving Lakers team to get the win for the Knicks.

Report: Lakers asked LaVar Ball to pull back on criticism of Luke Walton

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There’s so much transparent marketing happening with LaVar Ball that it’s often not worth the server space to type up what he says and post it. The father of Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball is so breathlessly unexciting in his pitch for relevance in comparison to the actual happenings of the NBA, the irony of which is not unnoticed here.

Still, Mr. Ball has infrequently stepped out from his professional Uncle At a Barbeque cosplay to criticize the Lakers and coach Luke Walton. Mr. Ball has made it clear he thinks Lonzo should play more often, and in fourth quarters. That hasn’t been productive for either side, and it appears that the team has asked Mr. Ball to pull back on openly criticizing Walton.

According to a report from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, the team and Mr. Ball met to discuss their relationship in November.

Via ESPN:

The meeting, which took place within the past few weeks, was called by Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka.

LaVar Ball confirmed the meeting took place, telling ESPN, “It was the best thing, man. Everybody’s going to try to make it an ego thing, like I’m trying to tell them what to do or they’re trying to tell me to tone it down. It’s not about that. It’s about coming together and to get a solution to this problem.

“It may sound crazy to other people, but I really just want the best for Lonzo, and the best for Lonzo is going to be what’s best for the organization. Because if everybody winning, we good.”

“I’m going to say whatever I want to say, however I want to say it,” Ball said. “And they said, ‘LaVar, come and talk to us first.’ So that’s fine too.

“But I am going to say, to plant a seed, ‘Let’s look for this now.’ They may not want to hear that, but it’s going to be successful if you listen to what I’m saying on that fact that I know what it takes for my son to run like this.”

Mr. Ball’s influence on his son is unique, but the team is far more than an avenue for Lonzo to play basketball. Indeed, Lonzo is not even one the best two or three players on the Lakers. The organization needs to function at a professional level and doesn’t need Mr. Ball to achieve that. Sidestepping any Whataboutism in the face of sketchy NBA decisionmaking — Phil Jackson, the Bulls front office, any Billy King trade, Isiah Thomas, etc. — it’s not immediately clear that Mr. Ball agrees.

It’s got to be a hassle for Walton to have to deal with this type of thing. The team started enforcing an existing rule a rule recently that stops members of the media from congregating in the same area where NBA friends and family are after a game, but it’s unlikely that will stop reporters from ambulance-chasing Ball any time soon.

Lonzo has remained in LA, which is exactly what Mr. Ball wanted when his son went to UCLA. The younger Ball has struggled a bit, but he’s part of an energetic young core that’s on the up in a tough conference. Lonzo is even leading the team in assists. But Mr. Ball persists in stepping where he’s unqualified, presumably as a means to continue his guerilla marketing campaign (or perhaps motivated by it). LaVar doesn’t realize his work is done — Lonzo is a Laker — and he should let 16 championship trophies in the No. 2 TV market in the country take it from here.

Instead, Mr. Ball produces the most boring and uninspiring stories week after week. This is the league where major free agents break their legs in the first five minutes of play with their new team, where MVPs sign with the best team of all-time after they’ve already won a championship, and where the best player of all-time gives you a crucial chasedown block in Game 7 of the Finals. Nothing Mr. Ball can do will ever be interesting in the grand scheme of the NBA.

Meanwhile, the Lakers and the New York Knicks actually played a pretty wild OT game on Tuesday. If only that were what we could all concentrate on.