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.

LeBron James: Reporter warned me about question on Gregg Popovich’s wife before live TV interview

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In her on-court interview with LeBron James following the Cavaliers’ Game 2 win over the Pacers last night, TNT sideline reporter Allie LaForce asked him about the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife.

LeBron appeared emotional as he gathered his thoughts.

That prompted some to criticize LaForce for ambushing LeBron on a sensitive subject on live TV. But that’s not what happened.

Uninterrupted:

LeBron:

I’m not on social media right now, but I was made aware through some friends through texts that a question was asked to me postgame, and a lot of people feel I was blindsided. That is absolutely false. Allie LaForce told me that she was going to ask the question and if it was OK.

And once I started talking about it, once we were on air, actually my emotions kind of took over. And that was just my emotions coming straight from my heart about the late Erin Popovich.

It’s unfortunate. It’s a tragic loss. My thoughts, my prayers, once again goes out to the Popovich family, to Gregg, to the Spurs family, to the whole Spurs fan base.

And also guys, please get off Allie LaForce’ back, because she followed the proper protocol and she warned me. So, get off her back, man. She’s very professional, and she does a great job at her work.

Like I said, thoughts and prayers to the heavens above. We all know the man above never makes mistakes, even when we question it. But it’s a sad, tragic time right now for the NBA family, and we’re all praying and hoping for the best.

It would have been surprising if LaForce hadn’t done that. Somewhere between nearly nobody and absolutely nobody in her position is trying to embarrass players.

PBT Extra: If Portland is going to turn series around it starts with Damian Lillard

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This was the year the Trail Blazers were going to break through. They were defending better as a team. There was some depth on offense. And Damian Lillard was playing at a level that will get him on many voters’ MVP ballots.

Instead, they are down 0-2 to Anthony Davis and New Orleans, having dropped both games at home to open the series. Portland is on the verge of being bounced in the first round for the third time in four years.

If Portland is going to turn this series around, it starts with Lillard, something I discuss in this latest PBT Extra. C.J. McCollum needs to get more buckets, Jusuf Nurkic needs to contribute more on both ends, but for Portland it all begins and ends with Lillard and it’s on him to start the turnaround.

Rockets easily overcome James Harden’s horrid shooting night, win Game 2 over Timberwolves

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James Harden shot 2-for-18 – the worst field-goal percentage (11%) on so many attempts in a playoff game in nearly a decade and the worst ever in a first-round game.

The Rockets still won by 20 because of their stout defense, a strong supporting star in Chris Paul and Harden’s foul-drawing ability.

Houston’s took a 2-0 series lead with a 102-82 win over the Timberwolves on Wednesday. Game 3 will be Saturday in Minnesota, but the top-seeded Rockets have seized firm control.

Every No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seed to take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven first-round series have won it. There’s little reason to believe Houston will become the exception.

The Rockets are no longer as reliant on Harden, the likely MVP who seemed to wear down last postseason.

They buckled down defensively before letting up in a fourth quarter that was entirely garbage time. Houston forced more turnovers (16) than allowed assists (15) and contested shot after shot.

It’s becoming increasingly clear the Timberwolves have no quick solution to the Karl-Anthony Towns problem, and it’s not simply a matter of deciding to feed him more. Yes, he can get favorable post matchups against the Rockets’ switching scheme. But Minnesota lacks quality entry passers. The Timberwolves are also short on shooters and need him to spread the floor – even if that skill is less-helpful after a switch. Towns scored just five points in 24 minutes tonight.

His teammates were barely, if at all, better. The focus has turned to Towns, but this was a far-wider letdown.

On the other hand, Paul (27 points and eight assists) led Houston’s offense. Gerald Green (21 points and 12 rebounds) got hot. Even Harden (7-of-8 on free throws) chipped in thanks to his elite foul-drawing ability.

The Rockets aren’t always the most enjoyable team to watch, and that was the case tonight. Mostly, because they put this game out of reach long before it actually ended.

Donovan Mitchell outplays Thunder Big 3 in fourth, Jazz win to even series

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Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell had 13 points in the fourth quarter.

Oklahoma City’s big three — Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony — were 0-of-15 shooting in the fourth.

That, in a nutshell, is how the Jazz bounced back from a 19-0 Thunder run in the third quarter that had OKC in charge of the game. It’s how Utah got the win Game 2 win, 102-95, to even the series as it heads to Salt Lake City.

“There was a time out (after the OKC run) where there was a just a determination, and we felt like we would rely on our defense, and that’s what we did,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after the game. “Donovan, obviously, his aggressiveness on the offensive end fueled us there.”

It was what fueled them all night. In Game 2, the Jazz defense was more settled and like itself than the opener, and that forced more isolation ball out of Oklahoma City — they had eight assists and nine turnovers in the first half. The Thunder were still getting buckets because Playoff P and Westbrook are just great scorers, but it wasn’t nearly as efficient as it had been.

For the Thunder, it was often the Russell Westbrook show, and he was scoreless in the second quarter and had just a couple of free throws in the fourth.

All of that made this a game it felt like the Jazz needed to win — there are few chances to steal a game on the road against a good team, and this was one. The game was defensive and played in Utah’s style.

Which is why it was devastating when the Thunder had their 19-0 third quarter run, turning a deficit into a 10-point lead. In that stretch, the Jazz missed shots, took a few bad ones, and turned the ball over in that run. Mitchell even missed an uncontested dunk in there.

When Mitchell struggled, other guys stepped up.

Derrick Favors had a huge game for Utah, finishing with 20 points and 16 rebounds, eight of them offensive. He was particularly impressive in the first half, when Mitchell struggled (with George draped all over him). Utah had nine offensive rebounds in the first half, six of those by Favors. Utah’s dominance on the glass was big for them, Utah got a second chance on 37.5 percent of their missed shots in the first half, which is far too high a percentage. Steven Adams battling foul trouble had a lot to do with that.

“The biggest thing for us, Derrick Favors played his ass off,” Mitchell said after the game. “When we were missing shots he was getting rebounds, I think he had a double-double almost at the half [note: he had 10 points, 8 rebounds at the half]. Without Fav we wouldn’t even be at this point.”

The other key was Ricky Rubio. He was being more judicious about when to shoot and was looking to set up teammates. However, when left open and able to shoot in rhythm, Rubio was hitting, he was 5-of-8 from three on his way to 22 points and nine assists. Rubio struggled with his shot inside the arc (1-of-8) but he hit the big buckets and kept the floor spaced when asked. he had seven fourth-quarter points.

But the fourth belonged to Mitchell, who showed exactly what he meant to this team all season — they are not in the postseason without him. Mitchell finished with 28 points to lead the Jazz.

For the Thunder, the shots that fell in Game 1 did not in Game 2, much as it has been night to night for this team all season. George had 18 points on 21 shots, Anthony had 17 points on 18 shots, and Westbrook had 19 points on 19 shots. Combine that with Adams being in foul trouble most of the night and it was not the Thunder’s game.

Now the onus is on them to steal one in Utah, starting Friday night.