NBA Power Rankings: How about a Spurs vs. Bulls NBA finals?

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It still feels like with the top six teams you could flip a coin week to week on who is playing the best at any given moment. This week the coin came up Spurs.

1. Spurs (54-12, Last Week #4). After a loss to the Lakers a week ago Sunday they put together three nice wins, now comes a more interesting showdowns with the Heat Monday and Mavericks Friday.

2. Bulls (47-18, LW #5). Their defense has them 9-1 in their last 10 games and a real threat to come out of the East. And as long as they win the Derrick Rose for MVP train will keep picking up steam.

3. Lakers (47-20, LW #1). They lost to the Heat with poor execution at the end of the game. They solved that problem against the Mavericks by making sure it wasn’t close late. Lakers still 9-1 in their last 10. Lakers/Magic — and Andrew Bynum vs. Dwight Howard — will be interesting Monday night.

4. Mavericks (47-19, LW #3). They keep winning, the remain a contender, but then you watch the Lakers handle them with ease and you wonder if that is a playoff preview with this squad. Again.

5. Celtics (47-17, LW #2). The Celtics, with losses to the Clippers and Sixers last week, seem to be slumping toward the playoffs. They did that last year, too. More losses could be on the way — the banged up Celtics have five games in seven days starting Sunday night.

6. Heat (45-21, LW #8). They beat the Lakers and the hot Grizzlies in one week. They can beat good teams. They can prove it again this week with a lineup of Spurs, Thunder, Hawks and Nuggets.

7. Thunder (42-23, LW #7). No Jeff Green has meant more James Harden, and that’s a good thing as he is stepping up. He’s shooting 50.4 percent in the team’s last 10 games.

8. Magic (42-25, LW #6). They are your four seed in the East, almost certainly. The question is, do they want to match up with in the second round: the Celtics, Bulls or Heat?

9. Grizzlies (36-21, LW #9). Carmelo Anthony beating you at the buzzer, that happens. But the beat down from the Knicks was more concerning. The Griz can get revenge on the Knicks Thursday night.

10. Nuggets (39-27, LW #12). They are 7-2 since trading Carmelo Anthony and doing that against quality opponents. They are joining the Grizzlies as the team top squads would prefer to avoid in the first round.

11. Sixers (34-32, LW #11). You want to bump them up after beating the Heat, you want to drop them after they lose to the Bucks. So they stand pat, but they are still one of the better teams in the East since the All-Star break.

12. Blazers (37-29, LW #10). They start their road trip with wins over Miami and Orlando, then lose to the Bobcats and Heat. Brandon Roy is back, we’ll see if that steadies them.

13. Hornets (39-29, LW #13). Nice win over the Mavericks without Chris Paul. CP3 came back with big numbers against the Kings… but it was against the Kings. Please take with salt.

14. Knicks (34-31, LW #14). They beat a hot Mavs team and lose to the struggling Pacers. They remain wildly unpredictable.

15. Hawks (38-28, LW #15). Lately it is their offense that has gone into hibernation right as spring started.

16. Suns (33-21, LW #16). They remain just 1.5 games out of the last playoff spot in the West, but who are they going to catch? And the Suns need Nash back to have any shot, they are terrible without him.

17. Rockets (33-34, LW #17). Three games out of the last playoff spot in the West, but nobody above them is faltering. They are going to have to get very hot to have a shot.

18. Warriors (30-36, LW #20). The Warriors got wins last week with enough defense in the paint to slow Dwight Howard and Kevin Love. Did not expect that. The Warriors also had great passing from Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry in that Magic win.

19. Jazz (34-33, LW #18). Sorry Al Jefferson, but you guys are not making the playoffs.

20. Clippers 26-41, LW #22). Don’t look now but they are actually playing well again, and not just because of Blake Griffin. And they are doing it without Eric Gordon.

21. Bobcats (28-38, LW #21). The next three teams are within 1.5 games of each other fir the final playoff spot in the East. We rank them in order we think they will finish. They have Stephen Jackson and D.J. Augustin so we give them the edge, but they face some tough road games (Rockets, Thunder, Spurs) this week.

22. Bucks (26-39, LW #23). Before getting just destroyed by the Celtics Sunday they were playing the best of the three. They have to make up 1.5 games on the other two but if Brandon Jennings can spark they offense they can climb into that last spot

23. Pacers (28-38, LW #19). They looked terrible all week then found their shot and energy in Madison Square Garden. The bad news — Boston and Chicago on the schedule this week.

24. Nets (21-43, LW #24). Kris Humphries is going to make some money as a free agent next summer (or whenever the lockout ends), he is ballin’.

25. Timberwolves (17-51, LW #26). Kevin Love may actually play a little better with the pressure of the streak now gone.

26. Pistons (23-44, LW #25). I think the rotations are set by random lottery. They need to complete the sale of this team so some needed shakeups can happen.

27. Raptors (18-48, LW #27). Having Reggie Evans back soaking up rebounds helps. Not enough to get a few wins in a row but it helps.

28. Kings (15-49, LW #28). Just 8 home games left in Sacramento.

29. Cavaliers (12-53, LW #29). No Baron Davis for part of this week, and without him they really lack any threatening scorer on the floor that can consistently create his own shot.

30. Wizards (16-48, LW #30). They still just have one road win this season and 11 road games left on the schedule. They also have just one win in their last 11 overall.

Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers completes pass to become part owner of Bucks

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Aaron Rodgers is regularly be seen courtside at Milwaukee Bucks games, having professed his love of the sport many times. Here was there Friday night for the Bucks’ Game 3 win, sitting courtside with girlfriend Danica Patrick.

This time, he was doing it as part owner of the team.

Milwaukee announced between the first and second quarters that the Packers QB1 is now part-owner of the Bucks, having bought a minority stake in the team.

“I have proudly called Wisconsin my home for the past 13 years, and I am thankful for the friendships and the opportunities I have been given to live and play here,” Rodgers in a released statement. “I am excited and honored to deepen my connection to the region by joining Wes Edens, Marc Lasry, Jamie Dinan, Mike Fascitelli and the ownership group of the Milwaukee Bucks. As a huge fan of the NBA and the sport of basketball, this is a dream come true for me, and I look forward to furthering my affinity for Wisconsin sports as a minority owner in a team I love and support.”

Rodgers is a California native who attended Cal in the Bay Area for college and now — like many an NBA player — splits his time between living where he works in Wisconsin and Southern California.

This is a smart time to buy into the Bucks — and not just because they won Friday. Milwaukee moves into a brand new building next season which should generate a lot more revenue for the franchise. Plus, the Bucks are poised to make a leap forward in the East as a team behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and a solid supporting cast (likely led by a new coach next season), which will lead to more revenue as they become a team to see on the road, one that fills buildings.

Pelicans look to pull off sweep of Trail Blazers

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Before the 2017-18 regular season began, any conversation regarding the New Orleans Pelicans and brooms had something to do with the possibility the team would clean house.

That would have meant parting ways with coach Alvin Gentry and general manager Dell Demps if the Pelicans missed the playoffs for a third consecutive year despite having one of the NBA’s best players in Anthony Davis.

But now, the broom means something very different.

Energized on both ends of the court, the Pelicans have the broom ready Saturday at the Smoothie King Center to sweep the faltering Portland Trail Blazers out of the Western Conference playoffs with a fourth consecutive victory in the first-round series.

With a win Saturday, the Pelicans would become the first playoff team seeded sixth or lower to sweep a first-round playoff series since the 2001 Charlotte Hornets swept the Miami Heat 3-0 in a best-of-five series.

“Closeout games are the hardest,” said New Orleans guard Rajon Rondo, a 32-year-old veteran who is the Pelicans’ second-oldest player, someone who has served as an on-court coach to his younger teammates. “That’s what I’m going to try to explain to these guys. The first three might have been tough, but this last one is going to be very tough.”

In routing the Blazers 119-102 on Thursday to take a 3-0 series lead, the Pelicans fed off a raucous sellout crowd and led by as many as 33 points in the second half, allowing Gentry to rest his starters. Davis finished with 28 points and 11 rebounds while nursing a sore left thumb, and forward Nikola Mirotic, acquired after center DeMarcus Cousins went down in late January with a season-ending Achilles injury, scored a career-playoff-high 30 points, with 14 in the first quarter.

Even though Portland’s normally potent guard tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum had their best game of the series — combining for 42 of the Blazers’ 102 points — Lillard had trouble shaking free of the Pelicans’ trapping defense, which forced the ball out of his hands. Lillard made just 5 of 14 shots, including 3 of 9 from 3-point range.

“They whooped our butt,” said McCollum. “They beat us in every facet of the game: loose balls, rebounds, free-throw line, energy plays, 3-pointers in transition. … You name it, and they did it.”

The Pelicans have made a conscious decision to swarm Lillard and McCollum at every opportunity, daring other Blazers to beat them. Portland hasn’t adjusted properly to the strategy. Lillard has shot 32.7 percent in the three losses.

“I don’t think (defensive assistant coach) Darren Erman has gotten the credit that he deserves,” Gentry said. “He put together a great defensive game plan. It was him that brought the game plan to me and said, ‘This is what I want to do against them.'”

“You have to continue to mix it up and give them different looks,” Gentry added. “Even doing that, those guys got some shots off and made some real difficult shots. We’ve just got to make sure that we stay locked in and not let them get into one of those zones when it starts to go in and it doesn’t matter what kind of shot they’re shooting that it’s going to go in.”

Making matters worse for the Blazers is their injury status. Both Moe Harkless (left knee) and Evan Turner (right toe) are questionable for Game 4.

Portland coach Terry Stotts said the Pelicans have been tough to handle because a different player each night has shredded the Blazers’ defense.

“Going into the series, those four guys (Davis, Jrue Holiday, Mirotic and Rondo) have played extremely well,” Stotts said. “(Mirotic) is the third different guy who’s had a 30-point night. He’s very efficient, and he made a lot of smart basketball plays as well.”

Heat’s Justise Winslow fined $15,000 for stepping on Embiid’s mask

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NEW YORK (AP) Miami’s Justise Winslow has been fined $15,000 by the NBA for attempting to damage Philadelphia center Joel Embiid‘s facemask during Game 3 of their playoff series.

Winslow intentionally stepped on Embiid’s mask after it had fallen onto the court with 7:51 remaining in the second quarter of the 76ers’ 128-108 victory on Thursday night.

The NBA cited Winslow for unsportsmanlike conduct in announcing the penalty Friday.

Embiid was wearing the mask for the first time after returning from a 10-game absence caused by a broken orbital bone around his left eye.

Philadelphia leads the series 2-1. Game 4 is Saturday.

Defense found: Bucks overwhelm Celtics for 116-92 win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton scored 23 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo added 19 and the Milwaukee Bucks used a dominating first half to overwhelm the Boston Celtics 116-92 on Friday night, narrowing their deficit in the first-round playoff series to 2-1.

Eric Bledsoe and Jabari Parker each added 17 for the energized Bucks, who held the Celtics without a field goal for nearly an 11-minute stretch of the first half.

Milwaukee found its defense after a disheartening 14-point loss in Game 2, getting contributions from up and down the roster.

Backup center Thon Maker scored 14 points and had five of the Bucks’ 12 blocks. Pesky guard Matthew Dellavedova, a veteran of a championship run with the Cleveland Cavaliers, helped hold young Celtics point guard Terry Rozier to nine points on 2-of-7 shooting.

“The activity, if you take the stat sheet out of it, the activity and the energy that we brought … as you go through the game, that’s what you need, is the energy first,” coach Joe Prunty said.

Al Horford scored 16 for the Celtics, who fell behind by 23 at halftime and got no closer than 76-62 with 3:06 left in the third quarter on Jayson Tatum‘s 3-pointer.

The game was so well in hand that the Bucks closed out the victory even with Antetokounmpo on the bench for much of the fourth quarter with five fouls. Middleton had eight points in the fourth.

Game 4 is Sunday in Milwaukee. The Celtics will need to get off to a much better start if they want to avoid going home for Game 5 with a 2-2 series tie.

“We got into a hole. This is new for our group,” Horford said. “They had it going … and we really didn’t have an answer for them tonight.”

Milwaukee hustled for loose balls and stayed active around the paint, used its length to get deflections and disrupt Boston in the lane.

The 7-foot-1 Maker, in particular, provided a huge boost to help Milwaukee counter what had been a decisive edge off the bench for the Celtics. Maker got extended minutes only because starting center John Henson missed the game with a sore back.

Nearly everything else went Milwaukee’s way, too.

Parker, who voiced displeasure this week after playing just 24 minutes over the first two games, was 7 of 12 from the field and played 30 minutes. Bledsoe, outplayed by Rozier in the first two games, shot 8 of 13.

“Good win, lots of positives tonight. Quick turnaround … so we’ll have to do it again on Sunday,” Prunty said.