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.

Isaiah Thomas on Cavaliers trade to Lakers: “They were in panic mode”

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It seems Isaiah Thomas is a thorn in the side of many in the NBA these days. The Los Angeles Lakers point guard reportedly was the source of some locker room conflict while he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers, although it appears that Dwyane Wade was the first to lead the charge against Kevin Love in the infamous player rap session.

Thomas is now a member of the Lakers after being part of the worst section of the season in Cleveland. The Cavaliers, with their revamped roster, have just one loss since the trade deadline. LeBron James & Co. have moved on, and Thomas appears set for free agency this summer and yet another team.

A move for the Cavaliers seemed inevitable, even if the return for Kyrie Irving from Boston — conveyed through consequent trades — was less than ideal. Meanwhile Thomas, who didn’t appear to enjoy his time in Ohio, has now said that he was surprised Dan Gilbert’s team bailed on him so quickly.

Via ESPN:

“I didn’t think they would pull the trigger that fast, 15 games,” Thomas told ESPN’s E:60 in an interview that will air March 11. “But again, it’s a business. And the Cavs were, I mean, they were in panic mode. We were losing — a lot. And I think they felt like they needed to make a move, and they, they basically cleared house.”

Thomas went on to say that he didn’t think he had enough time to find a rhythm not only coming back from a hip injury but on a new team in a new system. Thomas also mentioned that he harbored no ill feelings toward the Cavaliers.

We’ll see if that’s the case when the Lakers take on Cleveland on March 11 in LA.

Coach Tyronn Lue says not to expect LeBron James to have “rest” games

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LeBron James has not missed one Cleveland Cavaliers game this season. At age 33 in his 15th NBA season, LeBron is fourth in the league in total minutes played, third in the league in minutes per game at 37, and is top 10 in the NBA in usage rate.

Don’t expect that to change.

LeBron doesn’t want to take games off — he even dominated the All-Star Game — and do you really think Lue is going to force him to sit while the Cavaliers try to adapt to a radical roster shakeup at the trade deadline? From Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

“I just think being the leader of this team, I don’t think he thinks he can take games off, because, you know, guys being hurt and going through a rough patch, and now new guys coming in,” Lue said before the Cavs’ 112-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. “So, I think he’s trying to lead and lead by example … I think we still got to be smart about the situation, but [the training staff] say he feels good.”

LeBron said this last month and things have not changed.

“I told you I want to play every game,” James said. “If my health continues as it is right now, then that’s what it is.”

While “load management” is a buzzword around the NBA — one ignored in Minnesota — LeBron has responded to his increased workload with an MVP level season. LeBron is averaging 26.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game, is shooting 35.9 percent from three, and has the highest value over replacement player in the league. (His less energized play in January likely cost him any real shot at his fifth MVP.) With the league emphasizing not resting players — particularly in nationally televised games, which the Cavaliers have a lot of — LeBron is not getting much if any rest. He wants to play in a full 82.

The only concern is will he wear down. LeBron is going to have to dominate in the playoffs for the Cavaliers to come out of the East. How much gas will LeBron have in the tank come May? There’s a reason Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and a lot of other elite coaches give players a night off. That’s not going to happen with LeBron, at least not likely in a meaningful way.

Consider it something to file away and remember if the Cavaliers and LeBron look a step slower in the postseason.

Watch Kyrie Irving drop 31 on Knicks in Celtics’ win

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NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for their second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.

Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.

Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.

Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn’t win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.

Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers and pushing the ball right at the Knicks.

His last 3-pointer in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead, but the Knicks chipped away while he rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.

Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.

Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Damian Lillard scores 40, hits game-winner to beat Suns (VIDEO)

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PHOENIX (AP) — Passing the ball inbounds at a critical time proved too big a challenge for the sputtering Phoenix Suns. So, Damian Lillard got one final chance.

Of course, he came through.

Lillard scored 40 points, the last two on a driving layup with nine-tenths of a second to play, and the Portland Trail Blazers rallied from 15 down in the final 7 1/2 minutes to beat Phoenix 106-104 on Saturday night, the Suns’ ninth straight loss.

Lillard called it one of his “more significant performances” of the season.

“Obviously, Damian was huge, showed his leadership, showed his talent,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We overcame a horrendous shooting night for most of the night and found a way.”

Lillard, who scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, got the final chance because Phoenix’s Troy Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds on a five-second call that turned possession over to Portland with 20.6 seconds to play.

“We knew they didn’t have any time outs left,” Stotts said, “so we gave it a shot and made some good reads and didn’t give them any outlets.”‘

Devin Booker scored 30 points for the Suns, losers of 14 of their last 15.

His two free throws gave Phoenix its biggest lead, 93-78, with 7:26 to play. Lillard triggered the subsequent 18-4 outburst that caught the Suns at 97-97 on his 3-point play. Booker’s fifth and final 3-pointer gave the Suns a 100-97 lead with 2:19 to go. Lillard’s 3 tied it at 100 with 1:10 left.

Booker’s powerful driving basket put Phoenix up 104-102 with 33.6 seconds to go. But, after a timeout, Lillard’s step-back 15-footer tied it at 104-104 with 28 seconds left. The Suns called time out to set up the play but, on the sidelines, Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds for the five-second call.

“We had no timeouts. I didn’t see anybody open. If I did, I would have thrown it obviously,” Daniels said. “I’ve been in that position a lot of times, but like I said, it’s tough to be in that position when you have no timeouts. You learn from and you get it better.”

On the play, Portland’s CJ McCollum said “I just tried to take away Booker.”

“I saw how they were set up and I just guarded him normal and when I turned and saw him run toward half-court I just shaded toward him,” McCollum said.

Booker never broke open, Daniels decided not to chance it, and the last opportunity was gifted to Portland.

“There was 20 seconds left and I just wanted to make sure I got the last shot,” Lillard said. “I really just wanted to get the clock down, keep it towards half-court where it is further out and I can get downhill. I took a peek, the clock was at six and I got downhill.”

The Blazers, coming off a win at Utah the previous night, have won three straight and five of six.

The game was tied 10 times before Portland finished the first half with a 7-2 spurt take a 55-50 lead at the break.

But the Suns turned it on in the third quarter, outscoring the cold-shooting Blazers 31-16. Portland scored the first five of the second half to take its biggest lead, 60-50. But Phoenix overwhelmed the Trail Blazers 29-5 to go up 79-65 on Booker’s 3.