NBA Power Rankings: The Lakers look like the Lakers again

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Notice that two of the top three are from the West? That’s because the East is stumbling toward the playoffs.

1. Lakers (50-20, LW #3). Four wins in a row and just one loss since the All-Star break. They won Monday without Andrew Bynum and will have another game without him Tuesday, but with his ongoing knee pain missing a couple games and getting a little more rest is not a bad thing.

2. Spurs (56-13, Last Week #1). They keep cruising along, their only two losses in March were to the Heat and the Lakers. If you see them lose a few more games from here on out, know that Popovich is resting his guys for the games that matter.

3. Bulls (49-19, LW #2). Still the best team in the East since the break, but the loss to a desperate Pacers team knocked them back a notch in these standing. With all due respect to Gregg Popovich, Doug Collins and the other candidates, Tom Thibodeau is the coach of the year.

4. Celtics (49-19, LW #5). The recent 3-4 slide shows just how important Rajon Rondo is to this team, and why they should sacrifice more games if it means getting him healthy.

5. Heat (48-22, LW #6). They beat the Spurs, then lose to the Thunder. It’s how things went during their tough stretch of 11 games, on which they went 5-6. But if you haven’t noticed they have now won 5 of their last 6 and for final few weeks the schedule lightens up.

6. Thunder (45-24, LW #7). They had won six in a row and are getting hot at the right time, except for that off game Sunday against the Raptors. The most important thing is their defense has looked better in recent games, and that side of the ball is key for them in the playoffs.

7. Mavericks (49-21, LW #4). The questions about their ability to beat top teams have grown louder after loss to Spurs, but at least Dirk Nowitzki has knocked down 58 straight free throws.

8. Magic (44-26, LW #8). They are treading water during a tough stretch of road games. Dwight Howard has averaged 20.9 points and 16.7 rebounds a game over the last 10.

9. Blazers (40-30, LW #11). Tough loss to the Bynum-less Lakers Sunday (on the second night of a back-to-back), but quality wins over Dallas and Philly show this as a team to take seriously.

10. Grizzlies (38-22, LW #9). They are just 1.5 games ahead of the hard-charging Rockets for the eighth spot in the West, and this week draw the Celtics, Bulls and Spurs in a row. Good luck with that.

11. Nuggets (41-29), LW #10). Tough trip through Florida, which is hard enough healthy but with banged up guards it is nearly impossible. Still, there is rightfully a lot of optimism around this team.

12. Sixers (36-34, LW #12). They are 2-3 on their recent five-game road trip and that brought them back down to earth. That and the banged up Andre Iguodala. Good news is they are home for all but four games the rest of the season.

13. Rockets (37-34, LW #17). They’ve won four in a row and moved into the ninth seed in the West, 1.5 games out of the playoffs. They are 7-3 in their last 10 ad have a legitimate chance of catching Memphis or anyone else that falters in the West.

14. Hornets (40-31, LW #13). A team capable of beating or losing to anyone any given game. They’ve got some big ones this week with the Jazz, Suns and Lakers — games the Hornets need to hold on to their playoff spot.

15. Hawks (40-30, LW #15). They are 5-8 since the All-Star break, mostly because their offense is unimpressive. Too much firepower on that team for the offense to be so flat.

16. Knicks (35-34, LW #14). Hey Carmelo, how’d you enjoy that honeymoon with the New York fans and media? The Knicks are not as bad as they have looked the last couple games, but they are not near as good as people thought right after the trade, either.

17. Suns (35-33, LW #16). Steve Nash looked a lot more healthy over the weekend, which is the only hope the Suns have of a big run to the playoffs.

18. Jazz (36-34, LW #19). They are clinging to playoff hopes, just two games back of the Grizzlies in the West, but they are going to do things like beat the Grizzlies Monday (especially after Sunday’s loss to the Rockets).

19. Warriors (30-40, LW #18). Monta Ellis, Steph Curry, Dorell Wright and David Lee have all actually played pretty well the last 10 games. After that the drop off is very, very steep.

20. Pacers (30-40, LW #23). They looked like they righted themselves last week, especially after beating Chicago. Then they looked terrible against Boston and lost to Memphis. They lead the battle of ugly that is the eighth seed in the East

21. Bucks (28-41, LW #22). They are 1.5 games out of a playoff spot and they should get Michael Redd back. Does that help the offense or become a distraction as they try to fit him in.

22. Clippers (27-44, LW #20). Teams are still beating on Blake Griffin pretty hard, and that has effected both his shot (he is shooting 43.4 percent his last 10 games, down from 50 percent for the entire season) and he fouled out twice last week. Debate the call on the second foul out all you want.

23. Bobcats (28-41, LW #21). They are still in the playoff hunt but a win over Indiana Wednesday seems key to that.

24. Pistons (25-45, LW #26). Rip Hamilton has been almost a steady 20 point a game guy lately, so isn’t it time for John Kuester to bench him? (Hamilton missed the last game due to a death in the family.)

25. Nets (22-46, LW #24). They are not making the playoffs, why push Deron Williams to return? They are still 5-5 in their last 10 with great play from Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries

26. Raptors (20-49, LW #27). They ended a 14-game road losing streak in Oklahoma City Sunday. That was unforeseen.

27. Kings (17-51, LW #28). This team is putting up some big offensive numbers recently, but nobody is talking about that in Sacramento.

28. Timberwolves (17-54, LW #25). If Kevin Love is out any length of time the Timberwolves could just fold their tents the rest of the season. More so than they already have.

29. Cavaliers (13-55, LW #29). They still appear a lock to have the most ping pong balls in the Kyrie Irving sweepstakes.

30. Wizards (15-51, LW #30). They needed a big game from John Wall late to beat a Nets team without Deron Williams. What matters is they got it. He’s figuring things out.

Reports: Lakers, Pacers both confident in tampering case

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The Lakers reportedly expect to be cleared of the tampering allegations brought by the Pacers over Paul George.

As for the Pacers?

Bob Kravitz of WTHR on The Rich Eisen Show

They feel very strongly that there were correspondences between Lakers executives and Paul George’s representative. They had heard those rumors for quite some time. They think there’s some there there.

Wishful thinking by both sides? It sure looks like it.

The Lakers probably tampered, because everybody tampers. But teams are rarely punished for it, so they can also believe they did nothing egregious enough to become an exception.

A paper trail between the Lakers – Magic Johnson or any other executive – and George’s camp would go far. But even that must be more specific. George’s agent, Aaron Mintz, also represents Lakers forward Julius Randle and former Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell. So, he’d have good reason to communicate with the organization.

I don’t know what the NBA will do here. Tampering rules are rarely and arbitrarily enforced. That gives each team plenty of room to believe it’s right.

Only two of 38 rookies surveyed say No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz will have class’s best career

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The 76ers drafted Ben Simmons No. 1 last year, believing he’d have the best career of anyone in his draft class. This year, Philadelphia traded up to draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 for the same reason.

Their fellow rookies – Simmons missed all of last season due to injury – aren’t nearly as enthused.

John Schuhmann of NBA.com conducted his annual rookie survey, polling 39 players who weren’t allowed to vote for themselves or college or NBA teammates. Thirty-eight responded to the best-career question:

Which rookie will have the best career?

1. Lonzo Ball, L.A. Lakers — 18.4%
Jayson Tatum, Boston — 18.4%

3. Josh Jackson, Phoenix — 10.5%
Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas — 10.5%

5. De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento — 7.9%

6. Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia — 5.3%
Harry Giles, Sacramento — 5.3%
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia — 5.3%

Others receiving votes: Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn; John Collins, Atlanta; Jonathan Isaac, Orlando; Luke Kennard, Detroit; Kyle Kuzma, L.A. Lakers; Donovan Mitchell, Utah; Malik Monk, Charlotte

Simmons might not have come to mind to players at the rookie photo shoot, which was for the most recent draft class. And rookies have tended to pick someone other than the No. 1 pick for this question. Anthony Davis in 2012 was the last No. 1 pick to lead voting. Simmons tied for fourth at 6.7% last year – behind Brandon Ingram, Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield. Even Karl-Anthony Towns landed behind Jahlil Okafor in 2015.

But so few votes for Fultz – the consensus top prospect in the draft – is fairly stunning.

Dennis Smith Jr. received the most votes for Rookie of the Year, but at just 25.7%. A large majority of rookies picked someone other than the Mavericks point guard.

Lonzo Ball (71.8% for best playmaker) was the only player to receive a majority of votes in a category. Luke Kennard (48.6% for best shooter) and Smith (43.6% for most athletic), who each tripled second place, came close.

LeBron James reemerged as rookies’ favorite player after a three-year run by Kevin Durant. Maybe that Warriors backlash if finally catching up to Durant?

Kendall Marshall, Marshall Plumlee headline Team USA’s AmeriCup roster

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AmeriCup, previously called the FIBA Americas Championship, lost its luster when FIBA decided the continental tournament wouldn’t double as World Cup qualifying.

But the U.S. is still sending a team, coached by Jeff Van Gundy. The roster (team last season):

  • Billy Baron (UCAM Murcia, Spain)
  • Alec Brown (Windy City Bulls)
  • Larry Drew II (Sioux Falls Skyforce)
  • Reggie Hearn (Reno Bighorns)
  • Darrun Hilliard (Detroit Pistons)
  • Jonathan Holmes (Canton Charge);
  • Kendall Marshall (Reno Bighorns)
  • Xavier Munford (Greensboro Swarm)
  • Marshall Plumlee (New York Knicks)
  • Jameel Warney (Texas Legends)
  • C.J. Williams (Texas Legends)
  • Reggie Williams (Oklahoma City Blue)

The Americans should still be favored, though obviously not as overwhelming as they’d be with NBA players, in a field also comprised of Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Uruguay, Panama and U.S. Virgin Islands.

This will be a good benchmark, as the U.S. might take a similar roster into World Cup qualifying.

Report: Tampering investigation stems from Magic Johnson’s TV interview

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In April, new Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and discussed then-Pacers forward Paul George:

We’re going to say hi, because we know each other. You just can’t say, “Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,” even though I’m going to be wink-winking like [blinks repeatedly]. You know what that means, right?

Now, the Lakers – at Indiana’s request – are being investigated for tampering.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

The investigation, which has been going on since May, stemmed from comments Magic Johnson made on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” that angered Pacers owner Herb Simon, according to several NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

This doesn’t mean the Pacers believe Johnson tampered with his televised comments. It seems as if that was the last straw following numerous rumors about George going to Los Angeles.

However, there’s a case Johnson’s televised remarks alone would constitute tampering. The Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits “assurances of intent, or understandings of any kind (whether disclosed or undisclosed to the NBA), between a player (or any person or entity controlled by, related to, or acting with authority on behalf of, such player) and any Team (or Team Affiliate)” – and even attempts to solicit assurance of intent or understanding – when the player is still under contract with another team. Johnson sure appeared to do that.

But it’d be shocking if Johnson or the Lakers were punished for the interview alone. Indiana probably needs more evidence.

Then again, the arbitrary way the NBA enforces tampering, who knows?