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.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue on LeBron James’ heavy workload: ‘Next, he might play 48 minutes’

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) Except for his backpedaling hairline, LeBron James shows no visible signs of age.

At 32, still in his prime, and still at the top of his game, he’s defying time.

“Benjamin Button,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue called him, referring to the fictional character who ages backward.

LeBenjamin?

Following a regular season in which he averaged more minutes per game (37.8) than any player, James logged 43.7 per game during Cleveland’s tougher-than-it-looked sweep over the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. And as James and the defending champions await either Toronto or Milwaukee in the second round, James is taking advantage of the down time.

Not that he might need it.

Lue spent much of the season defending his use of James, who in all honesty is really the one in control of when he sits or doesn’t. At this point, Lue has given up worrying about resting the superstar.

“I don’t understand why people make a big deal out of his minutes,” Lue said Wednesday. “He had a week off before the series started. We won four straight games and then he had a week off again. So next he might play 48 minutes. … Bron today just said he feels worse when he doesn’t play.”

James wasn’t available for interviews as the team gathered for the first time in two days at Cleveland Clinic Courts, and it’s likely that he won’t speak to the media until the Cavs have a second-round opponent.

But as has been the case for months, James’ playing time was one of the prime topics presented to Lue, who believes that the four-time MVP’s heavy workload during the regular season is what enables him to play at such high levels in the postseason.

Consider that James averaged 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 9.0 assists, shot 54 percent from the field, went 9 of 20 on 3-pointers and led the Cavaliers to the biggest second-half comeback in league history during the series against Indiana, and it’s easy to see why Lue wants to move past the minutes chatter.

“With him playing the minutes he played during the course of the regular season, it has helped him in the playoffs,” Lue said. “Now he is able to play those 42, 43 minutes. Because he’s used to it. His body can take it, so, I’m not worried about what outside people say.”

Unlike the regular season, when brutal travel schedules, back-to-backs and stretches of three games in four nights can wear players down, the postseason allows for recovery. Lue also thinks too many teams are allowing outside pressures to influence how they use players.

“Teams are suffering,” he said, “because they listen to what the media is saying about guys playing minutes” and “some teams should play some guys more minutes, and it would’ve been different (playoff) series.”

James has ramped up his minutes nearly every postseason. Now in his 12th playoffs, he averaged 39.1 minutes last year and has only twice averaged less than 40 per game.

Lue trusts that the three-time champion knows how far to push himself without reaching his breaking point.

“He knows his body better than anyone,” Lue said. “He said he feels great and he feels worse when he doesn’t play, so we’ll see how that works out.”

As for the rest of the Cavaliers, Wednesday included some competition in the team’s weight room on an aerobic conditioning machine while the team’s in-house DJ from Quicken Loans Arena spun music. After the vigorous workouts, yoga mats were dragged onto the court and the facility’s lights were dimmed for some stretching and decompression.

Namaste, NBA-style.

The Cavs had a similar, one-week break between the first and second rounds last season. Kyrie Irving said it’s imperative to make the most of it.

“The mental preparation and physical preparation starts now and hasn’t stopped,” he said. “Took a brief day off or two and now just get back to work and get ready for whichever team we’re getting ready for. The work never stops.”

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

NBA fines Rockets owner Leslie Alexander $100,000 for confronting referee

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Rockets owner Leslie Alexander got up from his courtside seat, walked down the sideline and talked to referee Bill Kennedy during Houston’s Game 5 win over the Thunder.

It took less than a day for an investigation to yield the predictable result.

NBA release:

Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander has been fined $100,000 for confronting a referee during live game action, it was announced today by Byron Spruell, President, NBA League Operations.

The interaction occurred with 0:13 remaining in the first quarter of the Rockets’ 105-99 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 25 at Toyota Center.

Per Patricia Bender’s database, this is the NBA’s largest fine in nearly two years. The NBA fined the Clippers $250,000 in 2015 for setting up DeAndre Jordan with an endorsement deal while trying to lure him back in free agency.

The NBA rightfully keeps owners on a tight leash. Unlike players, coaches and referees, who have their own unions, the league office represents the owners. So when one crosses the line – Alexander trampled over it – the hammer comes down hard. It’s an example to keep everyone else in line, and owners know they come out way ahead in this arrangement. Alexander might not like the punishment, but he benefits from owning a share of a league that so strongly dissuades such behavior.

David Stern: ‘Shame on the Brooklyn Nets’

AP Photo/David Banks
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Brooklyn rested Brook Lopez, Jeremy Lin and Trevor Booker for its final game this season, which had huge playoff implications. Not for the Nets, of course. They were long eliminated from postseason contention.

But the Bulls beat Brooklyn to reach the playoffs over the Heat, who also won that night.

Miami fans were obviously ticked, and they have company in former NBA commissioner David Stern.

Stern, via Sam Amick of USA Today:

“I have no idea what was in the mind of the executives of the Brooklyn Nets — none — when they rested their starting players,” Stern, who still holds the title of Commissioner Emeritus, told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday on the NBA A to Z podcast. “If you’re playing in a game of consequence, that has an impact, which is as good as it gets (you should play your players). Here we are, the Brooklyn Nets are out of the running. They have the lowest record in the sport. But they have an opportunity to weigh in on the final game with respect to Chicago. And they sit their starters? Really? It’s inexcusable in my view. I don’t think the Commissioner maybe can, or even should, do anything about it. But shame on the Brooklyn Nets. They broke the (pact with fans).”

The resting dilemma takes slightly different forms when it involves a team like Brooklyn rather than a certain playoff team, but the underlying conflict remains the same:

The team is better off resting its players.

The NBA is worse off, at least in the short term.

The league was robbed of an important competitive game that could’ve drawn higher ratings. The Nets had just beaten Chicago a days prior, but that was with major contributions from Lopez and Lin. Without them, Brooklyn had little chance and lost by 39.

The Nets weren’t playing for anything, not even a higher draft pick. They owe their first-rounder to the Celtics and already clinched the worst record anyway. Brooklyn was better off resting those veterans at the end of a long regular season.

There’s no easy answer. If the NBA bans resting, teams will sit players and assign to minor or made-up injuries. If the league shortens the season, it will lose revenue.

The best solution is to improve at the margins – provide more rest days (which the league will do next season) and schedule nationally televised games outside of grueling stretches of the schedule. That’s obviously no silver bullet, though. Bulls-Nets wasn’t nationally televised, and Brooklyn had the day off before and the entire offseason off after.

Another potential solution: Shaming teams into playing their top players. Stern is giving that one a go.

NBA looking into Rockets’ owner interacting with referee during game

Associated Press
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Like every Rockets fan — and, let’s be honest, every fan of every team — Leslie Alexander is convinced the referees were screwing over his Rockets.

Except that Alexander is the owner of the Rockets.

And he approached a referee during game play.

The NBA is understandably investigating this, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.

The NBA said an investigation “is underway” into Rockets’ owner Leslie Alexander’s getting up from his courtside seat to have a few words with official Bill Kennedy in the first half.

Alexander appeared to say something to Kennedy during a Thunder possession before returning to his seat. Alexander declined to give any detail beyond he was “upset … really upset.” Rockets guard James Harden said he didn’t see his owner get up. “He did that?” a surprised Harden said after the game. “He’s the coolest guy. I would have helped him.”

The NBA doesn’t let players or coaches cross a line when talking to officials, but they are at least allowed to interact and discuss calls with a ref during a game. It’s something else entirely for an owner to get in the ear of an official during game play.

I’d expect Alexander will see a fine for this.

Whatever he thought of the officiating, the Rockets won to advance on to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.