Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Lakers

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.

Wall has to work for recognition among top NBA point guards

Washington Wizards guard John Wall dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Fresh off scoring 51 points against the Washington Wizards, reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry praised John Wall, who dropped a quiet 41 against the Warriors.

“He’s a top-tier point guard,” Curry said, “and it’s like that – not his caliber every night – but obviously at the point guard position you’re going to have some talent on the other side of the ball most nights.”

Wall has never played better in what is now a point-guard league.

It doesn’t stop with Curry. The talent pool includes Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, to name a few.

“I think I’m having a career year,” Wall said. “I can say I’m playing my best basketball, but not the way I want to play because it’s not equaling up to wins.”

Wall is an All-Star for the third time but gets lost in the packed field of “top-tier” point guards. His 20.1 points a game are sixth at the position, while his 9.9 assists are third behind only Sacramento’s Rajon Rondo and Westbrook.

But some nights there is just no denying his talents.

Like Tuesday at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Wall had 28 points and 17 assists to lead Washington past the Knicks. It was another showcase performance during a season that hasn’t gone the way he or the Wizards have wanted.

The Wizards will be a sub-.500 team and outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture at the All-Star break. Injuries to sidekick Bradley Beal and many others have hampered Washington this season.

But Wall is holding up his end and is playing like a top-five point guard.

He has an all-around game – the ability to beat defenders off the dribble, to spot up, pass, use his court vision and rebound. As Celtics coach Brad Stevens said recently, “you have to pick your poison” when defending Wall.

“Being able to shoot the ball off the pick and roll with great consistency – that’s what makes defenses choose what to do next,” Stevens said. “He’s been a great passer off the pick and roll.”

There’s no shortage of admiration around the league for Wall, who Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown deemed “the fastest guard in the NBA.” Brown compared Wall to a Maserati sports car and said the 25-year-old has improved because “you learn how to drive your Maserati better.”

Much of Wall’s game has improved in his six pro seasons since he was the first overall pick out of Kentucky in 2010.

“His speed is probably second to none in the NBA. … He’s a one-man fast break and it’s crazy because he logs so many minutes,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “His midrange jumper is also so much improved. You can tell he’s been working on his game a lot, and you like to see that from guys.”

Wall doesn’t get the headlines like Curry, Irving or even Thomas, of late. He has only scored the most points in a game he’s played in eight times this season, but Wall is the kind of player that teams have to game-plan against.

“You’ve got to build a wall against Wall,” Cavaliers star LeBron James said. “You let him play in open court one-on-one, he’s too fast, he’s too strong. He’s going to put your defense at bay.”

Opponents have tried to close off Wall’s drives to the basket and force him to take jump shots. At times, it has worked, like when the Trail Blazers limited him to 4 of 17 shooting in a victory last month.

“When you’re playing against an All-Star-caliber player like him, you work as hard as you can, you try and contain his penetration and hope he misses some jumpers,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said.

More often than not, Wall makes the most of his time and space. Even so, Washington coach Randy Wittman believes Curry should get more recognition than Wall because of team results.

“John’s body of work has been pretty good; he’s been recognized with that,” Wittman said. “You’ve got to go out and play, you’ve got to go out and win. Those are the two things in our league. You want recognition? Be a winner and play your butt off. That’s how you get recognition, and John’s gotten it.”

NBA writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.

Report: “Al Horford is a legitimate possibility for the Celtics”

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The Boston Celtics have assets, a collection of good role players but lacking the true stars, the alpha, the No. 1 option that any team needs to really win in the NBA.

How about Al Horford?

The Hawks are testing the waters for Horford, and as you can see in the video above, Chirs Mannix of Comcast Sportsnet New England (as well as The Vertical at Yahoo Sports) sees a fit.

“I think Boston, Al Horford is a legitimate possibility for the Celtics. I think that is one of the guys across the league that Danny Ainge is the most excited about. He is a four man that would fit right into what Boston is trying to do. It would cost a lot of money to re-sign him in the offseason, but I think Boston is willing to play it, because they haven’t paid a lot of money for players in recent years.”

The question here, of course, is the cost going back. All sources around the league right now say the Hawks are asking for the moon (as Mannix mentions). The givens in this kind of deal would be David Lee‘s expiring contract (for salary reasons), and the Nets unprotected pick. But it’s going to take more. Jae Crowder? Marcus Smart? Avery Bradley? Kelly Olynyk? Isaiah Thomas? It’s going to take a couple of those guys on top of Lee and the pick.

But if you’re the Celtics, that’s the move — you have put together all these assets, now you need to consolidate them into a couple of stars. Horford’s good-at-everything will fit beautifully in Brad Stevens’s system.

Just something to keep your eyes on. Unless the Hawks decide not to move Horford at all. Which is still a possibility, they may not break this thing up.

Damian Lillard added to Team USA Olympic roster pool

Damian Lillard
Getty Images
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If you’re looking for a point guard who can flat-out score the rock, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many better than Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers’ guard is averaging 24.2 points and 7.3 assists per game, with an above-average true shooting percentage of 54.6 percent, and a very high usage rate of 30.9.

He’s the kind of guy who might have a place on the Team USA Roster.

Which is why USA Basketball has added him to the pool to be considered for the Rio Olympics summer. The reason for the change is both Lillard’s level of play this season, and the fact he called USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo to ask for a spot, as reported by Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

Lillard deserves consideration, but there are two key reasons he likely doesn’t make the team:

1) He is still a terrible defender.

2) The list of guards for the USA Roster is ridiculous: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Klay Thompson, John Wall, and Russell Westbrook. And now Lillard. That’s 10 guys for likely five spots. It’s hard to see Lillard making that cut.

But he deserves consideration.

Kings co-owner Shaq: Vivek Ranadivé told me George Karl would coach rest of season

Shaquille O'Neal
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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Kings general manager Vlade Divac said keeping George Karl as coach was right move “for now.”

How long is “for now”?

Shaquille O’Neal, a Kings minority owner, shares insight.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

This would mean a little more if Vivek Ranadivé weren’t prone to wild swings. Remember, the Kings said Tyrone Corbin would finish last season as coach before firing him for Karl.

Divac also said in November that Karl would coach the rest of the season, and that came up for debate fewer than three months later.

Shaq’s revelation is as likely to embarrass the Kings in a few weeks as it is to signal Karl’s job security.