NBA Power Rankings: Heat slip, Bulls charge into top spot

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Miami tripped up out West and the Bulls ran over them on the way to the top of PBT’s weekly power rankings. Meanwhile, jump on the Sixers bandwagon while you can.

1. Bulls (12-2, last week ranked No. 2). Five wins in a row and their next five games are against teams under .500, so the streak will keep going… well, if Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton get healthy.

2. Thunder (11-2, LW 4). They keep winning — six in a row now — but there should be concerns about their defense. They are 24th in the league in defensive efficiency, giving up 102.2 points per 100 possessions (the league average is 100). It was better against the Knicks Saturday. Monday night Kendrick Perkins returns to the Gah-den for the first time since the trade.

3. 76ers (9-3, LW 9). Beat the Pacers and while they lost to the Knicks at the Garden that was the third night of a back-to-back-to-back. They still have the best point differential (per 100 possessions) in the league. They look legit but have played the softest schedule in the NBA so far. If you’re not sold, well, we will learn more about Philly this week with the Nuggets, Hawks and Heat on the schedule.

4. Spurs (9-4, LW 7). Manu who? They are 9-0 at home and 0-4 on the road, which means the Miami/Orlando back-to-back road games this week may not work out for them.

5. Pacers (9-3, LW 5). Lost a key game to Philadelphia Monday but turned around with wins over Atlanta and Boston. Still questions about if they can consistently beat quality teams, but for now they are beating the teams on the schedule, which is all you can ask. Eventually (like starting next Sunday) the schedule gets tough.

6. Clippers (6-3, LW 10). The question has always been “how well will they defend?” At home right now, pretty well. Just ask the Heat and Lakers. They have played fewer games than any NBA team, a very old-schedule start to the season, but that is about to change.

7. Nuggets (8-5, LW 8). Beat Miami handily and came back on the Knicks in the Garden —they looked legit in those games, then Paul Millsap abused the Nuggets front line late on Sunday and we wonder.

8. Heat (8-4, LW 1). Three straight losses on a West Coast swing is shrugged off for most teams but a sudden crises for the Heat. Well, maybe not in the locker room. Little first hand note: after loosing to the Clippers last Wednesday the Heat’s locker room was surprisingly unconcerned — they thought they played aggressive but the shots just didn’t fall. Next five games are at home.

9. Hawks (9-4, LW 6). The Al Horford injury is devastating for this team (although they earned a couple nice wins this week without him), and they have a lot of road game coming up the second half of the month. Bad combo.

10. Lakers (9-5, LW 11). Winners of five straight until they lost to the Clippers Saturday. The Lakers have won these games with great defense and average offense, despite Kobe scoring 40+ in four straight (Lakers fans, go look at the numbers before you curse my name). Brutal schedule this week: Dallas, Miami and Orlando back-to-back, then the upstarts in Indiana.

11. Magic (8-3, LW 12). Went 3-0 on a West Coast swing — and may we never have to see a full game of hack-a-Howard again — but they haven’t played the toughest schedule yet (save Portland). That changes this week with the Knicks, Lakers and Spurs on the schedule.

12. Blazers (7-5, LW 3). They beat the Clippers Tuesday but went 1-3 on the week against a tough schedule — the Blazers statistically have had the second toughest schedule in the league so far, only Houston is worse. That schedule masks how good this team is.

13. Jazz (8-4, LW 16). Went 2-1 last week and the only loss was to the Lakers in OT. They are playing well and look like a team that could hold on to a playoff spot in the West, but there is not a lot of margin for error.

14. Mavericks (8-5, LW 15). Beat Boston on Wednesday and blew out some bad teams. The Mavericks are starting to get it together but that will be tested on the road this week. By the way, Jason Kidd hit his first two-point basket of the season in the Mavs 13th game.

15. Knicks (6-6, LW 14). They beat Philly on Wednesday but here’s what should concern Knicks fans — this team is .500 against the second softest schedule in the NBA (via ESPN’s strength of schedule tracker). Things are going to get tougher.

16. Cavaliers (6-6, LW 18). Kyrie Irving is playing well and that is why this team is .500. They have got a piece to build with in him. Tough stretch coming up with Chicago, Atlanta and Miami.

17. Celtics (4-7, LW 13). Things are bleak — they went 0-3 against Dallas, Chicago and Indiana. Good teams all, but a good Celtics team would win at least one of those. The Celtics wins are against the Nets, Pistons and Wizards (twice). Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have been average.

18. Grizzlies (5-6, LW 19). Credit them for showing some grit without Zach Randolph and getting some wins. Not sure they can keep it up, but they deserve the props.

19. Rockets (5-7, LW 22). Another team that may be a little better than their record indicates, and they went 3-1 last week including a nice win in Portland. If Samuel Dalembert can give them more on defense the playoffs are not out of the question.

20. Suns (4-8, LW 17). On a four-game losing streak and they are out on the road for four this week. Steve Nash is good but these are the same old Suns who need jumpers to fall to win, and that will always be inconsistent.

21. Timberwolves (4-8, LW 20). I want to rank them higher. I do. They are fun to watch and they have the point differential of a .500 team. But they keep losing (1-3 last week). I’m not moving a team up because of style or stats, you still got to win games.

22. Bucks (4-7, LW 21). They are 4-0 at home, 0-7 on the road. I suppose the good news is they have more home games coming up, but if they are serious about the playoffs they have to start winning away from the Bradley Center.

23. Warriors (3-7, LW 24). In the middle of a stretch of games against the East, but they did get a quality win against the Heat. That shows the potential, and they have gotten good play from Monta Ellis and David Lee. But the defense still stinks.

24. Hornets (3-9, LW 26). Nice win against Denver this week, but the Hornets started 2-0 and have been a mess ever since.

25. Kings (4-9, LW 25). Their point differential should have them in the bottom five, but they beat the Raptors this week so they get to hold their spot. That 60-point game against Dallas was UGLY.

26. Raptors (4-9, LW 23). They gave the Wizards their only win, which leads to a fall down the rankings in these parts. Give coach Dwane Casey credit for turning the Raptors into an average defensive team — that’s an accomplishment with the roster he was given.

27. Pistons (3-9, LW 28). There is a bright spot in Detroit (and not just the sweet new locker room) — Greg Monroe is playing well at center. For a rebuilding team finding a guy in the middle is a huge boost.

28. Nets (3-10, LW 29). Deron Williams is playing better and MarShon Brooks has provided some nice scoring (14.2 per game). That’s about it for bright spots here. If they can’t get Dwight Howard in a trade then it really gets ugly.

29 Bobcats (2-10, LW 27). Kemba Walker got a start and is at least a little spark, but right now this team needs big games from Byron Mullens to win. Enough said.

30. Wizards (1-11, LW 30). It’s never too early to start dreaming about what Anthony Davis looks like in place of Andray Blatche in the starting lineup for the Wizards next year.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban: I told players we’re better off losing

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban admitted the Mavericks tanked last season, but said they wouldn’t this season until they’re eliminated.

Apparently, he’s loosening the restriction – and getting even more brazen about discussing it.

Dallas (18-40) is not officially eliminated, but with the league’s third-worst record, it’s only a matter of time.

Cuban on Julius Erving’s podcast, House Call with Dr. J:

I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night. And here we are, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, “Look, losing is our best option.” Adam would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down, and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again. This was a year-and-a-half tanking, and that was too brutal for me.

But being transparent, I think that’s the key to being kind of a players owner and having stability.

This is why it’s not completely accurate to say players don’t tank.

Sure, they don’t go on the court and try to lose. Some would have their job for the following season jeopardized by a higher draft pick.

But when management wants to lose, that flows throughout the entire organization, including to players. Workers don’t perform as well when their boss prefers failure. A feeling of apathy (or wore) sets in, intentionally or not.

The message isn’t always this direct, and it’s practically never publicly revealed like this. Cuban marches to his own drum, and he’s absolutely right: NBA commissioner Adam Silver – who disliked last year’s comments – certainly won’t like these.

However Silver responds, Cuban can at least take solace in being right. The Mavericks are better off tanking, and telling the players can build trust. They would have figured it out for themselves, anyway.

Kevin Love says about a month until he’s back on court with new-look Cavaliers

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LOS ANGELES — Kevin Love had some of the best seats in the house for the new-look Cavaliers and their 2-0 push before the break, and he wants back on the court to be part of it.

“I’m probably about two weeks out from getting this movable cast off for good, and then from there about a few weeks after that before I get back,” Love told NBCSports.com about his recovery from a fractured left hand. “So I have a good amount of time, about a month.”

Love was in Los Angeles all last weekend, where he had been voted onto the All-Star team by the coaches for the fifth time, but for the second consecutive year had to sit out due to injury. Love seemed to be at all the events in his former home Los Angeles — working with Kevin Hart for the “Closer Than Courtside” with Mountain Dew Kickstart, at the Beats by Dre party in Hollywood, and courtside for the All-Star Game itself sitting next to Kyrie Irving and LeBron James — but not on the court where he wants to be.

When he does get back on the court, it will be a very different team in Cleveland he’s playing with — and he thinks that’s a good thing.

“Just clearing out… I shouldn’t say that, just getting new faces and getting new energy in the locker room has been big for us,” Love told NBC Sports Saturday. “Even in the last two games, you can just see the energy is different, you can see guys are really competing on both ends of the floor, and that bodes well for us the second half of the season.”

The changes were needed.

“It might not have been a bad thing to get some fresh faces in there and guys from situations where they really wanted to win,” Love said during media day. “I think first and foremost, seeing those (new) guys in Atlanta, they didn’t play, but they got there right after the trade and they just said they want to win.

“You can tell when somebody says it, you can tell when somebody means it. They really meant it and it felt good to have that there.”

In Los Angeles, Love was having fun working with the other guy who seemed to be everywhere all weekend, comedian Kevin Hart. Love was working with Hart on the Mountain Dew Kickstart “Closer Than Courtside” Contest – a nationwide search to find Hart new “CourtsideKick” where fans tell Hart on social media why they think they’re courtside ready for a chance to sit with him during the NBA Playoffs.

“I’ve been drinking Code Red Mountain Dew, and Baja Blast forever,” Love said of this partnership. “My friend and I were just talking about how long we’ve been drinking Code Red, which is kind of a throwback flavor now.”

He’s just drinking it with his right hand. His left — his off, non-shooting hand — is still in that soft cast.

But having been down the injury road before, Love knows what it takes to get back.

“Just look at it from an optimistic point of view,” Love said of his mental process. “Even last year I missed the New Orleans All-Star Game because I just had my knee scoped, so just knowing that I’ve been there before, knowing that I’ve had success coming back, and just getting over that mental hurdle of coming back from an injury.

“Looking at it glass half full, it’s my left hand, so I can still do a ton of stuff out there on the floor and be ready to play in a month.”

A ton of stuff includes both cardio work and being able to do some strength and lifting with bands so that when the cast does come off his return to the court is faster. Once he gets there, Love expects that even with the new players he’ll be back in the same roles playing both the four and a lot at the five with these smaller, speedier lineups.

“I know we will supplement different guys in the lineup,” Love said. “I’ll hopefully be able to come back quite easily, I’ll have my legs under me — like I said, just because it’s my left hand — and I’ll be able to get back into rhythm here really fast.”

The Cavaliers hope so, too.

Little change in TV ratings for new-look NBA All-Star Game

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NEW YORK (AP) — A new format for the NBA All-Star Game had a negligible impact on television ratings.

Total viewership for the game was down slightly compared to last year, although it improved over 2014, the previous time the league’s midseason showcase faced competition from the Winter Olympics.

Turner Sports announced on Monday that the game drew an average of 7.7 million viewers Sunday night on TNT. Last year’s game attracted an average of 7.8 million viewers. In 2014 during the Sochi Olympics, an average of 7.5 million people watched the NBA’s best at the All-Star Game.

This year’s game abandoned the traditional East-vs.-West format in favor of teams selected by superstars LeBron James and Stephen Curry. James’ team won 148-145 in an uncommonly competitive matchup that featured better effort on defense.

Turner said the ratings improved among key demographics, including people between ages 18 and 34, and that video views on social media channels were up 37 percent compared to 2017.

Fergie says she “tried my best” after national anthem blowback

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Fergie is apologizing after trying something different with the national anthem at the NBA All-Star Game.

“I’ve always been honored and proud to perform the national anthem and last night I wanted to try something special for the NBA,” the Grammy-winning singer said in a statement Monday. “I’m a risk taker artistically, but clearly this rendition didn’t strike the intended tone. I love this country and honestly tried my best.”

Fergie’s slow, bluesy rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Sunday night wasn’t particularly well received at Staples Center or on social media before the 67th edition of the NBA’s annual showcase.

A low chuckle rumbled through the sold-out arena after she finished the first line of the song with a throaty growl on “the dawn’s early light.”

Fans throughout the star-studded crowd reacted with varying levels of bemusement and enthusiasm while her languid, 2 +-minute version of the song continued. Although Fergie was on pitch, her tempo, musical accompaniment and sexy delivery were not exactly typical for a sporting event or a patriotic song.

Golden State All-Star Draymond Green captured Sunday’s mood – and became an instant GIF – when he was shown open-mouthed on the scoreboard and the television broadcast in apparent confusion over the unique vocal stylings. Green then chuckled to himself after realizing he was on TV.

After a forceful finish, Fergie finally got big cheers when she shouted, “Let’s play some basketball!”

The Black Eyed Peas singer, born Stacy Ann Ferguson, is from nearby Hacienda Heights, California.

Famed basketball commentator Charles Barkley joked that he “needed a cigarette” after Fergie’s performance during the TNT halftime show.

Former Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal leaped to Fergie’s defense, saying: “Fergie, I love you. It was different. It was sexy. I liked it. Leave her alone.”

Others on social media weren’t as kind, with criticism of the performance outpacing the positive reviews.