Russell Westbrook, Kris Humphries

NBA Power Rankings: Top spot now Thunderstruck

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The top three teams remain the same, just trading places, because they are the three best teams in the league right now. But all three also have long road trips coming up, which should test them.

1. Thunder (16-3, last week ranked No. 3). They are “only” fifth in point-per-possession differential in the league, but yet they just keep on winning. That said it gets tough now with a series of road games coming up, starting with a fun one against the Clippers Monday night. Wednesday we’ll see if Dirk Nowitzki is scared of the Thunder after he plays them.

2. Heat (15-5, LW 4). They got Dwyane Wade back and they got a quality win over the Bulls on Sunday. Lots of road games against lesser teams coming up, do the Heat lose focus and drop a couple?

3. Bulls (17-5, LW 1). Close loss to the Heat and they were without Luol Deng. Their next two weeks are on the road, so expect some challenges (and if this season is any indication, an ugly loss or two, everybody gets them now).

4. 76ers (14-6, LW 5). So far this season they have played the weakest schedule (opponents have a 43.6 winning percentage) but this week sees the Magic, Bulls and Heat lined up. Now we find out how good the 76ers really are. But they will miss Spencer Hawes.

5. Clippers (11-6, LW 9). They fell to the Lakers, showing they still have issues with end-game execution. Like all young teams learning to win. But they got a good win in Denver Sunday. And so far this season they have played the toughest schedule in the league, things get easier. Well, after Monday when they play the Thunder.

6. Nuggets (14-6, LW 2). Kind of unfair to move them down four spots in a week where they continued a six-game winning streak until their loss Sunday to the Clippers. Life and rankings are harsh like that — they simply are not better than the teams above them.

7. Hawks (15-6, LW 8). They just keep winning, even if it takes a miracle play by Joe Johnson at the buzzer to top the Pistons. Interesting game against the 76ers this week, but getting Philly on the second night of a back-to-back after Miami bodes well for Atlanta.

8. Pacers (13-6, LW 6). The schedule got tough and while they got a nice win against the Bulls they fell to Boston and split with Orlando. Which sounds about right, capable of very good nights but mostly a 4-5-6 seed in the East.

9. Mavericks (13-8, LW 16). They got a good win over the Spurs and now they have Dirk Nowitzki back (even though he shot 5-14 Sunday). This team has found its footing and is good. But Nowitzki should be scared of the Thunder, who they face this week.

10. Spurs (12-9, LW 10). They need to rack up some wins this week (Saturday against the Thunder?) because next week looms the start of the rodeo road trip.

11. Rockets (12-8, LW 14). They have a depth of good role players and in this condensed season that wins them a lot of games. It may not be a system as suited to the playoffs, but they are at least on pace to make it in.

12. Magic (12-8, LW 7). Two ugly losses to the Celtics, scoring 56 one game and blowing a 27 point lead in the other. Then an ugly loss to the Pacers Sunday. You can say Dwight Howard should lead them out of this, but will the other players follow a guy with one foot out the door?

13. Blazers (12-8, LW 15). Fantastic at home (9-1) but pretty weak on the road. Good news is they have a string of games at home starting later in the week.

14. Lakers (12-9, LW 13). They are 2-8 on the road this season, which is bad news for them as the Grammys force them out of Staples Center the next couple of weeks. Their defense carried them early but it has been unimpressive the last few games, which you know is driving Mike Brown crazy.

15. Jazz (11-7, LW 11). If the playoffs started today, the Jazz would be in as the five seed. Sure, two games separate the three seed from the 10 seed in the West, but did anyone expect the Jazz to be in this position before the season?

16. Grizzlies (10-9, LW 12). We should drop them just for those horrid TAMS throwback uniforms, but we do it more for the three straight losses. Their offense is starting to show how much they miss Zach Randolph.

17. Celtics (9-10, LW 20). Won four in a row before running into the Cavs on Sunday, all with Rondo out and Paul Pierce playing the role of point guard and play maker. Apparently the Fountain of Youth was not located in Florida but rather outside the Union Oyster House in Faneuil Hall.

18. Timberwolves (9-11, LW 18). Good wins against the Spurs and Mavericks last week, but they are going to need much more of that to climb back into the Western Conference playoff race (they are currently 2.5 games out of the last spot).

19. Cavaliers (8-11, LW 22). Kyrie Irving is a stud. Make no mistake. But this team is young and can beat the Celtics one game and lose to the Wizards in another.

20. Bucks (8-11, LW 19). The Andrew Bogut injury is a setback for this team. They were in the mix for one of the last playoff spots in the East, but hoard to see them holding on to that now. That said, they went 2-2 against a brutal schedule last week.

21. Suns (7-12, LW 17). Surprisingly, it’s their offense that has been terrible, not just their defense.

22. Raptors (7-14, LW 29). They found a way to win without Andrea Bargnani — go small. It worked against the Nets Sunday, although that is the Nets so lets see what happens this week.

23. Nets (7-14, LW 25). They went 4-2 for a stretch, largely because Deron Williams has awoken his inner beast and took over. He almost beat the 76ers by himself Wednesday.

24. Knicks (7-13, LW 21). New York is 1-9 in its last 10 and that win came against the lowly Bobcats. No Baron Davis expected this week. Even when he comes back, asking him to turn this offense back together is asking too much.

25. Warriors (6-12, LW 24). With Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis they have a shooter’s chance every night to outscore opponents and get the win, but their defense is awful. Hence the record.

26. Kings (6-14, LW 23). You know things are rough for this team when Jimmer Fredette airballs a three in Utah with the game on the line.

27. Wizards (4-16, LW 28). They’re not good, but they are better than the Bobcats (beat them twice last week).

28. Hornets (4-16, LW 30). I don’t think the Chris Kaman trade talk is going to hurt this team one-tenth as much as just not having Eric Gordon in the lineup does.

29. Pistons (4-17, LW 26). A Lawrence Frank team that is terrible at defense (only the Nets give up more points per possession). You know that is eating a hole in his stomach. Soft schedule the next couple weeks, so maybe they can move up.

30. Bobcats (3-18, LW 27). Losers of eight in a row, they played and lost to the Wizards last week. Twice. And what might be worse is the Wizards were clear and away the better, more talented team in those contests. On the bright side, I like Kemba Walker’s play. But that’s the only bright side.

Report: Wizards trade first-round pick to get Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCollough, unload Andrew Nicholson

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 30: John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards battles Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Brooklyn Nets for a loose ball during the first half at Verizon Center on December 30, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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John Wall has been so good, he made himself right.

The Wizards’ starters have been awesome, and their bench has been about equally bad. With Washington surging to third in the East, and the fourth-place Raptors making their move with Serge Ibaka, this was no time to idle.

So, as Wall predicted, the Wizards traded for bench helpBojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCollough from the Nets.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Andrew Nicholson, with three years and $19,911,007 remaining after this season, had negative value. He was part of the reason the Wizards’ bench stunk. Likewise, Marcus Thornton provided little in reserve. A 29-year-old on an expiring minimum contract, he was likely included only so Washington didn’t exceed the roster maximum of 15 players.

Essentially the Wizards traded a first-round pick for Bogdanovic, McCollough and shedding Nicholson.

Bogdanovic will provide wing scoring for a reserve unit badly in need of juice. He has been an ineffective defender, but his 6-foot-8 frame offers a path to improvement on that end.

The 27-year-old will be a restricted free agent next summer. Assuming re-signing Otto Porter is the priority, keeping Bogdanovic could push Washington into the luxury tax — likely a non-starter. This could win up just a rental, but there’s plenty of time to evaluate Bogdanovic’s (and everyone else’s) long-term fit.

The Nets drafted McCollough No. 29 in 2015 as a project, and he remains one. The 22-year-old has spent far more time in the D-League than the NBA this season. It’s unlikely he contributes this season, as lower as the bar is for the Wizards’ bench. He has two additional seasons left on his rookie-scale contract, time for Washington to figure out what it has.

Now, Brooklyn has a couple first-round picks this year — the Celtics’ and the Wizards’. That doesn’t amount to much, but the Nets are so far from relevance, getting even younger is a wise path forward.

Report: Pacers both exploring Paul George trade market with Lakers, seeking deals to get him help

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 27:  Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers celebrates after making a basket during the game against the Sacramento Kings at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on January 27, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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The Pacers are coming up on a franchise fork in the road.

Ideally, Pacers’ president Larry Bird and company would like to keep Paul George in Indiana and join Bird himself as one of the legendary basketball players of the Hoosier state, in PG’s case as of the greatest Pacers of all time. But to do that would require building a contender around George in Indiana — and that means bringing in more talent fast.

George was direct with the Pacers owner in a recent meeting saying almost exactly that, reports Sam Amick of the USA Today.

So when George met with team owner Herb Simon in recent days and told him that the Hoosier state was still the place for him, how he would love nothing more than to eventually go down as the greatest Pacer of them all, it came with one qualifier.

If they can contend for a title.

However, if contending isn’t in the cards, George could bolt as a free agent in 2018 (there are plenty of people around the league who will tell you George would love to be a Laker and be back in Los Angeles, where he grew up). That concern has the Pacers thinking maybe they should see what the trade market is for PG, if they can get something for him rather than nothing in 2018.

So while the Pacers are saying they don’t plan to move him, they are trying to get a sense of that market, reports Adrain Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Pacers are working the trade deadline on parallel fronts: Pursuing deals that will bring talent into Indiana to sell George on signing a long-term extension – and soliciting deal offers on George that would signal a rebuild around center Myles Turner, league sources told The Vertical.

Ultimately, the Pacers will have to evaluate the two paths and make a decision before Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline. There’s no urgency to make a deal for George, unless the Pacers fear the Boston Celtics could ultimately provide Indiana the best possible package of assets in a deal – and think that option could disappear if Boston makes a deal with Chicago for Jimmy Butler.

One of the teams moving to get in on the George market is the Lakers, according to Sam Amick of the USA Today.

The fact that the Lakers are in the process of trying to land George right now, with new lead executive Magic Johnson moving fast to fill that superstar hole that Kobe Bryant left behind, only makes these next two days all the more compelling.

Magic had said in interviews on Tuesday that the young core of the Lakers was “untouchable.” It couldn’t be in this case, it would take Brandon Ingram and at least another young player from that core to even get the conversation started — is Magic going to sell out the young core in his first days in power to get a star player immediately?

Unless Boston is willing to part with one of their Brooklyn picks this year or next, it’s hard to imagine a deal sending George outside Indiana done in the next day before the deadline (3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday). And the word around the league so far is Boston is not giving those picks up.

It feels like Indiana is more likely to bring in help at the deadline — they have engaged in talks for Jahlil Okafor among many others — but failing that will take a harder look at trading George around the draft or this summer.

There is one complicating factor here — the designated player rule. If George can make an All-NBA team this season or next, he would qualify to get the designated player contract extension, five years and $210 million, at least $30 million more than any other team could offer. If George qualifies the Pacers would offer the deal, and he would take it.

The problem is qualifying. George is a borderline All-NBA player, but there are just six All-NBA forward slots available, and the competition is fierce: LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Draymond Green, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jimmy Butler, Gordon Hayward, and the list goes on. George made the All-NBA team last year, but he’s on the bubble again this year.

The Pacers likely wait to see if he makes the team again and if they can offer him the designated player deal. If not, George could be moved this summer (or the Pacers could wait until next deadline and see if George is on pace for an All-NBA nod next season, but if not the trade market for him will be less robust because he’s a rental).

PBT Podcast: What does Magic’s return mean for Lakers, with Mark Medina of the LA Daily News

In this Aug. 23, 2016, file photo, former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson speaks at a groundbreaking ceremony for a stadium which will be home to the Los Angeles Football Club in Los Angeles. Johnson is returning to the Los Angeles Lakers organization as an adviser to owner Jeanie Buss. The Lakers announced the reunion Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, with Johnson, one of the most beloved players in franchise history. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)
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Magic Johnson has a statue outside Staples Center.

He’s now also in control of the product inside it — Magic is head of the Lakers’ basketball operations after Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak were let go on Tuesday. The shakeup was expected, although the timing caught the league off guard.

It also raises questions about how the Lakers’ front office will now operate with Magic and former agent Rob Pelinka in charge, and what direction do they want to take a team with a quality young core?

Mark Medina, the Laker insider and beat reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News joins me to break down all the questions around the Lakers moves, from why now to what next. He has some great insight into where the Lakers are headed.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Report: Rockets making push for Iman Shumpert, teams ask Rockets about Patrick Beverley

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 25: Iman Shumpert #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers jokes during warmups prior to the game against the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena on December 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The moves you see teams make at the NBA trade deadline are the best indicator of what they think their chances are come the playoffs. Do they stand pat and decide to wait a year, or are they aggressive going for win-now moves?

Based on that, the Rockets think they can make a deep run this season. They have already traded for Lou Williams from the Lakers, who should thrive in Mike D’Antoni’s system and add scoring punch to the bench.

But the Rockets may not be not done, they have been talking to the Cavaliers about Iman Shumpert, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

LeBron has been asking for depth at the point guard spot, Beverley would be a great fit for them. He could shoot the three and score, plus he defends very well.

He’d be a great fit for a lot of teams, which is why the Cavaliers are not the only team with their eyes on Beverley, reports Calvin Watkins who covers the Rockets for ESPN.

According to a source, several teams have expressed interest in Rockets guard Patrick Beverley. Chicago, New York and Cleveland are the main suitors. Rockets front office and coaches value what Beverley brings to the team and that’s being noticed by others. Beverley, according to a source, has a desire to remain with the Rockets.

The Rockets have played have played much better defense since Beverley returned from injury, and they should be hesitant to move him. Watkins tweeted this:

How much of that is a bluff trying to drive up the price and how much of that is serious remains to be seen. The Rockets like Beverley and don’t want to move him, but there is a price for everyone in the league and if some team comes in over the top the Rockets have to listen.

I just don’t think Shumpert is far enough over that top.