Miami Heat's James prepares to make a shot against Milwaukee Bucks during their NBA game in Milwaukee

NBA Power Rankings: Heat on top, Clippers climbing

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Miami moves back into the top spot — but the Clippers have now cracked the top three, which had been the domain of the Heat, Bulls and Thunder for a while. Oh, and the Bobcats still suck.

1. Heat (18-6, last week ranked No. 2). They’ve had a few uninspired wins (like Sunday against the Raptors) but they keep winning. Also, they beat the Sixers Friday with a burst that reminded us just how good they can be converting defense to offense, and how hard they will be to beat in the playoffs. Unless they get the Bucks in the first round. Six game road trip starts Wednesday.

2. Bulls (20-6, LW 3). Luol Deng is back and they missed him — so Tom Thibodeau welcomed him back with 41 minutes. Chicago is out of the friendly confines of the United Center for a nine-game trip.

3. Clippers (14-7, LW 5). Beat the Thunder convincingly Monday, and while that may have been an off night for OKC the Clippers are starting to look like a threat to come out of the West. Especially with Kenyon Martin in the fold providing needed depth up front (sorry Brian Cook). Still a lot of questions come the playoffs, but right now they are hot.

4. Thunder (18-5, LW 1). They may still be the team to beat in the West, but here is some cause for concern — Chris Paul and Tony Parker abused their perimeter defense last week. We’ve got questions, other teams think the Thunder can be beat.

5. 76ers (17-7, LW 4). Lost to the Heat, but beat the Magic, Bulls and Hawks — they are getting tested and passing. More tests on the way this week with the Lakers, Clippers and Spurs all coming to town.

6. Pacers (16-7, LW 8). Paul George is emerging as a young star to watch, and not just for the dunks. Lots of quality wins for this team — road wins against the Lakers, Bulls, Mavericks and more. Tough games this week on the road at Atlanta and Memphis

7. Spurs (16-9, LW 10). Tony Parker has been tearing it up the last week and they expect to get Manu Ginobili back during the Rodeo road trip (which is underway).

8. Nuggets (15-9, LW 6). Beat the Clippers, lost to the Lakers and fell to the Trail Blazers on the third night of a back-to-back-to-back. Still one of the most fun teams to watch in the league.

9. Hawks (16-8, LW 7). The Hawks are crushing the teams they should beat (13-0 against teams below .500) and getting good defense from Josh Smith. Still, tough games ahead against teams over .500, so we reserve judgment.

10. Magic (15-9, LW 12). Split games against the two good teams on the schedule last week (lost to Philly, beat Indy). How they do the next month is about how good they are at ignoring the Dwight Howard rumors, as they will only get louder.

11. Lakers (14-10, LW 14). Split a tough back-to-back (Denver then Utah) to start the Grammy road trip that has them on the road for a couple weeks. Big games this week — at Philly, Boston and New York. Are the Lakers big three of Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol enough (because after that the drop off is steep)?

12. Celtics (13-10, LW 17). They have won eight of their last nine and now have gotten Rajon Rondo back. Suddenly they look like one of those teams the elite want to avoid in the East.

13. Blazers (14-10, LW 13). Beat Utah at home, lost to the Kings on the road. This is just a Jekyll and Hyde team inside or outside the Rose Garden — 11-1 at home, 3-9 on the road.

14. Mavericks (14-11, LW 9). Dirk Nowitzki may finally be finding his footing with a couple good games near the end of the week. Still, this is a hot and cold team that could beat or lose to anyone on any given night. Not consistent like last season.

15. Jazz (13-9, LW 15). Quality win against the Lakers Saturday night (even if the old legs of LA were on a back-to-back). Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson have made a formidable front line. They are on the road a lot leading up to the All-Star Game, we’ll see how they do with that test.

16. Timberwolves (12-12, LW 18). They are only 1.5 games out of the last playoff spot in the West, and they are playing well. But they will have to get by two games this week without Kevin Love, who used Luis Scola as a doormat.

17. Rockets (13-11, LW 11). A lot of road games against the teams ahead of them in the West between now and the All-Star game. This would be a good time to make a push and secure one of those spots, but instead they are slumping.

18. Grizzlies (12-12, LW 16). Held their own last week in a tough stretch of games. If they can just hold close to a playoff spot (1.5 games out) until Zach Randolph gets back they have a shot.

19. Bucks (10-13, LW 20). What they are hoping for is to grab the 7 or 8 seed and get the Heat in the first round (they beat Miami twice in recent weeks). Stephen Jackson was supposed to carry the offense, but they are +7.2 per 48 minutes when he sits. So he’s been sitting a lot.

20. Cavaliers (9-13, LW 19). Kyrie Irving is the story, but Anderson Varejao has been fantastic the past couple weeks. The phone will start ringing with trade offers for the Brazilian, but will the Cavs be listening? Maybe not.

21. Knicks (9-15, LW 24). That lost Friday against Boston hurt — New York had a healthy lead and let it get away when Boston tightened their defense in the second half. Jeremy Lin gets the start — he’s nobody’s savior but his style of play (attacking) is what New York needs at the point.

22. Suns (9-14, LW 21). Good to see Michael Redd back out on the court and playing well. That story will be overshadowed by the annual “will they trade Steve Nash” rumors that are ready to kick into high gear.

23. Warriors (8-13, LW 25). For a team with Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry this team is shockingly dull to watch.

24. Kings (8-15, LW 26). Marcus Thornton is back and playing well, and the Kings have looked relatively solid the past week. We’ll see if that holds up.

25. Raptors (8-17, LW 22). Sunday’s loss to the Heat showed how much this team misses Andrea Bargnani — they fought hard but lacked the offensive firepower to get a win.

26. Nets (8-17, LW 23). Their defense was torn apart by Jeremy Lin and Nikola Pekovic on back-to-back nights over the weekend. That should tell you everything you need to know.

27. Pistons (6-20, LW 29).
Winners of two and a row, so stand back. Still surprised to see a Lawrence Frank coached team 29th in the league in defensive efficiency.

28. Wizards (4-20, LW 27). Do they look any better than they did under Flip Saunders? And no, a couple wins over Charlotte don’t improve things.

29. Hornets (4-20, LW 28). Note to David Stern: You can drive a hard bargain when you are trading an asset like Chris Paul; Chris Kaman is another matter entirely.

30. Bobcats (3-21, LW 30). Losers of 11 straight, two of their losses last week were by more than 30. And now they enter one of their toughest weeks. Good luck!

NBA: Mavericks got away with key late foul in win over Bulls

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Wesley Matthews hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the Mavericks’ 99-98 win over the Bulls on Wednesday.

But perhaps the game would’ve had a different outcome with correct officiating down the stretch.

Dallas guard Seth Curry got away with a loose-ball foul on Robin Lopez with 1:26 left, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:

Curry (DAL) clamps the arm of Lopez (CHI) and affects his ability to retrieve the rebound.

A correct call would’ve put Dallas in the penalty and sent Lopez – who has made 66% of his free throws this season and and 76% for his career – to the line for two attempts.

Instead, not only was Lopez denied his free throws, he committed a frustration foul on Dirk Nowitzki – who grabbed the rebound with help of Curry – moments later. Nowitzki converted one of two free throws.

We’ll never know how the rest of the game would’ve played out after a correct call, but a swing of 1-to-3 points is pretty big in a one-point game.

Celtics’ Jaylen Brown, reportedly Spurs’ Jonathon Simmons invited to dunk contest

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 15:  Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics in action against the New York Knicks during the second half of their preseason game at Madison Square Garden on October 15, 2016 in New York City. 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 Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Jaylen Brown entered the NBA as a highly touted prospect, the No. 3 pick by the Celtics last year.

Jonathon Simmons paid a $150 fee to try out for the Spurs’ D-League team before eventually climbing to the NBA.

Their very-different paths could cross during All-Star weekend in the dunk contest.

Brown said he has been invited, though he hasn’t made up his mind:

Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News:

Both would be worthy candidates. Between the two, I’d favor Brown, but it’ll be interesting to see the rest of the field.

Just what can Brown and Simmons do?

Report: 76ers interested in Jrue Holiday in free agency

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 23:  Jrue Holiday #11 of the Philadelphia 76ers plays against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on December 23, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. 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 Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The 76ers need a point guard.

Joel Embiid is already a legitimate All-Star candidate, and Philadelphia has won seven of nine. But the 76ers’ ascent is limited by weak perimeter play.

The point guard of the future might already be on the roster, whenever No. 1 pick Ben Simmons returns. But at 6-foot-10, he’ll have trouble defending opposing point guards.

Philadelphia will likely draft a point guard between its own first-rounder (which includes swap rights with the Kings) and a top-three-protected pick from the Lakers. The 2017 draft is especially loaded with point guards near the top: Washington’s Markelle Fultz, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith, Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox and Kentucky’s Malik Monk.

But with general Bryan Colangelo accelerating their rebuild, the 76ers might not be patient with Simmons learning an awkward position or a rookie taking the helm. Philadelphia could target a veteran – like the Pelicans’ Jrue Holiday, who’ll become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Sixers will take a hard look at Holiday, sources say

That would be so juicy. Sam Hinkie essentially started The Process by trading Holiday from Philadelphia to New Orleans for what amounted to three first-round picks (Nerlens Noel, Dario Saric and a restored first-rounder the 76ers previously traded). Getting Holiday back once they’re finally ready to win would be such a hilarious touch.

Holiday would fit pretty well with Simmons, a unique talent as a point forward. Holiday is an excellent defender, and sharing playmaking with Simmons would prevent either from being overburdened. Ideally, Holiday would be a better 3-point shooter for this role, but he’s good enough spotting up to be more than fine.

Philadelphia will have more cap room than it knows what to do with this summer, and a max offer could tempt Holiday. The question becomes whether veterans actually join the 76ers, who’ve developed a reputation for losing but now plan to spend, or just use them for leverage like the Kings.

This is a good opportunity for Holiday, whether or not he returns to Philadelphia.

Report: Bulls looking to sign Chris Bosh after Heat waive him

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 24: Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat puts up a shot under pressure from Taj Gibson #22 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on February 24, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Heat will likely waive Chris Bosh sometime after March 1. It might not be until next season, but Bosh has given every indication he plans to try playing again.

But will anybody sign him?

After all, Miami can exclude his salary from its cap picture only if a doctor jointly selected by the NBA and players union determines Bosh’s blood clots are “of such severity that continuing to play professional basketball at an NBA level would subject the player to medically unacceptable risk of suffering a life-threatening or permanently disabling injury or illness.”

At least one team is apparently interested.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

If Bosh, who turns 33 in March, makes it back onto the floor next season, word is that the Chicago Bulls are already plotting a run and will be at the front of the line to try to sign him.

I’m still skeptical Bosh plays again. The medical consensus is that it’s unsafe to play on blood-thinners, which have become necessary after his multiple blood-clot episodes. The jointly selected doctor confirming that evaluation – the only clear path to the Heat releasing Bosh unless he’d sacrifice some of his $75,868,170 remaining salary in a buyout – would provide even more certainty that Bosh is done.

Yet, the rules wouldn’t prevent the Bulls from making their own evaluation. Bosh would reunite with Dwyane Wade and provide floor-spacing and defense in the frontcourt. Chicago, which starts bruisers Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez, could use a player like a healthy Bosh.

But Bosh is likely to be either healthy or a free agent, not both. I don’t see a way around that.