NBA Power Rankings: Streaking Heat, Spurs land on top

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Miami has looked dominant the last week, while Tony Parker may be the best player in basketball the last two weeks so the Spurs climb. At the bottom, things look familiar.

1. Heat (24-7, last week ranked 1). They became the third team in the NBA to sweep a back-to-back-to-back (Bulls, Thunder), but they did it absolutely dominating their opponents — six wins in a row, all by double digits. Bill Clinton came to them on Sunday, but keep playing like this and they will be going to the president. Heat play the Knicks Thursday, that should be fun.

2. Spurs (22-9, LW 5). Winners of 10 in a row. This is the opposite of you’re father’s Spurs — they are winning with offense. We all marveled at Jeremy Lin dropping the game winner on Toronto, but Jose Calderon pushed Lin around most of that game — Tony Parker came in the next night and put up 34 points and 14 assists on Calderon. Can they keep it up with Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter out?

4. Thunder (24-7, LW 4). What a display by Kevin Durant (51) and Russell Westbrook (40) on Sunday. They are 7-3 in their last 10, outscoring opponents by an average of 6.6 per game. Should be fun Thursday night when they take on the Lakers.

4. Bulls (25-8, LW 2). They are treading water without Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton, which is about all you can ask. Chicago almost fell further after that ugly effort against the Nets.

5. Mavericks (20-12, LW 7). Brutal schedule last week and they came out looking good with wins over the 76ers, Clippers and Nuggets (the lone loss was to Linsanity on Sunday). When Dirk Nowitzki is clicking this whole offense comes together.

6. Clippers (19-10 LW 3). You will not see Chris Paul make mistakes at the end of games often, like he did against Dallas. But you wonder if in the playoffs when all the games are tight how much they will  miss Chauncey Billups.

7. Magic (20-12, LW 11). They keep on winning mostly, but the Sunday loss to Miami shows how far this team is from elite. As the Dwight Howard rumors ramp up heading into the All-Star Weekend, will it start to weigh on this team?

8. 76ers (20-12, LW 6). They have lost five of seven as the schedule has turned hard and their guard play has struggled.

9. Lakers (18-13, LW 12). Veteran teams are supposed to be able to ignore and play through trade rumors, but the Lakers struggle with it (especially on the road). The drop off on this team after their three stars is dramatic.

10. Pacers (19-12, LW 8). Five losses in a row, but that turned around thanks to the patsies that are the Nets and Bobcats. With the Hornets and the Bobcats left before the break, they could find their footing after the All-Star Game.

11. Knicks (16-16, LW 15). Jeremy Lin bounced back from his off game and had spearheaded a quality win over the Mavs Sunday. With J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony they have the talent to be the third best team in the East, but can they bring it all together and keep playing good defense?

12. Grizzlies (18-14, LW 19). Four straight wins, including over the Nuggets and Rockets. They have played well without Zach Randolph and will be a lower seed to be feared come the playoffs. Just like last year (ask the Spurs).

13. Rockets (18-14, LW 13). Good wins over Oklahoma City and Utah, but fell to Memphis and Minnesota last week, been that kind of up and down your for the Rockets. They are a playoff team and Kevin McHale deserves a lot of credit for that.

14. Hawks (19-12, LW 9). They are doing better than expected without Al Horford thanks to great play from All-Star snub Josh Smith. But will they make a move at the trade deadline to improve their playoff chances? History says no.

15. Nuggets (17-15, LW 10). They have lost seven of their last 10 and fallen out of the playoffs in the West. Their defense has gone missing. That said, the return of Wilson Chandler would be a big boost (he is meeting with them Monday).

16. Blazers (17-15, LW 16). Getting LaMarcus Aldridge back should help, and it should help open things up for the unhappy Raymond Felton. But the Blazers are fighting it right now.

17. Celtics (15-15, LW 14). They are a .500 team defined by an inconsistent offense. Doc Rivers is desperately searching for the right combination, but the only answer may be a time machine.

18. Timberwolves (16-16, LW 18). Nikola Pekovic has been a beast of late — 18.8 points per game on 63.1 percent shooting, plus 10.4 rebounds per game. Paired with Love that is a powerful front line.

19. Jazz (15-15, LW 17). This team is rivaling the Lakers (and the couple teams at the bottom of this ranking) for worst point guard play in the league. Devin Harris and Earl Watson are not getting it done. Al Jefferson is.

20. Suns (13-19, LW 20). The trade rumors are going to start ramping up again around Steve Nash for the first three weeks. Could he and Jeremy Lin co-exist in New York?

21. Cavaliers (12-17, LW 21). A couple nice wins last week over Indiana and Sacramento, showing there is some young promise in Cleveland. And can we stop talking about LeBron coming back now? Thanks.

22. Pistons (11-22, LW 25). Don’t look now, but they are 7-3 in their last 10 and getting good play from Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey. It’s a process, but there are signs of hope.

23. Bucks (13-18, LW 21). They need to get Stephen Jackson off the roster, the tension around the team is palpable, but nobody wants to take on the $10 million he is owed next year and give up anything of value.

24. Warriors (11-17, LW 24). There is no team in the bottom 10 here that is more fun to watch or more dangerous on any given night because Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry can just win games when hot.

25. Kings (10-21, LW 23). DeMarcus Cousins’ made two great plays against the Cavaliers down the stretch Sunday to give his team a chance, but he balanced it out with a dumb foul that gave the Cavaliers a chance. Story of his career so far. But it wasn’t as bad as Tyreke Evans’ reach in that cost them the game. Isaiah Thomas has been a find.

26. Nets (9-24, LW 27). Brook Lopez is back and that should help the Nets defense a little. It’s not going to help the rebounding, however.

27. Hornets (7-23, LW 29). A three game winning streak, including handing Jeremy Lin his only loss. Pardon us if we are not on the bandwagon yet.

28. Raptors (9-23 LW 26). They lost to the Bobcats. With that, they should consider this ranking generous. What happened to their defense that was at one point this season respectable?

29. Wizards (7-24, LW 28). Washington is statistically the worst defensive rebounding team in the league. That with a very long front line. Just sayin’.

30. Bobcats (4-26, LW 30).
The losing streak is over at 16! But the way they played Sunday against the Pacers shows you why they remain on the bottom.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.