Orlando Magic v Miami Heat

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.

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
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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.