NBA Power Rankings: All-Star Weekend edition

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With no games after Thursday, we don’t have a lot of movement in the standings this week, but we tie in some All-Star Weekend notes and look ahead at the second half for teams.

1. Heat (27-7, last week ranked 1). LeBron James’ All-Star performance is what fans seem to expect from him — 36 points and looking dominant at times, the East would not have made that comeback without him. However, his intercepted pass with 1.9 seconds left is all anyone talks about, further proof he is “not clutch.” As Zach Lowe of Sports Illustrated noted, Dwyane Wade fumbled a ball out of bounds when the East had a chance to take the lead with 1:15 left, but somehow that is forgotten and LeBron is the goat.

2. Thunder (27-7, LW 3). Kevin Durant was your All-Star Game MVP and Russell Westbrook had a monster night with 17 points in the first half. Those gentlemen the two key reasons the Thunder are still the team to beat in the West.

3. Bulls (27-8, LW 4). Derrick Rose had a relatively quiet All-Star Game, but I loved the look on his face when the East starters were introduced — LeBron, Wade, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony were all dancing, Rose just looked annoyed with them.

4. Spurs (24-10, LW 2). They went 8-1 on the Rodeo road trip and the only loss was when Gregg Popovich decided to rest Tony Parker and Tim Duncan on the same night. This is a very good team but the question remains: If they run into the Grizzlies or Lakers in the playoffs (a team that scores a lot out of a big front line) can the Spurs stop them?

5. Mavericks (21-13, LW 5). Don’t expect them to make a big trade as the deadline comes up, unless someone wants Shawn Marion. But, if Dwight Howard is still in Orlando on March 16 the Mavericks may be poised to be the big winners this summer.

6. Clippers (20-11 LW 6). Chris Paul and Blake Griffin put on a fun show at the All-Star Game, like they have all season long. In the arena they showed some bits like the old “password” game where Paul had to describe something to Griffin and get him to guess the word — some of the funniest stuff in the arena all weekend.

7. Magic (22-13, LW 7). Dwight Howard was everywhere all weekend — except he was a virtual no-show for the All-Star Game itself. His pre-game speech about loving Orlando is heartfelt, but don’t confuse that with him wanting to stay. He is about to be in the center of a storm for a couple weeks.

8. Lakers (20-14, LW 9). Dwyane Wade broke Kobe Bryant’s nose in the third quarter of the All-Star Game. Which Kobe will play through because he is Kobe. But take note — the Heat and Lakers play Sunday.

9. Pacers (21-12, LW 10). They had an All-Star in Roy Hibbert. If I had written that sentence before the season you would have thought me mad. Same if I had said they would be 21-12 at the All-Star break.

10. 76ers (20-14, LW 8). Andre Iguodala just seems to be having fun every time he steps on the court, including an All-Star Game. It’s weird to say this, but this team really misses Spencer Hawes and they need him to facilitate their ball movement.

11. Rockets (20-14, LW 13). Doug Collins may be the front-runner for Coach of the Year, but Kevin McHale needs to be in that conversation. If there is one team to watch at the trade deadline, it seems Houston always makes a smart move or two.

12. Grizzlies (19-15, LW 12). Mark Gasol had a nice All-Star Game and deserved to be there. He also told he Memphis needs to get Zach Randolph back — and get him peaking like he did in the playoffs last year — for this team to make another big run in the playoffs.

13. Knicks (17-18, LW 11). The league found a way to get Jeremy Lin into All-Star Weekend. The interest in him from the International media is insane, I mean I knew it but until I saw it the enormity of the thing was hard to grasp. Now comes the hard work for the Knicks of fitting all those pieces together — if they do it they could be the third best team in the East come the playoffs.

14. Hawks (20-14, LW 14). No All-Stars, but Josh Smith should have been one. If Smith were playing in another system that suited him better, people might realize just how good he really is and he would be an All-Star every year.

15. Blazers (18-16, LW 16). LaMarcus Aldridge seemed to enjoy his well-deserved turn as an All-Star. Good for him. The Blazers have got to get better play out of the point guard spot to get their mojo back, either from Raymond Felton or Jamal Crawford. Or anyone, really.

16. Nuggets (18-17, LW 15). They lost their mojo from the start of the season and they lost Danilo Gallinari (who should have been an All-Star if healthy). They also lost four of five to good teams recently, which says a lot.

17. Timberwolves (17-17, LW 18). Kevin Love got his turn as an All-Star and was the West’s leading scorer in the fourth quarter with eight points. Also, he won the three-point contest. They have the pieces to really build something good in Minnesota, if David Kahn can be trusted to put good role players around his stars.

18. Celtics (15-17, LW 17). They are not a contender, they may well not get out of the first round of the playoffs, but you can bet this is a team the elite would like to avoid in the first round. Well, that is unless Danny Ainge decides to blow the whole thing up at the trade deadline (and he would do it, too). Watch them this week, I bet the rest for their older players does them good.

19. Jazz (15-17, LW 19). Gordon Hayward played well in the Rising Stars Challenge Friday night and I’ll admit it — he’s better than I thought he’d be coming out of college.

20. Suns (14-20, LW 20). Steve Nash played just four minutes in the All-Star Game, and you can bet that was at his request, trying to rest his body. But sure, he should have been there over the Rockets Kyle Lowry.

21. Cavaliers (13-18, LW 21). Kyrie Irving can shoot the rock if you leave him open — he was 8-for-8 from three in the Rising Stars Challenge on his way to the MVP. Tristan Thompson had maybe my favorite line of the weekend, “We’ve been hearing about Ricky Rubio since like 400 B.C.” There are some pieces to start rebuilding with there.

22. Warriors (13-17, LW 24). Stephen Curry’s foot injury — don’t call it an ankle, it’s not an ankle — kept him from defending his Skills Challenge title. Mark Jackson’s promise of making the playoffs this season looks unlikely, which goes to show it’s not him or Keith Smart that is the issue, it’s the talent on the roster.

23. Pistons (11-24, LW 22). Greg Monroe got in the Rising Stars game but he could challenge Roy Hibbert as one of the All-Star centers in the East for years.

24. Bucks (13-20, LW 23). I was disappointed Bango wasn’t one of the mascots at the All-Star Game. What, he’s too big time for that now?

25. Kings (11-22, LW 25). They have got a new stadium — that is the biggest win this team could get this year. Congratulations to the Sacramento fans.

26. Nets (10-25, LW 26). Deron Williams said he thinks the Nets are going to weather the storm of trade rumors that are coming the next couple weeks. I think that storm is going to be a lot stronger than he thinks.

27. Raptors (10-23 LW 28). The Dunk Contest sure could have used DeMar DeRozan. Again Raptors fans, this is a deep draft coming up — if you’re going to suck, this is a good year to suck.

28. Hornets (8-25, LW 27). It looks like they are getting close to getting an owner. When the Louisiana legislature reconvenes on March 12, and if they approve a new lease deal with the league and team, things may come together quickly. If group one from California falls through, a second group is waiting in the wings, David Stern said.

29. Wizards (7-26, LW 29). If they are going to make this work with John Wall, they are going to have to rework the roster. That may well not start at the trade deadline, however — it will be hard to find anyone to take players not named John Wall off this roster and give anything of quality back.

30. Bobcats (4-28, LW 30). Well, their mascot was at All-Star Weekend. That’s may be more than they deserved.

Russell Westbrook triple-double keys OKC in 3OT thriller vs 76ers

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Russell Westbrook had 27 points, 17 rebounds and 15 assists, and Oklahoma City and the Philadelphia 76ers went basket-for-basket in a three-overtime thriller before the Thunder pulled out a 119-117 victory on Friday night.

Andre Roberson scored the winner with 10 seconds left for the Thunder. But one of the early contenders for NBA game of the year belonged to Joel Embiid and Westbrook as they drove, blocked and rebounded their way toward one big play after another.

Embiid scored 34 points in 48 minutes with an achy back and rallied the Sixers from a 17-point hole.

Embiid, Philly’s franchise center and social media star, grabbed his lower back when he took a hard foul on a drive to the basket in the fourth quarter. Embiid grimaced during timeouts on the bench and trudged into position a few times.

Embiid sucked it up and carried the Sixers in the fourth and the first overtime. His feed to a charging Ben Simmons on the baseline for a two-handed dunk tied the score at 94-all with 53 seconds left in the quarter. The Sixers closed the fourth on an 11-0 run.

Embiid scored the first bucket of OT and the Sixers led for the first time in the game. The Sixers’ five-point lead with 1:20 left in overtime was wiped out on Paul George‘s 3-pointer and a Westbrook bucket that made it 102-all. The Sixers blew their final possession on an ill-conceived 3 for Dario Saric.

Round 2 was just as fun.

Westbrook and Robert Covington exchanged 3s and George tied it at 109 on a driving layup. Westbrook and Embiid swapped buckets that kept it even and the Sixers had one more chance to win it with 1.2 seconds to go in the second OT.

Embiid and Westbrook combined to score eight straight points in the third overtime, and Embiid even waved goodbye as the crowd went wild when Steve Adams fouled out of the game.

But Embiid seemed gassed at the end and there’s no telling how the heavy workload may affect his availability the rest of the week.

The Sixers were featured on ESPN on Friday as part of Philadelphia All Access, and Sixers’ related content was aired throughout the day on all platforms.

“I’m not a fan,” coach Brett Brown said. “I like living behind closed doors.”

But Brown understood the exposure would help build the brand and serve as a recruiting pitch of sorts to any free agents intrigued about becoming part of The Process. The Sixers put on a show in the fourth until Embiid gave them a scare.

Embiid’s health woes have dogged him since his college career at Kansas and every slip, ache or bump throws Sixers fans into a panic. Embiid has been banged-up lately but he calmly went to the line and made both free throws. He fell again when he tripped over Adams, who earned a foul, and sank two more free throws to make it 78-72.

 

After Thunder win, Russell Westbrook trolls Joel Embiid, waves goodbye, tells him to “go home”

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Joel Embiid was making friends all over the court on Friday night.

First, he got into a jawing match with Carmelo Anthony. Also during the first overtime, Embiid blocked Russell Westbrook‘s driving attempt at a game winner.

After the Thunder won in triple overtime, Westbrook trolled Embiid by waving goodbye to the Sixers’ center, who was yelling back at him.

When asked about it, Westbrook said Embiid was talking a lot so he told the Sixers center to go home.

That can have some serious connotations — Embiid was born in Cameroon. Westbrook may have meant “go to the locker room” or “go to where you live,” but considering Embiid is an immigrant it comes off very poorly for Westbrook.

Embiid threw a little fire back at Westbrook.

The league office is going to be looking into this one.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience. After the game he said this.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.