Heat's Wade and James watch teammate Chalmers compete in three-point contest during the NBA All-Star weekend in Orlando

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.

Report: Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel’s contract up, no talks yet about extension

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 26:  Head Coach Frank Vogel of the Indiana Pacers shouts to an official in the first half of Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Toronto Raptors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on April 26, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Frank Vogel is one of the 10 best coaches in the NBA. The Indiana Pacers are better with him in the big chair.

But is he going to be back next season?

Probably, only because it’s hard to imagine otherwise, but the door has been opened reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Are the Pacers’ serious? Team president Larry Bird wouldn’t answer the question, but neither did he throw water on the rumor to put the flames out.

Vogel wouldn’t need to worry about employment, he would instantly jump to near the top of every coaching search list out there (and the ones that will come up next year).

The question is, why would the Pacers do this? Can you pick apart is end-of-game management in Game 4, and question his rotations? Sure. Did he make a mistake with his timeout call late in Game 7? Probably. He’s not perfect.

However, this is a team whose second and third best players are Monta Ellis and George Hill, and they have a thin bench — Vogel did more with less he was given by Larry Bird than just about any coach could have. This team has limitations and he has done a fantastic job putting players in positions where they could succeed.

I imagine in a couple of weeks the Pacers will announce a new deal with Vogel. But the door is now open to change.

Raptors hang on through rough finish to beat Pacers 89-84, advance to second round

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To paraphrase the great Rasheed Wallace: “Both teams played hard. Not well, but both teams played hard.”

Game 7s can be filled with tight play and poor decisions, and the final few minutes of this Game 7 between the Raptors and Pacers certainly saw that. It saw the Raptors score just 11 fourth quarter points — and saw the referees swallow their whistles on a clear foul that would have given the Pacers a better chance at a win — but none of that matters to a Toronto fan base starved for a playoff series win.

They don’t care about style points, just give them the “W.” The Raptors and their fans can finally exhale.

Toronto had a 16-point lead, tried desperately to run out the clock in the final five minutes, and in doing so opened the door again for Indiana and made it tight at the end, but Toronto hung on for an 89-84 win.

Toronto wins the series and now advances on to the second round for the first time since the Vince Carter era. The Raptors will face the Heat starting this Tuesday at home in Toronto.

“I think everybody wrote the Raptors off and gave us up for dead,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said after the win. “But that locker room is full of fighters and scrappers and guys that are really getting into it now.”

Casey is wrong in the micro — I certainly don’t remember any “Toronto can’t win Game 7 at home” stories in the press — but right in the macro that his team carried a heavy “they can’t get out of the first round” burden all season, a reputation that almost was an anchor for them in the closing minutes of this game.

But they survived. And advanced.

Paul George was the best player on the floor and finished the game with 26 points, but it was the play he didn’t make (and the foul the Raptors got away with on that play) that will be the talk of Game 7.

Toronto had a small lead most of the game, but a couple of runs (one in the third quarter, another early in the fourth) had stretched it out to 16. Leading the way was DeMar DeRozan, who wasn’t efficient (10-of-32 shooting) but did put up 30 points and was attacking hard. The other key in this game for the Raptors was on the glass where they grabbed the offensive rebound on 35 percent of their missed shots, which led to 17 second-chance points on the night.

But everyone knew Toronto was not going to just be able to coast in for the win. It was going to be hard.

With five minutes left Toronto started to try to run out the clock — Shaquille O’Neal called it “prevent offense” — and the team wouldn’t even really start its attack until there were five seconds or so on the clock. The result was, predictably enough, difficult and contested shots. Meanwhile, the Pacers kept hitting shots and went on a 15-2 run, with Solomon Hill throwing down a huge dunk and Monta Ellis hitting a three that made it a three-point game with 2:36 left.

Then Kyle Lowry answered with a driving layup that had the Raptors up 87-82 with 2:10 left. That would be the last bucket of the game.

Indiana had its chances, but both Ellis and George had turnovers.

George had a chance with the team down 5 and :26 seconds left to go for a quick two and then play the foul game, but as he drove and got cut off he went up and rather than bank in a 10-footer he threw a lot to Ian Mahinmi — and DeRozan shoved Mahinmi while the big man was in the air, causing the pass to go sailing over Mahinmi’s head. It was a clear foul by DeRozan that was not called — and George should have just shot the ball there — but with that the Pacers chances few away as well.

It wasn’t pretty for the Raptors. They do not care. Their loyal and long-suffering fans were rewarded with a first round win, that monkey is off their backs.

But they are going to have to play a lot better and a lot looser against a veteran Miami team if the Raptors want to make the franchise’s first-ever conference finals.

 

 

Stephen Curry says “pretty good” chance he plays in Game 3 next Saturday

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, left, and head coach Steve Kerr react during the first half in Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, May 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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The Golden State Warriors were just fine without him Sunday in Game 1.

But no doubt the Warriors are a much more dangerous team with the past-and-future league MVP, so when will they get him back? Maybe by next weekend.

That would put him a couple of days inside the two weeks the team said he would be out, but it’s not unreasonable.

That said, players are the worst people to ask about their recovery timeline, they are always convinced they can be back more quickly than the team doctors say. Also, if the Warriors can win Game 2 Tuesday at home and be up 2-0 in the series, why rush Curry back? Make Portland win a game first.

That said, the Warriors would like to get Curry a little game run and his legs under him this series, because they are going to need him next series (against San Antonio or possibly Oklahoma City).

Warriors’ defense too good, Klay Thompson too hot for Blazers in easy Game 1 win

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Even without Stephen Curry — who thinks he can be back for Game 3 next Saturday — the Golden State Warriors execute like champions.

They have an elite defense. Just as Damian Lillard, who shot 3-of-17 and had 12 points through the first three quarters (he went 5-of-8 in the fourth and scored 18 points, but the game was over by then). Or ask C.J, McCollum, who shot 5-of-17 for 12 points on the night.

The Warriors have more than one elite shooter and playmaker. Klay Thompson had 37 points and was 7-of-14 from three. Draymond Green added a triple-double of 23 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists.

It all overwhelmed a Portland team that had played against the Clippers Friday night and still looked a little sluggish. The Warriors opened the game on an 18-4 run and led by 20 after 12 minutes, Thompson had 18 of his points in the first quarter, and by that point the Warriors put it in cruise control and were never seriously threatened on their way to a 118-106 win.

Golden State leads the series 1-0, with Game 2 at Oracle Arena Tuesday night.

Portland has a lot of work to do before then, starting with altering their defensive strategies — they need to have their bigs show out more and be physical when they can with Thompson. Oh, and put Maurice Harkless on Thompson, not McCollum. They need to take away Klay’s space, if Portland gives him the room to operate he had for three quarters Sunday again and he will beat them again.

Another part of the Warriors’ fast start was a clever move by Steve Kerr, asking center Andrew Bogut to guard wing Maurice Harkless. Portland’s game plan (almost every game) is to try and drag the opposing center into defending the pick-and-roll, but now Harkless had to be involved rather than Mason Plumlee. Harkless isn’t half the playmaker or threat in that role Plumlee is. It helped slow the Blazers pick-and-roll, and they went on to score just 17 first quarter points.

All game long the Warriors were able to attack the rim and Portland just does not have the paint protectors that will slow them down. Shaun Livingston had 12 for Golden State getting the start in Curry’s place and Golden State did a good job of posting up the smaller Trail Blazers guards. Portland got 15 each from Al-Farouq Aminu and Allen Crabbe (who had a good game), but Bogut was a force in the paint and his rim protection was an issue for the Blazers.

Portland also lost Gerald Henderson to an ejection, one that seemed like a quick trigger to me. Toward the end of the third quarter, Anderson Varejao fell and as he did kicked Henderson knocking the Blazer to the ground. Henderson thought it was intentional and got up and got in Varejao’s face. The referees looked at the tape and went with the double technical.  But neither man let the incident go and with 15 seconds left in the third Henderson was trash talking with Varejao, who at that point was on the Warriors’ bench. The referee hit him with a second technical.

But that’s the least of Portland’s problems right now.

They have not been a strong defensive team all season, however they need to be a better one by Tuesday. If the Blazers go down 0-2, and Curry is back for Game 3, Golden State could get even more time to rest before the next round because this series will not last long. Lillard and company need to bring it on Tuesday night.