NBA Power Rankings: All-Star Weekend edition

6 Comments

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.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

Getty Images
Leave a comment

When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.

 

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

3 Comments

Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

image

The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders:

Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek brushes off concerns about job security

Getty Images
4 Comments

We saw this pattern earlier this season with the Lakers. Young team gets off to a better-than-expected start, shows real promise, but as things move toward the middle of the season they take a step back. As happens with young, developing teams, they are up and down. However, major market media and an impatient fan base wants to blame someone, so the coach is suddenly discussed as having “lost the locker room” and that his job was in jeopardy (a coach not hired by the current GM). Even though in Luke Walton’s case, it wasn’t (and isn’t).

Now that same pattern has come to New York and the Knicks with Jeff Hornacek. The Knicks started 17-14 and had fans prematurely thinking playoffs thanks to a home-heavy schedule. Reality has hit them the past month.

Hornacek tried to brush off questions about his job security in New York, speaking to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

Hornacek also believes he has the backing of GM Scott Perry and president Steve Mills, despite being inherited by them as Phil Jackson’s hire.

“We were talking about rebuilding and we got off to a good start because we had a lot of home games,” Hornacek said. “Scott and Steve, everybody’s still on the same page of trying to get our young guys opportunities. We’re still trying to win games. We still want to establish an identity where defensively we’re going to get after it all the time and we’re building toward that. It’s great to have their support…

“I think the expectations come from the players where all of a sudden you hear them talking about, ‘Oh we can make the playoffs.’ We never said that,” Hornacek said. “We said we want to get better and we want to grow. Part of our talk was you can’t worry about the results. You just got to go out there and if you do your best and try to improve the results will come. When you start thinking about win or lose all of a sudden your mentality becomes different. We got to get back to that.”

Is Hornacek the long-term answer in New York? I don’t know. However, finally unchained from the pseudo-triangle disaster Phil Jackson imposed, he has done a solid job this season, putting Kristaps Porzingis in better spots to lead this roster. The Knicks are projected to win around 38 games at this point (according to Cleaning the Glass), and they have about a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs still (according to fivethiryeight.com). Heading into the season, that would have been about anyone’s best-case scenario for this team.

Not that it matters when you’re coach of the Knicks — job security speculation comes with every paycheck. It just isn’t deserved in this case.

Steve Kerr has “regrets” over time as Suns GM with Mike D’Antoni as coach

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Saturday night, Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni will square off as the coaches of the two best teams in the NBA this season (the Warriors and Rockets), teams loaded with offensive talent that play fast — Kerr and D’Antoni have some of the same basic philosophies about the game. Right now they have a mutual admiration society going.

But remember when Kerr took over as the general manager of the “seven seconds or less” Suns? Then traded for Shaq, which was the first step in D’Antono going out the door to New York.

Kerr opened up about his regrets from that era to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I have some regrets,” Kerr said. “I think we had a few differences that I probably didn’t handle very well as a GM that I could’ve probably handled better, especially given that we really like each other and have a lot of similar viewpoints on the game.”

The Suns were a contender, but not one that could get over the hump of the peak San Antonio Spurs of the mid-2000s (it was more than just the year Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the boards and A’mare Stoudemire got nailed for leaving the bench). Kerr felt the need to do something, so he traded Shawn Marion for an over-the-hill Shaquille O’Neal who did not at all fit the Suns’ style. That move ended an era, and the next summer D’Antoni signed in New York (with a front office that never gave him the pieces for his style of play).

“I should have let Mike know, ‘It’s okay, keep kicking [butt] and keep going, and we’ll make some moves that aren’t so radical that fit more with who we are as an organization,” Kerr said. “We swung for the fences, and it was not the right move to make as an organization. I didn’t envision that as GM. I didn’t have the macro view of what we needed to do….

“I needed to tell Mike, ‘It’s okay if we don’t win the championship,’” Kerr said. “We were so desperate to win. But not everybody can win. But what you can do is keep putting yourself in a position to get there. Then maybe the breaks fall your way.”

Kerr said he’s matured in the way he views the game and team building since then. That is evident in the way the Warriors have been built, with a big-picture view of everything that gets done — they win not only because they are loaded with talent but how that talent fits together. However, they are really an extension of the changes D’Antoni brought to the NBA in Phoenix, just with better defense and some ridiculous shooters.

After stints in New York and Los Angeles with rosters that were ill-suited for his style, D’Antoni is winning big again in Houston because James Harden was really a point guard and GM Daryl Morey has put the right pieces around him to play D’Antoni’s style.

But once again D’Antoni seems just short of a ring because a legendary team — and Steve Kerr — is in the way.