Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah,

NBA Power Rankings: Bulls grab top spot by the horns

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The top three are pretty much set, it’s just a matter of who is playing the best among them at this moment. Right now it’s Chicago. The bottom three are pretty much locked in, too, but the Bobcats have really grabbed hold of the last spot and made it their own.

1. Bulls (31-8, last week ranked number 3). Four games, four wins since the All-Star break — and that is with Rip Hamilton not really finding his footing yet since his return. Everybody already looking forward to a week from Wednesday when the Bulls face the Heat again.

2. Thunder (29-8, LW 2). They continue to close out games well despite pretty stagnant late game play calling. Why? They play great defense at the end of games (read Zach Lowe at SI). Their Achilles heel is turnovers, that’s what cost them against the Hawks in their one loss since the All-Star break.

3. Heat (28-9, LW 1). Back-to-back losses to the Lakers and Jazz — both teams with strong front lines playing the Heat without Chris Bosh. He matters a lot more to the Heat then people realize, and the drop-off after him is steep. As for LeBron James, he’s the one guy in the league who gets criticized for passing to an open teammate.

4. Clippers (22-13 LW 6). Hard-fought overtime win Sunday against a Rockets team that is tougher than everyone realizes. Expect a lot more games like that in the coming weeks — their March schedule is brutal. They are on the road this week and have a tough one Friday at San Antonio.

5. Lakers (23-14, LW 8). The Lakers got a signature win over the Heat on Sunday, a game where they really used their assets to exploit Miami inside. Kobe Bryant is shooting 54 percent since Dwyane Wade broke his nose — he says he’s not going to wear the mask any longer than he has to, but the way he is shooting he may want to consider going Rip Hamilton.

6. Spurs (25-12, LW 4). Tough losses to good teams in Chicago and Denver this week. Another test coming Friday against the Clippers. For a while it looked like this team could beat anyone, but do you really buy that when the playoffs get here.

7. Magic (24-14, LW 7). Lost to the Thunder last week… really, does anybody care about their games the next two weeks? Until the deadline the league is on Dwight watch.

8. Pacers (23-12, LW 9). Six wins in a row, but they continue to beat the league’s weak teams. This week the schedule is Bulls, Hawks, Heat and Magic. If you want to say you are upper echelon, talk to us after that gauntlet.

9. Grizzlies (22-15, LW 12). Won 10-12, but most of that at home. When they get Zach Randolph back and integrated, watch out. Who wants this team in the first round of the playoffs? (If the playoffs started today it would be a Lakers/Grizzlies first round, which would be a fascinating battle of bigs.)

10. Mavericks (22-16, LW 5). They had a five-game losing streak before Dirk Nowitzki went off for 40 and stopped it Saturday. Lamar Odom is back and says he is sorry for how things are gone, but the Mavs need actions to speak louder than words.

11. Hawks (22-15, LW 14). Impressive win over the Thunder last week. They have three games in four nights this week, and that is the kind of situation where a lack of mental focus can hurt a team. So, bad news for the Hawks.

12. Nuggets (21-17, LW 16). Nice wins over Portland, San Antonio and Houston last week. They are in the same boat as Houston — one of the last playoff spots in the west with Minnesota just two games back — but with a soft schedule this week they can start to create some distance.

13. Rockets (21-17, LW 11). Lost to Utah, Denver and the Clippers last week and now seven of their next eight are on the road. Right now they are the seven seed in the West but Minnesota is lurking two games back.

14. 76ers (22-16, LW 10). Flying under the trade deadline radar is Andres Nocioni — don’t be shocked if he gets moved.

15. Celtics (19-17, LW 18). Four wins in a row last week out of the All-Star break — this team is dangerous when rested. Some teams struggle when trade rumors swirl, but this veteran group should be able to play through it.

16. Timberwolves (19-19, LW 17). They are in the playoff mix (just two games out) but are going to have to fight to keep that spot — Clippers, Lakers and Blazers this week, then they head out on a lengthy road trip.

17. Knicks (18-19, LW 13). They are the eighth seed in the East, but Milwaukee is four games back so they likely can hold on to a playoff spot baring a total collapse. However, they are three games back of Atlanta at the six seed, and you really don’t want the Heat or Bulls in the first round.

18. Jazz (17-19, LW 19).
They are showcasing Devin Harris for a potential trade — and he’s looked pretty good, including the game winner over the Heat on Friday.

19. Suns (17-20, LW 20). Three straight games where the Suns have rallied from more than 20 points back to win. We’re all watching for Steve Nash trade rumors, but right now it looks like they keep him.

20. Blazers (18-19, LW 15). Jamal Crawford trade rumors are going to engulf this team for the next two weeks, we’ll see how they deal with it. Right now they are not dealing well with much of anything well.

21. Warriors (14-19, LW 22). Their offense is just wildly inconsistent, which makes them a team that can beat anyone or lose to anyone on any given night. But they are entertaining while they do it.

22. Pistons (12-26, LW 23). They have dropped four of five and have looked pretty terrible doing it.

23. Bucks (14-23, LW 24).
If they are going to make a playoff run they need to get very hot right now. That’s not going to happen, by the way.

24. Nets (12-26, LW 26).
They have won three of five since Brook Lopez came back, with two of those wins over Dallas and New York. Of course, Lopez rolled his ankle and may miss a few games, so it will be back to the same old Nets for a while.

25. Raptors (12-25, LW 27).
Here is how Raptors fans need to look at the season — next year they get Jonas Valanciunas and whoever they draft this year to come in to camp. It’s like two lottery picks in one.

26. Cavaliers (13-22, LW 21). They lost to the Wizards this week. They are lucky to be this high.

27. Kings (12-25, LW 25). Hey, they got a new arena deal. We’re just going to keep talking about that (and that they plan to bring back coach Keith Smart next season).

28. Hornets (9-28, LW 28). They are showcasing Chris Kaman for a trade and he is looking good — 16.5 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game since his return. Like the kind of player the Hornets should have been playing earlier.

29. Wizards (8-28, LW 29). Randy Wittman is trying to put his foot down and instill some discipline (like by benching JaVale McGee). Good luck with that.

30. Bobcats (4-30, LW 30). Nice decision not to double Deron Williams off the pick-and-roll on Sunday. How did that work out for you?

Liquor company Jägermeister says Bucks’ new logo is too similar to their own

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MILWAUKEE (AP) A German company that makes a popular liqueur is not raising a shot glass to the Milwaukee Bucks’ redesigned logo.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Jägermeister has filed formal opposition with an appeal board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office about the registration of the logo.

The company contends it “has established exclusive rights in the DEER HEAD Marks through use in commerce in the United States” going back to 1968. It cites numerous reasons to oppose registration for the NBA team, including the possibility that people might confuse the two companies or believe they are connected or affiliated.

Both logos feature forward-looking deer with large antlers inside a circle or partial circle in about the same proportions.

Neither the Bucks nor Jägermeister returned messages seeking comment.

Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com

Carmelo on NBA CBA opt-out deadline: “I’m skeptical of something getting done”

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After months of reports that the NBA and the NBAPA would be able to reach an agreement on a new CBA, it appears the two sides have hit a snag.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN is reporting that the league and the player’s union are unlikely to agree to terms before Thursday’s deadline for the players to opt-out of the current CBA.

Via ESPN:

“I’m skeptical of something getting done,” Anthony, who is the vice president of the NBPA told ESPN after the New York Knicks practiced Saturday in Los Angeles. “Do I think something could happen by the 15th? Yeah I think something could happen. But I think this kind of put a dent in conversations.

“We had something so close. We were supposed to have a deal done weeks ago, and for this to happen at the 25th hour is tough.”

This is not good news for the talks, which have reportedly gone smoothly thus far and for good reason: money.

There’s more of it to be had all around for both sides, and as Basketball Related Income (or BRI) rises, so has the NBA salary cap.

Despite this unfortunate news, it’s not all doom and gloom for NBA fans hoping to avoid a lockout. While Dec. 15 is the opt-out date for the players and they will almost certainly take it, the current CBA doesn’t expire until June of 2017.

That means there won’t be any kind of work stoppage for the 2016-17 NBA season, but both sides would have a hard date of June 30 before ostensibly triggering one.

The good news is, hopefully, that since the two sides have already been working hard on a deal that they would be close on the terms they need to settle over the following six months.

A big question is apparently whether they can still make Thursday’s deadline, as Anthony has reportedly said it would take significant discussion time and constant work to finish the deal as it stands.

No word yet on what the issue is between the league and the players, as Anthony declined to elaborate.

Rumor: Celtics, Blazers potential trade destinations for Mavericks C Andrew Bogut

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The Dallas Mavericks have one of the worst records in the NBA at just 5-17. A trade to Texas back in July was put in the works in order for the Golden State Warriors to clear enough cap space to sign Kevin Durant, but not much has come of Bogut’s time in Big D thanks to multiple other issues with the roster.

Bogut, 32, is now a potential trade target for playoff teams looking to bolter their front line, and according to a report from ESPN’s Marc Stein, both the Boston Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers have either shown interest or make a natural fit.

Via ESPN:

Boston has already emerged as a team interested in trading for Dallas center Andrew Bogut, and here’s another team that makes sense: Portland. The Mavericks have yet to make Bogut available for potential deals, per ESPN’s own Tim MacMahon, but the Blazers are a natural suitor given their clear need for a defensive anchor at the rim as the league’s 30th-ranked defense as of Friday morning.

Boston makes a lot of sense for Bogut given their high aspirations for the season and the fact that they are the 7th-worst rebounding team in the NBA despite adding Al Horford to their roster this offseason.

The Celtics already have an excellent net rating on the season, but the space added from Bogut’s screens on offense would no doubt help propel them forward as they battle for a Top 3 spot in the Eastern Conference with the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Portland, meanwhile, needs Bogut’s skill set in a way that can’t be stressed enough. The Trail Blazers are one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, something Bogut could definitely help.

In 2015-16, with a similar roster, the Blazers were a top offensive rebounding team. This season they’re one of the worst on the glass, a major contributing factor to their early struggles.

Again, Bogut would help them, but GM Neil Olshey also isn’t one to make moves to upset the chemistry of his team unless absolutely require to — see Arron Afflalo in 2014-15.

If the Blazers pull the trigger on a trade for Bogut, it might also give us a better indicator of what is happening with Festus Ezeli, who Portland signed to a 2-year deal this summer. Ezeli has been recovering from knee surgery, but the team has been notably quiet his return as of late. If he isn’t able to return in time for the Blazers to stay in the playoff hunt, Olshey could warm to a Bogut trade if the price is right.

There are a few other teams that make sense for a Bogut trade: the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers, and Milwaukee Bucks are all teams either trying to head to the next level or galvanize their place as a playoff team.

None of these teams save for the Blazers are panicking yet, so we might have to wait until 2017 for a swap given that Bogut is now injured. The Mavericks C suffered a bone bruise in his right knee that will cause him to miss significant time in December.

For any team looking to trade for an aging Bogut, injury concerns are a real issue. He famously missed the end of the 2016 NBA Finals with a bone bruise in his left knee, and has played in 70 or more games just three times in his 12-year career.

When it comes to a Bogut trade, it will come down to the last micron as teams weight the risk vs. reward as the Mavericks start to suss out their asking price.

Indeed, we’ve seen for trades for players in Bogut’s position get a little pricey. Portland rented Afflalo for just 25 games at a price of Will Barton, Thomas Robinson, Victor Claver, and a protected first-round pick. Cleveland sent out a protected first-round pick, a second-round pick, Jared Cunningham, and Anderson Varejao for Channing Frye in February.

Bogut’s statistics, meanwhile, are notably down but it’s not immediately clear how much of that is due to the Mavericks overall poor play, or if that would even matter to receiving teams. His per-100 possession stats on points and blocks are down, and his net rating is terrible. It would be easy to dismiss that, rightly, to the Dallas roster collectively. Where teams really need him — rebounding — Bogut is stellar, and he’s grabbed a career-high 21.6 rebounds per-100 possessions.

When or if Dallas gets a deal together is anyone’s guess. Dirk Nowitzki has been dealing with Achilles soreness that has kept him sidelined, but he is slated to return before the end of 2016. The Mavericks mainstay has said he wants to keep playing and fighting, and although Dallas are in a huge hole, trading a useful frontline player like Bogut might betray some of Nowitzki’s confidence from the team that they are at least trying to give him reason to play through injury.

Patrick Beverley shuts down Westbrook on final play, bowls through own coach (VIDEO)

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Houston Rockets G Patrick Beverley is known around the NBA for being a dogged defender. His skill set was on full display on Friday night, where Beverley shut down Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook on a potential game-winning 3-pointer in the closing seconds.

It all started early in the matchup, when Beverley — notorious for getting under the skin of both Westbrook and other NBA opponents — flopped with some serious gusto just 36 seconds into the first quarter.

Via Twitter:

The game continued like this, but the real highlight of Beverley’s defensive night was stopping Westbrook — who dropped his 7th straight triple-double — on an isolation play with six seconds left in the fourth quarter.

With the ball on the left garden spot, Westbrook gave a couple of dribble hesitation moves to Beverley, then tried to rise up for the go-ahead bucket.

Beverley was right up on him, and forced an airball from Westbrook:

The Rockets guard was so happy about the stop and the eventual win that he celebrated a little too enthusiastically with Houston coach Mike D’Antoni.

Going for a chest bump, Beverley wound up blasting through his own coach: