Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah,

NBA Power Rankings: Bulls grab top spot by the horns


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?

Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins probable to play against Dallas Monday

DeMarcus Cousins
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It’s this simple: The Sacramento Kings are 5-5 when DeMarcus Cousins plays this season, 1-7 when he sits. (And that win number is a big misleading, they looked like they would have beaten Charlotte with him, but when he left with back pain they lost, they could easily be 6-4 with him.)

So it’s good news that Cousins is expected to return to the Sacramento lineup Monday night. Well not good for Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks, but good for the Kings, as reported by James Ham at CSNBayArea,com.

This season Cousins is averaging 27.9 points and 11.2 rebounds a game, he has a true shooting percentage above the league average (56.3 percent for Cousins) and he has a PER of 27.1 which is sixth best in the league.

Combine him with the numbers Rajon Rondo has put up lately the Kings become much more dangerous. They’d be even scarier if everyone stayed healthy and George Karl would settle on a lineup.

PBT Extra: Kobe Bryant understands now is time to walk away

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It was expected Kobe Bryant would retire at the end of this season.

It was not expected Kobe would make that official on Nov. 29 — it’s caught the media at Staples Center Sunday (of which I was one) and the fans by surprise.

In this PBT Extra, I talk with Jenna Corrado about the mood inside Staples Center Sunday.

More importantly, I discuss the sense I got that Kobe understands it’s time to walk away, and he is at peace with that.

Luke Walton: Warriors concerned about health, not 72 wins

Andre Iguodala, Luke Walton
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Stephen Curry acknowledges the Warriors – who are 18-0 and won four straight to end last season – talk about the NBA record of 33 consecutive wins.

But what about another major record Golden State is chasing, 72 wins in a season?

Shooting guard Klay Thompson called it possible. General manager Bob Myers deemed it impossible.

Interim coach Luke Walton would prefer everyone just keep quiet.

Walton, via CSN Bay Area:

“The 72 thing is far, far away,” Walton said. “We shouldn’t be spending any time thinking about that.

“I’ve also said before that we’re not going to coach this season trying to chase that record,” Walton said

“We’re still going to give players nights off on back-to-backs,” he added. “And we’re going to do our best to limit minutes for some of our players. Our main concern is being healthy come playoff time.”

I don’t think Golden State will win 72 games, but prioritizing health won’t necessary stop the Warriors. They’re so deep.

They outscore opponents by 5.8 points per 100 possessions when Curry sits, 5.6 when Draymond Green sits. Those marks would rank seventh among all NBA teams.

Golden State has the luxury of resting players and continuing to win. That’s what makes the chase for 72 realistic. This team is less likely than most to wear down late in a season where it’s pushing to win every game.

Health entering the playoffs is important, but a 72-win season would raise these Warriors to legendary status. If they’re in range late in the season, I think they’ll go for it – even if the top seed is already secured.

But for now, Walton is probably taking the right approach. Plenty of teams start fast (though never this fast) then drift back toward the pack. No point risking Golden State’s health yet.

Kevin Durant to media: You treated Kobe Bryant ‘like s—‘

Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant once told the media, “You guys really don’t know s—.”

The Thunder star expressed regret, but if he knew how we were going to treat Kobe Bryant, he might have stuck to his guns.

Durant, via Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman:

I did idolize Kobe Bryant. I studied him, wanted to be like him. He was our Michael Jordan. I watched Michael towards the end of his career when he was with the Wizards, and I seen that’s what Kobe emerged as the guy for us.

I’ve been disappointed this year because you guys treated him like s—. He’s a legend, and all I hear is about how bad he’s playing, how bad he’s shooting. It’s time for him to hang it up. You guys treated one of our legends like s—, and I didn’t really like it. So hopefully, now you can start being nice to him now that he decided to retire after this year. It was sad the way he was getting treated, in my opinion.

But he had just an amazing career, a guy who changed the game for me as a player mentally and physically. Means so much to the game of basketball. Somebody I’m always going to look to for advice, for help, for anything. Just a brilliant, brilliant, intelligent man. And it’s sad to see him go.

Kobe is shooting 20% from the floor and 30% on 3-pointers for a 2-14 team. How else should we describe his season?

Why not bash the person most publicly critical of Kobe? Or the many people around the NBA who recognize how far Kobe has fallen? Or Byron Scott, who has repeatedly intensified discussion of Kobe’s demise?

Why is the media, which is not some monolithic entity anyway, the primary target?

There are writers who fawn over Kobe, writers who criticize him and many more who do both. We don’t all think alike.

If we did, Durant would be bound to treat Kobe like s—, too.