John Lucas III, Carlos Boozer

NBA Power Rankings: Suns are rising, Spurs climb too.


Trade deadline moves aren’t changing the top of the rankings much, but we will see Portland and some other teams fall in the coming weeks. And we don’t know what the Nets are thinking either, so don’t ask.

1. Bulls (37-10, last week ranked number 1). They beat the Heat without Derrick Rose in the lineup, which was really more about how the Heat approached the game than a playoff preview. Still, the Bulls keep winning without Rose — getting guys like John Lucas III to step up — and you wonder what that will mean come May.

2. Heat (33-11, LW 2). Welcome to the dog days of the season, when the Heat have seemed to lose focus some nights. Bet they are up for their showdown with the Thunder next Sunday.

3. Spurs (29-14, LW 4). They slide ahead of the Thunder after beating them — in OKC — last Friday. But the Stephen Jackson trade was about cash savings down the line (particularly luxury tax savings) not winning now. Still not convinced that and a lack of size in the paint doesn’t come back to bite them come the playoffs.

4. Thunder (33-11, LW 3). They play like a young team — a couple good games then just a clunker thrown in every once in a while. Do they need a personality like Derek Fisher in the locker room to help them get over the hump? By the way, they really don’t want to see San Antonio in the playoffs, tough matchup for them.

5. Lakers (28-17, LW 6). Best home record in the league (even with the loss to the Jazz Sunday). They got a point guard in Ramon Session who is what they need — Mike Brown is bringing him along slowly but by the postseason Sessions will be the PG playing the key moments for this team. Would you be shocked to see them in the Western Conference Finals? Neither would I.

6. Magic (29-17, LW 5). They get to keep Dwight Howard through the playoffs, but when he doesn’t sign an extension this summer the same circus is coming back to town next year.

7. Grizzlies (25-18, LW 7). Zach Randolph is back, which is going to mean an adjustment period. But nobody wants these guys in the first round of the playoffs. Or the second.

8. Clippers (26-18 LW 9). They just went 3-3 on their homestand, which is not making them look like legit contenders yet. There are questions about how they perform at the ends of games, but with the ball in Chris Paul’s hands they are still dangerous.

9. Hawks (26-19, LW 10). Joe Johnson has been hot since returning from injury and as they keep the lineup in tact this is a pretty good team. Not better than any of the past few years, but a pretty good team.

10. Mavericks (26-20, LW 13). The won three in a row last week, including beating the Spurs, and they have gotten a nice little bump from Rodrigue Beaubois. But they feel like the Hawks — they don’t scare you in the playoffs.

11. 76ers (25-20, LW 8). Huge week for the 76ers — it looked like they had taken control of the Atlantic Division again a couple weeks ago, but their lead is down to 1 game and the Knicks and Celtics are on the schedule this week. You want to win the Atlantic and get the four seed to make sure you avoid Chicago and Miami in the first round.

12. Nuggets (25-20, LW 11). JaVale McGee watch is on — he’s got talent but now he has to play disciplined on the court and fit in a veteran locker room off it. Not sure if he can do it, not sure how George Karl will react to all this.

13. Suns (23-22, LW 18). Not sure there are many teams playing better than the Suns the last few weeks — they are just half a game out of the last playoff spot in the West. Consider it one last run with Steve Nash before he bolts town this summer.

14. Pacers (25-18, LW 12). They lost to the Knicks twice last week, but got a nice win over Philadelphia and beat up on Portland like everyone else. For them it all comes down to who is their first round playoff matchup (they get to avoid the Bulls and Heat, so they have a chance.

15. Celtics (23-21, LW 14). They decide to keep the Big Three together for one more playoff run — then the tired old legs showed and they got blown out by the Kings on the road. Nostalgia is nice but it doesn’t win.

16. Jazz (23-22, LW 17). They, the Rockets and Suns are in a fight for that last playoff spot in the West and are within half a game of each other. The Jazz just won two in a row without Al Jefferson, one of those against the Lakers on the road. That’s gritty.

17. Bucks (20-24, LW 19). They have won five straight, made a nice move to upgrade the offense at the deadline and they have a pretty soft schedule the rest of the way out. They are just half a game back of the Knicks for the last playoff spot in the East and the Knicks should be worried.

18. Knicks (21-24, LW 21). After three straight wins under Mike Woodson, I’m getting tweets from Knicks fans about how they can beat the Heat or Bulls in the first round. No, no you can’t. But expect some more wins as they have a pretty soft schedule for the next week.

19. Rockets (24-22, LW 15). They have that last playoff spot in the West as of this writing, but with the way the Suns and Jazz are playing it’s going to be hard to keep it.

20. Timberwolves (22-24, LW 16). They want to be in that last playoff spot in the West conversation, but they are going to have to get hot — and is that going to happen with Rubio out? Not likely.

21. Blazers (21-23, LW 20). They have not thrown in the towel on this season yet — eight of their next 10 are at the Rose Garden and they could put together a little run. Either way, I like what they did. If you have to rebuild on the fly, it should look a lot like that (except for finding someone to take Raymond Felton).

22. Warriors (18-24, LW 23). They are not going far this year and they have rolled the dice on the long-term health of Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry going forward. I don’t love those odds, and I don’t like that they added a lot of salary at the deadline either.

23. Pistons (16-29, LW 22). No moves at the deadline, not even shipping out Will Bynum somewhere. Well, at least there is Greg Monroe to build around, and Rodney Stuckey has played well of late.

24. Kings (16-29, LW 25). This team is going to play poorly most times out then every once in a while give you a fantastic game (like the blowout of the Celtics). That’s what they are now.

25. Cavaliers (16-26, LW 24). They have the soon to be Rookie of the Year in Kyrie Irving and a couple first round picks coming up. That’s how you rebuild, but there are some not pretty games mixed in.

26. Nets (15-31, LW 26). They should be better the rest of this season with Gerald Wallace. But when Wallace and Deron Williams leave this summer and they don’t have their first round pick it’s going to look a lot darker.

27. Raptors (15-30, LW 27). The may have Andrea Bargnani back, but they lost to the Nets and Bobcats last week. They are lucky to be this high.

28. Hornets (11-34, LW 28). They got a new lease deal in place for the arena, so they at least pick up a meaningful off the court win last week. Should have found a way to move Chris Kaman for assets at the deadline.

29. Wizards (10-34, LW 29). Getting Nene for JaVale McGee is a great move for this team in the locker room. Need to change the culture. Still, a long, long way to go here.

30. Bobcats (7-36, LW 30). Two wins last week? Sure, it’s the Nets and Raptors, but they still count as wins. They are close to getting out of the cellar in these standings.

NBA: Warriors wins credited to Steve Kerr, Luke Walton can win awards

Luke Walton
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Later on Tuesday it will be announced that Warriors interim coach Luke Walton is the NBA Coach of the Month for November. (That’s not official yet, but seriously who else is going to get it?)

Yet Luke Walton’s record will remain 0-0 as a head coach. Those record 19 wins to start the season belong to Steve Kerr.

The league clarified its position to the media on Tuesday with a release:

…the head coach of record is credited with team wins and losses.  Steve Kerr remains the head coach of record for the Golden State Warriors and is credited with those results.  Additionally, any team head coach, interim head coach or acting head coach is eligible to be recognized with league coaching awards.  Therefore, Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton is eligible for NBA Coach of the Month.

The logic is that the systems installed in Golden State were put in place by Kerr, and while Walton has managed games he is not the overall architect of their success. Which is true. With all due to respect to what Walton has done Kerr laid the foundation for this team, Walton has managed it this season. He hasn’t crashed the car.

There still is no official timeframe for Kerr’s return from his back issues. He is around the team at the practice facility all the time, but is not coaching games or traveling with the team consistently.

This performance will be a significant step toward Walton getting job where his wins and losses will count on his permanent record soon enough.

Clippers’ Chris Paul exits game with “rib muscle strain” may miss time

Chris Paul, Gerald Henderson, Mason Plumlee, Al-Farouq Aminu, C.J. McCollum
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It happened in the third quarter, although it’s not clear exactly how. All anyone saw was Chris Paul calling a timeout to remove himself from the game (an eventual Clippers’ victory over the Trail Blazers) and grabbing his left side.

After the game, the Clippers said that Paul had suffered a “rib muscle strain.” CP3 will be re-evaluated on Tuesday, and then a timetable for his return will be set. It looks like he could miss a little time. Since the term “rib muscle strain” is intentionally vague we’re left to speculate a little: This could be an oblique muscle strain and if so they can be tricky, and it takes a couple of weeks (or more) to get back.

The Clippers might be wise to give Paul a little time away from the game; he has battled through a fractured finger and a strained groin this season. A little time off could help all of this. Paul played in all 82 regular season games for the Clippers last season, the first time he had done that in his career.

Paul is averaging 17.5 points and 8.4 assists per game, and the Clippers elite offense is 13.9 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the floor rather than sitting. Look at it this way, the Clippers’ most used lineup (Paul, J.J. Redick, Lance Stephenson, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan) outscores opponents by 19 points per 100 possessions, but sub Austin Rivers in for Paul and they get outscored by 13.8 per 100 and their defense falls apart. (For the record, I know that they are trying different players at the three and that Luc Mbah a Moute got the chance Monday, but I was using the lineups with the most played minutes to lessen the sample size error.)

The Clippers are not the same without Chris Paul, if he is out for any stretch of time, it’s a setback for a team that had seemed to start finding it groove.

Will Kobe Bryant’s pending retirement change how Lakers use him?

Kobe Bryant, D'Angelo Russell, Byron Scott
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This is Kobe Bryant‘s final season in the NBA; he made that clear with his announcement on Sunday. If for the Lakers organization that means they want Kobe to go out playing his way — still trying to create and make tough shots — then go right ahead. As evidenced by the reactions at Staples Center Sunday night, the fans love it.

But what should have been the Lakers’ primary goal for this season — developing young players D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance — has seemed at cross purposes with that. At least in the mind of coach Byron Scott.

So there it was in crunch time against the Pacers’ Sunday and Kobe and Nick Young were on the court while Russell watched from the bench. It gives the perception the Lakers don’t embrace the future.

Will how they use Kobe Bryant — and by extension the younger players — change now that Kobe has made it official this is his final season?

“I don’t know that I’ll change that much, as far as I want him to play,” Scott said. “I still want him to go out on a very positive note. And there’s a part of me that feels he is going to have those glimmers, having some of those games I know he’s capable of having.”

Scott’s job as coach, at least in his mind, seems to have been to make the last couple seasons of Kobe’s career comfortable. He said that Kobe has earned the right to take his tough, contested shots but has benched the players he’s tried to develop for their mistakes (and not clearly communicated to those players why they are sitting, if you ask the youngsters).

Beyond the coach, this is an organizational decision and priority.

“We have to huddle up and decide if there is going to be anything different in terms of minutes,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said. “It’s not something that’s going to be decided today. But since he has made it clear this will be the last season for him, it will be more enjoyable and I think people can appreciate and will appreciate what he’s accomplished, not only in our building — with loads of love — but even more so on the road.”

Kobe isn’t going to change.

“I gave up hoping he would change his approach 15, 18 years ago,” Kupchak joked. “He is what he is. And I’m thankful for it.”

I understand the need to let the fans see Kobe be Kobe, to let him go out on his terms (although playing him 30+ minutes a night and saying the goal is to have him standing at the end of the season is an odd mix, Scott). The Lakers are selling Kobe while they try to develop their young players.

The question of how well they are developing them remains.

One thing I would like to see is more Kobe with the second unit, and by extension less with Russell and Randle. Kobe’s going to take his shots, but if he is taking those away from Nick Young or Lou Williams, so what? Let those guys fight over the ball a little (that would be entertaining). But then rest him and let Russell and Randle and the other youth learn to work together for long stretches without any of those ball dominating players on the court. That includes letting the kids close some games, even if it’s not pretty.

This was always going to be a rough Lakers’ season, although it is uglier than the team and its fans imagined. But that’s okay if the young players are getting their minutes, being coached up, and developing. The Lakers can’t let the Kobe farewell tour get in the way of that.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert with the crazy high alley-oop finish (VIDEO)

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I love that the Jazz were going to be themselves against the Warriors — two of our three best players are big men in Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, and we are going to use them whether you go small or not. Those two have the athleticism to make that work in a way few teams can’t. The result was a close game, one ultimately won by the Warriors because Stephen Curry can do Stephen Curry things, but you had to love the way the Jazz played.

And you had to love this finish by Gobert in the fourth quarter.

This alley-oop is pretty well defended, but there’s not much a defender can do when you can lob the ball above the box on the backboard, and Gobert can just go get it and finish.