NBA Power Rankings: Top spot now Thunderstruck

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There can’t be any question about the Thunder in the top spot after the last 8 days, but there are questions about the Heat and the Bulls in the East. And the Celtics and Spurs as spoilers.

1. Thunder (40-12, last week ranked number 2). They beat the Heat, Bulls and Lakers in the last 8 days. Any other questions? Big test again this week as they get a rematch with the Heat, but I think the questions about who is coming out of the West have been answered. Unless it is the…

2. Spurs (36-14, LW 3). Winners of seven in a row now and the question is “are they legit contenders?” I still think they struggle in the playoffs if they have to face one of the big scoring front lines (the Grizzlies and Lakers) but you can be sure the Thunder would like to avoid them.

3. Bulls (42-12, LW 1). Despite the ugly loss to the Thunder there can’t be any complaints about how this team has performed without Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton. Miami isn’t putting any pressure on them to rush Rose back, but you still want him to return about six games or so before the playoffs to shake off all the rust and get in some game-speed action.

4. Heat (37-13, LW 4). Ugh. They are 1-7 on the road against playoff teams since the All-Star break. Is it because they are bored right now in the dog days of the season, or are they fundamentally flawed? They get a chance to redeem themselves against the Thunder this week, at home where they play well, and they also have the Grizzlies and Celtics coming up at home, too.

5. Lakers (33-20, LW 5). Getting thumped by the Thunder last week shows the gap between them and the Thunder right now, but even in their wins last week the Lakers look tired. The Lakers starters have been okay but the bench is a mess and will get tested more with Bynum out. Heading into the playoffs Mike Brown needs to get his key guys some rest. Key contest against the Clippers Wednesday.

6. Clippers (31-21 LW 10). Five straight wins has quieted the Vinny Del Negro talk — and they have looked good, especially Chris Paul of late. But all of the wins came at home. If they want to win the Pacific Division they need to beat the Lakers Wednesday, they also could use to beat Dallas Monday on the road. Good tests to see if this team is really a contender.

7. Celtics (30-22, LW 14). Impressive win against the Heat Sunday, but also had quality wins last week against Houston and Minnesota. They are going to win the Atlantic Division, which means avoiding the Heat or Bulls out of gate.

8. Mavericks (30-23, LW 8). They have had one of the toughest schedules in the league since the break — a lot of good teams and having to face them on little rest. Dirk Nowitzki has found his groove again, scoring more than 20 points consistently now.

9. Magic (32-20, LW 6). They looked pretty bad without Dwight Howard (out with back spasms) and they will continue to until he returns (day-to-day). They are built around him at both ends of the floor.

10. Grizzlies (28-22, LW 11). Right now it shapes up to be a Lakers vs. Grizzlies first round matchup — which would be epic. And the rest of the West is rooting for that because nobody wants to take on either of these front lines in the first round, let them battle it out amongst themselves.

11. Hawks (31-23, LW 7). Losses to Chicago and Philadelphia last week have you questioning this squad once the playoffs start. Pretty soft schedule from here on out is the good news for them.

12. Pacers (31-21, LW 9). They beat the Heat and lost to the Nets last week. So yes, they tend to be a bit up and down.

13. Knicks (27-26, LW 17). Without Jeremy Lin and Amare Stoudemire the focus will be on Carmelo Anthony, but the Knicks have been winning thanks to defense. Tyson Chandler is this team’s MVP.

14. 76ers (29-23, LW 12). Does anyone really think they are going to catch up to Boston for the Atlantic Division crown? No, nott since they finish this season mostly on the road. Which means they are going to draw Miami or Chicago in the first round.

15. Nuggets (28-24, LW 16). They handed the Bulls and Magic a loss last week and have gone from a team looking like they were sliding out of the playoffs to a team clutching one of the final spots. If they make the playoffs with this roster and all these injuries George Karl deserves a raise.

16. Rockets (28-25, LW 19). Houston plays Phoenix and Utah one more time each, both at home. Win those and they likely make it in. Goran Dragic hits the free agent market this summer and a lot of teams will be lined up to snatch him away.

17. Jazz (27-26, LW 13). Three tough losses last week, that could come back to haunt them. They need some quality wins, like Wednesday at Portland.

18. Suns (25-26 LW 15). No Grant Hill for a while (even though he is trying to get back) and now they head out on the road for seven of their last eight. That said, lots of games left against Denver, Houston and Utah — Phoenix’s fate is in it’s own hands.

19. Bucks (24-28, LW 18). Despite the loss in New York last week this team still has a shot at the playoffs, 2.5 games back of the Knicks. But they need to clean up on an upcoming home stand, and they need to find a way to get Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis clicking at the same time. (Good luck with that.)

20. Timberwolves (25-29, LW 20). Kevin Love is not your MVP but his effort to keep the Wolves in the playoff hunt deserves your admiration.

21. Blazers (24-28, LW 21). They started out just terribly after the All-Star Break but have turned it around some of late thanks to… J.J. Hickson? In part. He’s shooting 65 percent since coming to Portland.

22. Pistons (19-33, LW 25). They are the best of the NBA’s bad teams. That and $4 gets you a latte at Starbucks.

23. Nets (19-35, LW 26). Three wins in a row and Deron Williams is playing well. Portland fans would like to thank you for not tanking.

24. Kings (18-34, LW 23). No team has improved more statistically from before the All-Star break to after it, in part thanks to the entertaining three guard combo of Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans.

25. Warriors (20-31, LW 22). They are doing a good job of tanking without actually looking like they are tanking — they hang close in games then just find a way to lose.

26. Raptors (18-35, LW 27). Don’t tell anyone, but the Raptors are playing fairly well on offense since Andrea Bargnani is playing well.

27. Cavaliers (17-33, LW 24). There is going to be either and 8.8 percent or 6.3 percent chance that the Cavaliers win the NBA lottery again (maybe even higher, if they keep tanking like they have been going 1-10 of late). Anthony Davis next to Kyrie Irving could be a lot of fun to watch.

28. Hornets (13-40, LW 28). When are they going to announce the sale of this team as official, anyway? I’m not asking for me, Mark Cuban wants to know.

29. Wizards (12-40, LW 29). If Nene were healthy they’d be a lot better… which is actually bad for draft reasons. So it’s all going to plan.

30. Bobcats (7-43, LW 30). Some radio talk show host in your town will start to make a case about how the Bobcats should take Thomas Robinson or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or somebody else ahead of Anthony Davis. That person is full of crap. The Bobcats just hope they get stuck with that choice.

Report: Spurs, Clippers, Suns, Timberwolves, Knicks, Heat have proposed Kyrie Irving trades

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Kyrie Irving requested a trade – reportedly ideally to the Knicks, Heat, Spurs or Timberwolves.

All those teams – plus the Clippers and Suns – have made offers to the Cavaliers.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

So far, these are among the teams who’ve made offers to the Cavaliers for Irving, league sources tell ESPN: The San Antonio Spurs, LA Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves, New York Knicks and Miami Heat. There were approximately 20 teams that inquired with Cleveland upon the news of Irving’s trade request, league sources said, but far fewer have registered legitimate proposals.

The Cavaliers want a package that resembles the 2011 Denver Nuggets-New York Knicks deal for Carmelo Anthony — young players, win-now veterans and draft picks, league sources said. For new general manager Koby Altman, this is a textbook way to open trade discussions. But for now, most Irving suitors are using the Minnesota Timberwolves-Chicago Bulls trade model for Jimmy Butler, a scaled-down model of Melo’s rich return of assets.

The Miami Heat are willing to part with Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow as centerpieces for an Irving trade, league sources said.

Altman and the Cavaliers haven’t been overzealous on the phones. They’ve been deliberate in returning calls and canvassing for offers, trying to create the illusion that there’s no urgency, no desperation.

A few important things to keep in mind: This isn’t necessarily a complete list of teams that have proposed a trade for Irving. These offers aren’t necessarily reasonable. The Cavs can make offers themselves.

But if Cleveland is concerned about not looking desperate and therefore not proposing trades itself, which teams have made proposals takes on greater importance. Going through the known offering teams:

  • The Heat are reportedly pessimistic/uninterested. Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow shouldn’t be enough. I’m not sure what else Miami can offer to make up the difference.
  • As long as Carmelo Anthony remains set on the Rockets and the Knicks won’t trade Kristaps Porzingis, New York will have a near-impossible time forming a suitable offer for Irving – unless the Knicks can re-route players acquired for Anthony. That would get complicated.
  • The Spurs lack assets beyond Kawhi Leonard, and their next-best player – LaMarcus Aldridge – would exacerbate a logjam with Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love and LeBron James in Cleveland.
  • The Timberwolves make a lot of sense on paper, but they’re still negotiating a contract extension with Andrew Wiggins. While that might actually be a precursor to an Irving trade, Wiggins finalizing an extension would signal Minnesota is going another direction. The Timberwolves trading for Irving would almost have to include Wiggins.
  • An Eric Bledsoe-and-Josh Jackson package for Irving seems about fair, but the Suns are reportedly refusing to include Jackson. Phoenix has a wide enough array of other assets that a deal could still be struck, though.
  • The Clippers haven’t been mentioned much, but here’s a theoretical starting point for an Irving trade:

The Nuggets’ Carmelo Anthony trade has long been held up as the gold standard for dealing a star. But what an indictment of the Bulls that their Jimmy Butler trade is now viewed as the reference point for teams low-balling teams with stars. Chicago deserves it.

The Cavaliers just have to sort through these offers – and maybe eventually propose a few of their own – to ensure they emerge looking more like Denver than Chicago.

Report: Kyrie Irving’s has tampered down partying, boosting trade stock

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Chauncey Billups – who thinks like an NBA executive in that the Cavaliers offered him a job running their front office – called Kyrie Irving‘s trade request “alarming.” Billups found it incomprehensible a player would want to leave LeBron James and Cleveland, which has reached three straight NBA Finals and won a title.

Maybe Irving’s trade request reflects poorly on the Cavs. After all, Billups declined their offer.

But Billups also clearly took issue with Irving. What kind of player wants to leaving all that winning?

Any team considering trading for him is investigating that question and many others.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Truth be told, the Cavaliers trade talks have been buoyed with teams getting back better, if not perfect, reports on Irving’s growth, league sources said. Among the consensus: Irving has a history of late nights and partying, but there’s no trail of missed practices, bloodshot eyes or hungover shootarounds. Most intel has come back that he has curbed those tendencies into his mid-20s, picking his spots more wisely. As a teammate, Irving can be moody, but most agree he’s ultimately invested. He hasn’t always loved deferring to James on the Cavaliers, or Kevin Durant in USA Basketball. This is the Kobe Bryant inside of him, and that’s part of the DNA that can be a blessing and a curse. Teams believe he’s smart, savvy and, above all, they believe he’s a winner.

“Go back through every team he’s played on, talked to people involved — or just study the results — and it doesn’t matter whether it was high school, college, USA development and national teams, and in the NBA — and you see a pattern of him impacting winning,” one Eastern Conference executive said. “There are questions about those first couple years before LeBron came back, but I think there were a lot of issues around there that were out of his control. That said, he didn’t always help himself then either.”

Before LeBron returned, the Cavaliers went 21-45, 24-58 and 33-49 with Irving. He’s a winner? Yes, maybe.

There’s a difference between a player “impacting winning” and winning. A single player can control whether he impacts winning – making individual plays that help his team and limiting errors that hurt. He can’t control whether he wins. That requires enough of his teammates to impact winning, and many of Irving’s in Cleveland didn’t. It can be difficult to separate a player’s individual contributions from overall team success, but that’s the job of an NBA executive. Teams are trading for Irving, not the 2013-14 Cavs. It seems the verdict is in: Irving is not being blamed for those losing seasons.

Irving is smart and driven. He parties late into the night? Many players do, especially when they’re younger. There apparently isn’t reason to be particularly concerned about Irving.

He has learned what it takes to succeed on the biggest stages. Though he has clearly disliked deferring to LeBron, Irving did it anyway – at a championship level. That’s a sign of maturity.

Irving clearly isn’t the same player or person he was a few years ago, and though that’s the only timeframe he led a team, his growth demands viewing a bigger picture.

It seems potential trade partners are doing that and mostly liking what they’ve found.

Retired from the NBA or not, Tim Duncan would kick your a** in an MMA fight

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Tim Duncan has retired from the NBA.

But if you think that means he’s not still wearing Punisher T-shirts and is not still working out and staying in shape, you should watch the video above.

San Antonio-based kickboxing trainer Jason Echols posted a Facebook video of him and Duncan sparing, and the 41-year-old five-time NBA champ is still kicking a**. Sure, this sparring is at half speed, but if Duncan were going all out he could do some real damage.

He’s probably even got a move called the bank shot in his repertoire.

(Hat tip Eye on Basketball)

Watch LeBron James walk over to scorer’s table at son’s AAU game to correct score

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I feel LeBron on this one. I have two daughters who play on club soccer teams and I get more frustrated, angrier at referees, and generally am far more emotionally invested their youth games than any NBA game. Over the years I have learned a lot, both from and saw it echoed in Coach David Thorpe’s book, about how to be supportive to them and their experiences, not make it about my feelings and wishes.

But sometimes you need to step in.

LeBron James is in Las Vegas and so far all the stories have been about how he is working out with Derrick Rose, Eric Bledsoe, Chris Paul, and what does that all mean (nothing, NBA guys often work out together all summer, especially teammates and guys who share an agent). But he’s also there for the AAU Adidas Uprising tournament where his son is playing.

And when LeBron saw the score was wrong, he went over to the scorer’s table at a time out to tell them.

I love the way the scorer’s wave him off, like they would any parent who walks up and complains.

Then they corrected the score, because LeBron was right. You knew he would be, the man has an eidetic memory about basketball.