Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook celebrates with small forward Kevin Durant during their NBA basketball game against Chicago Bulls in Oklahoma City

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.

Steve Kerr on if Stephen Curry will play Saturday: “Probably not”

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 01:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts on the bench during the second quarter of their game against the Portland Trail Blazers during Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals for the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 01, 2016 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Two days before Golden State heads into Portland for Game 3 of its second-round series, the Warriors practice ended with a relatively intense scrimmage.

Stephen Curry was a bystander.

Well, not exactly, he was working out with a trainer on another court, but he didn’t play in the scrimmage. And he likely will not play on Saturday in Game 3, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, via Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com.

Though Curry’s status has been upgraded from definitely “out” to “probable” for Game 3 against the Trail Blazers on Friday at Moda Center in Portland, it’s more realistic that he’ll return for Game 4 on Monday.

Asked if Curry could be cleared for Game 3, coach Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, “Probably not.”

That fits with the original timeline, which was two weeks.

The Warriors are up 2-0 in the series, and regardless of the outcome on Saturday they will want Curry back on Sunday. If the Trail Blazers win at home this becomes the same scenario Golden State faced against Houston, wanting to make sure the Warriors win one game on the road they bring back the once-and-future MVP to the lineup.

Even if the Warriors win Game 3 and have a 3-0 lead, if they can bring Curry back they need to. With all this time off he’s going to be rusty (he looked it in the one part of Game 4 against Houston he did play) and the Warriors need to make sure he shakes that off before the Conference Finals, when the Warriors will need him at full strength regardless of opponent.

Kobe Bryant’s “Dear Basketball” retirement announcement to be made into short animated film

In this photo taken Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant waves good bye to the fans after an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings in his last appearance at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Calif. Renamed SleepTrain Arena, the facility has been the home of the Kings since it opened in 1988. The Kings won an NBA-best 61 games in the 2001-02 season behind Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, losing to the eventual champion Lakers in Game 7 of the conference finals. The Kings will play their last game at the aging building, Saturday against the Oklahoma City Thunder and begin play next season at the new Golden One Center built in downtown Sacramento. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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What’s next for Kobe Bryant after his retirement tour?

Apparently a little more focus on his retirement tour.

Kobe announced his retirement just after Thanksgiving via a “Dear Basketball” poem on The Players’ Tribune. Now Bryant and his new “storytelling” production company have teamed up with Sports Illustrated to turn that poem into an animated short film. From the press release:

Time Inc.’s Sports Illustrated Group and NBA legend Kobe Bryant’s new production company, Kobe Studios, along with Believe Entertainment Group, announced an exclusive multi-platform video production and development project devoted to Dear Basketball, Bryant’s poetic tribute to the game. The collaboration includes the world premiere of Dear Basketball the animated short film on SI.com as well as a series of exclusive SI Films mini documentaries taking viewers behind the scenes of the animation process. Dear Basketball is targeted to premiere in the fall on SI.com….

“Dear Basketball is the perfect tribute to something I’ve loved for so long. Glen and John are two legends in their industries, so to partner with them on the creative process is a dream come true,” said Bryant. “Working with Sports Illustrated on this special project is an amazing opportunity to hopefully inspire fans all over the world.”

I have no idea what a poem about basketball turned into an animated short film is going to look like, but it should be interesting. It’s got to be better than that last Sponge Bob movie.

I guess this is a logical first step for Kobe in this kind of production, playing off his brand and into a topic where he should be very comfortable. I’d sit here and be snarky about it, but we all know we’re going to watch it, right?

 

Paul Millsap and Al Horford: Hawks wouldn’t have gunned for 3-point record like Cavaliers did

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) is fouled by Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford (15) in the second half during Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
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The Cavaliers are making 3-pointers at a blistering pace.

Cleveland even set a record for any NBA game with 25 3-pointers in its Game 2 win over the Hawks. To get there, the Cavs attempted 11 3s in a fourth quarter they entered up 36.

Did that disrespect Atlanta?

Paul Millsap, via Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“It’s a certain way of being a professional,” the Hawks’ Paul Millsap said to cleveland.com. “I’m not mad about it, but just being professionals man. If that’s how you want to approach it, that’s how you approach it. I think our team and our organization has class and I don’t think we would have continued to do that, but other organizations do other things so what can you do about it?”

Al Horford, via Haynes:

“We probably wouldn’t do anything like that [if we were in that position],” he told cleveland.com. “…It’s hard to say, but I would say no.”

We can’t know what the Hawks would do, because they’ve never made more than 20 3-pointers in a game. I’d guess they’d hunt the record if it were within their grasp in an uncompetitive game, but that’s just a guess. Millsap and Horford are guessing, too.

What were the Cavs supposed to do? Just take shot-clock violations? Of course not. As long as they have to shoot anyway, there’s no reason not to take 3s. Even if they didn’t have to shoot, it would’ve been fine to take 3s. Atlanta had one solution: Defend the arc better.

If the Hawks want to tell themselves they should be offended in order to motivate themselves for Game 3, good for them. Just don’t confuse that with Cleveland doing anything offensive.

Phil Jackson goes on vacation, reportedly puts Knicks’ coaching search on hold

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson speaks to reporters during a news conference in Greenburgh, N.Y., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Derek Fisher was fired as New York Knicks coach Monday, with his team having lost five straight and nine of 10 to fall well back in the Eastern Conference playoff race. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
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Phil Jackson has stumped for Kurt Rambis, interviewed David Blatt, talked with Luke Walton and ignored Carmelo Anthony.

It must be exhausting.

So, it appears the Knicks president took off on a tour the American West:

No big deal. Everyone has cell phones. Jackson can still run the coaching search from afar.

Except….

Ian Begley of ESPN:

Jackson is on vacation at the moment. The interesting thing here is that league sources say that some involved in the Knicks’ coaching search have been informed that Phil is away at the moment, meaning the search is on hold.

This matters only if Jackson isn’t just going to hire Rambis anyway. But if the Knicks are interested in exploring candidates other teams – Rockets, Pacers and Kings – might want, Jackson is missing a valuable opportunity.

Reminder: The Knicks are paying him $12 million per year – money that could have lured someone with a record of front-office success or even just the commitment to delay a vacation until after hiring a coach.