Spurs move percentage points ahead of Thunder into West’s top spot

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It’s kind of been a foregone conclusion since a month into the season that the Thunder would be the top seed in the West and that all roads to the finals were going through Oklahoma City.

But that road may have a detour now through San Antonio.

The Spurs have now won 10 in a row and you combine that with the Thunder’s three-game losing streak and you have two teams tied on top of the Western Conference. But the Spurs are a game ahead in the loss column (and have played two fewer games, they have 13 remaining.

If the teams keep playing as they have the past couple weeks the Spurs will win West — while San Antonio is playing better than anyone the Thunder are stumbling. But the Thunder have an advantage in the schedule.

The Thunder have 11 games left but only four are against likely playoff teams (two against the Clippers). Of their 13 games the Spurs have six against likely playoff teams, including three against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Of course, the Spurs were the top seed last year and got bounced in the first round by the Grizzlies (the team once again nobody in the West wants to face in the first round). I still think they could struggle against a team like that or the Lakers that gets a lot of its scoring out of its front line. However, Tiago Splitter is playing well this year and could prove me wrong.

These Spurs are younger, deeper and have been getting amazing play all season from Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — things they didn’t get last year. Younger role players like Gary Neal and Danny Green are stepping up. Plus “old man” Tim Duncan has averaged a double-double (16 and 10) over the last 10 games. They have been getting those wins while still resting guys, also. Finally, they can play on the road — this is an NBA record 15th consecutive year the Spurs will have had a winning record on the road. If they have home court throughout you have to mention them with the other contenders in the NBA.

Jazz boost international bona fides with new minor-league coach

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Martin Schiller has been named coach of the Salt Lake City Stars, the Utah Jazz’s NBA G League affiliate.

Schiller previously served as an assistant coach of MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg in Germany and replaces Dean Cooper. He was an assistant coach for the Artland Dragons from 2010-15.

Schiller has also been an assistant coach on the German National Team since 2015, where he worked with Jazz assistant coach Alex Jensen.

Schiller hails from Vienna, Austria, and Stars vice president of basketball operations Bart Taylor lauded him for his international experience and player development background.

The Jazz organization is known to have close relationships with the international basketball community. The Jazz currently have eight international players.

Kyrie Irving will wear No. 11 with Celtics

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BOSTON (AP) — Newly acquired guard Kyrie Irving will wear No. 11 in Boston because the Celtics already have retired the numbers he wore in college and with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Irving wore No. 11 at two New Jersey high schools before switching to No. 1 at Duke. He wore No. 2 with the Cavaliers for the first six years of his NBA career.

The Celtics retired No. 1 for founder and original owner Walter Brown. They retired No. 2 for former coach and general manager Red Auerbach.

In all, the Celtics have retired 21 numbers, with Paul Pierce’s No. 34 next in line for the TD Garden rafters.

 

PBT Extra: Cavaliers’ new GM aces first big test with Kyrie Irving trade

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Everyone in the NBA — heck, nearly everyone living in the Western hemisphere — knew Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland. That should kill the Cavaliers’ leverage and make it hard to get enough quality back.

New GM Koby Altman — the guy thrust into the job when David Griffin was shown the door — pulled it off brilliantly.

That’s what I talk about in this new PBT Extra. With Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, the Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the East this season. The Brooklyn Nets pick gives them flexibility going forward, whatever LeBron James decides to do next season.

First time at the plate in the big leagues and Altman crushed it to straight away center field.

Cavaliers-Celtics deal first offseason trade involving players who just met in NBA Finals or conference finals

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The Cavaliers and Celtics played in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. The teams were widely expected to meet there again.

Yet, Cleveland and Boston just completed a blockbuster trade – Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

That seemed odd.

In fact, it’s unprecedented.

That is an incredible fact, one which speaks to LeBron Jamescachet. The Cavs are emphasizing this season, LeBron’s last before a player option, by loading up with veterans Thomas and Crowder. With LeBron still reigning in Cleveland, the Celtics are delaying their peak by acquiring the younger Irving.

Adding to the intrigue: the Cavs and Celtics are still favored to meet in this year’s conference finals. At minimum, they’ll face off in a(n even more) highly anticipated opening-night matchup.