Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Stephen Jackson, Gary Neal

NBA Power Rankings: Who forgot to tell Spurs they are old?

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Can you picture a San Antonio vs. Miami finals? It’s not that hard, if you try.

1. Spurs (40-14, last week ranked number 2). Eleven wins in a row and they are percentage points ahead of the Thunder (and one ahead of them in the loss column). Are they title contenders? They have four rings with this core, have the best coach in the league and are a matchup problem for the Thunder. I still wonder about them against the big front lines of the Lakers or Grizzlies, but with a healthy Manu Ginobili it’s close. The Spurs need everything to go perfectly, but that’s what we said about the Mavericks last year.

2. Heat (40-15, LW 4). They redeemed themselves with a quality win against the Thunder, then right after came out and laid an egg against Memphis. As he has all season, LeBron keeps putting up big numbers when Dwyane Wade sits. Big tests this week with the Celtics, Bulls and Knicks on the docket.

3. Bulls (43-14, LW 3). They got Derrick Rose back with a few weeks to work off the rust before the playoffs start. Perfect. Their only question is who they want to see in the first round more: Sixers, Bucks or Knicks?

4. Thunder (40-15, LW 1). Tough week of games last week and the Thunder drop three straight. Sometimes they still look like a young team learning how to win.

5. Celtics (32-24, LW 7). The Celtics defense has been stifling, and they are getting enough offense to get the wins. A player of Ray Allen’s stature coming off the bench would be a problem in some locker rooms, but not this one.

6. Grizzlies (32-23, LW 10). This is the team nobody in the West wants to face in the first round — and they are still not fully hitting their stride (Zach Randolph could play better). Huge showdown with the Spurs Thursday, that will be fun.

7. Lakers (35-22, LW 5). They won the game they needed to win against the Clippers, but if Kobe Bryant is in a walking boot too long they might give those gains back. That said, no doubt some rest for Kobe is a good idea at this point, whether it’s forced by an injury or not.

8. Clippers (34-22 LW 6). If the playoffs started today, they would get Memphis in the first round. Blake Griffin vs. the Memphis front line — that would be fun to watch. Griffin is creating some bad blood wherever he goes (which made that game against the Lakers fun).

9. Pacers (34-22, LW 12). Nice wins against the Thunder and Hawks last week… then they get smoked by Boston. In the wins their offense seems to be clicking, they are going to need that if they have plans of advancing in the playoffs.

10. Hawks (34-23, LW 11). They continue to beat the teams they should, we’ll see how they do with Boston and Orlando on the docket this week.

11. Knicks (29-27, LW 13). They keep finding ways to win for Mike Woodson — Tyson Chandler keeping balls alive and tipping them out to Carmelo Anthony for key threes. But they remain just a game ahead of the nine seed Bucks — big showdown Wednesday with Milwaukee.

12. Mavericks (31-26, LW 8). Lamar Odom is gone and that’s the smart move by the organization, but he was not the root of all they offensive and defensive problems. This is not the title contender they were last year, a deal Cuban made before the season to get cap space.

13. Rockets (31-25, LW 16). If the playoffs started today the Rockets would face the Lakers — and Los Angeles has a recent history of struggling to contain quick point guards. Like Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic. Plus Courtney Lee is balling of late.

14. Magic (33-23, LW 9). Combine the public “Dwightmare” with Dwight Howard’s ongoing back issues (he is out Monday night) and this has become the team everybody in the East wants to see in the first round of the playoffs. Didn’t think that would be the case back in early February.

15. Suns (29-27, LW 18). Michael Redd, who everyone had pretty much written off, is back and contributing. If the Suns’ warlocks, er, training staff can keep Steve Nash’s back healthy they may just make the playoffs.

16. Nuggets (30-26, LW 15). If they are going to hold on to their playoff spot the five-game stretch starting Friday will determine it — Lakers, home-and-home with the Rockets, Clippers, then Suns.

17. Jazz (29-27, LW 17). They are barely holding on to their playoff hopes, and they have the Spurs, Rockets and Grizzlies this week. They need some big wins to keep those playoff hopes alive.

18. 76ers (29-27, LW 14). Is anybody falling faster and harder than these guys? Early in the season they were the model of team play and defense, now they are close to falling out of the playoffs. A soft schedule this week could be a boost.

19. Bucks (28-28, LW 19). This week will tell the tale with Milwaukee — they have a Wednesday showdown with the Knicks, although they are more likely to catch plummeting Philly or Orlando.

20. Blazers (27-30, LW 21). Got a fantastic home win over Dallas last week — this is the kind of team that can rise up and beat anybody. They can be your spoiler.

21. Timberwolves (25-32, LW 20). Michael Beasley is back. That should fix everything. (To be fair, he was good in his one game back. Still.)

22. Pistons (21-35, LW 22). With Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe you’d like to think they have a base to build on for the future, but this is a roster that still needs a lot of work to move forward.

23. Warriors (22-33, LW 25). They are 4-12 since the trade of Monta Ellis, but remember they only get to keep their lottery pick if it is one of the top three.

24. Raptors (20-36, LW 26). Andrea Bargnani was back… and then out again with the same calf the second half of last game. With him they have a decent offense and you can see glimmers of hope. Without him, it’s the DeMar DeRozan show.

25. Nets (20-37, LW 23). They have had some nice little wins of late, and in the East where teams need wins this is not a pushover — Deron Williams can change any game.

26. Kings (19-37, LW 24). As bad as things have been on the court, if this city loses the team at the Board of Governors this week it will be a true disaster. Can the other owners really reward the Maloofs for their behavior in this stadium situation?

27. Hornets (15-41, LW 28). Eric Gordon is back, Jarrett Jack is out. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

28. Cavaliers (18-35, LW 27). With Kyrie Irving out this team may have a top 4 pick in the draft to pair with their young point guard next season. But don’t say they are tanking.

29. Wizards (12-44, LW 29). This team wasn’t good with Nene in the lineup, they are painful without him.

30. Bobcats (7-47, LW 30). If they get one more win before the season ends they will avoid having the worst winning percentage in the history of the league. That’s quite a lofty goal but one they can reach.

Karl-Anthony Towns beats out Isaiah Thomas to take Skills Challenge title

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 09:  Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves reacts after hitting a basket against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on November 9, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — In a new twist to the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the NBA made the decision this year to add big men to a competition that has traditionally focused on point guards. The new wrinkle created new layers of intrigue, an unusual amount of controversy and, ultimately, a new champion: Timberwolves rookie center Karl-Anthony Towns.

C.J. McCollum beat out Jordan Clarkson in the first round, and Isaiah Thomas took care of Emmanuel Mudiay. In something of an upset, Towns handled Draymond Green, who is the NBA’s leader in triple-doubles.

The other matchup in the first round came with some controversy: DeMarcus Cousins missed all three attempts at the chest pass into the ring but moved on in the obstacle course and ultimately defeated Anthony Davis. This led to widespread criticism on social media for Cousins being allowed to advance without completing all the drills.

But Towns beat out Cousins in the semifinals, thereby preventing a nightmare scenario where a winner might have to have an asterisk next to his title.

Thomas beat McCollum in the guards’ semifinals. McCollum lost his dribble early on in the round and never really recovered.

The final round between Towns and Thomas went down to the wire, but Towns’ three-pointer went down first, giving him the title.

 

Russell Westbrook on Lakers speculation: “Nah, I like where I am now”

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 08:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 8, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Thunder defeated the Suns 122-106.  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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — No matter what Russell Westbrook does, he cannot escape the rumors that have followed him for years. He grew up in Los Angeles and played college basketball at UCLA—so, it’s only logical that when he hits free agency in the summer of 2017, he’ll look to sign with the Lakers, right?

Westbrook did his best to shut that down on Saturday after practice with the Western Conference All-Stars.

“Nah,” Westbrook said. “I like where I am now. Oklahoma City is a great place for me.”

Westbrook admitted that he grew up a Lakers fan, but said he never thought of playing there as a kid.

“I never thought I’d play in the NBA,” he said. “I was just watching them.”

Westbrook has another full season to go before his contract with the Thunder is up, so it’s going to be a while before there’s any resolution here. A lot, of course, will depend on what Kevin Durant does this summer.

If Durant sticks around and the Thunder make another deep playoff run next season, it becomes more likely that Westbrook will stay. But if Durant goes somewhere else, there’s a good chance Westbrook follows suit. For now, all they can do is deflect the speculation that will be there no matter what they say.

Gregg Popovich says he thinks more about Warriors than any team he ever faced

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Gregg Popovich and his Spurs have gone up against some powerhouse teams in the past 17 years. There were the Shaq/Kobe Bryant Lakers, Steve Nash and the seven-seconds-or-less Suns, The Kobe/Pau Gasol Lakers, LeBron James‘ Miami Heat teams, and the list goes on.

But nobody has given him more to think about than Stephen Curry and the Warriors.

That’s what he said on ESPN Radio Friday, as reported by Marc Stein of ESPN.

“I’ve spent more time thinking about Golden State than I have any other team I’ve ever thought about in my whole career,” Popovich told ESPN Radio on Friday. “Because they are really fun. I’d go buy a ticket and go watch them play. And when I see them move the ball, I get very envious. When I see them shoot uncontested shots more than anybody else in the league, it’s inspiring. It’s just great basketball.

“So I’m actually enjoying them very much. You try to solve them, but they’re in a sense unsolvable because it’s a particular mix of talent that they have. It’s not just that Steph [Curry] can make shots or that Klay can make shots or that Draymond Green is versatile. Everybody on the court can pass, catch and shoot. And they all get it.”

When you think about those legendary teams Popovich faced, they may have been a little less mentally taxing to gameplan for. The Shaq/Kobe Lakers ran the triangle (an offense Popovich was familiar with), but most of what made them great was exceptional talent — two future Hall of Famers at their peaks. The Spurs tried to bully the Suns, and then they developed a motion offense that eventually shredded the Heat.

The Warriors are different, and Popovich gets to a fundamental problem in defeating them:

“They’re talented. But they’re also very, very smart.”

That’s what’s hard to plan for — smart players and smart teams adjust, and the Warriors by design loaded their roster with high IQ guys. If you adjust, they counter. And for the last season-and-a-half, that has worked brilliantly.

LeBron James on Kevin Love trade rumors: “They’re false”

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TORONTO — The rumors were out there: the Boston Celtics were interested in Kevin Love and were talking trade with Cleveland.

LeBron James would have none of that.

“It’s false,” LeBron said of the rumors when speaking to the media after the Eastern Conference’s All-Star Game practice Saturday. “It’s the only thing I can look at it and say it’s false. That’s the last thing guys are worried about right now are trade talks from our team.”

That echoed what Carmelo Anthony said. The buzz around Toronto (where the NBA has gathered for All-Star Weekend) that there wasn’t a lot of to the talks and if there was any momentum has stalled out.

Still, there will be talks, and there will be plenty of Cavaliers trade rumors in the run-up to the Feb. 18 trade deadline. Cleveland could use some shooting from the wing and quality depth to provide versatility going up against Golden State or San Antonio in the Finals.

LeBron just wants to make sure the talks don’t impact the locker room.

“One thing about this business is you can only control what you can control. Things that you can’t control, you can’t let it bother you, and I’ve learned that over the years,” LeBron said. “There is so much that goes on in professional sports that if you just focus on what you can control, everything else will take care of itself.”

The Love rumors likely will continue to flare up this week, but they are not going to move him unless another team makes a Godfather offer.

The Cavaliers have been 10.1 points per 100 possessions better this season when Love is on the court compared to off it (and their defense does get marginally better when he plays). When Love, LeBron, and Kyrie Irving are on the court together the Cavaliers outscore opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions. Those are massive numbers.

The Cavaliers are a win-now team, if you’re going to break up part of that trio it has to be for something that makes the team demonstrably better. And that kind of superstar trade is rare at the February deadline anymore.