Fans celebrate as Knicks' Anthony sinks a three-point shot against Heat during NBA basketball game in New York

NBA Power Rankings: Spurs and Knicks movin’ on up


The first few power rankings of the year show the most volatility — we don’t have established patterns for teams and so if someone gets hot or cold for a few games there is no context yet to put that in. It’s Small Sample Size Theatre. The Magic are 2-0 but I don’t think they are good, the Nuggets are 0-3 but I don’t think they are bad. It’s just going to take time to see if that’s true.

But the NBA power rankings never stop, they are relentless march forward. So here are the week two rankings.

source:  1. Heat (2-1, last week ranked No. 1). LeBron James has picked up pretty much right where he left off — playing maybe the best basketball we’ve seen since Jordan. One loss this week was on an emotional night in New York so we let it slide, Ray Allen is hitting threes and this is still the best team in the land.

source:  2. Spurs (3-0, LW 7). The Spurs are very good in the regular season. Again. Shocking. And they got Manu Ginobili back on Saturday, so they should start to play better. Just don’t call them happy.

source:  3. Knicks (2-0, LW 11). Maybe the Knicks were playing with a lot of emotion for a home opener following Hurricane Sandy, but it’s still a win over the Heat. Followed a quality win over the Sixers. Carmelo Anthony at the four is working out well for New York, and we’ll leave the “what happens when Stoudemire comes back?” question for another day.

source:  4. Clippers (2-1, LW 4). Jamal Crawford’s tempo and scoring off the bench — combined with Eric Beldsoe’s play this season — is making the Clippers second unit tough to deal with. And they are still without Grant Hill or an in-shape Lamar Odom. This may be the NBA’s deepest team.

source:  5. Pacers (2-1, LW 8). The Pacers offense has been sluggish without Danny Granger in the lineup (and Gerald Green in his place), but they are getting by with defense and balanced scoring. Paul George has put up some nice numbers (14 points, 13 rebounds a game) to start the season.

source:  6. Thunder (1-2, LW 3). It’s going to take a while to adjust to not having James Harden dishing the rock and leading the second unit. That said, don’t think the early chemistry questions will last. This team is just fine. And Durant is starting to develop as more of a point forward, the man can pass the rock.

source:  7. Grizzlies (1-1, LW 9). Welcome to new owner Robert Pera. He’s going to bring change, but unless he brings a steady outside jumper I’m not sure he can keep this team keep winning this season.


source:  8. Celtics (1-2, LW 5). The should-be-improved bench of the Celtics has been unimpressive through the first three games. Jeff Green dominated the preseason but started out the regular season looking like Jeff Green. Small sample size alert, this unit should get better.  The other issue is they have to figure out how to defend when Kevin Garnett sits.

source:  9. Bulls (2-1, LW 13). They are exactly what we all expected sans Rose — Chicago is defending like beasts but struggling to score. They seem to have no threat from three and the starters are struggling to stretch the floor. But they win games.


source:  10. Nets (1-0, LW 10). They won their home opener. Nice, but not going to read much into it. There are much bigger things to worry about in the city right now anyway.


source:  11. Bucks (2-0, LW 17). The question has been where would the offense come from? The answer is Brandon Jennings, who has had 13 assists in both Bucks games, he dropped 21 on Boston and hit the game winner over the Cavaliers. Monta who?


source:  12. 76ers (1-1, LW 12). Despite Jrue Holiday’s best efforts, the offense has been unimpressive to start the season in Philly. Meanwhile, nobody speaks of Andrew Bynum lest his knee have another setback.


source:  13. Mavericks (2-1, LW 16). Dallas has scored without Dirk Nowitzki thanks to Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo and some balance. We’ll see how long they can keep that up, but the answer is at least a week. If they can hold on until Dirk gets back they are tough to keep out of the playoffs.


source:  14. Lakers (1-3, LW 2). They looked strong against Detroit, but can they continue that against a better Jazz team this week (then the Kings and Warriors). No Steve Nash for a few weeks and the Lakers bench has been a disaster. The roller coaster is far from over at Staples Center.

source:  15. Warriors (2-1, LW 18). That Brandon Rush injury was a punch to the gut, we will see how they respond. But we also saw both Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut on the court making plays, and that’s a good thing in the Bay Area.


source:  16. Blazers (2-1, LW 20). Damian Lillard, ladies and gentlemen. He has averaged 21.3 points and 9 assists a game in his first week in the NBA — and that was against Steve Nash, Russell Westbrook and Jeremy Lin. This week it’s Chris Paul and Tony Parker. Enjoy.

source:  17. Rockets (2-1, LW 21). So, maybe that James Harden guy is pretty good. That said the Blazers held him in check (8-of-24 shooting) and you can bet defenses will be targeting him, which means Jeremy Lin and others will need to step up.

source:  18. Timberwolves (1-1, LW 19). The injury bug is becoming a plague in Minnesota, where J.J. Barea suffered a concussion and joins Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love on the sidelines. Are you ready for the Alexey Shved show?

source:  19. Nuggets (0-3, LW 6). Wow the Nuggets have looked bad. One week, no panic button hitting in Denver, but it is a little stunning how bad they have looked on both sides of the ball. Losing to a Heat team that wants to run is one thing, but Orlando and a depleted Sixers squad? Ugh.

source:  20. Jazz (1-2, LW 14). Paging Derrick Favors, this is the year you step up and start to lead this team, not slide into the background. Mo Williams and Paul Millsap look good, but the Jazz didn’t look good in two road games so far.

source:  21. Magic (2-0, LW 29). Biggest surprise of the week — two wins, both by double digits, with Glen Davis and J.J. Redick putting up numbers. Yes it’s a small sample size but they are balling for Jacque Vaughn.

source:  22. Hawks (1-1, LW 15). Jeff Teague looked good in the first week, and not only when dunking on Durant — 15 points and 6 assists per game, shooting 59 percent. Tough week ahead for the Hawks with the Pacers, Heat and Clippers on the schedule.

source:  23. Hornets (2-1, LW 27). Impressive wins over the weekend against the Bulls and Jazz without Eric Gordon and with Anthony Davis playing only one half of one of those games. They can’t keep it up, but Monty Williams gets his guys to play hard.

source:  24. Cavaliers (1-2, LW 24). Kyrie Irving looks improved from last year’s Rookie of the Year campaign, and Anderson Varejao averaged 13.7 points and 15 boards a game last week. After that things drop off steep and far.

source:  25. Raptors (1-2, LW 22). Overlooked in the player of the week talk — Kyle Lowry and his 23.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 7 assists per game. He and DeMar DeRozan make a nice backcourt. As for the front court… not so much.

source:  26. Bobcats (1-1, LW 30). They are out of the cellar and deservedly so, beating the Pacers in their season opener. And now they may have Ben Folds Five as a house band. Things are looking up.

source:  27. Suns (1-2, LW 28). They had one of the uglier losses of the week to the Magic (without Jameer Nelson or Hedo Turkoglu). Their defense isn’t bad but it turns out Michael Beasley is an inefficient scorer. Who knew? (Oh, everyone.)

source:  28. Kings (0-3, LW 25). Look for things to turn around a little with Sacramento having a lot of home games the next three weeks, but even DeMarcus Cousins hasn’t looked good the first few weeks.


source:  29. Pistons (0-3, LW 23). This pretty much sums up the season so far: Rodney Stuckey is 1-of-23 shooting. And if you look ahead for the next week or so on their schedule you see two games against the Thunder, plus the Nuggets and Rockets. Not good.

source:  30. Wizards (0-2, LW 26). As expected, with John Wall and Nene out their offense has been a mess, and Bradley Beal (2-13 overall, 0-7 inside the arc) hasn’t been a help. It’s going to be a rough start to the season.

Damian Lillard’s goal for season: Win MVP

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) poses for a photograph during NBA basketball media day in Portland, Ore., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)
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When the PBT staff made our predictions for MVP you saw some expected names — LeBron James, James Harden — and a smart pick off some people’s radar in Kawhi Leonard. Russell Westbrook was discussed as someone with a chance.

What about Damian Lillard? You know, the hip-hop star.

Lillard told a Jay Allen of Portland area Fox Sports Radio that’s his goal.

Lillard averaged 25.1 points and 6.8 assists per game last season, he is unquestionably a dynamic offensive force — he has a great pull up jumper and he can get to the rim and finish. Plus, he’s just entertaining to watch.

But MVP? That’s going to take more than numbers.

Portland won 44 games last season. The MVP almost always goes to the best player on a top two or three seed, meaning a team winning around 55 games or more. For Portland to add 10 wins or so and get Lillard noticed in the MVP race is going to be about defense — Portland was bottom 10 last season in defense and they need to be at least middle of the pack this time around. Which comes back to Lillard on some level, he’s often an overmatched defender and he can lose focus on that end. He’s gotten better over the years, but Lillard is going to have to lift up the Blazers defense, not just offense, to get in the MVP discussion.

I’m skeptical (of Lillard’s chances and the Trail Blazers taking a step forward), but we all underestimated Portland last season, too.

LeBron James says he can still win MVP with reduced workload, cites Stephen Curry

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 02:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers with the ball against Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter in Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 2, 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The door is open for LeBron James to win a legacy-altering fifth MVP.

But his Cavaliers could also win another championship, leaving Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue planning to limit LeBron’s minutes in preparation of a long playoff run.

LeBron, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN

“No,” James said Saturday when asked if he was concerned that planned rest could affect his MVP case. “Because Steph played 31 minutes a game and he won the MVP.”

“Well, I’ve never set into a season saying I want to win MVP,” he said. “I’ve always thought of the season saying I want to be MVP for my team and it’s resulted in me getting four of them. So I’ve been available, for the most part, every night and I’ve been available on both sides of the floor. I’ve been healthy.

Curry won 2015 MVP while playing 32.7 minutes per game, the fewest by any MVP. He played 34.2 minutes per game last season, third-fewest by an MVP – ahead of just himself and 1978 Bill Walton, who played 33.3 minutes per game.

To contrast, LeBron has set career lows the last two seasons with 36.1 and 35.6 minutes per game. So, LeBron could get a reduced workload and still play more than Curry did.

But Curry, to some degree is an anomaly. He often sat late in games with his Warriors on the right side of blowouts. The Cavs aren’t good enough regularly rest LeBron as much in those situations.

It’s not that voters care directly about minutes. But the less LeBron plays, the lower his per-game averages will be and the less Cleveland will win. Those factors matter significantly.

LeBron can overcome that. He’s darned good, and there could be a push to reward him after the last two Finals have shown he’s still better than Curry when it matters most.

Playing fewer minutes per game won’t eliminate LeBron from the MVP race, not even close. But it will – and should – hurt his case. After all, MVP should reward the player who does the most to help his team win. MVP-caliber players don’t significantly help while sitting on the bench.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder prepare for life without Kevin Durant

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 11:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a preseason game at American Airlines Center on October 11, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Maybe life after Kevin Durant won’t be so bad for the Thunder.

After the longtime face of the franchise left for Golden State, crestfallen Oklahoma City fans were worried it was just a matter of time before the team’s co-star, Russell Westbrook, would follow suit. In a move that shocked many, Westbrook re-signed with Oklahoma City. The former scoring champion and two-time All-Star MVP’s return gives the team hope.

New faces such as shooting guard Victor Oladipo and forward Domantas Sabonis, both acquired in the deal that sent Serge Ibaka to Orlando, might take some time to fit in. Westbrook believes the team is talented enough to succeed if it is focused and the new pieces blend with the old ones who helped the Thunder reach the Western Conference Finals last season.

“Just play hard, man,” Westbrook said. “I don’t know, win or lose. The only thing I know is that as long as we play hard, we give ourselves an opportunity to win.”

Westbrook could post historic numbers. He averaged 23.5 points, 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds last season and had 18 triple-doubles, the most since Magic Johnson had 18 during the 1981-82 season. Without Durant, more of that could be on the way.

Sabonis, a rookie out of Gonzaga who played for Lithuania’s Olympic team, played with the starters throughout the preseason. Oladipo averaged 15.9 points and 4.0 assists in three years with Orlando. He joins Westbrook to form arguably the most athletic backcourt tandem in the NBA.

“Defensively, I think we can be the best defensive backcourt in the league because we can do different things with our size and using our length and our speed,” Westbrook said.

Here are some things to watch for the Thunder:

Steven Adams

The 7-footer from New Zealand was already a top-notch defender and rebounder before stepping up his offense and averaging 10.1 points during the playoffs last season. In his final two preseason games, he scored 20 points against Minnesota and 17 points against Denver. He could be a breakout star.

“I think we’ve had an opportunity these last two nights (against Minnesota and Denver) how good he is around the basket, how smart he has become and how much of a presence he is in the middle,” Westbrook said.

Enes Kanter

The natural expectation was that Ibaka’s departure would prompt coach Billy Donovan to move Kanter, who finished third in balloting for the league’s sixth-man award last season, into the starting lineup. Instead, Donovan started Sabonis throughout the preseason. Perhaps Donovan knows best – Sabonis showed he can hang with the starters, and Kanter averaged 17.8 points and 9.4 rebounds while shooting 61.7 percent in the preseason.


Oklahoma City’s defense could slip with Ibaka in Orlando. Sabonis has great potential, but he’s young, and NBA defense takes some time to learn. Donovan said Sabonis has caught on quickly, but there still could be a dip early because Ibaka’s level of play is difficult to replace – he was a three-time first-team All-NBA defender and a two-time blocks leader.


The Thunder added several foreign players to the roster who will add depth – Spain’s Alex Abrines, France’s Joffrey Lauvergne and Turkey’s Ersan Ilyasova. Donovan said he likes the maturity foreign players add to a team. Abrines played for Spain’s national team that earned bronze medals at the Olympics. Lauvergne played for France in Rio.


Andre Roberson has shifted from the starting shooting guard to starting small forward. That means the Thunder still have Roberson’s dynamic athletic ability, defensive prowess and nose for the ball on the boards in the lineup. He was a liability on offense in the past, but he started becoming more of a factor on offense during the playoffs last season.

“I think he feels more comfortable and confident offensively,” Donovan said. “He’s put forth effort in that area. It’s just him continuing to grow offensively and trying to put him in situations where he slashes to the basket and he can cut and he can get out in transition and he can take his open corner threes.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter (at)CliffBruntAP

Raptors’ Jared Sullinger to have foot surgery, miss “extended time”

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 19:  Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics looks on from the bench against the Atlanta Hawks in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on April 19, 2016 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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The Toronto Raptors are counting on Jared Sullinger to cover for the loss of Bismack Biyombo by crashing the boards, helping them space the floor on offense, and just being solid.

But they are going to have to get by without him for a while, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports, and confirmed by the team.

There is no timeline for Sullinger’s return, but it’s going to be a while. Sullinger had battled a stress reaction in his foot a year ago, this is likely an extension of that problem.

This certainly hurts the Raptors’ depth up front, but it’s also not a massive setback for a team with lofty aspirations this season. Patrick Patterson will get more minutes, which is a good thing, plus the Raptors need to play DeMarre Carroll more at the four. They can wait for Sullinger (who they signed this summer after Boston let him walk in the wake of signing Al Horford.