NBA Power Rankings: Spurs and Knicks movin’ on up

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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.

LeBron James admits Warriors pose one of biggest challenges he’s faced in Finals

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LeBron James is used to being the underdog in the NBA Finals. It started with the first time he got a team there, the 2007 team where after LeBron the two leading scorers were Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden — that team was not really Finals worthy and the Spurs showed that with a sweep.

Entering his seventh straight NBA Finals in 2017, the Cavaliers are again heavy underdogs. When asked about the challenge these Warriors — now with Kevin Durant — pose LeBron was nothing but complimentary, speaking to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It’s probably up there,” James said after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ practice. “I mean, it’s up there. Obviously, I’ve played against four Hall of Famers as well too, with Manu [Ginobili], Kawhi [Leonard], Tony [Parker] and Timmy D [Tim Duncan] on the same team. And if you add Pop [Gregg Popovich] in there, that’s five Hall of Famers.

“So it’s going to be very challenging. Those guys are going to challenge me. They’re going to challenge our ballclub. This is a high-powered team, and I’ve played against some other [stiff competition]. I’ve played against Ray [Allen], KG [Kevin Garnett], Paul [Pierce], [Rajon] Rondo and Doc [Rivers]. So it’s going to be very challenging not only on me mentally, but on our ballclub and on our franchise.”

The Warriors bring four of the top 15-20 guys in the NBA (depending on where you want to rank Klay Thompson), with two of then in the top five with Durant and Stephen Curry. However, what makes the Warriors more dangerous is the way they buy into the offensive system, move the ball and set screens/move off it, all of which makes them greater than just the sum of their parts. Well, that and the fact they had the second best defense in the NBA this year.

Cleveland, however, is probably the team best suited to beat them. Nobody has a good answer for guarding the 1/3 LeBron/Kyrie Irving pick-and-roll, Kevin Love is one of the best power forwards in the game, they are strong on the glass and can be impressive on defense (the challenge will be doing it consistently this series, they haven’t had to up to this point). Ultimately, LeBron is the great equalizer, he is the best player in the game.

All that said, Las Vegas oddsmakers have Golden State the heavy favorites (those odds are a reflection of what the betting public thinks). If LeBron and the Cavaliers pull this off, it will be one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history.

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

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Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.