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.

Watch Kyrie Irving drop 31 on Knicks in Celtics’ win

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NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for their second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.

Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.

Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.

Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn’t win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.

Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers and pushing the ball right at the Knicks.

His last 3-pointer in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead, but the Knicks chipped away while he rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.

Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.

Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Damian Lillard scores 40, hits game-winner to beat Suns (VIDEO)

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PHOENIX (AP) — Passing the ball inbounds at a critical time proved too big a challenge for the sputtering Phoenix Suns. So, Damian Lillard got one final chance.

Of course, he came through.

Lillard scored 40 points, the last two on a driving layup with nine-tenths of a second to play, and the Portland Trail Blazers rallied from 15 down in the final 7 1/2 minutes to beat Phoenix 106-104 on Saturday night, the Suns’ ninth straight loss.

Lillard called it one of his “more significant performances” of the season.

“Obviously, Damian was huge, showed his leadership, showed his talent,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We overcame a horrendous shooting night for most of the night and found a way.”

Lillard, who scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, got the final chance because Phoenix’s Troy Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds on a five-second call that turned possession over to Portland with 20.6 seconds to play.

“We knew they didn’t have any time outs left,” Stotts said, “so we gave it a shot and made some good reads and didn’t give them any outlets.”‘

Devin Booker scored 30 points for the Suns, losers of 14 of their last 15.

His two free throws gave Phoenix its biggest lead, 93-78, with 7:26 to play. Lillard triggered the subsequent 18-4 outburst that caught the Suns at 97-97 on his 3-point play. Booker’s fifth and final 3-pointer gave the Suns a 100-97 lead with 2:19 to go. Lillard’s 3 tied it at 100 with 1:10 left.

Booker’s powerful driving basket put Phoenix up 104-102 with 33.6 seconds to go. But, after a timeout, Lillard’s step-back 15-footer tied it at 104-104 with 28 seconds left. The Suns called time out to set up the play but, on the sidelines, Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds for the five-second call.

“We had no timeouts. I didn’t see anybody open. If I did, I would have thrown it obviously,” Daniels said. “I’ve been in that position a lot of times, but like I said, it’s tough to be in that position when you have no timeouts. You learn from and you get it better.”

On the play, Portland’s CJ McCollum said “I just tried to take away Booker.”

“I saw how they were set up and I just guarded him normal and when I turned and saw him run toward half-court I just shaded toward him,” McCollum said.

Booker never broke open, Daniels decided not to chance it, and the last opportunity was gifted to Portland.

“There was 20 seconds left and I just wanted to make sure I got the last shot,” Lillard said. “I really just wanted to get the clock down, keep it towards half-court where it is further out and I can get downhill. I took a peek, the clock was at six and I got downhill.”

The Blazers, coming off a win at Utah the previous night, have won three straight and five of six.

The game was tied 10 times before Portland finished the first half with a 7-2 spurt take a 55-50 lead at the break.

But the Suns turned it on in the third quarter, outscoring the cold-shooting Blazers 31-16. Portland scored the first five of the second half to take its biggest lead, 60-50. But Phoenix overwhelmed the Trail Blazers 29-5 to go up 79-65 on Booker’s 3.

 

Russell Westbrook, Paul George call out Zaza Pachulia for “dirty” fall on Westbrook

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Zaza Pachulia has a reputation. The league even created a rule — the “Zaza rule”  — after he stepped under Kawhi Leonard last playoffs and twisted the forward’s ankle, ending Leonard’s playoffs and the Spurs chances.

Then Saturday night, as the Warriors pulled away in the second half and routed the Thunder, this play happened, where Pachulia fell on Westbrook’s leg.

While there was some contact, was that really enough to knock Pachulia over? It doesn’t look like it, it looks intentional, but remember Pachulia falls into a lot of guys — including Kevin Durant last season. This, however, was ugly.

After the game Westbrook and Paul George called Pachulia out.

Even the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving chipped in on this.

It will be interesting to see if the league does follow up. There is some history here.

After two lopsided losses to OKC, Kevin Durant leads Warriors rout

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Kevin Durant scored 28 points for Golden State while avenging an embarrassing home loss to his former Oklahoma City team earlier this month and another on the road in November, leading the Warriors past the Thunder 112-80 on Saturday night.

Stephen Curry added 21 points with five 3-pointers, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals as Golden State put on the kind of defensive performance coach Steve Kerr has been seeking from the defending champs.

Russell Westbrook had 15 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Oklahoma City, which failed to reach 100 points for the first time in the last five games. The Thunder had scored at least 100 in 14 of their last 16.

Durant’s pretty layup off a perfect pass by Curry with 3:06 left in the third put the Warriors up 75-66. That was part of a 37-11 Golden State run that included 30 points over the final 8:48 of the third – when Zaza Pachulia subbed in to relieve JaVale McGee.

The Warriors held Paul George to five points. George’s 3-pointer at the 7:52 mark of the third with Durant’s hand in his face was his first basket after going 0 for 9 to begin the game. He finished 1 for 14 after going off for 38 points in the last meeting when Oklahoma City left Oracle Arena with a 125-105 rout on Feb. 6.

Golden State also lost at OKC by 17 on Nov. 22.

Draymond Green added 10 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He picked up his 15th technical of the season with 1:04 left in the first half, moving him within one of an automatic suspension. That came after Durant and Carmelo Anthony pushed, shoved, yelled from close range and had to be separated, receiving double technicals.

It was a testy rematch after the Warriors received five technical fouls in the previous meeting. That prompted general manager Bob Myers to address the importance of keeping poised.

Durant announced his decision to join the Warriors and leave OKC on July 4, 2016, making him an instant villain in his former city.

He scored 33 in the Feb. 6 meeting but got plenty of help this time.

Earlier this month against the Thunder, Curry and Klay Thompson were a combined 11 of 27 from the floor and 4 for 15 on 3-pointers as the Warriors lost for the third time in four games. Thompson had 11 points Saturday, shooting just 1 for 11 from deep.

The Warriors on Saturday improved to 8-1 this season in the next game against an opponent after losing the previous meeting.

After Shaun Livingston‘s jumper at the 8:47 mark of the second quarter, Golden State went nearly five minutes without scoring before Curry’s basket at 4:51 started a 7-0 burst.

The Thunder grabbed eight offensive rebounds in the opening quarter to score 10 second-chance points, with Westbrook getting eight boards and George five. But Oklahoma City went 2 for 11 on 3s in the initial 12 minutes – Anthony, George and Westbrook a combined 1 of 8.