New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith celebrates as he faces the crowd after making a shot against the Dallas Mavericks in the third quarter of their NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden in New York

NBA Power Rankings: The Knicks are on top? The Knicks are on top.

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Carmelo Anthony’s Knicks on top of the PBT Power Rankings? Well, that’s it, you need to stock up on canned goods, bottles of water and flashlight batteries because the end is neigh. But no denying, they have earned it the past two weeks.

source:  1. Knicks (4-0, last week ranked No. 3). Through a couple weeks, they are playing some of the best defense in the NBA. They have the second best offense. They are finding different ways to win. They are sharing the ball and Carmelo Anthony is defending. This is a legitimate start, but it will be put to the test this week against the Spurs and Grizzlies.

source:  2. Spurs (6-1, LW 2). They are playing like the Spurs do every regular season. What did you expect? The one thing of note is that Tim Duncan (18.9 points and 9.7 rebounds a game) is off to a monster start this season.

source:  3. Grizzlies (5-1, LW 7). They were 4-0 last week including knocking off the Heat — Memphis’ front line is particularly suited to be a bad matchup for Miami. People are looking past Memphis right now, a team playing very good defense and getting solid offense. Tough week ahead with the Thunder and Knicks on the radar.

source:  4. Heat (5-2, LW 1). The Heat aren’t going to be that worried about the loss to Memphis — when Wayne Ellington hits 7 threes the basketball gods have conspired against you. But the Heat’s defense has not been very good this season against anyone. That tightened up last season as things went along, but it’s something to watch.

source:  5. Thunder (5-2, LW 6). Kevin Martin is working out just fine as a shooter, thank you very much, hitting 50.7 percent overall and 53.1 percent from three. You get a lot of open looks on the Thunder.

source:  6. Clippers (5-2, LW 4). The question with the Clippers has been can they play consistent defense — and they have been pretty good so far this season. But the next two weeks includes games against the Heat, Spurs, Thunder and Nets. That defense will get tested now.

source:

7. Bulls (4-2, LW 9). The Bulls are what we expected — as good a defensive team as there is in the NBA. It’s winning them a lot of games. The offense has been good enough, we’ll see if they can keep it up.

source:  8. 76ers (4-2, LW 12). No Andrew Bynum until mid to late December. At best. So this combination of athletic defense with just enough offense will have to be it for a while.

source:  9. Nuggets (4-3, LW 19). After a slow start they went 4-0 last week, with good defense leading to them getting out on the fast break. Where they are very tough to stop. We will see which team, Jekyll or Hyde, shows up this week.

source:  10. Celtics (3-3, LW 8). You can see the foundation is there — Rajon Rondo is leading the offense, Kevin Garnett the defense — but so far the building looks shaky. It’s a long season, but this is not what you hope for with a veteran core.

source:  11. Lakers (3-4, LW 14). Mike D’Antoni. This is going to be interesting. It was against a couple of weak teams, but the Lakers have won two in a row once Bernie Bickerstaff let them freelance and just have fun within the offense. Which is kind of what D’Antoni would do.

source:  12. Mavericks (4-3, LW 13). Not a good loss to the Bobcats Saturday (are there any good losses to the Bobcats?). Blame the Mavs defense, which has been awful.

source:  13. Timberwolves (4-2, LW 18). What did we say going into the season — if they can keep their head above water until they get Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio back they are in great shape. So far, the head is well above water, even if they have yet to beat a team playing very well.

source:  14. Nets (3-2, LW 10). Joe Johnson is shooting 36 percent so far this season, and if one thing should be worrying Nets fans this season that might be it. At some point his game is going to regress, but this would be earlier than expected. Also, winning both games of a home-and-home against the Magic impresses nobody.

source:  15. Bucks (3-2, LW 11). Mike Dunleavy has been playing very well off the bench — 12.2 points per game on 53.7 percent shooting. So has Larry Sanders (12 PPG on 65.8 percent shooting). We all saw that coming, right?

source:  16. Pacers (3-4, LW 5). No Danny Granger for a while now, so where is the offense going to come from? We’re looking at you, Roy Hibbert and Paul George.

source:  17. Hawks (2-3, LW 22). Larry Drew’s seat could start to get warm in Atlanta after a slow start. And GM Danny Ferry doesn’t hesitate to make moves. And Ferry’s old coach in Cleveland Mike Brown is suddenly available. Not saying anything, just listing some coincidences.

source:  18. Rockets (3-3, LW 17). Harden has to adjust now and so far he hasn’t — after a fast start the defenses have started to target him (he shot 31 percent last week) and he has to create for others now. Of course, it’s easier when you create then dish the rock to Kevin Durant.

source:  19. Jazz (3-4, LW 20). Undefeated at home, winless on the road — ladies and gentlemen, your 2011-12… er, 2012-13 Utah Jazz.

source:  20. Hornets (3-2, LW 23). How much does Anthony Davis mean to this team? He missed two games and came back to drop 23 points, 11 boards and five blocks on the Bobcats. Lots of road games the next two weeks for the young Hornets, that’s a big test.

source:  21. Warriors (3-4, LW 15). They were 1-3 last week and will be without Andrew Bogut for a little while. Not ideal. The offense has to pick up the slack but so far it has been brick city for Golden State.

source:  22. Blazers (2-4 LW 16). They were 0-3 last week and you can blame a porous defense more than LaMarcus Aldridge shooting too many jump shots (even though he is).

source:  23. Suns (3-4, LW 27). They had a nice gutty comeback against Cleveland, which you can do against their bench. But this week they get the Nuggets, Bulls, Lakers and Heat. Ouch.

source:  24. Bobcats (2-3, LW 26). Is anyone noticing just how good Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is? Well, they are in Dallas, he just dropped 25 points and 12 rebounds on them Saturday. And the Bobcats won. They are not the worst team in the NBA this season.

source:  25. Cavaliers (2-5, LW 24). It’s about finding pieces to build around long term — we know Kyrie Irving is that, and Dion Waiters is showing something this young season. We knew Anderson Varejao was solid and could play. The bench, however, is a disaster.

source:  26. Kings (2-4, LW 28). The NBA suspended their entire front line — DeMarcus Cousins for going after a Spurs announcer and Thomas Robinson for elbowing Jonas Jerebko in the throat — and both were about against the massive Lakers front line. Well done, Kings.

source:  27. Magic (2-4, LW 21). After a fast 2-0 start they have been a mess. Watch a game and you see new coach Jacque Vaughn looking for anything that works, experimenting with all kinds of lineups.

source:  28. Raptors (1-5, LW 25). Last week they were 0-3 and now Kyle Lowry is injured. More frustrating is the fact they played hard on defense last season, where this season not so much.

source:  29. Wizards (0-5, LW 30). Their defense is the worst in the NBA and it’s not getting better anytime soon with the news Nene’s foot bothered him when he tried to increase his workload.

source:  30. Pistons (0-7, LW 29). With a likely loss to Oklahoma City Monday night the Pistons will be off to the worst start in franchise history. They play Orlando this week, so there is a chance they could finally get a win.

D’Angelo Russell said he used to play as Luke Walton on NBA 2K; Stephen Jackson calls that crap

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 30: D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers speaks during a news conference to discuss the controversy with teammate Nick Young before the start of the NBA game against the Miami Heat at Staples Center March 30, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Did anyone ever fire up NBA 2K9 back in the day, decide to be the soon-to-be-champion Lakers, look at a roster with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom then say “I’m going to be Luke Walton”?

D'Angelo Russell says he did.

The Lakers young point guard has praised the new Laker coach at every turn — Russell and Byron Scott did not get along, the point guard is much happier now — and that includes talking about Walton’s playing days to Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

“I told him I remember playing with him on (NBA) 2K; I used to always play as him. I’m a fan. I’m definitely a fan. Because he was a point forward. I can’t speak on Elgin Baylor and all those guys, but my era, I know he was a point forward.”

Really? NBA veteran and current analyst Stephen Jackson called Russell out on that.

Jackson has a point.

Report: No, J.R. Smith isn’t talking to Sixers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: J.R. Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with the fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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What is with the ridiculous, unrealistic Philadelphia 76ers rumors of late? Last I checked recreational use was not legal in Pennsylvania. Not that the law is stopping anyone.

The latest silliness follows this logic:

This summer the Sixers made runs at veteran guards such as Jamal Crawford and Manu Ginobili (and they forced the Spurs to pay up for the Argentinian to keep him).

The Cleveland Cavaliers and J.R. Smith are in a staring contest, and Smith remains a free agent.

The Sixers have more than $22 million in cap space still.

So…

No. Not happening.

Or, we could have just asked Smith who has said he is not talking to other teams and doesn’t want to play anywhere but Cleveland.

I can get why Sixers management would want to bring a veteran and beloved, hard-working pro such as Ginobili in to lead and mentor a young team. Does Smith bring that same demeanor? I get that Smith in Cleveland has developed his game, and that he has matured and backed off his hard-partying ways (he gets a hall pass for the days after winning a championship), but is Smith the veteran you bring into a young locker room?

Can we move on from the ridiculous in Pennslyvania? Well, probably not until after the election, that is a battleground state.

Paul George says “I’m ready” to challenge LeBron James for supremacy in East

CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 29: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks for a pass while under pressure from Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on February 29, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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LeBron James is the best basketball player walking the face of the earth. The only guy who could start to challenge that supremacy the past couple of years has been Stephen Curry, and last season’s NBA Finals answered that question for now.

In the Eastern Conference, for years now it has been LeBron James and his team then a step back to everyone else — LeBron has been to six straight NBA Finals, four in Miami and the last two in Cleveland. Most pundits (myself included) think that’s going to be seven in-a-row because the Cavaliers are clear and away the class of the East.

Paul George says he and the Pacers are ready to change that narrative. Here is what he told Michael Lee of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“Honestly, I look at us challenging them. I’ve been in the East and I’ve been No. 1 with LeBron being on a team,” George told The Vertical in a recent telephone interview, harkening back to when the Pacers finished with the best regular-season record in the East in 2013-14, the season before his gruesome Team USA leg injury….

“I’ve always matched up with him like, ‘I know he can do this, I know he can do that,’ ” George told The Vertical about James. “Not in an awe fashion, but it’s more so, ‘I’m not supposed to win these games. This is supposed to be the best dude in the NBA. I’m trying to challenge him. I know what I’m up against.’ Now it’s, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready for you. I’m a veteran. I know you, you know me. Let’s meet here, let’s get this job done.’ I’m prepared. I’ve had time to figure this out. I’ve had time to lick my wounds. I’m ready.”

Good for George — this is exactly what you want an elite competitor and top player to say heading into the season. He sees Everest in front of him, and he wants to climb it.

I’m also higher on the Pacers than most; I think they are a top-four team in the East that can finish top two. They upgraded at the point with Jeff Teague, plus they added the underrated Thaddeus Young (although they will miss Solomon Hill) and depth up front with Al Jefferson. I don’t get Larry Bird pushing Frank Vogel out the door at all, but Nate McMillan is a solid NBA coach to take his place. I think the Pacers are taking a step forward this season, maybe a fairly significant one.

But they’re still not in the Cavaliers’ class.

The East is still Cleveland then everyone else. Last season Toronto won 56 games and had its best season in franchise history, and they were still a step or two below the Cavaliers. No team in the East — not the Raptors, not the Celtics, not the Pacers — are making up those steps. Unless injuries or something else unforeseen brings the Cavaliers back to the pack, the Eastern Conference once again will look like Secretariat at the Belmont.

Russell Westbrook says he will not kneel for national anthem “as of right now”

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook spins the ball as he poses for photos during the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day in Oklahoma City, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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Without question, some kneeling/raised fist protests of the National Anthem are coming to the NBA once preseason games start in a couple of weeks. Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers has already come out saying “there’s no more American thing to do than to protest.” Teams are discussing the need for social change.

While the NBA has a rule that players must stand for the anthem, the NBA and players’ union are already discussing exactly how and if that rule should be enforced.

While some players will kneel, Russell Westbrook will not be among them. Probably. Here’s is what he told Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript.

Obviously, Westbrook is leaving himself some wiggle room here. Also, if there is one NBA star you can expect to be blunt about the situation when talking to the media, it’s Westbrook (when he feels like opening up to the media, anyway).

I expect few if any of the NBA’s top stars — the guys with the biggest international brands — will join the protests. However, there certainly will be players taking part. For a league that sees itself as progressive — and has a more politically progressive fan base compared to other American sports — how the league handles this will be watched.