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.

Miami churns up plenty of memories for Mavs’ Dirk Nowitzki

Dallas Mavericks v Miami Heat - Game Six
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MIAMI (AP) Dirk Nowitzki tries to avoid feelings of nostalgia.

That’s impossible when he’s in Miami.

For all the cities around the world where he’s played, whether with the German national team or the Dallas Mavericks, the only place where Nowitzki celebrated the ultimate prize is Miami – where he led the Mavs to the 2011 NBA championship , avenging a loss to the Heat five years earlier. So on Thursday, before playing in Miami for the 25th time, Nowitzki was understandably reflective.

“You definitely never forget,” Nowitzki said, as he relaxed for a few minutes in a courtside seat across from the Heat bench. “You don’t always want to live in the past. You kind of want to make it work now in the present, so I don’t always think about that year, but coming here, walking in the hotel, walking in this building, it’s tough to forget.”

Nowitzki is under contract for next season, though no one seems sure if he’ll play past this season. He turns 39 in June. He’s probably just a few weeks away from reaching the 30,000-point mark. His place in the Basketball Hall of Fame was ensured long ago. And the Mavericks are in a rebuilding phase, making it fair to say that another title probably isn’t in the immediate offing.

So it’s possible that Thursday may be his Miami farewell.

Whenever he leaves the game, the Heat will tip their caps.

“At the highest level, in the biggest moments, he proved that he can be the best player in the world – period,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “What else do you need to say? His game is timeless, too.”

It’s timeless, yet evolving. Nowitzki was probably more of a small forward when he broke into the NBA, became a power forward who changed the game with his combination of 7-foot height and guard-like shooting, and now plays a hybrid center role. The one-legged step-back jumper – his signature move – has been emulated by many, including Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.

Nowitzki went to The Finals twice, both times against Miami, and the Heat still offer him what they call ultimate respect.

“You could say that Dirk Nowitzki, in his prime, forced longer and more coaching meetings around the league, or at least as much as any player in the league,” Spoelstra said. “He was so unique. You had to have specific Nowitzki rules. The absolute best of the best require their own rulebook, and you had to design ways of defending that may not be consistent with your system but specific for him.

“Otherwise,” Spoelstra continued, “you would run around in circles looking like idiots.”

Much has changed since Nowitzki first played in Miami on April 7, 1999.

The Mavericks and the Heat both had different logos than they do now. Don Nelson was coaching Dallas, Pat Riley was still in his first of two stints coaching Miami. Vancouver and Seattle still had NBA teams. The Heat weren’t even playing in AmericanAirlines Arena at that point – they were at Miami Arena, which was demolished in 2008.

Nowitzki went scoreless in three minutes that night, and scoreless again three nights later against Golden State. He’s failed to score only twice in 1,454 games since, the last of those coming in 2003.

“I used to be a tough matchup,” Nowitzki said.

He won’t say it, but he still is.

Age has slowed him, for sure. The skills and the know-how, that doesn’t change.

“Hall of Famer,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. “One of the best big men to play the game. He definitely changed the game. Hell of a competitor, a champion, somebody who I have a lot of respect for.”

Haslem had the task of guarding Nowitzki in those Finals meetings.

“I really found out what I was made of as a competitor,” Haslem said.

The Mavericks don’t always stay in the same hotel when they visit Miami, but the one they got for this trip helped spark Nowitzki’s trip down memory lane. They stayed there in 2006 during the Finals when they lost three games in Miami, and stayed there again in 2011 when they left Miami with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in tow.

All the memories, good and bad, started flooding back as Nowitzki walked through the lobby.

“You know, `06 will obviously never be out of my memory,” Nowitzki said, “but `11 definitely made it sweeter.”

Kings make it official: Rudy Gay out for season with torn Achilles

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We all knew this was coming, but the MRI made it official:

Kings’ wing Rudy Gay is out for the season with a torn left Achilles, the team confirmed Thursday. He will have surgery to repair the Achilles soon, but a date has not yet been set. Recovery from this injury lasts at least nine months, often closer to a year.

This was expected after the initial diagnoses Wednesday. Still, it’s a blow to Sacramento and its playoff dreams.

Gay was the Kings’ second-leading scorer at 18.7 points per game, plus pulling down 6.4 rebounds a night, and this season the team gets outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions when he is off the court. Matt Barnes and, once he returns from his calf injury in a couple of weeks, Omri Casspi will be asked to pick up the slack. Those two are a drop off from what Gay brought to the Kings in terms of scoring.

The big picture for Gay also gets cloudy. Gay made it very clear he was not happy in Sacramento and planned to opt out of the $14.3 million final year of his contract to be a free agent next summer. That led to him being a potential trade deadline target. Those trades are off the table. At age 30 and trying to come back from a traumatic injury, it’s fair to question if Gay will even opt out.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry lead NBA All-Star starters to New Orleans

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The fans had their say — they wanted Stephen Curry as a starter in the All-Star Game and they got it. But that leaves Russell Westbrook on the outside looking in.

The NBA All-Star Starters for the Feb. 19 game in New Orleans were announced Thursday. Remember, the fan vote — which used to be the only vote — now only counts for 50 percent, with the players and media each getting 25 percent (call it The Pachulia Effect). The rules were all voters had to choose two guards and three frontcourt players for each conference (there is no longer a center position).

Here were the guys who earned starting spots.

ALL-STAR STARTERS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Stephen Curry (Golden State)
James Harden (Houston)
Kevin Durant (Golden State)
Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio)
Anthony Davis (New Orleans)

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Kyrie Irving (Cleveland)
DeMar DeRozan (Toronto)
LeBron James (Cleveland)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
Jimmy Butler (Chicago)

Here are some thoughts on the selections:

• The biggest oversight? How is Russell Westbrook not a starter? You can thank the fans for that. The man averaging a triple-double for the season was third in the fan voting behind Curry (first) and Harden (second). The media and players both had it Westbrook, then Harden, with Curry third. Once all the math was done Curry, Harden, and Westbrook all tied in points so the fan vote was the tie-breaker. That sent Westbrook to the bench. Westbrook is guaranteed to get a spot from the coaches on the reserves, and you can bet he will still get some run with Harden in the backcourt. Still, if anyone got screwed it’s him.

• Sorry people reading in the Republic of Georgia, we know you all stuffed the ballot box online, but Zaza Pachulia did not make the cut as a starter. While he was second in the fan voting thanks to your effort, he came in way, way, way back with the other parties — 12th in player voting, 10th in media — and so he is out. Also, that still seems high from the players and media for him.

Isaiah Thomas was tied with DeRozan in total points — fan, media, and player votes — but DeRozan gets the tie breaker because he was third in the fan voting and Thomas was fourth. Thomas is a lock to be selected by the coaches for a reserve spot.

Joel Embiid finished third in the fan voting for the East frontcourt, edging out Kevin Love, and Butler was sixth with the fans. However, the players and media had Butler third, while Embiid was fifth in the media voting and eighth with the players. So Butler leapfrogged Embiid and got to be a starter.

• Giannis Antetokounmpo, at age 22, is the youngest international starter in NBA All-Star Game history, breaking the record of Yao Ming back in 2003.

Dwyane Wade came in second in the fan voting in the East for the guard spot, but he came in sixth in media and player voting (which still is too high if you ask me) and so he fell out.

• The players have pushed to have their say in these kinds of situations and, well…

• The NBA coaches vote for the remaining bench spots in each conference (two backcourt, three frontcourt, two wild card) and that will be announced in one week on Jan. 26 on TNT.

Hakeem Olajuwon has nothing but praise for Joel Embiid, can “see himself” in rookie

Hakeem Olajuwon
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The most interesting comparison I heard a scout make about Joel Embiid was this is what people expected Greg Oden to be, before Oden’s body betrayed him.

But do you see some Hakeem Olajuwon in his game?

Olajuwon does, and he has nothing but praise for the rookie, as you can see in this video via the NBA’s Twitter account.

https://twitter.com/i/web/status/821424375819685888

I can see it in terms of mobility — Embiid is agile for a big man. He’s also a good passer and has a good feel for the game.

But he’d be the first to admit he has a long way to go to be in the same club with one of the greatest centers ever to play the game. Embiid needs to become a much better defender, and he needs a lot more polish on the offensive end.

Embiid has the potential to get there. That’s what we all see.