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.


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.


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.

Byron Scott doesn’t see reason D’Angelo Russell should play more in fourth

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The Lakers’ clear top priority for this season should be simple: develop their young stars.

Julius Randle is a beast with the ball in his hands, but a one-handed beast who needs to work on his right hand. D'Angelo Russell has shown flashes but is trying to adapt to the speed and style of the NBA game. Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. can be pieces on a good team, eventually. The Lakers need to build that foundation.

Which is why coach Byron Scott sitting Russell in the fourth quarter of games, even blowouts, is perplexing. As were his responses when asked about it after the Lakers’ lastest blowout loss, Tuesday night to the Golden state Warriors. So Scott, is there value in playing Russell in blowouts to get him more time on the court? Mark Medina of the LA Daily News had the answer.

“Nah. There’s really no reason to. At that particular time we’re down 30 [points],” Scott said. “I wanted to get Ryan [Kelly] some time and Marcelo [Huertas] as well and some other guys that haven’t played a lot.”

That would be 32-year-old Marcelo Huertas, who played the fourth quarter Tuesday while Russell sat.

This is not Gregg Popovich resting his stars to keep them fresh for the playoffs here. We are talking about a 19-year-old rookie point guard whose game is based on court vision, anticipation, and angles, a guy who has to learn how to apply those in a league where everybody is long and fast. He needs time on the court to adapt. Is he going to make mistakes? Yes. A lot of them. That’s what rookies do. If you coach them up, they learn from those mistakes and make fewer each time out. It’s a sometimes painful process, but it’s how rookies learn.

Except in Byron Scott’s world where they get benched. Because that will teach them. Meanwhile Kobe can do whatever he wants, because he was once great and that gives him carte blanche.

Nuggets’ Emmanuel Mudiay apologizes for verbal spat with coach

Emmanuel Mudiay, Michael Malone
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Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone was willing to get into it with just about anyone Tuesday night. He had a few words with Blake Griffin.

And he had a few words with his rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay — and Mudiay gave it right back. Then got benched. Later the rookie realized he should be a little more deferential to the guy who controls his minutes, and apologized. Malone played it down. Everything is fine in Denver (well, except for the four straight losses). Here are the quotes, via Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post.

Said Mudiay: “It’s just both of us being competitors. It probably was my fault, I could have been doing a lot more. So I kind of put the blame on myself. I’ve got nothing against Coach, I respect him. He’s a great person, and I have all the respect in the world for him.

“Me and him are both competitive. We want to win. We hate losing. We’re on a four-game losing streak, something like that. It’s just us trying to win. At the same time, it’s over with. It’s on to the next game. It’s been like that my whole life. He’s just trying to challenge me, which I accept.”

“There is frustration on our end, having lost four games in a row now,” Malone said. “Just trying to find way to get a win. Winning is a great cure-all for anybody, like it was for (the Clippers) tonight, coming in having lost three in a row. So this is a very competitive game, guys are out there working hard trying to do their best, and sometimes emotions get involved. By no means is there an issue with Emmanuel or anybody else on this team. We are together, we are unified and we’re going to continue to fight to stay together to get this thing turned around.”


These kinds of little flare-ups are a common part of the NBA season — if the Nuggets were not frustrated after losing four straight, it would be a bigger concern. That Mudiay pushed back is some fire I want to see from a rookie.

Mudiay is learning, his turnovers are down of late (although they flared up against Golden State). His shooting is still an issue, and his decision making has a ways to go, but there is progress.  Which is all you can ask of a rookie. And it helps to have a coach who will push him. (And play him in the fourth quarter — Byron Scott, we’re looking at you.)

Rockets conduct “mini training camp” to try and right ship

J.B. Bickerstaff
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One of the reasons Kevin McHale was fired and J.B. Bickerstaff hired last week was the Rockets’ schedule — it got softer, and there were a couple longish breaks (for the NBA) where he could schedule practices and install changes. It gave Bickerstaff a fighting chance for success.

One of those breaks was the past few days. Houston had three days between games after they lost to New York Sunday, Wednesday night against Memphis is the next time they take the court. Bickerstaff used the time to have a “mini training camp” and try to return the team to some basics, he told the Houston Chronicle.

“Our attitude has changed over the past week and a half,” Bickerstaff said. “We’ve taken a more serious approach in what we’re doing. Guys are more disciplined in what we’re doing and they were hungry for that. As a group, we brought them together. That was the first thing they were calling for, some more discipline, more structure and more rules.”


“It was a hard practice,” Jason Terry said. “It was attention to detail. There were consequences for not paying attention to detail. Just getting back to our roots, that’s defense first, executing on offense and making the extra pass. We got to put the work in if we want to get the results. Though we thought we were doing that before, we weren’t doing that enough, obviously. It was good to see. It felt great. Today was a day, mentally we got better.

“The next step is winning basketball games. I believe in this group. If we do the things we practiced the last two days, we were going to put ourselves in great position to win. We’ll have to get that results, but I think we’ll have that opportunity.”

We will see if that carries over Wednesday night. Memphis has been playing better of late as well; this will be a tough test.

The bigger question is can Houston’s leaders — Terry, James Harden, Dwight Howard — make sure this improved foundation carries over a week from now? Then a month from now? Bickerstaff can talk discipline all he wants, he can tweak the rotations — finally separating Harden and Ty Lawson more — and sit guys playing poorly, but if the leaders in the locker room are not the ones keeping everyone in line everything will fall apart. You think Tim Duncan would have allowed the Rockets’ mindless, sloppy start in San Antonio? (Or Tony Parker? Or David West? Or a lot of guys in that locker room?)

There is so much talent on the Houston roster it’s still hard to imagine they don’t get it together and become a playoff team in the West. But whether they are a playoff team to truly fear remains to be seen.

Frank Vogel says Paul George is best two-way player in game

Paul George, John Wall

The moniker of the “best two-way player” sounds more like something an agent made up to gain a little leverage contract negotiations. It’s a nebulous concept. It’s an intentional dig at whomever is perceived as a better player, suggesting they don’t play enough defense.

But it’s part of the NBA lexicon now, and Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel thinks he has the best two-way player in the game in the resurgent Paul George. Tuesday night George dropped 40 points on Wizards and Vogel said this after the game, via the Washington Post.

“It’s tough to quantify in words,” Pacers Coach Frank Vogel said. “I mean, he just does so much. He’s capable of going for 40, carrying the offensive load and being the best defensive player on either team. He’s a special player, and the best two-way player in the game. We’re a different team with him out there.”

Paul George’s return to an elite level of play is one of the best stories of this young NBA season — for nine straight games now he has scored at least 25 points, he has pushed the Pacers to a 9-5 record with a top 10 NBA offense and defense. Tuesday night John Wall talked about how George’s improved jumper has made him a far more dangerous, more difficult to guard player. And he’s still a lock-down defender.

But George is not the best two-way player in the game — that’s Stephen Curry. George does not have the offensive impact that Curry brings to the Warriors, plus Curry has developed into a solid NBA defender. Curry gets steals, plays smart, and is a positive on defense, plus he’s the best offensive player in the league right now.

That doesn’t make the return of Paul George any less fun, any less good for the game. It’s great to see George back. Whatever you want to call him.