Rudy Gay, Kevin Durant

NBA Power Rankings: Top spot goes walking in Memphis

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Memphis has moved into the top spot in the poll this week, but notice the top three are teams we kind of expected to be on the second or third tier in the NBA this season. The question remains can they keep it up. Oh, and at the other end the Wizards still suck.

source:  1. Grizzlies (8-1, last week ranked No. 3). You don’t think they’re for real — they beat the Thunder in Oklahoma City and then knocked the Knicks from the ranks of the unbeaten last week. They beat the Heat this season. They have yet to lose at home this season. They are playing well at both ends of the floor. It’s all about as legit as it gets.

 

source:  2. Knicks (7-1, LW 1). They are 7-1 and its hard to knock much of what they are doing… especially the come from behind win in San Antonio this week (on a Carmelo Anthony off night). You can have concerns about their rebounding and how the Grizzlies picked apart their defense (don’t help off the cutter) but they look for real, too.

 

source:  3. Clippers (7-2, LW 6). They had an undefeated week, highlighted by a sound beating of the Miami Heat. The question coming into the season was defense and while it is very early the Clips have the second best defense in the league in points per possession, which is a drastic improvement. Keep it up and we’ll have to thrown them in the contenders mix.

 

source:  4. Spurs (8-2, LW 2). Manu Ginobili looked like his old self against the Nuggets over the weekend and the Spurs need that to continue. After a tough Monday night game against the Clippers they have a six-game road trip.

 

source:  5. Heat (8-3, LW 4). They have the second best offense statistically in the NBA this young season, but their defense remains 24th in the league. Expect it to improve but it’s something to watch.

 

source:  6. Thunder (8-3, LW 5). Their offense is destroying teams on the pick-and-roll, with the ball handler shooting 50.9 percent in that situation. Of course, it’s often Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant so…

 

source:  7. Bucks (6-2, LW 15). While you weren’t looking they went 3-0 last week. The Pacers are banged up without Danny Granger, the Bulls are banged up without Derrick Rose… could the Bucks win the Central division?

 

source:  8. Nets (6-2, LW 14). They have won five in a row but if you can do that and not be convincing that was the Nets. Tests against the Lakers and Clippers this week should give us a better read.

 

source:  9. 76ers (6-4, LW 8). Doug Collins referred to Nick Young as “swaggy.” I didn’t think Collins knew what that meant… actually, he may not. Oh, by the way, no Andrew Bynum until lord knows when so expect more up and down play.

 

source:  10. Lakers (5-5, LW 11). Their points per 100 differential — the difference between how many points they score and give up per 100 possessions — is fourth best in the NBA. Which suggests they are going to figure this out at some point. Nets and Grizzlies will prove challenges this week.

 

source:  11. Celtics (6-5, LW 10). They were 3-2 last week, continue to be sluggish, have a defense ranked 19th in the NBA and just are not clicking. Big tests against the Spurs and Thunder this week.

 

source:  12. Timberwolves (5-4, LW 13). Some tough losses last week, but Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love were on the court at walkthroughs and Minnesota continues to keep its head above water with its stars out. That’s all you can ask.

 

source:  13. Mavericks (6-5, LW 12). Elton Brand shot 49.4 percent last season, 51.2 percent the season before that, and is at just 35.8 percent this season. He’s still starting but got just 11 minutes last game and Troy Murphy is getting some of his run. Not good.

 

source:  14. Bulls (5-5, LW 7). They’re a .500 team without Derrick Rose… isn’t that pretty much what we all expected?

 

source:  15. Hawks (4-4, LW 17). They are playing better than their record indicates and if they can get Josh Smith back near the rim they might be less streaky. That said, soft schedule the next week (Magic, Bobcats, Wizards) should boost the record.

 

source:  16. Jazz (5-6, LW 19). It took a dramatic triple overtime game, but they got a win on the road in Toronto. Finally this weekend we got to see the Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Al Jefferson front line together… and they were terrible against an awful Wizards team. Don’t give up on it yet, Ty Corbin.

 

source:  17. Pacers (4-6, LW 16). Their defense is good, but the offense is the issue. The Pacers are shooting 33.2 percent on spot up looks, they lack Danny Granger to create in isolation (due to injury) and Roy Hibbert’s shooting (especially a few steps away from the basket, beyond 5 feet) has fallen off. They are a long way from looking like last year’s playoff team last year.

 

source:  18. Warriors (5-5, LW 21). They continue to be in the mix (if the playoffs started today they are the seven seed) and if they can do that until Andrew Bogut returns this may well be a playoff team.

 

source:  19. Nuggets (4-6, LW 9). Their 0-3 week has them pushing the Pacers for the most disappointing team out of the gate this season — and at least Indy has key injuries. Danilo Gallinari has lost his shooting touch and JaVale McGee is still the classic JaVale McGee, not the new and improved version the Nuggets though they were paying for.

 

source:  20. Blazers (5-5 LW 22). They are the winners of three straight now and part of that is some monster numbers from Nicolas Batum — he had 35 in the overtime win over Houston, then 21 against the Bulls. This is the Batum they need.

 

source:  21. Rockets (4-6, LW 18). Omer Asik is averaging 10.8 points and 12.8 rebounds a game so far this season. They need him to be more efficient, shoot a higher percentage, but he could be a good balance to the Jeremy Lin/James Harden backcourt.

 

source:  22. Bobcats (4-4, LW 24). If the playoffs started today they are the seven seed in the East. Give credit to Kemba Walker, who has taken a step forward this season scoring 18.8 points per game, although his 42.3 percent shooting overall and 16.7 percent from three is a concern.

 

source:  23. Hornets (3-5, LW 20). Three straight losses — mostly because their defense struggles, Anthony Davis or no — and now they get the Knicks Tuesday then four straight on the road as they swing West. It’s going to get tough.

 

source:  24. Suns (4-7, LW 23). They were 1-3 last week but against a brutal lineup (Nuggets, Bulls, Lakers and Heat). Still, Alvin Gentry is going to shake up the lineup and Marcin Gortat is not happy. It’s going to be a long, hot season in Phoenix.

 

source:  If you want some bright spots, Jameer Nelson is back and the ball movement looks better. Plus there was the dramatic fourth-quarter comeback against Detroit. It’s not much but at least their losing streak has ended.

 

source:  26. Raptors (3-7, LW 28). The one bright spot in Toronto last year is they defended, it was something to build on. Early this season they are 26th in the Association in defensive efficiency. Can’t build on that.

 

source:  27. Pistons (2-9, LW 30). They got two wins last week — and they came over Boston and Philly. So they move up out of the cellar. With the Magic and Raptors on the schedule this week even more wins don’t seem out of the question.

 

source:  28. Cavaliers (2-8, LW 25). Six straight losses and they have the worst defense in the NBA so far — they are getting destroyed on post ups and in isolation sets. The only bright spot tends to be Kyrie Irving and Jrue Holiday did a number on him Sunday.

 

source:  29. Kings (2-8, LW 26). Five losses in a row, all by at least 9 points. They had a team-only meeting already (the first of the season in the league, the one category you don’t want to lead in). I’d say its karma for the owners, but that’s not fair to a great fan base.

 

source:  30. Wizards (0-8, LW 29). This would be the second consecutive year the Wizards started 0-8. Yes, I know, no John Wall and no Nene, but still. Last season they won their ninth game (it would be against Indiana Monday this year) then lost five more. Something to look forward to, Washington.

Report: Kings to interview Patrick Ewing for coaching job

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11: Assistant coach Patrick Ewing of the Charlotte Hornets looks on in the first half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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The Kings’ coaching search is the definition of wide ranging. So far names that have come up in the search are Mark Jackson, Nate McMillan, Vinny Del Negro, Mike Woodson, Sam Mitchell, and Kevin McHale (although his level of interest is up for debate). Luke Walton and other big names were called but are now off the board.

You can add Patrick Ewing to that list.

The legendary Knicks big man and current Hornets assistant will get a shot, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Sacramento Kings will interview Charlotte Hornets associate head coach Patrick Ewing for their head coaching vacancy this week, league sources told The Vertical….

What makes Ewing an intriguing candidate for Sacramento officials is his potential ability to command the respect of mercurial All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins, league sources said. Ewing, a Hall of Fame center, has the unique blend of his own physical and playing stature to go with a strong coaching pedigree as part of staffs with Clifford, Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Van Gundy.

The big man connection is obvious, but the real question for Ewing — or whoever gets the Kings job — is how well they can help change the culture of the locker room. It’s going to take a strong coach and some other locker room leaders to give this team a new start as it moves into a new building.

It’s going to be a lot of work, look at what Marco Belinelli said in an interview with Sky Sport Italy, via Sportando.

“There wasn’t a group from the start of the season,” said Belinelli. ‘Karl didn’t want Cousins and Cousins didn’t want Karl as coach. It’s pretty hard to play well in a situation like that. At the beginning it looked like Ranadive was the man calling the shots but then Divac came in, trying to be the peacemaker between Cousins and Karl”.

“I saw some very bad stuff in the locker room,” Belinelli added. ‘Coming from a perfect organization like the Spurs, I was pretty surprised to see stuff like that”.

Heat, in first playoff series win without LeBron James in a decade, look complete, beat Hornets

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) dunks against the Charlotte Hornets in the first half of Game 7 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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As the national anthem played, a tear streaked down Dwyane Wade‘s cheek.

“I knew tonight would be a great moment for these guys,” Wade said. “I felt that we was going to win this game. I knew that our energy and our crowd was going to be enough, and we was going to be prepared. And I was just thinking about how these guys was going to feel after playing a Game 7.”

Pretty darn great.

The Heat beat the Hornets, 106-73, Sunday in the fifth-most lopsided Game 7 in NBA history. Miami – which will face winner of tonight’s Raptors-Pacers Game 7 – won its first playoff series win without LeBron James since 2006.

Pairing Wade with another superstar (Shaquille O’Neal for the 2006 championship) or two (LeBron and Chris Bosh for the 2012 and 2013 titles) has worked. But that option went out the window this season when blood clots sidelined Bosh at the All-Star break for the second straight year.

With Wade’s waning athleticism forcing him to pick his spots more often, he has needed more help than ever. His teammates have provided it.

Hassan Whiteside (10 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks) and Goran Dragic (25 points, six rebounds and four assists) led the way in Game 6.

Whiteside defended at an elite level. The Hornets shot just 2-for-11 in the restricted area with him on the court. I don’t know what’s more stunning – that they shot so poorly or attempted so few close-range shots in 28 minutes. Whiteside struck fear in the paint.

Dragic’s 25 points were his most in seven weeks and one shy of his playoff high. His aggressiveness fueled so much more. Miami’s offensive rating was 120.1 with him on the court.

“That’s the Goran Dragic we all love,” said Wade, who scored 12 points and had lost his last three playoff games when scoring so little. “Just putting so much pressure on the defense, and it allows other guys to just chill out – especially me.”

Wade can’t always carry the Heat – though sometimes he still can – but he remains the face of the franchise. Whether or not his teammates provide enough support almost reflects more on him than it does them. Fortunately for him, they look up to the task of making him look good.

It’s far too early to look ahead to a juicy Heat-Cavaliers conference finals, but Miami should be favored against either Indiana or Toronto.

Yes, it took seven games to vanquish Charlotte, but the Heat outscored the Hornets by 62 points – the third-largest combined margin ever in a seven-game series. The last team to win a seven-game series or a Game 7 by such decisive margins was the 2008 Celtics, who beat the Hawks by 34 in Game 7 to cap a +84 first-round series. Boston went on to win a title that year.

Will Miami follow that path? Probably not, but there’s something to be said about so thoroughly outplaying a difficult-to-beat opponent.

The Hornets were no pushovers – at least until today, when the Heat dominated on the glass and got most loose balls. In this series, Charlotte earned its first three playoff wins since reemerging as the Bobcats in 2004. The Hornets’ first best-of-seven series victory remains elusive and a potentially turbulent offseason awaits, but this group came to play.

Miami was just too good on both ends of the floor.

In the second quarter, Whiteside cut off a Kemba Walker drive, forcing the point guard to give up the ball. Whiteside then rotated to cover Al Jefferson (the type of multiple-contest defense many doubted Whiteside could execute) and emphatically blocked Jefferson’s shot.

The ball went to Dragic, who immediately sped up court. Dragic, who entered the game shooting 37% from the field, spun around Courtney Lee before anyone else could catch up to provide help and made a layup.

Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, the team’s energetic rookies who had big moments earlier in the series but provided less today, jumped up and down and spun around on the bench. The rest of the team wasn’t far behind in its cheering.

All the while, Wade barely took a few steps forward, remaining back on defense and watching it all unfold in front of him – a starless group of teammates he knew were capable of delivering.

Even without Stephen Curry, adjusting for playoff rotations still favors Warriors over Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard, right, drives the ball against Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green (23) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, April 3, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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When the Warriors put five players expected to be in the playoff rotation on the floor during the regular season, they outscored opponents by 20.9 points per 100 possessions.

No other team even neared that level with five of its own playoff-rotation players.

The second-place Spurs (+13.1 adjusted net rating) were closer to 10th place than first place.

But Golden State’s supremacy obviously took a hit when Stephen Curry got hurt. How do the Warriors rate without him in the rotation?

As I did before the first round, I’ve used nba wowy! to rank Western Conference playoff teams by net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating), counting only lineups that include five players in the team’s postseason rotation. Both the regular season and first round factored.

I wrote more about the Thunder’s and Spurs’ adjusted ratings yesterday. The East will come after its second-round series are set.

For now, here’s each Western Conference team’s rating, from the regular season adjusted to only lineups that include five players projected to be in the second-round rotation:

Western Conference

2. San Antonio Spurs

  • Offensive rating: 110.5 to 110.0
  • Defensive rating: 99.4 to 96.1
  • Net rating: +11.1 to +13.9

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Offensive rating: 113.6 to 117.3
  • Defensive rating: 106.0 to 104.6
  • Net rating: +7.6 to +12.7

1. Golden State Warriors

  • Offensive rating: 114.9 to 119.7 to 109.1
  • Defensive rating: 104.1 to 98.8 to 103.8
  • Net rating: +10.8 to +20.9 to +5.3

5. Portland Trail Blazers

  • Offensive rating: 108.9 to 111.0 to 110.3
  • Defensive rating: 108.2 to 107.9 to 107.5
  • Net rating: +0.7 to +3.1 to +2.8

Observations:

  • By this metric, there’s a clear main event and undercard here – at least if the Spurs and Thunder don’t keep playing like they did last night.
  • Golden State obviously takes a big tumble without Curry, but this measure shows the limit of saying the Warriors got outscored by 3.7 points per 100 possessions without Curry during the regular season. Golden State’s other top players – Draymond Green (88%), Klay Thompson (85%), Andrew Bogut (85%), Harrison Barnes (66%) and Andre Iguodala (60%) – played a majority of their minutes with Curry. Put them on the court more in these Curry-less games, and it’ll help.
  • With Curry in the rotation (and Ian Clark and Brandon Rush out), the Warriors’ adjusted offensive/defensing/net ratings shoot right back up into the stratosphere: 119.8/98.7/+21.1. Golden State must just holds its ground until Curry returns. This measure suggests the Warriors can against Portland, especially with home-court advantage also in their favor.

Playoff Preview: Four things to watch in Portland vs. Golden State series

at ORACLE Arena on April 3, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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.
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Portland has wildly exceeded expectations this season, making the playoffs as the five seed and getting past a banged-up Clippers team to the second round. But the NBA does not do Cinderellas well, this will be the end of the road. Here are the four questions we’re asking heading into this series.

1) When will Stephen Curry return? If Portland has a chance in this series, they need to do a lot of damage before the past-and-future MVP returns from his sprained knee. The question is when will that be? Curry is out for Game 1 and has yet to do any on court work, but Steve Kerr would not rule him out for Game 2 on Tuesday, although that may be gamesmanship as much as anything. But after Game 2 the teams are off for four days until the Saturday, May 7, and that may be enough time for him to return. Whenever he does come back, the dynamics change and the Warriors become a much more dangerous, much better team — one Portland can’t handle. The Blazers need to get all the wins early in this series they can.

Which isn’t very easy, Curry or no.

2) How will the Warriors defend Damian Lillard? When Lillard has gone up against his hometown team — he’s from Oakland — he averaged 36.5 points per game this season. Expect Klay Thompson to draw the assignment to cover him at the start of games, but also expect the Warriors to steal a page from the Clippers’ strategy and trap Lillard and C.J. McCollum each time they come off a pick. The idea is to force the ball out of the hands of the two best playmakers and make Al-Farouq Aminu or Maurice Harkless or anyone else beat you. Aminu and Harkless will find the Warriors defense works on a string better than the Clippers and their shots will get contested.

However, most of the time, the Warriors will switch the pick-and-roll, which they usually do (especially when they go small) and Lillard will find Draymond Green in his face. Blazers coach Terry Stotts has to find ways to get Lillard playing downhill off those picks to have a chance.

3) Can the Trail Blazers hit their threes? In Portland’s win over Golden State in the regular season (just after the All-Star break), they put up 137 points and made it rain threes — the Trail Blazers need to do that again. However, the Warriors were one of the better teams in the league at defending the arc this season, holding opponents to 33.2 percent from deep (second best in the league) and allowing the second fewest corner threes (although they are more willing to allow threes above the arc). Portland does not have a good enough defense to stop Golden State consistently even without Curry, they will just have to outscore the Warriors, and to do that it has to rain threes again.

4) How will Portland defend Klay Thompson and Draymond Green? Both of these key Warriors cogs had strong regular seasons against Portland — Green averaged 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 8.8 assists, while Thompson averaged 29.3 points shooting 59.4 percent from three. Obviously, that was with Curry on the floor drawing defenders, but Portland is not exactly known for their lock-down defense. Without Curry, expect Aminu to get a lot of time on Thompson, but that alone is not going to slow him. Also, expect the Warriors to post up Thompson, Shaun Livingston, or anyone else that Lillard and McCollum guard — the hardest part about defending Golden State is there is no place to hide weak defenders. The Warriors will expose the Portland defense.

Prediction: Warriors in 6. And that assumes Curry is out until Game 5, if he is back earlier than that the series likely ends in 5.