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: Bucks interested in Cavaliers GM David Griffin

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The Magic hired Jeff Weltman, and the Hawks are reportedly close to hiring Travis Schlenk.

In other words, Cavaliers general manager David Griffin – who’s still without a contract for next season – lost his leverage with other teams.

But to the rescue are the Bucks, who will not necessarily promote assistant general manager Justin Zanik to replace Orland-bound general manager John Hammond.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Multiple sources told cleveland.com that the Bucks, who lost general manager John Hammond to the Orlando Magic this week, have interest in Griffin, 47.

Griffin and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert have spoken about continuing their partnership in recent days, sources said, though no agreement was reached.

I still think Griffin stays in Cleveland. He helped assemble a championship contender, and he has LeBron Jamesendorsement. Plus, the Cavaliers can afford him.

But whomever gets the Milwaukee job will inherit a roster stocked with promising young talent like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker. The Bucks wouldn’t be a bad fallback option for Griffin – if he can’t use them to get a deal with the Cavs.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue: Celtics’ sets harder to defend than Warriors’

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With the Cavaliers up 3-1 on the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, most basketball observers are focused on Cavs-Warriors III in the NBA Finals.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue is more concerned with Boston, which scored surprisingly well in Games 3 and 4 after losing Isaiah Thomas to injury.

Lue, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“I don’t even think about them,” Lue said of the Warriors to a small group of traveling Cleveland beat writers following the Cavs’ Game 4 win on Tuesday. “We’re just focused on Boston. The stuff they’re running, it’s harder to defend than Golden State’s [offense] for me, as far as the actions and all the running around and all the guys who are making all the plays, so it’s a totally different thing.”

Wait, the Isaiah Thomas-less 53-win Celtics are harder to defend than the Kevin Durant-supercharged 67-win Warriors? Come again, Coach?

“Like, they hit the post, Golden State runs splits and all that stuff, but these guys are running all kinds of s—,” Lue said of Boston coach Brad Stevens’ schemes. “I’ll be like, ‘F—.’ They’re running all kinds of s—, man. And Brad’s got them moving and cutting and playing with pace, and everybody is a threat. It’s tough, you know, it’s tough.”

I think Lue means in a very specific way – getting his players into proper position. And in that regard he might be right.

I also think the Warriors will take this in the broadest, most offensive way possible. That’s just the nature of this rivalry.

Without Thomas, Stevens has been forced to diversify Boston’s offense. The Cavaliers, who prepared for a very different scheme, were caught off guard and are adjusting on the fly.

That’s a real challenge. But framing it as the central issue sells Golden State short.

Even if it’s harder for Lue to get his players into proper position against the Celtics, the Warriors’ surplus talent – including Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green – more than makes up for it. And it’s not as if Golden State runs a basic scheme.

So why did Lue say this?

He didn’t think the travelling Cleveland beat writers would publish his candid remarks? He didn’t convey his thoughts clearly? He naively didn’t consider how this would motivate the Warriors? All are plausible.

Another theory: Lue is trying to plant a seed that acting Golden State coach Mike Brown, whose known (fairly or not) for his simplistic offensive schemes, is holding back the Warriors. If Steve Kerr doesn’t return, resentment of Brown is one of the few things that could tear apart a dominant Golden State team.

Richard Jefferson: LeBron James was sick during Cavaliers-Celtics Game 3

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LeBron James was inexplicably bad in the Cavaliers’ Game 3 loss to the Celtics on Sunday.

Except maybe it was explicable.

Cleveland forward Richard Jefferson, via Fox Sports Ohio

I know he won’t talk about it, so I’ll give my big guy a shout. Deron Williams missed shootaround this morning, because he had like a little bug, just really lethargic, had no energy. And I think that’s what Bron had. And sometimes these little bugs can go around.

When Deron didn’t show up to shootaround, it kind of started clicking in his head. Because for him it was more of like, “I don’t know why I was so lethargic, why I had no energy, I had nothing.” And so, these little things happen. There was no panic.

Look, he was lethargic. They hit a bunch of tough shots. If Marcus Smart doesn’t go 7-for-10 from 3, then we’re not even talking about it.

I don’t know whether LeBron was truly sick or Jefferson is just trying to help a teammate’s reputation. It can be both.

LeBron was better in Game 4, but not quite right.

If he’s dealing with a minor illness, that could clear up by Game 5 tomorrow. It should especially clear up by the Finals, which begin June 1. That’d be great news for the Cavs, who have no chance against the Warriors if LeBron isn’t at full strength.

The uncertainty of why LeBron hit a slump now of all times loomed over Cleveland’s playoff future. But Jefferson provided reason for the Cavaliers to breathe easy.

Michigan’s D.J. Wilson staying in NBA draft

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Michigan bigs D.J. Wilson and Moe Wagner declared for the NBA draft in similar situations – coming off breakout seasons, particularly excelling down the stretch, and sitting on the first-round bubble for the NBA draft. Neither hired an agent, leaving their options open.

But this is where their paths diverge.

Michigan releases:

University of Michigan junior forward D.J. Wilson announced today (Wednesday, May 24) he will forgo his final two seasons of eligibility and submit the necessary paperwork to remain as an early entrant into the 2017 NBA Draft.

University of Michigan sophomore forward Moritz Wagner announced today (Wednesday, May 24) he will return to the Wolverine basketball program after removing his name from consideration for the 2017 NBA Draft.

Wilson and Wagner both said they’d stay in the draft only if they’d be first-round picks. I wonder whether Wilson got a first-round promise or is just confident enough he’ll get picked there. The latter wouldn’t be a bad bet. Even if the 22-year-old Wilson slips into the second round, this might be the peak of his draft value.

At times, it’s easy to forget Wilson is a 6-foot-11 big man. He shoots 3-pointers, dribbles and moves like a wing. He also too often shies from contact, which particularly hurts his rebounding.

But he’s a big. Those perimeter skills wouldn’t shine quite as brightly if he were matched up with opposing wings. Wilson has a 7-foot-3 wingspan, and he also protect the rim. However, his shot-blocking relies on a bounciness that’s not as effective when pressed into more physical matchups. He needs some space to launch – but when he has it, it also pays off in quality finishing at the rim.

Wilson has the tools to be a good NBA power forward, but he’s still a work in progress. In other words, he still looks like a borderline first-round pick.