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.

Really? Online petition started to change name of Durant, Oklahoma, to Westbrook.

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 30:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder stands on the court in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 30, 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.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Durant, Oklahoma, is a city of just more than 15,000 people in the southern part of the state. It is the capital of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and it was named after its Choctaw founder, Dixon Durant.

But some people in Oklahoma are not high on the name Durant, lately. Kevin Durant decided to bolt the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors this summer, and some Thunder fans feel betrayed. Understandably. Durant was well within his rights, but if you’re a Thunder fan and you’re not hurt by this it would be strange.

Still, you have to hope what follows is satire. It reads like it.

Oklahoma’s Ryan Nazari created a Change.org petition asking the city of Durant be renamed the city of Westbrook. As in Russell Westbrook. The guy who signed a contract extension to stay in Oklahoma (for just one extra year, but still). Read the petition below and tell me it doesn’t sound like satire.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the great state of Oklahoma has been betrayed. As many of you know, Kevin Durant has left our state, torn out our hearts, and left our beloved Oklahoma City Thunder in depleted shape. All of this after even being offered a cabinet position for the State of Oklahoma. It is because of this heinous action that I believe the State of Oklahoma has a responsibility to change the name of the City of Durant to Westbrook, the man who is loyal, whom we believe in, and who will lead our team to glory. Yes, it is understood that the city Durant was not named after the evil Kevin Durant, but it is just another hideous reminder of what happened to our community.”

As of this writing, he had reached his goal of having more than 1,000 people sign on.

Maybe it’s satire, but it’s more creative than burning a jersey.

Obviously, the name of the city is not changing. If people want to live in Westbrook, they should move to Maine.

Way too early look: Who could make up USA’s 2020 Tokyo Olympic basketball team?

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan and Kyle Lowry #7 of United States stand on the podium after defeating Serbia in the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Let’s start with the obvious: This is an exercise in futility. There is no way to predict accurately what the 2020 USA men’s basketball team headed to the Tokyo Olympics will look like. There will be injuries that sideline guys. There will be contract situations where key guys decide it’s in their best interest to sit out. Plus, there could be a guy just now entering his junior year of high school who we don’t know well yet but in four years will be a clear choice for the team.

Now that we’ve gotten through the tedious disclaimer, let’s have fun:

What will the 2020 USA Basketball team look like?

First, it will have a bit of a business attitude — Gregg Popovich is coaching now. Not that Mike Krzyzewski ran a college party Team USA, far from it, but with Popovich’s demeanor and the scare put into the 2016 team (and some improving world powers, such as Canada), expect the USA to be a little more focused next time around.

For the roster, who from the 2016 gold medal team in Rio returns for more gold? At the top of the list: A 31-year-old Kevin Durant will be back for one more run (and to climb on top of the USA Olympic scoring list). He will be the unquestioned team leader. The alpha. It will be his team.

After that? Young stars who want one more go at it such as Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, and Klay Thompson will seriously consider a return. Maybe Jimmy Butler. Those guys will have a leg up having Olympic experience and a commitment to the program.

After that, some big names that passed on Rio are going to suit up in Japan. There will be far less defection of top talent this time around — the fears around Brazil will be gone, and NBA players wanting to sell more shoes in Asia will be eager to sign up. I expect you will see Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, and maybe James Harden decide they are in for the next round. LeBron James said he felt left out and may consider a return, but he will be 35 years old with 17 NBA seasons on his body by that point, does he want to put his body through an international curtain call? Probably not.

Rounding out the roster, expect a few guys from this year’s USA Select Team — the team the Olympic squad practiced against in Las Vegas at the start of camp — to make the leap up (as Kyrie Irving and others did this year).

Who? That’s the hardest thing to predict, it depends on development. Guys to watch include Victor Olidipo, Justise Winslow, Devin Booker, Brandon Ingram, and Jabari Parker — some of them will be ready to make the leap.

One clue to the 2020 roster: Players that you see in China for the 2019 FIBA World Cup will be more likely to make the 2020 team. (Yes, the World Championships are now the year before the Olympics, welcome to more of FIBA’s wisdom, as is the fact the Cup qualifiers fall during the NBA/Euroleague seasons.) Guys from the select team now that head to China in three years and perform well in that setting will likely have the USA across their chest in Japan.

Whatever team we send will have the most talent in those games. The question is will that be enough?

Check out the Cleveland Cavaliers Top 10 plays from last season

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With athletes such as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on the team, you know the Cleveland Cavaliers Top 10 plays of last season were going to have some special moments.

Yes, the block by LeBron and the stepback three by Irving that sealed the first Cleveland title in 52 years are on top of the list.

But there are some other ridiculous Irving handles and even a Timofey Mozgov dunk in there (a $64 million dunk, apparently).

Watch Spurs’ Dejounte Murray throw off-the-backboard alley-oop to himself in pickup game

Washington guard Dejounte Murray, center, dribbles the ball past Mount St. Mary's center Taylor Danaher (50) as Washington forward Marquese Chriss, right, watches duirng the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Just a suggestion for rookie Dejounte Murray: Don’t do this in front of Gregg Popovich. You may not like his reaction.

That said, the Spurs needed to get more athletic this off-season — landing Pau Gasol certainly didn’t help that cause — so enter first-round pick Murray, who pulled this off in a recent pickup game.

Murray is going to be brought along slowly in a backcourt where Tony Parker and Patty Mills will be splitting time at the point. Murray is more of a combo guard and is going to have to shoot a lot better than he did in college (28.8 percent from three) to get some run. But this is a situation where the Spurs can groom him, bring him along slowly, and see if they have another draft steal.

He’s certainly got the athleticism.