Lionel Hollins, Jerryd Bayless, Mike Conley

NBA Power Rankings: Memphis hangs on but Spurs, Heat charging

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If you ask me who was the best team in the NBA was last week, well, it was Denver. But they are fully capable of a winless week now, so we leave Memphis in the top spot this week. And Washington is still trying to find a win and a way out of the cellar (it will take more than one win).

source:  1. Grizzlies (9-2, last week ranked No. 1). Their loss came to a red-hot Nuggets team and they bounced back with a win showing the Lakers — and co-owner Justin Timberlake who was courtside — where the best team in the West is playing right now. You can pick apart things like their defensive rebounding, but they are still playing better than anyone.

 

source:  2. Spurs (11-3, LW 4). Tough loss to start last week but rebounded to start a six-game road trip 3-0 with wins over Boston, Indiana and Toronto — and those three wins are without Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson. Should be fun game against the Heat Thursday.

 

source:  3. Heat (10-3, LW 5). The schedule maker gave the Heat some early-season rest — just two games last week then four-days off until they play again Thursday (against San Antonio). They have time to get their Christmas shopping done early, but you know Mario Chalmers is going to wait to the last minute then try to be the hero.

 

source:  4. Thunder (10-4, LW 6). We’ve been waiting for the Thunder to look like the Thunder, and we saw it last week against the Clippers. But they are doing that despite playing some pretty weak defense the past week or so. That’s a trend that can’t continue.

 

source:  5. Clippers (8-5, LW 3). Their schedule was a test last week — Spurs, Thunder, Nets and Hawks — and they came out 1-3. They lost because their offense took a night off one night and then their defense did the same another. Jamal Crawford has hit a cold streak and the Clippers offense can’t really afford that. But have played the toughest schedule in the NBA so far, so we cut them some slack.

 

source:  6. Knicks (9-3, LW 2). The Knicks defense, particularly on pick-and-rolls and in up-tempo situations, was exposed last week when they gave up 114 points to the Mavericks and 131 to Jeremy Lin and the Rockets. The big battle of New York against the Nets is Monday, and Deron Williams can run the pick-and-roll, too.

 

source:  7. Hawks (8-4, LW 15). They are on a five-game winning streak having taken advantage of a soft spot in the schedule (Kings, Magic, only good win was over the Clippers who were on the second night of a back-to-back). That continues this week with only Charlotte and Cleveland on the schedule.

 

source:  8. Nets (8-4, LW 8). They played defense against the Clippers like they need to come the playoffs if they want to be a real threat. And doing it more in the regular season would be nice, too. Monday night showdown with Knicks should be fun, the rescheduled season opener wiped out by hurricane Sandy.

 

source:  9. 76ers (8-6, LW 9). With Andrew Bynum out until lord knows when, Doug Collins is just turning the offense over to Jrue Holiday, and that has been enough. For now. Defense and athleticism are getting them by but you feel like the bottom could fall out of this any time.

 

source:  10. Lakers (7-7, LW 10). Has there been a more up-and-down NBA team in the Association this season? Three wins by more than 20, but also some ugly losses. Lakers fans, and maybe their coach, seem to think the return of Steve Nash will solve these problems but he’s no cure all, especially to the erratic defense.

 

source:  11. Celtics (7-6, LW 11). They got a quality win last week against the Thunder and more importantly they had a couple games where they got good bench play — if they are going to climb the Eastern standings it will be on the back of the bench. Big tests against the Spurs and Thunder this week.

 

source:  12. Nuggets (8-6, LW 19).  The NBA’s streakiest team is hot again with a four-game winning streak that includes a victory over the Grizzlies. But until they play more consistent defense they will continue to be up and down. And you know that drives George Karl nuts.

 

source:  13. Bucks (6-5, LW 7). An 0-3 week (including a loss to the Bulls) and suddenly they look like a team that could find a way to let Chicago and Indiana hang close until those sides get healthy then steal the division away. They need to be better now. This is their window.

 

source:  14. Mavericks (7-7, LW 13). If you told Dallas they could be 7-7 without Dirk Nowtizki to start the season they would have taken it. But they have a lot of road games the next few weeks and unless Darren Collison starts to play more consistently they could start to fall down the boards.

 

source:  15. Bulls (6-6, LW 14). They went into Milwaukee, played some of their best defense of the season and got Carlos Boozer to show up for a night. They are right there in the Central division now and if they win it with Rose back it means a top-four playoff seed.

 

source:  16. Jazz (7-7, LW 16). I’m going to go out on a limb and predict a 1-3 week next week for the Jazz. Why? They are home for one game (where they are 5-0) and on the road for three more (where they are 2-7).

 

source:  17. Warriors (8-6, LW 18). Still not sold on them, but quality wins over the Nets and Mavericks last week and now they may get Andrew Bogut back come Saturday. By the way, I love watching Harrison Barnes play.

 

source:  18. Bobcats (7-5, LW 22). This record is a bit of a mirage — six of the seven Bobcats wins have come by four points or less and those bounces will eventually go the other way and even out. Still, they have as many wins this season as they did last season, so good on them.

 

source:  19. Timberwolves (5-7, LW 12). They got Kevin Love back early but that hasn’t ended a five-game losing streak. They need to get back to defending better and hold on for Ricky Rubio’s return without giving up much more ground.

 

source:  20. Trail Blazers (6-7, LW 20). They started a seven-game road trip on Sunday in Brooklyn (a loss) and making that swing without LaMarcus Aldridge will be the biggest test for this team.

 

source:  21. Rockets (6-7, LW 21). They got a headline win in New York, but really that feels hollow right now and all we can say is we wish the best to Kevin McHale and his family on the loss of his daughter.

 

source:  22. Pacers (6-8, LW 17). How do you fall in the rankings despite getting a couple wins? When those wins come against the Hornets and Wizards. Go ahead and argue the Pacers are a team built for the playoffs (big, physical, grinding with a good defense), you still have to get there.

 

source:  23. Suns (6-8, LW 24). They have their next five games on the road and that is where teams not playing good defense tend to struggle. Phoenix is 27th in the NBA in defensive efficiency.

 

source:  24. Magic (5-7, LW 25). Magic fans are happy to say they dodged the Andrew Bynum bullet, looking at his current knee injury. Okay, that’s short term (for now). But if you’re thinking that way, you rejected Brook Lopez and he is having a career year.

 

source:  25. Kings (4-9, LW 29). Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but the starting lineup of Aaron Brooks, Tyreke Evans, John Salmons, Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins is playing well. Problem is, no other Kings lineup really is.

 

source:  26. Pistons (3-11, LW 27). This is not a good basketball team, but if you want a silver lining maybe Andre Drummond is starting to find his way in the league. Think big picture with that one.

 

source:  27. Raptors (3-11, LW 26). Four straight losses — including a heart-breaker to the Spurs in double overtime — and now five of the next six games are on the road. Not a recipe for success. Especially if Andrea Bargnani has another 2-of-19 shooting night.

 

source:  28. Hornets (3-9, LW 23). You can blame injuries (Anthony Davis has played in half the team’s games due to a concussion and an ankle issue), and you can blame growing pains (see any part of Austin Rivers’ game). But still seven straight losses. That is not good for your ranking.

 

source:  29. Cavaliers (3-10, LW 28). Credit where credit is due — Jeremy Pargo has been better than we expected leading the Cavs offense with Kyrie Irving out. Still, they steam has one win in their last 9 games. Because while their offense isn’t good their defense is horrific.

 

source:  30. Wizards (0-11, LW 30). If it’s any consolation, they came a lot closer to a win last week… no, that’s not any consolation. But the good news is Nene has been a +31 through two games — when he is on the court good things are starting to happen for Washington. Just not enough of them yet.

Draymond Green tells Kyrie Irving: ‘I know your moves’ (video)

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Only Draymond Green can endearingly brag about his defensive intelligence while admitting getting fooled on a play.

In the Warriors’ blowout win over the Cavaliers last night, Green guarded Kyrie Irving and anticipated the Cleveland guard would go one way. After Irving went the other way to score, the two shared a moment during a stoppage.

“I know your  moves,” Green said.

“I know,” replied Irving, whose vast offensive repertoire allowed him to find an unexpected counter.

Thaddeus Young shakes backboard with dunk on Terrence Jones (video)

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Terrence Jones isn’t much of a rim protector.

Thaddeus Young took advantage.

This ferocious jam helped the Pacers beat the Pelicans, 98-85.

Rudy Gobert block secures Utah’s win over Phoenix (VIDEO)

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At the season’s midway point, Rudy Gobert is probably the leader frontrunner in the Defensive Player of the Year race. Kawhi Leonard will have a say, and there is a lot of basketball yet to play, but Gobert anchors the NBA’s best defense and he is a force in the paint.

Just ask the Phoenix Suns.

Down three with 13 seconds left Monday night, the Suns wanted a three to tie, but when that was not easily open Eric Bledsoe decided to drive for two (then the Suns would foul and extend the game), he was cut off so Bledsoe dished to rookie Marquese Chriss, who went in for the layup — and found the long arms of Gobert. Blocked shot and game over.

Utah is for real, folks.

Three Things We Learned, Cavaliers/Warriors edition: What can we take away from Monday to NBA Finals?

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 16:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers holds his face after being fouled by Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 16, 2017 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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The NBA goes big on Martin Luther King Jr. day — as they should — but if you missed the action because you were busy counting to 100,000 for no reason, we’ve got you covered with the key takeaways from the biggest game on the schedule.

And we’re doubling our usual three things we learned to six for a day.

Six things from Warriors’ thrashing of Cavaliers that could play out in NBA Finals.
 Nothing that happens in the regular season guarantees anything come the NBA playoffs, let alone the Finals. Last season’s 73-win Warriors were just the latest in a long line of teams to prove that. Which means we need to be careful reading much into Golden State’s thrashing of Cleveland on Martin Luther King Jr. day. The Finals are a little less than six months away — both of these teams will be different by then (the Cavaliers hope to have a healthy J.R. Smith and Kevin Love by then, for example).  Remember, in January one year ago the Warriors thrashed the Cavaliers on national television, and how did the following Finals turn out?

However, when these teams meet some strategies are tested, little things in the game that we could see — or teams will need to at least account for — come the Finals meeting we all expect. Here are six things from Monday’s game that could well play out in June in the NBA Finals.

1) In the four straight wins the Cavaliers had in this series prior to Monday, they were very aggressive in defending Stephen Curry — they trapped him off picks, were physical, tried to pressure him into decisions to give up the ball, then when Curry tried to make the playground passes that worked against other teams the Cavaliers help defenders made steals and were off in transition the other way. All of that made Curry passive — remember the guy floating on the perimeter taking just 11 shots on Christmas Day?

On Monday night Curry took that pressure in stride, attacked Kyrie Irving from the opening tip (remember Curry’s first possession he blew right by him), used his handles to create space, used his gravity to draw defenders to him, then he whipped smart passes around the floor. In the first half, Curry had 10 assists and zero turnovers. For the game Curry had 20 shots. If he can match that, or even come close, in the Finals, the Cavs are going to struggle to slow this offense down. Like every mortal team has.

2) In January 2016 the Warriors thrashed the Cavaliers on national television, and that was a critical step in the Cavaliers deciding they needed to let David Blatt go, hire Tyronn Lue, and make changes that put them on Golden State’s level. With Monday’s loss, one thing that was evident was the depth of playmaking options the Warriors have and how that can be difficult to guard. Cleveland has two playmakers right now, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. Cavs’ GM David Griffin has talked about wanting to add playmakers, LeBron has called for a backup point guard, but it’s clear whatever position they could use to add another playmaker or two heading into the trade deadline.

3) Can Kevin Durant guard LeBron? Chris Haynes of ESPN with an interesting stat:

The Cavaliers were on the last night of a six-game, 12-day road trip — they were not at their best. LeBron clearly wasn’t. However, if KD can even do a reasonable job on LeBron — or can switch on to him without getting torched — the Warriors will be a lot more comfortable and have more options on defense.

4) How did Warriors handle Kyle Korver? They went right at him and made him play defense, which has never been a strong suit (to put it kindly). The Warriors have enough playmakers that whoever Korver was guarding just went at him, and it worked — particularly during the stretch that saw the Warriors first push their lead north of 20. Korver didn’t have a great shooting night, by June he likely is far more comfortable, but if the Warriors can expose him on the other end it will be hard to keep Korver on the court for extended periods.

5) When JaVale McGee checked in for the Warriors, Tyronn Lue countered with Channing Frye. JaVale is not a strong defender, doesn’t step out away from the basket if he can help it, and the Cavs saw an advantage. JaVale’s offense covered that in this game scoring inside, but it’s something to watch.

6) DeAndre Liggins is a good defender, but he’s more focused on-ball than off, and in the fourth quarter Klay Thompson torched him a few times making Liggins chase him off screens away from the ball. You can be sure Steve Kerr noticed and filed that away.