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.

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.

Rumor: Lakers, Kawhi Leonard share mutual interest

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The Spurs seem like they won’t trade Kawhi Leonard.

That won’t stop teams from trying.

There’s a clear disconnect between Leonard and San Antonio. Even the potential of a player as good as Leonard becoming available has teams salivating.

The Clippers are reportedly assembling a trade offer for the L.A. native. Los Angeles’ other team – the Lakers – are also apparently expected to factor prominently.

Sean Deveney of Sporting News:

“I think they go in hard for Leonard once the season is over and once the dust settles in San Antonio,” one executive told Sporting News. “(Leonard) wants to go to LA. There probably won’t be public demands on that, but he has leverage. He is going to be a free agent (in 2019). He’s an LA guy and he can just let teams know he won’t re-sign next year with anyone but the Lakers.”

But make no mistake, the Lakers are the favorite here.

“I would say that’s the most likely thing,” another general manager told Sporting News. “He’s going to be their target any way you look at it, this summer or next summer. There’s not many other ways to explain what’s been going on with that situation other than him trying to get out of San Antonio.”

Of course, every team wants Leonard. He’s an elite two-way player when healthy. But teams will go to differing lengths to pursue him. If the Lakers will “go hard for Leonard,” that means something beyond just desiring him.

Under Magic Johnson, the Lakers have made no secret of their plan to acquire stars. That has largely been centered on 2018 free agents, but with that well drying up, talk has turned to 2019 free agents. If the Lakers can get a top 2019 free agent – Leonard – sooner, why wouldn’t they?

One reason is the cost. Trading with San Antonio would require dealing at least some combination of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. Signing Leonard outright in 2019 would be simpler.

But a trade is the only surefire way of getting Leonard. If the Lakers don’t trade for him, another team could. With promising young players and cap space, the Lakers have the tools to make an intriguing offer for Leonard.

Or, more likely, the Spurs could keep him. Their relationship isn’t necessarily beyond repair, and they can offer him a super-max contract extension this summer.

They might not offer it. Even if they do, he might not take it. If he doesn’t, he could pledge to re-sign with only certain teams – like the Lakers – and steer trade talks that way. You can see how the thinking develops:

Leonard might be unhappy in San Antonio. He grew up in Southern California. Therefore, he’ll engineer his way to the Lakers?

Maybe, and maybe these anonymous executives know something to that effect. But this mostly sounds lazily speculative.

PBT Extra: Disciplined Celtics highlight bad habits of Milwaukee Bucks

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Giannis Antetokounmpo has been every bit the top five NBA player in the postseason — 32.5 points per game on 63.2 percent shooting, plus with 11 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game.

Yet the Bucks are down 0-2 to Boston.

The Celtics have had a strong series from Al Horford and Terry Rozier, but the real difference is in the discipline this team has shown all season — Boston knows who it is. Clearly, Milwaukee does not. They turn the ball over too much and make too many mistakes.

I get into all of that in this PBT Extra, and I wonder if that’s something the Bucks can really turn around mid-playoffs.

Ettore Messina to coach Spurs in Game 3 following death of Gregg Popovich’s wife

AP Photo/Eric Gay
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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin, died yesterday.

That sad news was felt throughout the NBA, and it obviously affects San Antonio most closely. That includes for tonight’s Game 3 against the Warriors.

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

Ettore Messina was a longtime head coach in Europe. The Spurs lead assistant also took over for a few regular-season games Popovich missed. So, making – rather than advising – coaching decisions won’t be a brand new challenge to Messina.

But down 2-0 to defending-champion Golden State is a tough place to make an NBA playoff debut.

On the bright side, there will be no pressure. Not only has San Antonio been outclassed the first two games of the series, focus is rightly on the Popovich family. A win would be a pleasant surprise and help Messina – who’s up for the Hornets job – in his pursuit of a head-coaching position. A loss would be quickly forgotten with more important matters at hand.

To that end, hopefully the time away allows Popovich the space he needs to grieve. That matters far more than a basketball game.