Miami Heat's James celebrates win over Atlanta Hawks with Bosh and Allen during their NBA basketball game in Atlanta

NBA Power Rankings: Heat, Thunder on top, it feels like 2011

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It’s early in the season, very early, but there are moments it feels line the NBA finals come June could be a rematch of last year — Miami vs. Oklahoma City. And that really shouldn’t be a surprise. Right now those two teams are on top of the PBT power rankings.

source:  1. Heat (12-3, last week ranked No. 3). The Heat are back on top, and on a six-game winning streak, because they are starting to find their defensive stride again. The last two games they have held their opponent below the league average in points per possession, and as a team they are taking the long view of getting the defense to click.

 

source:  2. Thunder (14-4, LW 4). Winners of five in a row, in part because Russell Westbrook is not as one dimensional as you think and has been a real playmaker for them. Good tests this week against the Nets and Lakers.

 

source:  3. Spurs (14-4, LW 2). They went 5-1 on a tough six game road trip, and the one loss really pissed David Stern off. Then they came back and handled the Grizzlies. Would you be shocked if they were the top seed in the West this season? I wouldn’t.

 

source:  4. Grizzlies (12-3, last week ranked No. 1). They were 3-1 last week, the loss coming to a motivated Spurs team out to stick up for their coach after Stern’s fine (and while the Spurs stars were rested the Griz were on a back-to-back). They have the best defense in the land and a pretty soft schedule this week (Hawks are the big challenge).

 

source:  5. Nets (11-5, LW 8). Deron Williams is struggling with his shot — 39.9 percent on the season — but he will not blame his sprained wrist. The Nets offense has been bailed out by the suddenly hot Jerry Stackhouse, who loves the corner three and has 15 from beyond the arc this season. BTW, nice win over the Knicks.

 

source:  6. Knicks (12-4, LW 6). They are defending their house and are now 7-0 at Madison Square Garden. We will see how much the bone bruise in Raymond Felton’s hand bothers him, because with Jason Kidd out also it becomes the Pablo Prigioni show.

 

source:  7. Clippers (10-6, LW 5). Chauncey Billups is back and although he has played limited minutes in those games it seems to have settled their offense down and they put up 100 points in those games (after missing that mark in four of the previous five). Jamal Crawford may be finding his groove again, too. Which is good for all of us.

 

source:  8. Hawks (9-5, LW 7). They won six in a row but did it against soft competition (save for the Clippers win). We’ll learn a lot more from them with teams like Denver, Miami and Memphis coming up.

 

source:  9. 76ers (10-7, LW 9). Like the Hawks above them, this is a team that has played hard and won but done it against a soft schedule. That changes now, starting with a home-and-home against Boston.

 

source:  10. Celtics (9-8, LW 11). I’m not with Doc Rivers, I don’t think the Celtics are soft… well, maybe their bench is. They started out with a 17-0 run against the Bucks and by halftime it was a one-point lead. And they went on to lose. Jeff Green had a couple nice games with Rajon Rondo out, but remains enigmatic.

 

source:  11. Warriors (10-6, LW 17). This is a team with the points per possession differential of a .500 team and I keep waiting for them to revert, and they just keep on finding a way to win. Carl Landry is quietly having a strong season, as is David Lee. When those two are paired the Warriors lineups are stronger.

 

source:  12. Bucks (8-7, LW 13). Quality wins last week over Boston and Chicago, plus they got a triple-double (with blocks) out of Larry Sanders. The jury is still out on the Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings pairing but it just doesn’t seem to be lightning in a bottle (they don’t defend well).

 

source:  13. Bulls (8-7, LW 15). That loss to the Bucks — ahead by 27 only to lose — is a real stinger. That said, they are still in the mix to win the Central division (without that Rose guy) and they have some winnable games this week (Cavaliers, Pistons) before some real tests in the middle of the month (Knicks, Clippers, Nets, Grizzlies).

 

source:  14. Lakers (8-9, LW 10). The NBA’s most inconsistent team. Why so inconsistent? Los Angeles is running an offense based on smart, strong point guard play and they run out Darius Morris and Chris Duhon playing the point. Combine that with some horrible mental vacations on defense and you get up and down. Lots of road games coming up this week.

 

source:  15. Jazz (9-9, LW 16). There is no good time for Derrick Favors to go down but this is about as close as it gets — Jazz are a dramatically better team at home and have four of their next five in Salt Lake City.

 

source:  16. Rockets (8-8, LW 21). They are 2-7 against the Western Conference but 6-1 when they face the East. One other fun little fact, they are playing at the fastest pace in the NBA right now.

 

source:  17. Mavericks (8-9, LW 14). Derek Fisher is not the answer, as his 1-8 shooting night Saturday showed. Dallas is 2-6 on the road this season and six of their next seven are away from Dallas. Meaning a real test for the team that has no certain idea when Dirk Nowitzki might return to the lineup.

 

source:  18. Nuggets (8-9, LW 12). This was a team expected to run everyone into the ground, but they are playing at just the eighth fastest pace in the league and are 23rd in points scored per possession in transition. They don’t have a good running game right now.

 

source:  19. Timberwolves (7-8, LW 19). Ricky Rubio is back practicing, which is great news and fits with the timeline of him returning mid-December. In the interim, they need Kevin Love to shoot better (37 percent since he returned to action).

 

source:  20. Bobcats (7-8, LW 18). Three straight losses against tougher competition, including an ugly thrashing at the hands of the Thunder where they looked like last-season’s Bobcats. The feel good story may be ending with the Knicks, Bucks and Spurs up this week (as well as the Blazers).

 

source:  21. Pacers (8-9, LW 22). They got a quality win against the Lakers last week (although pretty soon we are going to stop saying that about beating LA). David West has been playing well of late, but they miss Danny Granger’s shot creation.

 

source:  22. Trail Blazers (7-10, LW 20). They lost to the Wizards and the Pistons, then needed a dramatic Nicolas Batum three to beat the Cavaliers. This is not a very good team. Sorry. Nice pieces but not a good team.

 

source:  23. Suns (7-10, LW 23). After watching him against the Knicks Sunday, you have to wonder how long before Alvin Gentry just starts slashing Michael Beasley’s minutes. Dramatically. He guns on offense, hurts them on defense.

 

source:  24. Pistons (5-13, LW 26). Don’t tell anyone, but they have gone 5-5 in their last 10 games. They remain a dreadful road team (1-10) but at the Palace they will make you work for it.

 

source:  25. Magic (6-10, LW 24). There is no real revenge for Dwight Howard, but that win Sunday night sure tasted good to Magic fans. As it should.

 

source:  26. Raptors (4-13, LW 27). They are 1-9 on the road this season and their next five games are a West Coast swing that includes the Nuggets, Jazz and Clippers. Have fun with that.

 

source:  27. Hornets (4-11, LW 28). They are going to have to go at least another week without Anthony Davis and they have to figure out how to defend without him. With Davis in the lineup they allowed opponents 103.1 points per 100 possessions, that has jumped way up to 110.5 in the past five games.

 

source:  28. Cavaliers (4-13, LW 29). No Kyrie Irving. Not even Dion Waiters to be a gunner. All Cavaliers fans have right now is Anderson Varejao trade rumors.

 

source:  29. Kings (4-12, LW 25). You look at where the Kings are now, where they have been for the past few years, and you’d think an owner would clean house starting with the GM and working down into the roster. But Geoff Petrie in entrenched as GM. The Kings marketing team can start planning another lottery party for fans now.

 

source:  30. Wizards (1-13, LW 30). Nene was back, now he’s gone (but may be back this week). Randy Wittman’s mom wants to know when John Wall is coming back and there are no answers. It’s going to be a long season in the nation’s capital.

51Q: How quickly will the Lakers’ young core progress?

Los Angeles Lakers' D'Angelo Russell, left, poses with with Jordan Clarkson (6) during the team's NBA basketball media day in El Segundo, Calif., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season.

D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle placed somewhere between promising and good for their ages last season.

None of that is to say plain “good.”

When Russell, Clarkson and Randle shared the court, the Lakers scored fewer points per possession than the NBA’s worst offense and allowed more points per possession than the league’s worst defense. In all, those units got outscored by a dreadful 16.0 points per 100 possessions. A teenage Brandon Ingram, the draft’s No. 2 pick, is unlikely to swing fortunes quickly.

Ingram (19), Russell (20), Randle (21) and Clarkson (24) carry significant value, but little of it is tied to their ability to produce right now. When will that change?

It’s important to acknowledge reality of the present before setting expectations for the future.

Here’s how each core piece ranked in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus last season:

  • Russell: 69th among 82 point guards
  • Clarkson: 119th among 175 guards
  • Randle: 90th among 93 power forwards

Russell ranked in just the 36th percentile in points per possession when finishing a play as pick-and-roll ball-handler. With Russell guarding, his man shot 47%.

Clarkson’s man shot even better, 48%. Not limited to defense, Clarkson has yet to turn any skill in his all-around game into a major asset.

For all the hype about his ball-handling and passing, Randle turned the ball over more than he assisted baskets last season. He also blocked fewer shots than Jeremy Lamb, a shooting guard who played more than 1,000 fewer minutes.

Ingram is a skinny teenager. Like most rookies, he’ll face growing pains as he jumps to the NBA.

These players have a long way to go – and that’s fine. Time is on their side.

The Thunder once went 23-59 with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. LeBron James missed the playoffs his first two seasons. Even Michael Jordan spent his first three years on losing teams.

Simply, young teams rarely win in the NBA. At least a modicum of experience is crucial.

But don’t assume these young Lakers are destined for success.

At one point, Charlotte thought it had something with Emeka Okafor (No. 2 pick, Rookie of the Year in 2005), Raymond Felton (No. 5 pick, All-Rookie second team in 2006) and Adam Morrison (No. 3 pick, All-Rookie second team in 2007).

Drafting highly touted players who produce immediately doesn’t guarantee long-term success.

If the Lakers look at the bigger picture, they’ll monitor their young core’s development and proceed as they gain more information. They won’t overreact to the most likely outcome: another losing season.

It could be another year or two or even three until Russell, Clarkson, Ingram and Randle ascend into playoff contention. As long as they show progress, that’s OK. Those four should be graded on a curve for their age.

The Lakers might be in a good place if they don’t get in their own way. But with a fan base accustomed to championship contention and a front office on a self-imposed deadline to advance in the playoffs, do you trust he Lakers to remain patient?

DeMarre Carroll considers this his first season with Raptors

TORONTO, ON - MAY 15:  DeMarre Carroll #5 of the Toronto Raptors dribbles the ball in the first half of Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Miami Heat during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 15, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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BURNABY, British Columbia (AP) — DeMarre Carroll is ready to start over.

A prized free-agent acquisition for the Toronto Raptors last year, Carroll played only 26 regular-season games because of a right knee injury that had to be surgically repaired in January.

The small forward worked hard to rejoin the club in time for Toronto’s run to the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals, but wasn’t the same player the Raptors signed to be difference-maker from the Atlanta Hawks.

And while not yet 100 percent after a month of rest followed by a strenuous summer of rehabilitation, Carroll is looking forward to hitting the reset button.

“I look at it as basically my first season (with Toronto),” the 30-year-old Carroll said as the Raptors opened training camp this week. “A new season, a new beginning. I’ve just got to come in and get back to playing DeMarre Carroll basketball when I’m healthy.”

Apart from locking up DeMar DeRozan to a long-term contract and bringing in Jared Sullinger, the Raptors had a relatively quiet break.

However, finally having a healthy Carroll would be a major bonus for a club looking to take the next step.

“A big difference,” DeRozan said. “It was tough for us last year to figure out ways to play without him. Even when he was playing early on he was hurt (and) even when came back he wasn’t his full self and we still managed to make history.

“To have him back at the start of camp, start of preseason, to be able to implement him fully is going to give us everything that we’ve been searching for.”

The 6-foot-8, 215-pound Carroll only returned to the court for live action last week, and said his offseason regimen included making sure all the proper steps were taken to ensure his knee is ready for the season.

“We took a hard approach about it and we did it the right way,” said Carroll, who took a month off after the playoffs in hopes of reducing the swelling. “Last season it was more of a rush, trying to get me back. We didn’t go through the whole thing we needed to go through to get the knee to where it needs to be. I feel that we’re on the right track.”

Carroll, who averaged 11.4 points and 4.7 rebounds last season, came through the first two days of camp unscathed for the Raptors, who open their exhibition schedule on Saturday at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena against the Golden State Warriors.

“(The team) has talked about bringing me along slowly, not trying to kill myself in pre-season,” Carroll said. “Just be ready and healthy for the first game of the season.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said Carroll’s presence on the floor, including his ability to hit from three, helps create openings on a team that is thin at small forward.

“Really gives us the spacing that we need with Kyle (Lowry) and DeMar handling the ball, attacking of the dribble,” Casey said. “That’s what we need from him, his spacing and his defensive presence. He did a great job accepting that role last year. He takes us from a good team to a pretty good team when he does that.”

For his part, Carroll said the mental side of the injury was tough, but something he forced himself to push through.

“You’ve got to stay strong, especially in this league. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for you,” he said. “It can be draining to keep on going through the same thing, having the same setbacks. But I’m happy right now because I haven’t had any setbacks. I’ve just got to look at the positives and keep trying to work towards the future.”

ESPN’s new NBA contract lowers value of Disney stock

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 22:  In this handout image provided by Disney, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant (L) celebrates the Lakers' NBA championship with Goofy at Disneyland on June 22, 2010 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Paul Hiffmeyer/Disney via Getty Images)
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ESPN and Turner signed new national TV contracts worth $24 billion over nine years, a huge revenue increase triggering a corresponding salary-cap rise.

That wasn’t the only consequence of the deal.

Richard Morgan of the New York Post:

Drexel Hamilton analyst Tony Wible downgraded Disney stock on Monday in response to “a massive increase in NBA costs” for ESPN.

Disney’s deal to televise NBA games, with its increase in step-up costs over last year, could shave as much as 5 percent off pre-tax profits.

This isn’t necessarily bad for Disney-owned ESPN. It just shows how much more favorable the old national TV deals were for the TV networks.

The NBA is now getting a fair share of the money – which, if you’re the one paying the money, isn’t as good as paying a bargain rate.

Serge Ibaka says he wants to stay with Magic forever, and they want him long-term

Serge Ibaka jokes around while posing for a photo holding a plastic Flamingo during Orlando Magic's NBA basketball media day, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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The Magic took a major risk trading for Serge Ibaka, who’s heading into unrestricted free agency next summer. Rather than have Victor Oladipo (who’ll be a restricted free agent) and the No. 11 pick (who’s on a four-year contract), Orlando could come away empty-handed within a year if Ibaka leaves.

So far, everyone is saying the right things.

Ibaka, via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

“I’m looking to stay here to play forever — for [as] many, many years as possible,” Serge Ibaka said during the Magic’s media day.

“I’m not really worried about my contract year or my long-term,” Ibaka said.

“One of the things I learned playing on a good team is when the team wins, when you make the playoffs, everybody looks good. So that’s what will be my focus right now, because if we win and make the playoffs, everything will take care of itself.”

Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, via Robbins:

“We certainly traded for Serge thinking long-term, and that’s our expectation,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said.

I’d be surprised if the Magic and Ibaka didn’t discuss the parameters of his next contract, with the Thunder’s permission, before making the trade. But the Collective Bargaining Agreement prevents any binding unofficial arrangements, so nothing is set in stone.

Ibaka is already talking about making the playoffs, and that would go a long way toward convincing him to stay in Orlando. But what if the Magic miss the postseason, a distinct possibility? How keen will Ibaka be on returning then?

He’ll have other suitors – unless he has a down year. Then, how badly will Orlando want him back?

That Ibaka and the Magic are entering the season with the stated intention of a long-term arrangement means something. But it means only so much.