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NBA Power Rankings: Oh-oh Thunder road, oh Thunder road

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A lot of the preseason talk in the West focused on the Lakers… and it still does. And too often it ends with “and the Thunder are still contenders, too.” No, the Thunder are the defending Western Conference champs, the team to beat in that conference and they look pretty good right now. Thank you very much.

source:  1. Thunder (16-4, Last week ranked No. 2). Winners of eight in a row after Monday night including some quality victories last week against the Nets and Lakers. Are the Lakers still considered a quality win? Well it was the Pacers win that impressed me — putting up an offensive rating of 115.3 (points per 100 possessions) against what had been the best defense in the NBA. The Thunder are rolling.

 

source:  2. Spurs (17-4, LW 3). For the past few years, the Spurs have evolved into an offensive team that played enough defense to win games (a lot of games). But this season the Spurs are back to their old ways with the sixth best defense in the NBA (98.2 points per 100 possessions).

 

source:  3. Knicks (15-5, LW 5). Going 2-1 this week without Carmelo Anthony (until Sunday), including a big win over Miami in Miami was impressive. New York is going to ride the train of threes as long as they keep falling. Trail Blazers fans had to watch Raymond Felton in that Heat game and throw things at the television, he didn’t give them games like that last season.

 

source:  4. Clippers (13-6, LW 6). They are the winners of six in a row — and for the last three games the starters have not set foot on the floor in the fourth quarter. The Clippers remain the best and still by far least talked about team in Los Angeles.

 

source:  5. Grizzlies (14-4, LW 4). Not their best week, needing overtime to beat the Suns and losing to the Hawks (who are playing well, to be fair). The Grizzlies remain an elite defensive team and that is keeping them in games, and they are beating the teams they are supposed to beat (they don’t have bad losses) so we’re not worried.

 

source:  6. Heat (13-5, LW 1). Last week I said they might be finding their defensive footing. I would like to officially take that back. Their defense was bad in losses to the Knicks and Wizards, and they really were just a hot shooting team in their one win last week. They get a rematch with the Wizards Saturday.

 

source:  7. Hawks (12-5, LW 8). Quality wins this week over the Grizzlies and Nuggets, with the Heat on tap for Monday. While you weren’t looking they have been a strong defensive team this season behind Josh Smith and Al Horford.

 

source:  8. Warriors (13-7, LW 11). Here’s a shocker — if you put a bunch of guys who can shoot together on a team they are going to score points. For the season their point differential suggests they should be a .500 team but in the past five games their offense has found a groove. They have started a seven-game road trip 3-0.

 

source:  9. Celtics (11-9, LW 10). Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but they have started to play really good defense in Boston the past couple weeks. That’s the first building block. And Doc Rivers is not building for February, he’s looking at May and beyond.

 

source:  10. 76ers (11-9, LW 9). They did well, getting an Evan Turner game winner and splitting a home-and-home with Boston, but they get some tests this week with the Bulls, Pacers and Lakers. And with the Laker game, expect a plethora of Bynum stories. There still is no timeline for his return.

 

source:  11. Bulls (11-8, LW 13). Don’t put too much into the rumors of Rose’s recovery, he’s doing well but he is still more than a month away from playing in games, probably longer. But they are doing okay without him. Winners of three straight, they have a tough stretch ahead — Clippers, 76ers, Nets, Grizzlies, Celtics and Knicks are the next six.

 

source:  12. Bucks (9-9, LW 12). One of the many inconsistent teams in the middle of the pack in the NBA — they lost to the Hornets (in an ugly fashion) then beat the Nets later in the week. It’s like that every week with the Bucks, it feels.

 

source:  13. Nets (11-8, LW 7). Losers of four straight and, dare we say it, their defense is terrible without Brook Lopez in the lineup? It’s true, which suggests maybe the Mayans were right and we should all be stacking up on canned goods for the shelter. Rematch with the Knicks this week.

 

source:  14. Jazz (12-10, LW 15). They split with the Los Angeles teams this week, losing to the good one and beating the struggling one. The Jazz are what we thought they are — a good, hard working, balanced team. One that faces the Spurs and Grizzlies this week, so good luck.

 

source:  15. Mavericks (10-10, LW 17). O.J. Mayo was a 36.4 percent three-point shooter the past two seasons, but this year he is knocking down 52.3 percent of his looks from deep. And he is taking 5.6 threes a game. I keep expecting this bubble to burst but we are 20 games in now.

 

source:  16. Lakers (9-12, LW 14). What the slow start almost ensures is that the Lakers will have no home court advantage come the playoffs. The Thunder, Spurs and Grizzlies are out of their reach, and they are 5.5 games back of a good Clippers team in the Pacific. The Lakers are back out on the road for four more this week and they may or may not get Pau Gasol and Steve Nash to help them at some point.

 

source:  17. Nuggets (10-11, LW 18). They have faced a tough schedule (although the Clippers and Hornets have had it worse) but that does not excuse the bad turnovers late in a couple games last week by Ty Lawson. This is another middle of the pack NBA team we keep expecting to get it and go on a run.

 

source:  18. Timberwolves (9-9, LW 19). They expect to get Ricky Rubio back this week, which will be a huge boost to a struggling offense. Once they start putting up points again look for them to shoot up the rankings and the standings.

 

source:  19. Pacers (10-11, LW 21). The drop off with this team when the bench enters the game is just hard to watch. They continue to play good defense as a team (save the Oklahoma City game) but the offense is passable at best with the starters then nosedives with the bench play.

 

source:  20. Rockets (9-10, LW 16). We are just happy to see Kevin McHale back on the sidelines with this squad. Hopefully he can help even out another up and down team, one that beat the Lakers and the Jazz then lost to Spurs and Mavericks in their last four.

 

source:  21. Trail Blazers (8-12, LW 22). If you’re a Trail Blazers fan and you watch the play of Raymond Felton in New York or Jamal Crawford in Los Angeles this season, you just have to be pissed.

 

source:  22. Magic (8-12, LW 25). The gutted Magic have gone 3-2 on their road trip and are playing hard for Jacque Vaughn. They are the eighth best defensive team in the NBA without what’s his name in the paint blocking shots.

 

source:  23. Pistons (7-15, LW 24). Detroit’s offense is 12.7 points better per 100 possessions at home compared to on the road. Which is good news for the Sixers and Nets as the Pistons travel there this week.

 

source:  24. Kings (7-12, LW 29). The Kings are on a three game winning streak, but that will get tested on the road this week at Dallas, Milwaukee and Oklahoma City.

 

source:  25. Bobcats (7-12, LW 20). They are the losers of seven in a row, and the reason is they can’t defend. In their last five games they have given up 116.1 points per 100 possessions, the worst team in the NBA during that stretch (using the NBA’s own stats page).

 

source:  26. Suns (7-15, LW 23). They also have lost seven in a row, including one to the Magic on Sunday night they though was winnable. The two games this week are Memphis and Utah, although they are at home (and Utah can struggle on the road).

 

source:  27. Raptors (4-17, LW 26). They are a terrible road team and this West Coast swing has them losing and looking for answers. I look at the roster and still don’t see a grand plan from GM Bryan Colangelo.

 

source:  28. Hornets (5-14, LW 27). I want to cut them some slack — they have been without Anthony Davis for a long stretch and have played the toughest schedule in the NBA so far. But their problems go well beyond that.

 

source:  29. Cavaliers (4-17, LW 28). Losers of five straight but they get Kyrie Irving back Tuesday night. And they bring him back against a Lakers team that has terrible defense at the point guard position.\

 

source:  3 30. Wizards (2-15, LW 30). Sorry, even a win over the Heat can’t get them out of the cellar… although if not for a Festus Ezeli block they would have beat the Warriors and moved up. They are close to getting out of this jail. Oh, and still no John Wall timeline.

Three Things We Learned Thursday: DeMarcus Cousins puts up numbers, but will Pelicans keep up pace?

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 23:  DeMarcus Cousins #0 and Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans react during the first half of a game against the Houston Rockets at the Smoothie King Center on February 23, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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 Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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The NBA got back to work on the court Thursday night after all the drama of the trade deadline day, but if you missed out on it because you were breaking down Donald Trump’s “clasp and yank” handshake we have you covered with the big takeaways from the day.

1) DeMarcus Cousins puts up 27 and 14 but Rockets expose question in rout of Pelicans. DeMarcus Cousins tried to give the people what they paid to see Thursday night — he got deep position and sealed his man inside for buckets, he showed his shooting range near the top of the key, and on the other end he blocked four shots. Cousins put up 27 points and 14 rebounds in his Pelicans debut.

However, the Houston Rockets ran the Pelicans out of the building in a 30-point win, a game where most of the second half was garbage time. The game made Chris Herring at fivethirtyeight.com look prescient — Cousins’ Pelicans couldn’t handle the pace of the Rockets. That’s maybe not a shock in the sense that the Rockets play at one of the fastest paces in the league and have played faster and faster as the season has worn on (fastest in the NBA in the past 10 games). What’s not as well known is the Pelicans play at a top 10 pace for the season. However, Cousins likes to hold the ball and has been having a career-best season in one of the NBA’s slower offenses. He can get out and run, he can play and play well in an uptempo offense, but it’s not where he’s at his best. How is Alvin Gentry going to find a balance between these competing forces?

Thursday night was not going to answer every question, particularly on a night when Jrue Holiday plays poorly at the point and turns the ball over against a team that thrives on live-ball turnovers. But how fast the Pelicans play with Cousins, and how much coach Alvin Gentry staggers Cousins and Anthony Davis, will be things to watch in the coming weeks.

As for the Rockets, just acquired Lou Williams had a team-high 27 points. He’s going to fit in just fine, thank you very much.

2) Who won the deadline day trades? Dallas. If you talk about which teams had the best last couple weeks in the run-up to the trade deadline, then the Pelicans (despite the loss Thursday) and Toronto Raptors are the clear winners.

However, who had the best Thursday? Who had the best trade deadline day itself? The Dallas Mavericks.

We’ve all watched them try to find their next center for a while, complete with the DeAndre Jordan drama and Blake Griffin barricading the door (not really). Now the Mavs got their guy — Nerlens Noel. He’s athletic, he rolls to the rim and finishes strong in the paint, and he’s just 22. Sure there are questions — Noel has a worrying injury history and a limited offensive game (but he stays in his lane) — but he was going to be a highly sought after restricted free agent this summer and the Mavericks just got his rights and now can match any offer. Which will likely be expensive ($100 million?), but he could anchor the Mavs inside for a decade.

The real reason this is a win for Dallas is all they gave up was Justin Anderson (a potentially nice “3&D” player), Andrew Bogut (who the Sixers will waive), and what was billed as a first-round pick but is top 18 protected this year so it will revert to two second rounders. That’s almost nothing.

3) Watch Kemba Walker and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope put on a show and force OT in eventual Pistons win. If you want the most entertaining game of Thursday night, it was the Hornets and the Pistons going to overtime as Walker and Caldwell-Pope exchanged buckets. Don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself.

Walker finished the night with 34 points, but Caldwell-Pope had 33 and his Pistons got the 114-108 win at home.

Kyrie Irving, LeBron James lead Cavaliers past Knicks, 119-104

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 16:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers stands on the court during their game against 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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CLEVELAND (AP) LeBron James recorded his 48th career triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 119-104 victory over the New York Knicks, who hung on to superstar Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose at Thursday’s trade deadline.

James scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds with 15 assists for his sixth triple-double of the season.

Anthony, the subject of trade rumors because of a strained relationship with Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, scored 20 points, going 9 of 25 from the field.

Kyle Korver scored 20 points for Cleveland, which is 8-1 in February and has beaten New York 10 straight times.

Courtney Lee had 25 points for New York, which has lost six of seven and is 12th in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis, the team’s second-leading scorer, left the game with a sprained right ankle in the second quarter and didn’t return.

New York took an early lead in the first game since the All-Star break for both teams, but the Cavaliers closed the first half on a 25-8 run. Cleveland built the lead to 72-51, but Anthony scored eight points in the third quarter and kept New York in the game.

The Knicks trailed 87-79 entering the fourth, but the Cavaliers quickly regained control. James scored on two layups while Korver and Channing Frye each hit two 3-pointers, pushing the lead to 110-91.

James, who had eight assists in the fourth, also turned in two outstanding defensive plays. He swatted Rose’s layup attempt into the courtside seats in the second quarter and pinned Lee’s breakaway drive against the backboard in the fourth.

Rose, another subject of trade rumors as the deadline approached, scored 13 points.

TIP-INS

Knicks: C Joakim Noah (sore left hamstring) traveled with the team to Cleveland, but coach Jeff Hornacek said no timetable has been set for his return to action. . Lee has been battling an illness, but has stayed in the lineup despite not being fully healthy.

Cavaliers: James’ missed layup earlier in the quarter fooled the arena PA announcer, who began calling the four-time MVP’s name as the ball spun out. …. Irving missed a free throw in the second quarter, snapping a streak of 29 made foul shots in a row.

OAKLEY RETURNS

Former Knicks forward Charles Oakley watched his former team in his hometown. Oakley sat next to Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert in a front row seat adjacent to Cleveland’s bench.

Oakley attended his first Knicks game since being arrested after getting into an altercation with security guards at Madison Square Garden earlier this month.

UP NEXT

Knicks: Host Philadelphia on Saturday night.

Cavaliers: Host Chicago on Saturday night.

Rockets rout Pelicans, 129-99, in DeMarcus Cousins’ New Orleans debut

Houston Rockets guard James Harden watches his 3-point shot during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, in Houston. Houston won 111-92. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) The Boogie-and-Brow era in New Orleans is off to a highly inauspicious start.

The Pelicans’ tandem of newly acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis was no match for the surging Houston Rockets on Thursday night.

Reserve Lou Williams hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in his Rockets debut after a trade from the Lakers, and Houston crushed New Orleans, 129-99.

Davis had 29 points, and Cousins finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds after he was acquired from Sacramento during the break. But New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times couldn’t keep pace with the firepower of the Rockets, who hit 20 3-pointers.

Eric Gordon scored 19 points and Ryan Anderson added 17 in both players’ first game in New Orleans since leaving the Pelicans. James Harden had 13 points and 14 assists.

Houston led by as many as 35 points when Gordon’s free throws made it 100-65 late in the third quarter.

Patrick Beverley had 12 rebounds for Houston. Montrezl Harrell added 10 points for the Rockets, who shot 49.5 percent (45 of 91).

After New Orleans acquired Cousins, nicknamed “Boogie,” in a deal involving five players and two draft choices, Pelicans general manager Dell Demps hoped Cousins and Davis would thrive playing off one another while point guard Jrue Holiday initiated offensive sets. But Holiday had arguably his worst game this season, turning the ball over seven times and finishing with only six points and four assists.

The crowd was charged up for both Cousins’ debut and Davis’ resumption of a sensational season following his record 52-point performance on Sunday.

Both players received rousing receptions during introductions and the crowd roared when Cousins hit a jumper for games’ first points.

Cousins and Davis each scored eight in the first quarter, but it was also apparent that the integration of new personnel had New Orleans a bit out of sync. The Pelicans turned the ball over 12 times in the first half, leading to 17 Rockets points.

The Rockets also hit nine 3s in the opening half, including three each by Gordon and Williams, and led 66-50 at halftime.

By the end of the third quarter, the crowd that had been so rowdy at tip-off was starting to file out with their team down 100-67.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Houston has won seven of the past eight meetings. … The Rockets hit at least 10 3s in a game for the 55th time in 59 games this season. … The Rockets, now 41-18, have matched their win total for all of last season.

Pelicans: Before the game, New Orleans waived F Terrence Jones and signed G/F Hollis Thompson to a 10-day contract. Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said Jones, who joined New Orleans on a one-year contract this season, was released to help him find a team where he could play more. Thompson played a little more than four minutes and scored three points. … The Pelicans are now 14-16 at home.

UP NEXT

Rockets: Host Minnesota on Saturday night.

Pelicans: Visit Dallas on Saturday night.

Damian Lillard rallies Trail Blazers to 112-103 win over Orlando

Portland Trail Blazers' C.J. McCollum (3) and Damian Lillard (0) celebrate a basket by McCollum against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. McCollum had 32 points and Lillard had 29 in the team's 114-113 win. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Damian Lillard scored 33 points, C.J. McCollum added 22 and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Orlando Magic 112-103 on Thursday night to snap a three-game losing streak.

After trailing for much of the game, the Trail Blazers rallied in the fourth quarter behind Lillard’s 17 points. Recently acquired center Jusuf Nurkic also had 12 points and 12 rebounds during the much-needed win for the Portland.

The Trail Blazers spoiled Terrence Ross‘ debut with the Magic after being traded last week for Serge Ibaka. Ross, who is supposed to added athleticism and a scoring punch, managed just 13 points on 4-of-17 shooting with his new team.

Nikola Vucevic scored 25 points and Evan Fournier added 20 as the Magic lost for the sixth time in seven games.

Portland trailed by 11 points early in the fourth but then outscored the Magic 16-4 during a stretch that ended with the Blazers taking a 96-95 lead on a 3-point shot in the corner by Lillard with 5:20 left.

After trailing by as many as 14 points in the third, the Trail Blazers used an 11-0 run to pull within three late in the period with Lillard and McCollum doing most of the damage. But that was as close as the Blazers could come as the Magic pulled back out front with Vucevic hitting some big shots and then D.J. Augustin burying a 3-pointer just before the buzzer to give the Orlando an 85-77 lead going into the fourth quarter.

The new-look Magic were inconsistent in the first half with a permanent small lineup and the addition of Ross. But they played well enough to take a 55-46 lead into halftime.

Ross missed his first four field goal attempts before knocking down a 3-pointer that gave the Magic their biggest lead of the half at 37-26 lead with 8:22 remaining in the second quarter. Otherwise Ross struggled from the field, going 1 for 7 for the half.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Forward Al-Farouq Aminu did not play Thursday because of continued problems with his left knee. Aminu missed the Blazers’ last game before the All-Star break against Utah on Feb. 15 because of a left knee sprain. … Nurkic was inserted into the starting lineup. … With his 3-pointer early in the third quarter, Lillard has now made at least one 3-pointer in a career-high 37 consecutive games dating back to Nov. 22. It’s the second-longest streak in franchise history.

Magic: Point guard C.J. Watson, who was recently inserted into the starting lineup, is listed as day-to-day with a sore right Achilles tendon. Watson said he expects to miss about a week to allow the injury to heal. … With Watson out, Frank Vogel went with a starting lineup of Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Ross and Vucevic.

UP NEXT

Trail Blazers: Portland continues its four-game road swing with a stop at Toronto on Sunday.

Magic: Orlando will host Dwight Howard and the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night.