NBA Power Rankings: Clippers in top spot, which is close to Mayans being right

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It’s not the end of the world in a classic way, or even in a “Michael Stipe feels fine” kind of way, but the Clippers being on top of the PBT power rankings are as close to the end of the world as we are getting this week.

source:  1. Clippers (21-6, LW 2). Winners of 13 in a row, but let’s be honest not against the toughest of competition (last week it was the Pistons, Hornets, Kings and Suns). The biggest test in the streak was the Bulls, although Christmas and the Nuggets should be entertaining.

source:  2. Thunder (21-5, LW 1). The Timberwolves snapped the Thunder’s 12-game winning streak, but that was a combination of a good Minny team and a back-to-back. Call it a schedule makers loss. The Clippers top the power rankings this week, but the road to the finals in the West still goes through Oklahoma City.

source:  3. Heat (18-6, LW 4). If you had a Christmas wish for the Heat what would it be? Better play out of Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony? Mario Chalmers to find his three-point touch again? There just isn’t much, they are pretty set. Looking forward to the Christmas day finals rematch.

source:  4. Knicks (20-7, LW 3). Losses at home to Chicago and Houston, in part because their three-point shooting has started to tail off. You knew that would start to come back to earth. But they should get a lot of good looks from three against the Lakers on Christmas Day (have you seen L.A.’s defensive rotations?).

source:  5. Spurs (21-8, LW 5). For Christmas Gregg Popovich asked Santa to keep Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker healthy. Santa looked at Popovich and asked, “Do you really think you’ve been good?”

source:  6. Grizzlies (18-7, LW 7). For Christmas Santa is bringing the Grizzlies and John Hollinger a super computer with a lot more computational power. They’re going to need it.

source:  7. Warriors (18-10, LW 6). They have become my “League Pass favorite” this year — the team I make sure I don’t miss just because I think they are fun to watch play. But the losses to the Lakers and Kings last week were pretty ugly.

source:  8. Hawks (16-9, LW 8). Beat the Bulls but lost to the Thunder and Sixers last week. Still not sold on this team totally but moving Lou Williams into the starting lineup seemed to pump up the offense this week.

source:  9. Bulls (15-11, LW 9). Bulls fans are not getting Derrick Rose back for Christmas, that is going to be more like on Multiple Personality Day (March 5). Maybe they could get some consistent bench play instead, that would be nice.

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10. Nuggets (15-13, LW 13). Their three point shooting got a lot of headlines this week with a dreadful 0-22 night, but it is their inconsistent defense that really holds back their running and winning.

source:  11. Pacers (16-12, LW 17). They have won six out of seven. It hasn’t been pretty, but they have win six out of seven. Santa can bring Pacers fans patience as they wait for the return of Danny Granger.

source:  12. Bucks (14-12, LW 11). They are 14-12, but their point differential suggests they should be 12-14. That will catch up with them.

source:  13. Nets (13-12, LW 12). They can run iso sets, flex offense sets, or just pure anarchy on offense, it doesn’t matter if they don’t defend well. And the Nets don’t defend well (21st in NBA in points allowed per possession). Also, when the Knicks came to Brooklyn it sounded like a rivalry in the arena, when the Nets went to Manhattan Knicks fans were bored with them.

source:  14. Timberwolves (13-12, LW 14). They were 1-3 last week, but that one win was a nice one over the Thunder. Their offense should bet better with Ricky Rubio starting to get more minutes, but their solid defense this season is why they are over .500.

source:  15. Celtics (13-13, LW 10). They should get Avery Bradley back soon and that’s good for the defense, good for moving Jason Terry back to the bench as a sixth man, but it is not a cure all. This team has lost four of five and frankly may be ranked too high here.

source:  16. Lakers (13-14, LW 16). If you can have an unconvincing four-game winning streak, the Lakers have it. They have Steve Nash and Pau Gasol back, but Dwight Howard is clearly still bothered by his back and not his old self.

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17. Rockets (14-12, LW 19). As I write this the Rockets are the six seed in the West. But you look at the teams below them in the west and you see a Denver team through the hard part of its schedule, a now healthy Timberwolves team, a now healthy Lakers team, plus Dallas that just got Dirk Nowitzki back. It’s going to be a challenge to hold on to that playoff spot.

source:  18. Jazz (14-14, LW 15). The Jazz asked Santa for the ability to play all their games at home this season. David Stern pre-empted Santa (he has that much power) and told them no.

source:  19. Trail Blazers (13-13, LW 20). A team that got Damian Lillard in its stocking last June can’t be greedy asking Santa for much. But expect them to ask other teams for a rebounding/defensive big to pair with Aldridge anyway.

source:  20. 76ers (13-15, LW 18). They have lost six straight games on the road and this week they continue their road-heavy stretch with games at Memphis, Golden State and Portland. You do the math.

source:  21. Magic (12-15, LW 22). Credit where credit is due — I thought the Magic would be one of the NBA’s very worst teams but they have scrapped and clawed on defense to the point they are a top-10 defensive team and that is keeping them in games Jacque Vaughn isn’t going to win coach of the year but nobody is doing a better job than him.

source:  22. Suns (11-16, LW 23). If you want to get some good details on the state of the Suns, you need to listen to the PBT Podcast this week where Brett Pollakoff talks with Jared Dudley.

source:  23. Raptors (9-19, LW 25). Won five in a row, against soft competition but they are doing it at both ends of the court during that stretch. Dwane Casey really has them playing well again on defense. Too bad about Jonas Valanciunas who had been playing better.

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24. Mavericks (12-15, LW 21). Dirk Nowitzki is back. Which is good because this team has lost six of seven and in a Western Conference where they are currently a 12 seed they are going to have to get hot just to make the playoffs.

source:  25. Pistons (9-21, LW 24). Note to Lawrence Frank: Yes Andre Drummond is a rookie and makes mistakes, but just play the guy. A lot. That is how you develop him, let him learn some lessons the hard way.

season-on-top-bobcats-in-cellar/kings-mini/” rel=”attachment wp-att-211383″>source:  26. Kings (9-18, LW 26). Keith Smart was essentially hired because he got along with and could in theory bring the most out of DeMarcus Cousins. The fact Cousins is now suspended because of an argument with Smart speaks to Cousins’ maturity more than Smart’s odd rotations.

source:  27. Cavaliers (6-23, LW 27). With Kyrie Irving back they are capable on any given night of beating any team in the NBA. They are also capable of losing to any team thanks to that bench.

source:  28. Hornets (5-22, LW 28). They have lost 11 in a row, but they play the Bobcats on Saturday night and by league rules one team must win that game. We checked, David Stern can’t just deem both teams losers (although don’t tell him that).

source:  29. Wizards (3-22, LW 29). I’d say we’d start a John Wall watch, but he still seems a speck on the horizon at this point. They get Nene back and, don’t tell anyone, they are much better when he plays.

source:  30. Bobcats (7-20, LW 30). Lost 15 straight games and while coach Mike Dunlap is trying hard to teach players about being professional during the streak, but it is clearly taking a toll in the locker room. You can really feel it (I was in there after the heartbreaking Lakers loss last week).

No surprise: It’s Cavs-Warriors in the NBA Finals, again

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OAKLAND (AP) — Here they go again.

For the third straight year, it’s Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals. The 2016 champions versus the 2015 champions . The first “threematch” – rematch of a rematch – in league history. It’s the matchup most expected, the matchup most predicted, and probably the matchup the Cavaliers and Warriors wanted as well.

Let the hype, and the waiting, begin: Game 1 isn’t until June 1.

“I’ve been very blessed the last few years to be a part of this league and play on the big stage,” said Cleveland star LeBron James, who has now reached the Finals for the eighth time – including each of the last seven years. “But we’re going to enjoy this for a couple more days before we have to lock in on that juggernaut out west.”

The Cavaliers and Warriors split their two meetings this season, both winning at home. Cleveland won by one on Christmas Day, Golden State prevailed by 35 on Jan. 16.

Golden State led the league with 67 wins this season and is a staggering 27-1 in its last 28 games – including a perfect 12-0 in the Western Conference playoffs, the first time a team has gone this deep into an NBA postseason without losing. Cleveland, which seemed sleepy at times in the regular season, went 12-1 in the Eastern Conference playoffs that ended with a win over Boston on Thursday night.

“Playing in this league, you can’t take anything for granted,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “Thirty teams suit up every year trying to get to this point, and only two teams do. So you have to appreciate it. … We need to understand the privilege that we have and the opportunity that we have to play in the Finals again, to have the opportunity to win a championship.”

Already, the back-and-forth is underway.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was quoted earlier this week saying he thought Boston’s offense was “harder to defend” than Golden State’s. Countered Golden State acting coach Mike Brown, when asked about it Thursday: “That’s his opinion. It’s cute.”

And there will be reminders of the Halloween party that James threw for the Cavaliers last fall, with “3-1 Lead” – a nod to what the Warriors lost in last year’s Finals – prominently displayed on the drum set.

Much more of that sort of that will likely follow over the next week, filling time before Golden State plays host to Game 1. But there’s also a clear respect level between the clubs as well.

“The best team in our league the last three years,” James said of the Warriors. “And they’ve added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year. So it makes it even more difficult. They’re going to challenge us a lot, offensively, defensively, mentally, physically. We have to be ready for the challenge.”

For James, the Finals are an annual rite.

For Durant, this trip ends a five-year wait.

Durant’s only other time in the Finals was 2012 when he was with Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost to Miami in five games, a series that made James a champion for the first time.

At the very moment where the clock ran out in that series, the person James was embracing was Durant – telling the then-Thunder star, his offseason workout partner at the time, how proud of him he was.

“Hopefully,” James said that night, “I don’t continue to have to run into him.”

They’ll collide again, starting next week.

Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder for Golden State as a free agent last summer meant the Warriors went from mere overwhelming favorites to win the West again to super-duper-overwhelming favorites to win the West again. They got a big scare in late February when Durant had a left knee injury, but he’s back and the Warriors have rolled since.

“It’s a little different, definitely. I can’t lie,” Durant said, when comparing the 2012 Finals trip to this one. “I went when I was 23 years old, and it felt like the Western Conference Finals was almost like the championship. Just getting to that point, you know how hard it is and how much work you put in to start the season. So it’s a little different now, obviously. We have a bigger goal in mind.”

The storylines are many. Can James win his fourth ring? Can Durant win his first? Will the Warriors be haunted by letting last season’s 3-1 lead slip away? Will they become the first team in NBA history to go undefeated in a postseason? How will Golden State guard Kyrie Irving? How will Cleveland try to contain Curry?

There’s also the irony that Brown, the first coach who took James to an NBA Finals in 2007 – Cleveland was swept by San Antonio – will now coach against him, likely in the same leading role he’s had for Golden State since head coach Steve Kerr was forced to take a break because of continued problems with his surgically repaired back.

“I don’t care who you’re playing, to make it to the NBA Finals, to win your conference finals, it’s a big task,” Brown said.

The biggest task awaits.

Isaiah Thomas wants Celtics to sign free agents, reportedly they are not looking to trade him (yet)

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The Boston Celtics made a huge leap forward this season: They got the No. 1 seed in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. For a team on the rise, that’s impressive.

However, as soon as they landed the No. 1 pick in this draft, a big question started to bubble up:

What is the future of Isaiah Thomas with this team? Which is a strange thing to say about a guy who averaged 28.9 points per game and was All-NBA this season, but here we are.

First, the Celtics are not looking to trade IT this summer as some have suggested, reports Sean Deveny of the Sporting News.

That starts with All-Star Isaiah Thomas, whose name has lately been the subject of trade speculation. But league sources indicate that any talk of dealing Thomas is strictly speculation at this point — the Celtics have had no such discussions. Not yet, at least.

The challenge for the Celtics seems to be this: If they draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 (as is expected by everyone around the league), then what is the future for Thomas? Do you want to pay Thomas max money just as he turns 29 when you have a stud young point guard coming up behind him?

That led to talk of extending Thomas this summer with the team’s cap space (which assumes they do not sign Gordon Hayward). Except Thomas would rather the money be spent on free agents than himself, as he told Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

“We need the best possible player that’s gonna help us win, and I’m with that,” said Thomas. “Anything Danny and this organization need me to do to help bring even more talent to this city, I’m all for that. I want to win a championship and being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more.

“I’m all help if they need it. I’ll be around.”

Nothing is certain in the NBA, but here is the most likely outcome of the Isaiah Thomas situation: They keep him, they draft Markelle Fultz, they do not extend Thomas (whether they land Hayward or not), and they see how it all fits together for a season. Then they make a decision on Thomas in the summer of 2018. The bottom line is he may well have more value to the Celtics than another team, and while he’s certainly getting a raise from the $6.3 million, he will make next season he may fall short of the max, and in a zone where the Celtics are willing to keep him.

In pure basketball terms, the Celtics may be hesitant to spend on Thomas, but he is also the most popular player on the team by a mile. Letting him go is not that simple.

There are a lot of questions to be answered between now and next summer when it comes to IT.

Spurs’ David Lee will not need surgery on knee, will be ready for training camp in the fall

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David Lee was certainly not going to swing the series against the Warriors one way or another. However, the veteran forward with a varried offensive game still has an NBA role in the right setting.

He has a $1.6 million player option with the Spurs next season, and whatever he decides it’s good news that he will not need surgery to repair the knee injury that sidelined him in the Conference Finals. From Ramona Shelburn of ESPN.

Good news to end the week. David Lee doesn’t need surgery on his knee, per his agent Mark Bartelstein. He’s got a sprained patellar tendon that should heal in about six weeks.

As a big off the bench, David Lee can still help the right team. His game has limitations, but put him in the right situation and he can help. It’s just that due to injury, the Spurs had to ask more of him in the playoffs than he can deliver anymore.

Draymond Green says Warriors are “more relaxed” this season

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Last year, the Warriors entered the NBA Finals with the weight of expectations: Defending NBA champions, 73 regular season wins, if they got the title they would leap up the ladder of all-time great teams, lose and it would be a massive let down. We all know what happened from there.

The Warriors are back in the Finals, taking on the Cavaliers for the third year in a row — but this year things are going to be different. Mostly because of Kevin Durant changing the equation. But also the Warriors mindset is better if you ask Draymond Green. Which Mark Spears of ESPN did.

This makes sense. The Warriors to a man denied the pressure and how physically/mentally taxed they were by the chase for 73, but it clearly wore on them physically and mentally. Green was thrashing about and drawing techs, over-reacting to everything (although sometimes that feels like his default setting). Curry was injured but also tired. The Warriors opened the door, LeBron James and the Cavaliers stormed through it.

Will a rested Warriors make a difference this time around? Maybe. But again, Durant matters more than rest.