Toronto Raptors v Los Angeles Clippers

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).

Russell Westbrook on Zaza Pachulia: ‘I’m going to get his ass back’

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Russell Westbrook has spent a lot of time bagging on Kevin Durant since Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors.

In a move that can’t help but be seen as a response, Golden State center Zaza Pachulia laid out and stood over Westbrook last night.

Of course, the Oklahoma City guard didn’t see that as rightful comeuppance.

Westbrook:

I don’t know. He me kind of hard. But it’s alright. I’m going to get his ass back. Straight up.

I didn’t see that [Pachulia standing over him] until just now, but I don’t play that game. I’m going to get his ass back. Whenever that is, I don’t know when it’s going to be, but I don’t play that game.

Pachulia:

I can’t worry about those kind of comments. I’m part of the amazing team, amazing group. We have a great goal of winning a championship. So, I’m all in with my energy. One hundred percent, I’m all in. So we’re thinking about this team and staying healthy, moving forward, getting better, getting to the playoffs and we’re ending up playing for the championship.

That’s what I’m thinking about. I’m not thinking about those kind of comments.

That team is not there. So, they might be thinking about other stuff like getting me back. OK, you can get me back. But again, it’s my 14th year. We all know what my game is, to play hard and not dirty, but to play hard. If it was a hard foul, it was a hard foul. It wasn’t dirty at all. So, I’m not worried about this.

Pachulia continued, via Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post:

“Bring it on,” he said. “Bring it on.

“I’ll be there. I’ll be in OKC, too, so whenever he wants, my pleasure. My pleasure.”

And via Royce Young of ESPN:

Both Westbrook’s and Pachulia’s competitiveness and toughness are beyond reproach. These are not the type of players to back down.

What does Westbrook have in mind? I believe him when he says he doesn’t know. But I’m intrigued to find out.

As if the Warriors visit to Oklahoma City next month didn’t already have enough storylines.

Should he be an All-Star? Kemba Walker: ‘Not really, if you ask me’

Charlotte Hornets' Kemba Walker (15) shoots over Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard (0) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Kemba Walker is focused on Charlotte’s record. He isn’t very interested in the All-Star game right now.

Walker scored 23 points, and the Hornets stopped a five-game slide with a 107-85 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.

Walker went 4 for 8 from behind the arc against Portland and 8 for 14 from the field overall. But he said he doesn’t think he has done enough this year to make the All-Star game for the first time, citing the team’s 21-21 record.

“Not really, if you ask me,” Walker said. “Especially because of where my team is. But like I said, I really don’t care honestly.”

“We haven’t been doing a great job of winning consistently (so) the All-Star game is the last thing I’m going to think about right now.”

While Walker is brushing off talk about next month’s game in New Orleans, he is making a strong case for a spot on the Eastern Conference team. He is averaging 23 points and shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point range this season.

 

Coach Steve Clifford said Walker is playing at an All-Star level, but doesn’t know if he will be selected.

“It’s not a question of whether or not he’s playing like an All-Star – he’s an All-Star-caliber guard, no question about it,” Clifford said. “The factors will be looking at the other point guards in the East. The East is loaded. Point guard is the best position in our league right now and also, a lot of other guys are playing on teams with better records than ours. It’s about winning.”

The Hornets snapped an eight-game streak of allowing at least 100 points.

Charlotte led 79-72 after three quarters but blew the game open in the fourth behind eight quick points from Frank Kaminsky. The reserve had all 11 of his points in the final quarter, including three 3-pointers.

Walker had a big first half, hitting 6 of 9 shots and three 3-pointers to help the Hornets build a 54-46 lead.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Made all 11 free throws, but shot 8 of 31 from beyond the 3-point arc.

Hornets: Bench outscored Portland’s reserves 44-22.

HIBBERT’S BIG NIGHT

Charlotte center Roy Hibbert played what Clifford called the best game of his season.

The 7-foot-2 Hibbert, who came in averaging 5.2 points per game, had a season-high 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting and provided two of the game’s biggest highlights.

He brought the crowd to its feet on a drop-step drive through the lane and an unexpected one-handed dunk over Meyers Leonard. A few minutes later, Hibbert threw a backdoor alley-oop pass intended for Kaminsky that inadvertently went in. Hibbert didn’t even crack a smile as he jogged back down court.

“That was a helluva pass, shot – I don’t know what it was,” Walker said with a laugh. “I’m just glad it went in.”

Hibbert, who has battled through knee issues this season, said he wasn’t trying to score, but glad it went in.

“That was a bad pass and a bad shot, that’s all I can say,” Hibbert said.

LOSING WAYS

Damian Lillard scored 21 points and C.J. McCollum had 18 for Portland, which has lost three straight and 16 of 22 since Dec. 5.

“As a group we have to let last year go,” Portland center Mason Plumlee said. “If it was the first 10 games of the season we could talk about building on last year. This is a new team, this is a new group and we aren’t playing how we did last year so it’s a new season, new challenges. We have to make the most of this group and this team, and the situation we are in.”

TURNOVERS

Charlotte turned 16 Portland turnovers into 21 points.

“We had some turnovers and they took advantage of every little thing,” Lillard said. “It seemed like they were getting what they wanted. They played a comfortable game and we didn’t make them very uncomfortable.”

UP NEXT

Trail Blazers: Travel to face the improving Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night.

Hornets: Back home on Friday night to host another high-scoring team in the Toronto Raptors.

Three Things We Learned Wednesday: Kevin Durant saves his best games for Thunder

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 18:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors dribbles past Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at ORACLE Arena on January 18, 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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Here are the big takeaways from a busy night around the NBA:

1) Kevin Durant saves his best games for Russell Westbrook, Thunder. Prior to Wednesday night, Kevin Durant’s highest-scoring game this season was 39 points, something he broke out the first time his new Warriors team faced his old Thunder squad. Then Wednesday Durant an incredibly efficient 40 points on 16 shots — again against the Thunder. Just in case there wasn’t enough salt rubbed in that OKC wound (Golden State won the game 121-100).

Whatever you think of his choice, Durant’s team is way better than Westbrook’s, which is both expected and why KD made the move — he is closer to a ring now. (If you say that winning rings is the ultimate defining factor in a player’s legacy then rip his moves to make it easier to get said ring, you’re a hypocrite.) Part of the gap between the sides is obviously what Durant brings to the Golden State offense — and how efficiently he’s been doing it this season, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9, his career best (for some perspective, the league average is around 52). But also he’s been bringing it on the defensive end this season, particularly of late, having a strong game against LeBron James Monday then doing well when switched onto Westbrook a couple of times in this game. Durant would be having an MVP-level season most years, but Westbrook and James Harden change the equation this time around.

Westbrook himself had a triple-double (that’s 21 this season) in the loss… actually, it was a quadruple-double when you throw in the 10 turnovers. Westbrook wasn’t efficient, hitting 8-of-23 from the field, and when he isn’t this team struggles to win, they rely on him that much. Of course, that’s not the play everyone is talking about — rather, it’s Zaza Pachulia with the hard foul, and then taunting Westbrook by standing over him.

When Westbrook saw that, he promised to “get his ass back.” These teams meet again Feb. 11 — when Durant returns to Oklahoma City for the first time in a Warriors’ uniform.

Bonus thing we saw: Russell Westbrook had the travel of the year.
Even in the NBA, this is a travel — and a funny one.



2) The Sixers beat the Raptors and have now won 7-of-9.
When this run of wins from the Sixers started, it was easy to say “they are just beating other weak teams.” Then they beat the Bucks. Wednesday night they beat the Raptors. Brett Brown has settled on a 10-man rotation, found lineups he likes with Joel Embiid starting (surrounded by shooters) and Nerlens Noel relieving him off the bench. Plus, the Sixers are finding their defensive identity. It’s coming together.

Still, this is all about Embiid — the Sixers are outscoring teams by 3.5 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court this season. He had 26 points — including 12-of-14 from the free throw line — plus nine rebounds against Toronto. The man is a force. The only question the next couple of weeks is will he be an All-Star?


3) Rudy Gay is out for the season, which changes West playoff chase and trade picture.
This is bad news for the Kings, and it is worse news for Rudy Gay himself — trying to drive out of the right corner Wednesday night, Gay tore his left Achilles tendon (something the team announced, although it needs to be confirmed by an MRI Thursday).

Gay is done for this season and likely the start of the next one.

In the short term, that is a blow to the Kings’ playoff chances. Technically they are just 1.5 games out of the eight seed after Wednesday’s loss to the Pacers, but the Kings have been outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions this season when Gay is off the court. This isn’t the same team without him. Gay has scored 18.7 points per game, which was second-best on the team, and now that role falls to Matt Barnes and Omri Casspi (once Casspi returns from his calf injury in a couple of weeks). Those two are a drop off from what Gay brought to the Kings, meaning don’t be surprised if Sacramento tries to add a scorer at the trade deadline.

It also changes the trade deadline. Gay was clear he wanted out of Sacramento and said he planned to opt out of the $14.3 million final year of his contract to be a free agent next summer, which made him someone on the trade block. Teams were calling about him, including the Thunder (although the Kings being in the playoff hunt impacted what the team might do). Now obviously that is off the table, and the question becomes will Gay even opt out?

Kings’ Rudy Gay suffers apparent torn left Achilles tendon, would be done for season

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This not only changes the Kings dreams of making the playoffs in the West, it also alters the trade deadline and free agency.

Rudy Gay, the Kings wing and second-leading scorer, has been diagnosed with a torn left Achilles tendon, according to the team. During the third quarter of Wednesday night’s game against the Pacers, Gay drove out of the right corner and, untouched, fell to the floor hard. He had to be helped off the court by teammates.

Team doctors made the initial torn Achilles diagnosis, which will need to be confirmed by an MRI scheduled for Thursday. He would be out not only for this season but likely the start of the next one as well.

Without Gay, a lot more will fall on Matt Barnes and, once he returns from his calf injury in a couple of weeks, Omri Casspi. Those two are a drop off from what Gay brought to the Kings — this season the team gets outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions when he is off the court — and with that team’s playoff chances have taken a hit (they are 1.5 games out of the eight seed after Wednesday’s loss to the Pacers). Don’t be surprised if the Kings look to add a scorer at the trade deadline.

Gay was not happy in Sacramento and said he planned to opt out of the $14.3 million final year of his contract to be a free agent next summer, which made him someone potentially traded before the deadline (although the Kings being in the playoff hunt impacted that). Gay averaged 18.7 points and 6.4 rebounds a game for the Kings, and while his game was a little old school — more isolation and midrange shots than teams prefer — he put up points. Enough that he was drawing trade interest heading toward the deadline from Oklahoma City and other squads.

That is all off the table now. At age 30, if Gay does still opt out of his contract for next season this will impact what he would make on the free market.