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).

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.