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).

Rumor: Portland coach Terry Stotts could lose job after being swept out of playoffs

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Regular season: Terry Stotts was mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate after leading the Portland Trail Blazers to 49 wins and the three seed in the West, led by a top 10 defense.

Playoffs: Portland was swept out of the postseason in the first round by Anthony Davis.

The latter part of that is going to lead to some real soul searching and changes coming to the Trail Blazers. That could include Stotts losing his job, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

There is plenty of blame to go around for Portland’s quick exit from the postseason, Stein is right that it’s not all on Stott’s shoulders.

However, this is the third time in four years Portland is out in the first round, and it leads to the question “what is it about their style that makes them so defendable and beatable in the playoffs?” This is a little like Toronto in recent years, where despite a lot of talent they were predictable and therefore defendable in the postseason. How much of that falls on Stotts?

After a period of reflection in Portland, there are going to be changes in the wake of this sweep. Stotts’ job will be part of that discussion, no matter how good a job he did.

That said, if Stotts were to be let go he would hand on his feet very quickly.

After Ricky Rubio’s triple-double, Russell Westbrook promises to “shut that s*** off”

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Ricky Rubio outplayed Russell Westbrook Saturday night in Utah and now the Jazz are up 2-1 in that series.

Rubio did his damage from the midrange — he was 5-of-5 between the key and the arc — on his way to 26 points, to go with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. All series the Thunder have dared Rubio to shoot and to beat them, Saturday he did. It was a stark contrast to Westbrook’s 14 points on 17 shots Saturday with eight turnovers.

When asked about Rubio’s big night postgame, Westbrook was looking ahead to Game 4 and using a little NSFW language (hat tip to Ben Golliver of SI, who loves him some playoff podium video).

There you have it, a personal guarantee.

Rubio struggled some in Game 1, taking 18 shots and mostly the ones the Thunder wanted him to. However, after that he has been better at getting to his spots and taking the shots in rhythm, and it’s worked — he’s averaging 20.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists per game this series. OKC has been focused on making life difficult for rookie Donovan Mitchell (with limited success) and it’s freed up Rubio to make plays.

More than just slowing the Spanish point guard, Westbrook and the Thunder need to figure out how to get their offense back on track against a Jazz defense that was best in the NBA once Gobert got healthy last season. Oklahoma City lost Game 2 when their big three — Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony — went 0-of-15 in the fourth quarter. In Game 3, OKC averaged 100 points per 100 possessions (well below their season average of 110.2) and Westbrook shot 29.4 percent. Do that again in Game 4 and it will not matter what Rubio shoots, what matters is the Thunder could be looking at a 3-1 deficit. The Thunder need to even this series before it heads back to Oklahoma City.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.