Clippers' Griffin, Jordan, Crawford, and Paul, celebrate a three pointer by teammate Green during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Celtics in Los Angeles

NBA Power Rankings: Western Conference dominates top spots


We enter 2013 off a week where the two best teams in the East — Miami and New York — looked sloppy while the teams at the top of the Western Conference looked strong and took over the top spots in the weekly rankings.

source:  1. Clippers (25-6, Last week ranked No. 1). The win streak is at 17 in a row and if you’re asking me when it will end my guess is Wednesday, the second night of a back-to-back when the Clippers have to face a good Golden State team. They have the Warriors twice plus the Lakers on deck.


source:  2. Thunder (23-6, LW 2). The Christmas Day loss to Miami shows the Thunder where they need to get, but don’t read too much into a December game. Soft part of the schedule ahead with five straight very winnable games coming up for OKC.


source:  3. Spurs (24-8, LW 5). I don’t think people realize just how well Tiago Splitter is playing right now, he seems to have figured out how to play next to Tim Duncan. So Gregg Popovich is trusting him. He’s very efficient, with a PER of 20.2.


source:  4. Heat (20-8, LW 3). Sloppy lost weekend where they fell to Detroit (after leading by 17) and the Bucks. We’re going to see that this year from the defending champions, stretches where they take a mental vacation. It doesn’t mean much big picture.


source:  5. Warriors (21-10, LW 7). They are 11-2 against the Eastern Conference with wins over Miami and Atlanta, but both the losses are to Orlando. Golden State is in rest mode with two games in nine days, but both against the streaking Clippers.


source:  6. Knicks (21-9, LW 4). The next month is going to be a real test for New York — no Raymond Felton at the point and they soon will try to integrate Amare Stoudemire back into the rotation. They can come out of this stronger, but the best tests are not easy.


source:  7. Hawks (19-9, LW 8). Winners of four in a row, including quality wins over the Bulls and Pacers in that stretch. Their offense is going well with Lou Williams starting, taking over the Joe Johnson role. (Think Hawks fans are enjoying watching the Nets fall apart?)


source:  8. Grizzlies (19-8, LW 6). They are struggling of late because their offense is a mess — 29th in the NBA in the last 10 games (ranked in points by possession at Their defense is still strong but in their win over Denver Saturday they scored just 82 points.


9. Bulls (16-12, LW 9). Derrick Rose is back practicing with the team but not doing anything involving contact. Target for his return is still after the All-Star break. Who the Bulls did get back is Richard Hamilton and Rip is good for their defense.

10. Nuggets (17-15, LW 10). Want to place a bet on the team with the best record in January? Bet Denver, which after a lot of road games to start the season is home for 15 of their next 18.


source:  11. Pacers (17-13, LW 11). Third worst offense in the NBA, second best defense. That is enough to win more games than you lose, but they need Danny Granger back and Roy Hibbert to come out of his funk.


12. Bucks (16-13, LW 12). Picked up a quality win over the Heat but then turned around a lost to the Pistons and Cavaliers. Another good defense, weak offense team but the Bucks are just more up and down than the Pacers.


source:  13. Lakers (15-15, LW 16). Winners of six of their last seven, and the only loss in there was the second night of a back-to-back in Denver. Still, Dwight Howard’s play looks a step slow. Give Pau Gasol credit for trying to do what Mike D’Antoni wants and being more of a stretch four.


source:  14. Rockets (16-14, LW 17). They lost a couple in a row at the end of the week but still look like a team starting to figure out who they are and how they can win games with this roster. James Harden should be an All-Star. Not so much with Jeremy Lin (although he has played better of late).


source:  15. Nets (16-14, LW 13). The Nets are 2-0 under P.J. Carlesimo, although that really has a lot more to playing the Bobcats and Cavaliers than it does the coaching. Carlisimo wants the job and knows winning a lot of games is the only chance he has.


source:  16. Timberwolves (14-13, LW 14). They have won six of their last 10 and I keep waiting for them to go on a little tear, but with six of their next eight on the road and no gimmies in the lot (don’t sell the Hornets at home short) I may be waiting a little longer. They have not found their groove.


source:  17. Trail Blazers (15-14, LW 19). The Damian Lillard show is about to go out on the road the next week with stops in New York, Memphis and Minnesota — all tough wins. But if the Blazers are serious about the playoffs those are the kinds of wins they need to be picked up.


18. Jazz (15-17, LW 17). The home and home against the Clippers emphasized the home-road difference with this team — they could have won that at home with a couple breaks or a couple calls, but they couldn’t stay that close on the road. They are 9-4 in Salt Lake City, 6-13 outside it.


source:  19. Celtics (14-16, LW 15). Doc Rivers made an interesting point — previous Celtics teams played good defense all the time and didn’t let a stretch of bad offense hurt the other end of the floor. This team falls apart on defense when it has a bad offensive stretch.


source:  20. 76ers (13-15, LW 20). They are 1-3 on their road trip with a nice win in Memphis but little else to show. This week it gets tougher with the Lakers, Thunder and Spurs all on the road.


21. Raptors (11-20, LW 23). They are 7-3 in their last 10 games because they have exploded on offense — 5.4 points per 100 possessions better than their season average the last 10 games and 8.8 better over their last five. DeMar DeRozan has put up points but it’s been the bench with guys like Alan Anderson and lately Kyle Lowry that have been key.


source:  22. Pistons (11-22, LW 25). Nice wins last week over the Heat and Bucks have them climbing up the rankings. You can credit Will Bynum with the Heat win as he was huge, but it was more of a team effort over the Bucks.


source:  23. Magic (12-18, LW 21). They have lost five in a row since Glen Davis went down with a shoulder injury. That’s no coincidence, they miss what Big Baby did on both ends, but particularly on the defensive side.


source:  24. Kings (11-19, LW 26). The owner Maloof brothers overruled their own front office and put DeMarcus Cousins back on the active roster. If you think those same owners will roll over and sign off to trade Cousins you will be sorely disappointed.


source:  25. Mavericks (12-19, LW 24). Getting Dirk Nowitzki back was not the answer, they have lost five in a row. Coach Rick Carlisle is so frustrated he’s threatening to suspend players, but it’s not like he’s got a deep roster of good replacements.


source:  26. Suns (11-20, LW 22). They are the losers of five in a row and the reason is they play no defense. They might outscore you now and again if someone gets hot, but they can’t stop anyone. They have the Thunder, Jazz and Grizzlies on the schedule this week.


source:  27. Hornets (7-23, LW 28). They looked so much better, so much more creative when Eric Gordon got back on the floor — through all the injuries and free agency fanfare people forgot this guy can flat out play. He and Anthony Davis will form a very good pick-and-roll duo by next season.


source:  28. Cavaliers (7-25, LW 27). They have certainly looked a lot better since Kyrie Irving’s return, but certainly not like a playoff team. Look for them to be sellers at the trade deadline with Anderson Varejao and C.J. Miles.


source:  29. Wizards (4-24, LW 29). The Wizards have turned to Shelvin Mack at the point… what more can I say.


source:  30. Bobcats (7-23, LW 30). The losing streak is up to 18 games with no clear end in sight. In case you’re curious I looked it up and the NBA’s longest losing streak ever is 26 (Cavaliers just two years ago, how could you forget?).

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson on Jeremy Lin’s new responsibility: ‘You’re the Eli Manning’

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 13:  Jeremy Lin #7 of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles up the court during first half of the preseason game against the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center on October 13, 2016 in New York City. 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 Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — Jeremy Lin was briefly the biggest thing in the Big Apple, maybe in all of basketball, the last time he played in New York.

Linsanity didn’t last long and neither did Lin’s time as a starting point guard. He mostly came off the bench while playing for three teams over the last three seasons, but now he’s getting another shot.

The Brooklyn Nets are giving Lin the keys to their team and believe he’s ready to run it.

“He came off the bench in Charlotte last year and did a heck of a job, but this is a little different deal now,” new coach Kenny Atkinson said. “You’re kind of the quarterback. You’re the Eli Manning, those guys, so there’s a different level of responsibility.”

The Nets better hope Lin is ready for it, because there isn’t much talent around him.

They begin their fifth season in Brooklyn absent the high-priced star power they lined the roster with in their early years after moving from New Jersey. All-Stars such as Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have given way to the likes of Trevor Booker, Justin Hamilton, Randy Foye, Luis Scola, Joe Harris and former No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, players signed this summer by general manager Sean Marks.

Marks also tabbed Atkinson to be the coach, and together they are talking about building for the long term. That may be a better solution, though it means the Nets won’t win much now.

But Lin brings some buzz from fans who remember his captivating stretch with the Knicks in 2012. The NBA’s first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese decent started all 82 games for Houston the next season, but lost his job the following one and remained a backup as he moved to the Lakers and the Hornets, where he played behind Kemba Walker last season.

The Harvard product was mainly a pick-and-roll guard when he burst on the scene five seasons ago, without much else to go to when teams took away his drives to the basket. He believes he returns with a more well-rounded game, with Atkinson urging him to trust a jump shot that wasn’t previously part of his arsenal.

“Now if guys are forcing me left, I can go left,” Lin said. “If guys want me to shoot, I’m not saying I’ll make it every night, but I’ll gladly shoot them. I’ll gladly shoot open ones if they give them to me.”

Here are some other things to watch with the Nets:

BAD BROOKLYN: At 21-61, the Nets missed the playoffs last season for the first time since moving to Brooklyn in 2012. They may not be any better this season.

ATKINSON AT HOME: A respected assistant with the Knicks and Atlanta Hawks, Atkinson comes back home for his first NBA head coaching job. The Northport, New York, native will be coaching not far from the courts where he grew up playing.

MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Brook Lopez averaged 20.6 points as the Nets’ top player last season but has been quiet in exhibition play, creating some questions about the 7-foot center’s fit in Atkinson’s system, which will be predicated on quick ball and player movement of the successful Hawks teams of the last few years.

BOGIE BALL: Bojan Bogdanovic returns from a strong summer to an unclear fall. The top scorer in the Olympics while leading Croatia to a surprising quarterfinal spot hasn’t even been starting in the preseason after averaging 11.2 points and starting about half the games last season.

GROW UP FAST: The lack of veteran stars should mean plenty of opportunities for second-year players Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough, and eventually rookie Caris LeVert, who is still recovering from a left foot injury that cut short the first-round pick’s final season at Michigan.

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LeBron James calls Cavaliers ‘still pretty much uptight,’ Kevin Love describes increased comfort

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: Kevin Love #0, LeBron James #23 and Kyrie Irving #2 during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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CLEVELAND — LeBron James took one last look over his shoulder at the scoreboard in Oracle Arena just to be sure.

It was all so surreal, unimaginable.

When James eyes saw only zeroes on the clock, he threw his arms around Kevin Love and time seemed to stand still. Game 7 of the NBA Finals was over as was a comeback for the ages. Golden State’s one-year reign and dream season ended and so did Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought.

James delivered on his personal pledge to bring home a title in June. And although it’s one he can never duplicate personally or for a fan base that had its heart broken and healed by him, the Cavaliers superstar and his teammates aren’t resting, getting comfortable or complacent. They want more.

“We’re still pretty much uptight,” James said. “We’re not satisfied with what we did.”

A three-time champion, and at 31 still the most complete player on the planet, James, who has acknowledged wanting to chase down Michael Jordan and his six league crowns, will again lead a Cleveland team expected to win the Eastern Conference and make a third straight finals trip. There doesn’t appear to be much in their way.

Cleveland’s Big 3 – James, Love and Kyrie Irving – have finally meshed after two turbulent, strange seasons when the trio of All-Stars were often disconnected. But whatever kept them from uniting seems to be resolved and they’re determined to add to their legacy.

“The mindset of this team is a lot different than maybe the first couple years,” said Love, whose odd relationship with James and Cleveland fans is finally in a good place. “From the onset you come in every year and want to compete for a championship, but we feel like we know exactly what we want to get done. I think just from a comfort standpoint it’s pretty different. We are a ways ahead of where we were the first two years.”

That’s one of the things often overlooked about the Cavs – their core is only entering its third year together. And, this is the first one where they’ve been at full strength from the start and guided by a coach they adore.

Tyronn Lue’s promotion after David Blatt was fired in January transformed the Cavs. Lue earned their respect by holding all of them – even James – accountable and making them understand nothing would be gained without sacrifice.

They rallied from a 3-1 deficit to stun the Warriors, and with a title, Lue expects his team to play with more freedom.

“Once you get the monkey off your back and you’re crowned champions, you’re at the top of the mountain, I think it’s a lot easier,” said Lue, who on a championship in 2001 with the Lakers. “Now you can exhale and play the way you’re capable of playing.”

Now, as the first Cleveland team since 1964 to defend a title, here are some other things to watch with the Cavs:

BANNER NIGHT: The Cavs will receive their diamond-studded championship rings before hosting the New York Knicks on Oct. 25. A banner will be unveiled in Quicken Loans Arena on what promises to be an emotional night in the city as the Indians will open the World Series next door at Progressive Field.

“It’s great times for all of us,” said James, who has been attending baseball playoff games with his teammates. “Not only the people playing, but everyone that lives around the area. They deserve it.”

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: James, who has been to six straight finals, knows what it takes win back-to-back championships after doing it in Miami.

“Don’t become complacent,” he said. “Our GM has put together a great team, our owners have done what they needed to do. For us, it’s up to us to continue to work our coaching staff’s system and just play our game.”

SWISH ON BOARD: Cleveland was delayed in having all its pieces in place during training camp until last week when shooting guard J.R. Smith signed a four-year, $57 million contract.

Smith, who made a franchise record 204 3-pointers last year, spreads the floor for James and he’s one of Cleveland’s best defenders. With his tattoos and carefree spirit, Smith has also become an unlikely fan favorite in Cleveland, a 180-degree turn from his time in New York.

GOLDEN DATE: Put another circle around Dec. 25 on your calendar. For the second straight year, the Cavaliers and Warriors will exchange elbows rather than presents on Christmas. This will be their first matchup since last season’s epic Game 7 and first since Kevin Durant took his talents to the Bay Area.

NEW FACES: The Cavs let free agents Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov go and replaced them with Mike Dunleavy and Chris “Birdman” Andersen, a pair of proven veterans who blend in and give Lue more depth.

LaMarcus Aldridge says he’s happy with Spurs, doesn’t buy into trade rumors

LaMarcus Aldridge
AP Photo/Darren Abate

The Spurs reportedly could trade LaMarcus Aldridge amidst his unhappiness with taking a backseat to Kawhi Leonard.

They deny holding trade talks about Aldridge, but even if they haven’t, that means little. If the bigger concerns about Aldridge’s fit and happiness in San Antonio are rooted in reality, a deal could come together in due time. I doubt the Spurs are rushing to trade him at the first sign of trouble.

For his part, Aldridge denies trouble, initial or otherwise.

Aldridge on The Jim Rome Show, as transcribed by Jeff Garcia of News 4 San Antonio:

“I didn’t buy into it. I haven’t heard anything about it. I talked to Pop (head coach Gregg Popovich) daily and he’s always telling me that I’m doing great,” Aldridge said. “Trying to be a more of a leader. He’s put me in positions where I can be more of a leader. As long as the guys here aren’t saying bad things to me. All my teammates have said nothing but great things to me.”

“Yeah for sure I am (happy in San Antonio). We made history last year. They’ve incorporated me into the family. Try to make me one of the big pieces.”

“I’m winning. Of course I’m happy. That’s why I don’t buy into the rumors. I feel like I do my job here and I feel like I’ve done everything that they’ve asked. That’s why I haven’t bought into the rumors.”

If Aldridge is unhappy to the point he’d prefer to leave San Antonio, the Spurs will know that. What he says publicly probably won’t sway their opinion nearly as much as his behind-the-scenes actions and attitudes.

San Antonio could also trade Aldridge without him inviting it. The initial report about the Spurs possibly trading him came from a different source than the one about him being unhappy. There could be truth in one and not the other. If Aldridge believes San Antonio will keep him, that’s prerogative. He wouldn’t be the first player to mis-evaluate his team’s loyalty to him – or he could be spot on.

Really, Aldridge didn’t reveal much that we can accept with certainty – except that if there is turmoil, it’s no so great that he’s unwilling to put on a happy face. That counts for something.

JaVale McGee apparently makes Warriors regular-season roster

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 15:  JaVale McGee #1 of the Golden State Warriors brings the ball up the court against the Los Angeles Lakers during their preseason game at T-Mobile Arena on October 15, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Golden State won 112-107. 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 Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Steve Kerr warned us, but it’s still difficult to digest.

The NBA’s best team will have the league’s most foolhardy player.

Yes, the Warriors are apparently keeping JaVale McGee.

Golden State waived its other three players without guaranteed salaries today: Elliot Williams, Phil Pressey and Cameron Jones. That drops the Warriors’ roster, including McGee, to 15, the regular-season limit. Unless Golden State prefers to open the season with a vacancy, McGee made the team.

McGee earned the job with a strong preseason. No Warriors match his rim protection, giving him clear value in certain matchups

Zaza Pachulia remains Golden State’s starting center, and Draymond Green will play plenty at the position. But I wouldn’t be surprised if McGee outperforms an aging Anderson Varejao (whose primary skill is flopping) and a rookie Damian Jones (who’s recovering from injury) to become a rotation regular.

McGee also has potential to add comic relief to what’s already a tremendous viewing experience.