Oklahoma City Thunder v Atlanta Hawks

NBA Power Rankings: Thunder on top, but it’s close

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To be honest, you could have ranked the top three in this week’s PBT NBA Power Rankings and been fine. I’m giving the top spot to the Thunder this week because I think they’d beat the Clippers or Spurs in a seven game series right now. But not easily.

source:  1. Thunder (26-7, Last week ranked No. 2). They move up despite a sloppy loss to the Nets midweek. Their defense has been a little better of late which keeps them winning most nights. OKC has 10 of their next 12 on the road including an interesting game Friday night when they travel to L.A. to face Lakers.

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2. Clippers (27-8, LW 1). The win streak ended, but a back-to-back set of wins over the Lakers and Warriors show they aren’t going anywhere. If Chris Paul is not in your MVP conversations you are doing it wrong.

 

source:  3. Spurs (27-9, LW 3). Their offense has improved the last few weeks and that helps them continue to just rack up wins (except against the Knicks). Interesting games against the Lakers and Grizzlies this week, two dangerous but struggling teams who should be a little desperate against the Spurs.

 

source:  4. Heat (23-9, LW 4). They are on the road for their next six, but it is the end of the trip next week that gets interesting: Utah, Golden State then the Los Angeles Lakers on the second night of a back-to-back on national television.

 

source:  5. Knicks (23-10, LW 6). As Howard Beck of the New York Times said on the PBT Podcast, we’ve all stopped talking about how old the Knicks bench is but the next month — especially with Raymond Felton out — is when those old legs will get tested.

 

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6. Warriors (22-11, LW 5). Teams are no longer looking past the Warriors — notice how pissed the Clippers were after losing to them. Of course, the Clippers then took it out on them in a return match on Saturday. Not an easy week ahead with the Grizzlies, Blazers and Nuggets on the docket.

 

source:  7. Bulls (18-13, LW 9). We’re going to forgive them the ugly loss to the Bobcats, especially after the win over Miami on Friday. Note to a lot of teams: Notice how you can stay in games and win despite an inconsistent offense when you defend hard every night.

 

source:  8. Nuggets (20-16, LW 10). Still have 12 of next 14 at home and this week the only game they shouldn’t run away with is Golden State. Look for the Nuggets to make a push up the rankings in the coming weeks.

 

source:  9. Grizzlies (21-10, LW 8). Like the Bulls they continue to defend, but their offense has become so bad the last 10 games it hasn’t been enough some nights. They are scoring 96.6 points per 100 possessions the last 10 games, 29th in the NBA.

 

source:  10. Pacers (20-14, LW 11). Indiana went 3-1 last week and they are starting to figure out how to win without Danny Granger. It’s not pretty but they are figuring it out. If they get a healthy Granger back and some semblance of the good Roy Hibbert (who has gone missing), they become a dangerous team again.

 

source:  11. Hawks (20-12, LW 7). Some ugly losses last week — by one point to Detroit, by a lot more to Boston — and you have to wonder is this a glitch in a strong season, or a team with a hot start coming back to earth.

 

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12. Rockets (20-14, LW 14). They are on a hot streak — Jeremy Lin and James Harden are figuring out how to play together and the offense is off and running. Houston is going to be tested by a series of road games this month (10 of next 14) but they look like a playoff team.

 

source:  13. Nets (19-15, LW 15). P.J. Carlisimo is almost certain to be the coach the rest of this season — as Howard Beck of the New York Times said in the PBT Podcast, even if you bring in Phil Jackson you don’t install the triangle mid season. Carlisimo has the offense clicking again — sixth best in the NBA over the last five games — but their defense still stinks.

 

source:  14. Trail Blazers (18-15, LW 17). They beat the Knicks, Grizzlies and Timberwolves last week — that’s the kind of week playoff teams have. And Portland looks like it could be one, but they can’t have many slip ups in a deep, deep West.

 

source:  15. Bucks (16-16, LW 12). They were 0-3 last week and with five of their next seven on the road. Look for the Bucks to come back to the pack a little.

 

source:  16. Jazz (17-18, LW 18). They are an unimpressive 4-6 in their last 10 games and the reason is the offense, which has dipped four points per 100 possessions in that span from their season average.

 

source:  17. Celtics (16-17, LW 19). Stop talking about DeMarcus Cousins. Stop talking about DeMarcus Cousins. Stop talking about DeMarcus Cousins. Talk about Avery Bradley being back, winning a couple games and a five-game home stand coming up. Stop talking about DeMarcus Cousins. Stop talking about DeMarcus Cousins.

 

source:  18. Timberwolves (15-15, LW 16). The basketball gods are taking out their vengeance on Kevin Love and Minnesota — Love will be out another month plus with a broken finger in his shooting hand. If they make the playoffs after all this Rick Adelman should get coach of the year talk.

 

source:  19. 76ers (15-20, LW 20). They got a road win against the Lakers (doesn’t count as a quality win anymore). Jrue Holiday needs to have a strong couple of weeks if he wants to impress voters and make the All-Star Game (he could).

 

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20. Lakers (15-18, LW 13). They have lost three in a row and we have chronicled how bad their defense is. We’ve also written about how they need wins to stay in the playoff hunt, but the schedule for them this week is at Houston, at San Antonio and then hosting Oklahoma City. Rough patch.

 

source:  21. Kings (13-21, LW 24). Their offense has been a force for the past few weeks and that is winning them games — four of their last six. Now they get Tyreke Evans back and they have a five-game home stand. It’s a chance to build on that. Also, everyone please stop with the DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors. He’s not going anywhere.

 

source:  22. Pistons (13-23, LW 22). Andre Drummond is not going to win rookie of the year. But four years from now he may well be the second best player out of this draft class (still think Anthony Davis is No. 1) and some GMs are going to have to answer questions about passing on him.

 

source:  23. Raptors (12-21, LW 21). Coach Dwane Casey said that Ed Davis may well keep his starting job even after Andrea Bargnani returns — that’s the right move. The easy run of the schedule is over but good on the Raptors for playing better in that stretch.

 

source:  24. Mavericks (13-21, LW 25). Dirk Nowitzki is frustrated. He should be, look at that record. I still think Mark Cuban will eventually land a big star via free agency, but if he can do that during Dirk’s title window is another question.

 

source:  25. Magic (12-21, LW 23). They have yet to win a game since Glen Davis went down, 0-8. That says less about Davis and more about the drop off to the people behind him.

 

source:  26. Suns (12-23, LW 26). Suns fans need to read our own Brett Pollakoff talking to the Suns players about what a mess their offense has become.

 

source:  27. Hornets (8-25, LW 27). Eric Gordon has given this team a little spark, but remember that this is rebuilding process. Anthony Davis is up and down and it’s going to take him time to learn to defend on this level.

 

source:  28. Cavaliers (8-27, LW 28). Kyrie Irving had a 30-point game plus a game winner last week. Tristan Thompson has been solid with Anderson Varejao out. There, that’s it. That’s all the positive Cavs news I can think of.

 

source:  29. Bobcats (8-24, LW 30). They finally snapped the losing streak at 18, in fact they won two games last week. Both on the road. They are not going to finish with the worst record in the NBA this year, and that’s a start.

 

source:  30. Wizards (4-27, LW 29). They may get John Wall back in the next couple of weeks, that will help their anemic offense. However, even that may not stop Wizards fans from watching college basketball now, scouting Cody Zeller and Shabazz Muhammad.

LeBron James first player to reach six straight finals in 50 years

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It speaks to an incredible level of talent — talent that was honed in countless hours in the gym.

It speaks to an amazing durability.

It speaks to leadership.

LeBron James has a long resume of accomplishments — two titles, four MVPs, and he hasn’t missed an All-Star Game or an All-NBA team for a decade — but he reached one of his more impressive milestones in leading the Cavaliers past the Raptors to the NBA Finals on Friday night.

LeBron has reached six straight NBA Finals.

He’s the first player to do so in 50 years.

The last guys to do this were Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Bob Cousy and other members of the 1950s-60s Celtics dynasty. Nobody since has done it — not Magic, Bird, Jordan, Wilt or the rest.

Yes, it helps cement LeBron’s legacy as one of the all-time greats, but more than that it’s something we need to step back and appreciate. These were all LeBron-led teams — he has been the leader on and off the court, setting the tone. That requires incredible talent and skill on the court, plus knowing how to make those guys better not just drag them along on your coat tails. It also takes incredible physical durability. It’s an amazing accomplishment.

“There’s only one LeBron James,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after his team was eliminated by James and company. “He makes a difference on whatever team he plays on.”

I can feel the typing in the comment section already: “But he’s 2-4 in the Finals, Jordan was 6-0” or “But he’s done it in a weak East” or “He keeps just jumping teams to where he has the most help.” It’s all just sad. Because LeBron James is the first NBA superstar of the social media age he faces a volume of criticism that past stars did not. It’s not that LeBron hasn’t brought some criticism on himself, but there is a need to tear him down that the mythologized Jordan never dealt with. We savored Jordan at the time; LeBron has never gotten that. Jordan took 13 NBA teams to the playoffs, six made the Finals; LeBron has taken 11 and seven are in the Finals. The thing is, it’s difficult to compare across eras in the NBA:

All of this is not to say LeBron’s record is better than Jordan’s, you and your buddies can debate that while sitting on bar stools until last call, but LeBron has been on an epic run through the peak of his career the likes we haven’t seen in a long time. If you’re a fan of the game, you should appreciate that, not try to tear it down (as if Jordan’s legacy somehow needs protecting).

What LeBron has done is a stunning accomplishment. If you’re in the same sentence with the legendary Russell Celtics teams, you’re doing something right.

Warriors/Thunder Game 6: Four things to watch as Oklahoma City tries to close out series

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Stephen Curry #30 and Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors react in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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For the Thunder, it is a chance for validation and an opportunity to get the ring Kevin Durant (and Russell Westbrook, and the rest of them) crave. For the Warriors, it is their biggest test of the last two seasons. Game 6 is Saturday night in Oklahoma City, here are four things to watch.

1) Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson need to play better for the Thunder. After a couple of series where Waiters suddenly has been reborn as a quality NBA player who is the third playmaker the Thunder need, and after Andre Roberson dropped a career playoff high of 17 points the game before, both were MIA in Game 5. Roberson was 2-of-5 shooting and had as many points as fouls (six). Waiters didn’t hit a shot all night. This was tied to the Thunder returning to the bad habits of too much Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant taking on the world and OKC not enough ball movement in the halfcourt. The Scott Brooks Thunder of the past few seasons showed up in Game 5, if the Thunder fall back to those bad habits again, they will lose again.

I expect the Thunder to treat this like their Game 7 and play much better. They will have a real sense of urgency; their defense will again be energized. The question becomes can the Warriors match it?

2) Can Andrew Bogut keep the Thunder from scoring in the paint?
In Game 5, the Thunder were 8-of-18 shooting in the restricted area, and 7-of-19 in the rest of the paint. That’s not going to get it done. A lot of that was the impact Bogut had in the paint — plus he got help, the Warriors switched pick-and-rolls more, they packed the paint more and took away driving lanes. It all worked, in part because Bogut and Draymond Green played with much better energy than in previous games. Steve Kerr said he didn’t play Bogut as many minutes in the first four games due to foul trouble, he has to trust the veteran to play through fouls in this game. The Warriors have simply been better with him on the court this series and they need close to 30 minutes from him this game.

Tied to Bogut’s play…

3) Golden State defense needs to show up on the road. As noted above, the Warriors went back to a more traditional defense in Game 5 — they started guarding Roberson (rather than having a big “guard” and ignore him to protect the paint), they switched, they stayed home in the paint, and they just trusted each other and played their system better. It was a marked improvement. However, they did it at home — now they need to do it on the road, where Green, in particular, has been more prone to mistakes and frustration.

One key here worth emphasizing is the Warriors got back to switching most pick-and-rolls — that’s what they did all season, that’s part of why the “death lineup” is so successful defensively, yet in this series they increasingly went away from it (in part because of how they guarded Roberson). Switching is part of who the Warriors are, and while it will create some mismatches teams don’t want to stray too far from their core identity.

4) Stephen Curry needs to be MVP level Curry. Draymond Green needs to be his All-NBA self.
I’m not saying the same thing about Durant and Westbrook because I have no doubt they will show up with urgency in their games Saturday night. However, Curry and Draymond have been shadows of themselves in the two previous games in Oklahoma City, and if that happens again only one team is flying back to the Bay Area postgame.

Curry finished his drives a little better in Game 5, and at moments he blew by bigs switched onto him off of picks, something we have seen far less of this series than during the season. Green played well defensively in Game 5, he hit the boards hard, but he made some head-scratching offensive decisions. If the Warriors are going to force a Game 7, those two guys have to be elite in this game. The Warriors best players must lead. It’s that simple.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.

Report: In surprise to nobody, Bismack Biyombo will decline option, become free agent

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after being called for a foul against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. 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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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This is not only expected, but it’s also the move all of us would make. Unless you hate money.

Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo has a player option on his contract for next year, pick it up and he returns to the Raptors at $2.9 million. Or, he can decline the option and become a free agent, where he may make about $17 million a season. So what do you think he’s doing? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Certainly, the Raptors can’t retain Biyombo’s services, it’s just going to be expensive to do so.

If $15 million (at least) seems a lot for a player who can only impact the defensive end of the floor because of poor hands and a limited offensive game, you would be correct. Welcome to the crazy cap-spike summer the NBA is about to experience. The market will be flooded with cash (at least 20 teams will be able to afford a max player) and players with a valuable skill hitting that market are going to get PAID. Biyombo can block shots and rebound like a beast, and in an increasingly small-ball NBA era those skills have value. Teams will live with having to play 4-on-5 on offense to have those skills on the roster.

The real question is which teams — the Lakers? — and how much of that cap space are they willing to give up for him? It’s going to be an interesting July.