Russell Westbrook, Chris Duhon, Earl Clark

NBA Power Rankings: Thunder on top, Nuggets climbing ranks

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Each of the top five teams in last week’s ranking suffered losses, some pretty ugly losses. So, who bounced back and looked best after that? Oklahoma City, so they maintain the top spot.

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1. Thunder (28-8, Last week ranked No. 1). Kevin Durant is a better playmaker than last year. Russell Westbrook a better floor general. Serge Ibaka is just better. The bottom line is the Thunder are better than last year even without James Harden. And despite all that they lost to the Wizards (but bounced back well)

source:  2. Clippers (28-9, LW 2). They didn’t wake up for an early start at home against Orlando and that cost them a 13-game home winning streak. Grant Hill is back, although where his minutes come from is a tough question. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are lock starters for the All-Star game when that becomes official Thursday.

source:  3. Spurs (28-11, LW 3). Losses to the Grizzlies and Hornets. Even though he doesn’t want it, I expect Tim Duncan makes the All-Star team again as a reserve. Maybe Tony Parker will make the cut, too, but he is on the bubble among West guards.

source:  4. Heat (24-11, LW 4). They have lost three of four, and while there is rightfully some concern about rebounding this is mostly just them not playing with focus and energy. Miami is on the road this week against Utah, Golden State then the Los Angeles Lakers on the second night of a back-to-back.

source:  5. Nuggets (22-16, LW 8). Still in the middle of a long stretch mostly at home, and they picked up a win against the Warriors Sunday where Denver looked like the aggressive, running team we expected. Tough week ahead with two games against the Thunder (one away) plus the Trail Blazers.

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6. Grizzlies (24-11, LW 9). Big question for the next month: How will the Rudy Gay trade rumors impact them on the court? Because the rumors will keep coming. Good win against the Spurs last week, they’ve got them again (and the Clippers) this week.

source:  7. Knicks (24-13, LW 5). They had three straight losses then Mike Woodson tweaked the lineup and started Chris Copeland at the three and returned Carmelo Anthony to the four, and shockingly that produced a Knicks win. The return of Iman Shumpert Thursday in London will help on defense, but they miss Raymond Felton at both ends.

source:  8. Pacers (23-15, LW 10). It’s not pretty, but the Pacers keep winning (four in a row before Sunday’s loss) with the NBA’s best defense. As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann tweeted this week Indy allows the lowest opponent shooting percentage from both the corner three and in the restricted area. That is one heck of a combo.

source:  9. Nets (22-15, LW 13). Winners of six in a row and in that run their offense has been ridiculously good — 113 points per 100 possessions in their last five games, best in the NBA in that stretch. But their defense has been top five as well. We know they can play well for a stretch, but can they sustain it?

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10. Bulls (20-15, LW 7). A loss to the Suns shows where this team is without Derrick Rose — they beat the Heat a couple weeks ago when focused but when they don’t bring the defensive focus they can lose to anyone. They are not winning any games just on raw talent. Their worst games seem to come at home.

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11. Warriors (23-13, LW 6). Losses to the Clippers, Grizzlies and Nuggets are reminders that while they are good they are still in the second or third tier in the West. The loss to the Nuggets showed Golden State needs more consistent defense. Stephen Curry should make the All-Star Team as a reserve.

source:  12. Trail Blazers (20-17, LW 14). Tough week with losses to the Warriors and Thunder, but they picked up a win over the Heat in there too. They are currently the eight seed in the West, but with Houston just half a game ahead of them and Utah one game behind.

source:  13. Celtics (19-17, LW 17). Winners of five straight and their defense is looking a lot better since the return of Avery Bradley. That has GM Danny Ainge wisely saying he will likely sit tight and make one more title run with this group.

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14. Rockets (21-17, LW 12). Houston has lost three straight, play the Clippers Tuesday then head out for six of their next eight on the road. They are going to have to turn it on to hold on to their current seven seed playoff spot in the West, they are only 1.5 games up on nine-seed Utah.

source:  15. Bucks (19-17, LW 15). Jim Boylan is 3-1 since taking over the team, and not shockingly their offense has been much better and faster pace released from the Scott Skiles shackles.

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16. Jazz (20-19, LW 16). I’d say if they keep this roster together they are very likely to get the seven or eight seed in the West, but it’s more likely Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap get dealt in the next month. Going to be an interesting time in Utah.

source:  17. Hawks (21-15, LW 11). They lost by double digits to the Wizards and Cavaliers in one week, they are lucky to only fall six spots.

source:  18. Timberwolves (16-18, LW 18). Kevin Love may only be able to get back for a late playoff push after hand surgery, but there may not be much of a push to get back for (they are 3 games out of the playoffs right now). The team defense has been a mess of late and that isn’t how you stay in the playoff hunt

source:  19. Mavericks (15-23, LW 24). Nice OT win over the Grizzlies (a tired Grizzlies team, but still) and it gives a shred of hope to a team that really hasn’t had any yet. Still, they will probably have to go 30-14 to have any shot at the playoffs this season.

source:  20. 76ers (16-22, LW 19). They are 3-7 in their last 10 and fading from the playoffs, but they have 12 of their next 14 games at home. This is the time to make a run.

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21. Raptors (14-23, LW 23). They are technically 5.5 games out of the last playoff spot in the East, ground that could be made up by a hot team. Just not sure the Raptors can do that, especially after blowing 20-point lead to Bucks Sunday.

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22. Lakers (16-21, LW 20). Blake Griffin denied it on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kevin Durant denied it after the Thunder beat up the Lakers, but you can see it in team’s eyes — they love kicking the Lakers when they are down. Big game against Heat on national television Thursday.

source:  23. Pistons (14-24, LW 22). Tough couple close losses last week, but they are still 7-3 in their last 10 games. They are 0-0 in London in franchise history but that will change Thursday when they travel to face the Knicks.

source:  24. Kings (13-24, LW 21). They have lost four games in a row but that should change with the Cavaliers, Wizards and Bobcats all on the schedule this week.

source:  25. Hornets (11-25, LW 27). Don’t look now but they had won four in a row before a Sunday loss to the Knicks. Eric Gordon makes a difference. But more than that, the defense is coming around as is top pick Anthony Davis.

source:  26. Magic (13-23, LW 25). Broke their losing streak in a big way with an upset of the Clippers on the road. Congrats to Jameer Nelson becoming the franchise leader in assists, passing Scott Skiles (who had a rough week).

source:  27. Suns (13-26, LW 26). Michael Beasley was key to the win in Chicago — 20 points on 10-of-14 shooting. If you could count on that every night that guy would be a star, but alas…

source:  28. Cavaliers (9-29, LW 28). They miss Anderson Varejao because the drop off from him to rookie Tyler Zeller is really steep. Basically they only way the Cavaliers win is for Kyrie Irving to be superhuman.

source:  29. Wizards (6-28, LW 30). Washington is 2-2 against the Heat and Thunder and 4-26 vs. everyone else. But they have John Wall back and a two-game winning streak, so things are looking up. A little.

source:  30. Bobcats (9-27, LW 29). Charlotte has they worst team net rating in the NBA by a full point — they give up 9.2 points per 100 possessions more than they score. Second worst is Washington at 8.1. The Wizards could catch and pass Charlotte in the standings.

Carmelo Anthony gathers athletes, cops, kids in conversation

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 22:  Carmelo Anthony #15 of the United States stands on the court as the American national anthem is performed before a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game against Argentina at T-Mobile Arena on July 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The United States won 111-74.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) Carmelo Anthony spent the U.S. Olympic basketball team’s precious day off running a two-hour town hall meeting at a South Los Angeles youth center because he can’t sleep anymore.

With only a few spare hours Monday before jetting off to continue the Americans’ pre-Olympic tour, Anthony gathered basketball stars, community leaders and police officers to speak with teenagers and young adults about the importance of respect, communication and safety. Roughly 200 people came together for the meeting, and Anthony believes everyone left with something to contemplate.

“We really got a lot of messages out of today,” Anthony said. “Hopefully we can continue this dialogue, and we created something today that will continue on.”

Anthony shares many Americans’ profound disquiet with gun violence after this year’s series of increasingly dismaying shootings. With both the men’s and women’s Olympic teams in Los Angeles at the same time, the New York Knicks star recruited fellow Olympian Tamika Catchings and other like-minded athletes at the Challengers Boys and Girls Club to begin a badly needed nationwide conversation.

“There were some very, very powerful messages that were being talked about,” Anthony said. “Not just amongst us as athletes, but among the youth. The youth really spoke out today about how they feel about their community, how they feel about police officers, how they feel about relationships and how we can mend these relationships.”

Anthony’s awakening interest in social activism was piqued after he spent a day watching news coverage of the latest shootings earlier this month. He awoke in the middle of the night and wrote a 280-word Instagram post declaring that the “system is broken” and calling on sports figures to lead change.

“The first thing that came to my mind was, I have to get my athletes, my fellow athletes, to step up and use their voice and use their platform in the best way they can,” Anthony said.

Two weeks ago, he took the stage at the ESPY Awards with Chris Paul, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The four superstars decried violence and called for open conversation on racial issues.

Anthony backed up the group’s words before Team USA left Los Angeles following an exhibition game on Sunday night. He plans to keep finding ways to facilitate communication after this gathering led to frank discussions.

Catchings recalled young adults telling police officers about the fear they feel when approached by officers with their hands on their guns. One young woman told officers: “Just smile! A smile goes a long way.”

“Definitely tension, and definitely some tears,” said Catchings, the three-time Olympic gold medalist and former WNBA MVP. “One young lady said that when she got off the bus and saw the (police) uniform, right off the bat, she was scared.

“But coming into this environment and hearing everything, she (said), `I doubted if I really wanted to be a part of it, but I’m so glad I came, because now I feel like I’m walking away with so much more than I thought I was going to get.’ When you have conversations like that and you get feedback like that, we know we’re going in the right direction.”

The community leaders invited by Anthony echoed his confidence in the importance of communication, particularly between police and young black men. Deputy Chief Bill Scott of the LAPD brought a large group of officers to join the meeting.

“Many of the kids in our group said, `We’re thrilled to be here,”‘ said Calvin Lyons, the CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Los Angeles. “`We have a higher level of respect for the officers because of what they’re sharing.’ There was no fear.”

Anthony hopes to be a three-time Olympic gold medalist at this time next month, possibly capping a remarkable international career with another title in Rio before he heads back to the Knicks. He knows his work in American communities will go on much longer than even his NBA career, but he welcomes the challenge.

“We know that nothing is going to happen overnight,” Anthony said. “But what we wanted to do was create something that we could start right now, and continue on when we leave here today.”

Timberwolves new CEO knows exactly what he’s getting into

This 2016 image provided by the San Francisco 49ers shows Ethan Casson posed at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. In 1998, Casson called sports teams all over the country asking to get a foot in the door. The Minnesota Timberwolves answered, giving him an entry-level position. Almost 20 years later, Casson returns to the franchise as the team's new CEO hoping to help a team that has struggled on the business side almost as much as it has on the court. (Terrell Lloyd/The San Francisco 49ers via AP)
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) In the winter of 1998, Ethan Casson started calling professional franchise after professional franchise, begging them to get his foot in the door in any capacity.

One night, a human resources employee for the Minnesota Timberwolves picked up the phone and Casson talked his way into a meeting. He flew from the East Coast, met with several Timberwolves executives and, during the third quarter of a game against the Golden State Warriors, was offered an entry-level position on the business side of the operation at $24,000 per year.

“To think that what started as a cold call of me begging an HR person to let me come in and prove my worth 18 years later turned into me coming back as a CEO is amazing and certainly very special to me,” Casson told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Casson had to sell his car and some other possessions to raise the money to pay for his move from Boston to the Twin Cities, but the leap of faith has paid off. Six years after he left the Timberwolves to climb the ladder with the San Francisco 49ers, he is returning as CEO to breathe new life into one of the NBA’s struggling operations.

Timberwolves President Chris Wright remembered the impression Casson left in those first face-to-face meetings.

“I told him we’re going to find a place for you in this franchise because you are exactly the type of person that we want build this franchise around,” Wright said.

Casson’s first stint with the Timberwolves lasted 11 years. He worked his way up to senior vice president of corporate partnerships and met his future wife here before leaving for the 49ers in 2010.

When he arrived in the Bay Area, the once-proud 49ers were in the midst of an eight-year playoff drought. Their revenue had dropped to near the bottom of the league and they were playing in an outdated stadium that couldn’t compete with the shiny new ones popping up around the league. He leaves after helping to secure a 20-year, $220 million naming rights deal with Levi’s for the new stadium and rebuilding the franchise’s business operations.

The Timberwolves have not made the playoffs since 2004, the longest active drought in the league. That futility has contributed significantly to plummeting revenue and a dwindling season ticket base.

“I’m not saying it’s apples to apples, but I certainly feel I’ve been on a six-year journey that involved a lot of similar themes,” Casson said. “And I’ll apply all of those lessons to this next phase of my career.”

Casson replaces Rob Moor, the longtime CEO who stepped aside to work more closely with Wolves owner Glen Taylor’s other business interests. At 42 years old, Casson is part of a youth movement coming into the organization. Taylor also brought in 41-year-old New York real estate mogul Meyer Orbach and 35-year-old Chinese entrepreneur John Jiang as minority owners, and he hopes the three of them help bring a new perspective and energy to the business side that mirrors the vibe youngsters Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are bringing to the team.

“I was very aware and respectful that taking on this role wasn’t about coming in and fixing things that were broken,” Casson said. “I don’t look at opportunities like this as somethings not working. I look at it as an opportunity to reset and plot out a different course or a different version of a course that moves the business forward.”

The challenges are real. The Timberwolves’ competitive dormancy buried them in a crowded sports marketplace. Tickets have been hard to sell and the NFL’s Vikings, the NHL’s Wild and MLB’s Twins are competing for the corporate dollars.

“I’ve been here for a long time,” said Wright, who is entering his 25th season with the Wolves. “I’ve tried to do it what I consider the best way for the franchise given all of the different sort of environments we’ve found ourselves in over the last 12 years as we’ve not been making the playoffs. And I think Ethan is going to just bring a completely fresh, new look to all of that and lead us in the direction we need to be as a club in the 21st century.”

The Wolves have one of the most promising young cores in the league, a brand new practice facility in downtown Minneapolis and have begun renovations on the dusty Target Center.

“There’s a lot of momentum in and around the organization that made it very exciting for me as a fan and now as someone who is coming back as CEO,” he said. “That will come and go. The renovation will eventually be complete. The team will stabilize and be competitive. You still have to make sure the business model is sustainable and drivable. That’s what we’re going to be.”

Joel Embiid arm wrestled Justin Bieber in a club? Yup. There is video.

THERMAL, CA - APRIL 16:  Professional basketball player Joel Embiid attends the Levi's Brand and RE/DONE Levi's presents NEON CARNIVAL with Tequila Don Julio on April 16, 2016 in Thermal, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Tequila Don Julio)
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Joel Embiid is officially 7’0″ tall and 250 pounds, although when you see him in person now that number seems low, he looks thicker and stronger.

Justin Bieber is a 5’9″ waiflike person.

So of course, they arm wrestled at the club Hyde in Los Angeles. It went about as you’d expect. Here is some video, hat tip to Dan Devine at Ball Don’t Lie (arguably the best arm wrestler in the NBA media).

If you’re about to make an “at least Embiid didn’t get hurt” joke, be more creative.

Hopefully, we get to see what Embiid can do on the court this fall, where the competition will be a lot tougher than any Canadian pop star.

Larry Sanders asks in Twitter poll what team he should play for next season

Larry Sanders
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Larry Sanders is talking about getting back into the NBA. He walked away in 2015 to say he needed to deal with anxiety and depression, to find a balance in his life. Recently he told Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders this:

“But I feel like I’m in a much better place right now and I’m equipped to be able to put myself in that situation again.”

But where? A lot of teams could use an athletic big who averaged 1.4 blocks per game over the five years he was in the NBA, although with the conservative nature of NBA front offices they will not want to take much risk (Golden State reportedly thought about it and decided not to offer him a contract).

Sanders decided to ask Twitter where he should go, putting Twitter’s poll feature to good use.

The question becomes, where is there mutual interest from any of these teams?

If Sanders and his agent can win a team over in an interview, the contract will be small and the number of guaranteed years is not exceeding one (if even that). From the perspective of an NBA team, Sanders has to prove himself again.

But never underestimate how many chances big men get in this league.

(Hat tip Eye on Basketball)