NBA Power Rankings: Clippers back on top, showdown with Thunder Tuesday

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No change in the top four teams, but really it feels like right now there is a top three teams with the Heat capable of being that good but not really choosing to all the time.

source:  1. Clippers (32-9, last week ranked No. 2). Chris Paul sits out three games, Eric Bledsoe steps in and Los Angeles just keeps on winning. That is why despite a lot of teams calling about trading for Bledsoe the Clippers are hesitant — until they lock CP3 up to a long-term deal this summer (which is likely) Bledsoe is too valuable to them to trade.

 

source:  2. Spurs (32-11, LW 3). Leading a team with a top five offense and defense (in points allowed per possession) it’s going to be hard for the coaches to overlook Tim Duncan as an All-Star reserve. As much as he would like them to.

 

source:  3. Thunder (32-8-8, LW 1). They had won six in a row, four of them on the road, until they stumbled Sunday against Denver. This week we have a possible Western Conference finals showdown with Los Angeles (of course we’re talking Clippers, not that other team).

 

source:  4. Heat (26-12, LW 4). Miami still seems to be coasting through the season but when they crank up the defensive pressure — like against Golden State or the end of the Lakers game — you are reminded they can be dominant when they want.

 

source:  5. Knicks (25-13, LW 7). The win they got in London over the Pistons was nice, but what essentially turned out to be a bye week with just one game is a bigger boost to the older, banged up New York team.

 

source:  6. Pacers (25-16, LW 8). Their second worst in the NBA offense will get a boost when Danny Granger comes back in a couple weeks. Then the question is will they trade Granger (my guess is no but there seems to be a buzz).

 

source:  7. Grizzlies (26-13, LW 6). With tougher competition recently (Clippers, Spurs and Bulls) the Grizzlies offense regressed a lot (nearly nine points per 100 possessions). It makes one wonder what kind of playoff run they can make.

 

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8. Nets (24-16, LW 9). They are 8-2 in their last 10 games and it’s all about their offense jumping to a best in the NBA 109.4 points per 100 possessions in that time. They are pushing for Brook Lopez to make the All-Star team, but I would take the other starting center in the New York area.

 

source:  9. Nuggets (25-18, LW 5). After winning six straight including a quality overtime game against the Trail Blazers, they split a couple games with Oklahoma City, with a Wizards loss sandwiched in between. Still a hot and cold team.

 

source:  10. Bulls (23-16, LW 10). If Joakim Noah didn’t enjoy being benched for the fourth quarter Sunday then on Monday he can commiserate with Pau Gasol when the Bulls play the Lakers (Gasol got the same treatment a couple of times this season). Expect Noah to get his first nod as an All-Star reserve on Thursday.

 

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11. Warriors (24-15, LW 11). Andrew Bogut has been cleared for some one-on-one as he works back from ankle surgery. If you are wondering just how good the Warriors are, games against the Clippers and Thunder this week are good measuring sticks.

 

source:  12. Celtics (20-19, LW 13). The hot streak of six straight wins came to a crashing halt with losses to New Orleans then the Bulls in overtime. The good news is Avery Bradley only missed one game (the Chicago loss).

 

source:  13. Bucks (21-18, LW 15). The Bucks are 5-2 under interim coach Jim Boylan, but that’s not going to be enough to get Brandon Jennings into the All-Star Game.

 

source:  14. Jazz (22-19, LW 16). Winners of three in a row and you just get the impression with their solid front line they are a playoff lock in the West. Even with likely changes to the roster at the trade deadline when Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap gets moved.

 

source:  15. Hawks (22-18, LW 17). The loss of Lou Williams for the season is bad news. Most of all for Williams, but also because it means more Jeff Teague responsibility, and that doesn’t go well over the long haul.

 

source:  16. Trail Blazers (20-20, LW 12). They have lost five games in a row, and playing .500 ball and being the current eight seed they keep the playoff hopes of Lakers and Mavericks fans alive. What has come unglued is their offense — they are shooting just 40.6 percent as a team the last five games. That won’t get it done.

 

source:  17. Rockets (21-21, LW 14). They have lost seven in a row, are a mess at both ends of the floor and are playing at a slower tempo than they did when they were having success. If they could just start winning they could take hold of a playoff spot.

 

source:  18. Mavericks (18-24, LW 19). Funky stat of the week — Dallas is 1-8 in overtime games this season. If they were just 4-5 in OT they would be a .500 team that had won four of its last 5 and we’d be talking playoffs right now.

 

source:  19. Timberwolves (17-20, LW 18). Snapped their five-game losing streak on Saturday (thank you slumping Rockets) but any time you think they have something good going someone else gets injured.

 

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20. 76ers (17-23, LW 20). They were 2-1 at the start of a nice stretch at home last week, but this week the home games are the Spurs, Knicks and then to start next week the Grizzlies. Throw in a road trip for one game in Milwaukee and it’s not pretty.

 

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21. Raptors (15-26, LW 21). Toronto has been playing better of late and got a nice win carving up what passes for the Lakers defense Sunday, but if you are thinking playoffs making up 5.5 games and catching the Celtics or Bucks is not going to happen.

 

source:  22. Kings (16-25, LW 24). They beat the Wizards. Bobcats and Cavaliers last week… and right now I don’t think Kings fans care at all. Can’t blame them.

 

source:  23. Lakers (17-23, LW 22). The next couple weeks make of break the Lakers season — we keep saying they have to turn it around now but 9 of their next 12 are on the road (including at Chicago and Memphis this week). The Lakers are 5-13 on the road this season. If they don’t get hot on the road they will watch the playoffs from home.

 

source:  24. Pistons (14-25, LW 23). Sunday Jason Maxiell played 23 minutes scoring 6 points and grabbing 5 rebounds. Rookie Andre Drummond comes in off the bench for 20 minutes, scores 16 points (but has one rebound). The Pistons aren’t going anywhere, explain to me again why Drummond isn’t starting and getting big minutes?

 

source:  25. Hornets (13-27, LW 25). They’ve won six of their last eight and if they are on the schedule you better not chalk them up as an automatic win anymore. A key reason is a great run of play in recent weeks by Greivis Vasquez.

 

source:  26. Wizards (8-30, LW 29). I watched them first hand against the Clippers Saturday night and let me say: They are not bad. With everyone healthy and John Wall back running the offense this is a team you can’t overlook. They played the Clippers tough.

 

source:  27. Cavaliers (10-32, LW 28). Kyrie Irving is talented enough to be on the All-Star team, the question is will the injury to start the season and bad team around him keep him off it.

 

source:  28. Magic (14-25, LW 26). They lost to the Wizards and Bobcats last week. They are capable of being that bad.

 

source:  29. Suns (13-28, LW 27). Alvin Gentry wasn’t let go because he couldn’t win with that roster — no coach could win with that roster. The issue was how much burn the youngsters got, even if it meant losses. Gentry was on the wrong end of that argument for ownership.

 

source:  30. Bobcats (10-30, LW 30). You looking for a bright spot? Not the 5-16 home record. How about they are 3-1 in overtime.

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.