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.

Victor Oladipo on his final shot: “It was a goaltend”

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Ultimately, the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report will back up Victor Oladipo — it was a goaltend.

With the score tied 95-95 and just six seconds left in the game Wednesday night, Oladipo attacked LeBron James in isolation, and like so many before him thought he was past LeBron only to have a chase down block from behind end his bid — except video replays shows Oladipo laid the ball off the backboard a fraction of a second before LeBron blocked it. That makes it a goaltend, a defender cannot block a shot that has already touched the backboard. Check out the slow-mo video.

The officials didn’t call it that way on the court, and the play is only eligible for video review if a goaltend is called (to be fair to the officials, that was an incredibly close play that is very difficult to call in real time). From there, LeBron went on to hit the dramatic game-winning three that gave Cleveland the win and a 3-2 series lead.

After the game, Oladipo and his teammates were pissed about the no-call.

“I got a step on him,” Oladipo said via the Associated Press. “I felt like I even got grabbed on the way to the rim, tried to shoot a layup, it hit the backboard, then he blocked it. It was a goaltend. It’s hard to even speak on it. It just sucks, honestly. It really sucks. Even though we fought our way back, we tied the game up, that layup was huge.

“Give him credit where credit is due. The three was big-time. Definitely huge. But who’s to say they even run that play? We don’t know what happens. It’s unfortunate. It really sucks that they missed that.”

LeBron didn’t see it that way.

“Of course I didn’t think it was a goaltend. I try to make plays like that all the time and I mean he made a heck of a move, got me leaning right and he went left and I just tried to use my recovery speed and get back up there and make a play on the ball. And I was able to make a play.”

We’ll see what the Last Two Minute Report says, but to my eyes that was a goaltend, it clearly comes off the backboard.

That call is also not why Indiana lost. If Pacers’ fans want to place blame, Oladipo going 2-of-15 on the night was a bigger issue. Or Darren Collison having an off night and going 1-of-5 from the floor. Or maybe it’s just the fact that LeBron James is the best player in the game and can drop 44 on the Pacers — including the three that may well have made the goaltend moot anyway — and Indiana can’t stop it. One call late does not by itself decide a 48-minute game.

But it was a goaltend.

Giannis Antetokounmpo puts it on himself to be more aggressive in Bucks-Celtics Game 6

AP Photo/Morry Gash
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Giannis Antetokounmpo was criticized after Game 5 of Milwaukee’s Eastern Conference series against Boston for not doing more, particularly on the offensive end.

The harshest critic: Antetokounmpo, himself.

He took only 10 field-goal attempts, his third-lowest total of the entire season. Antetokounmpo still had a brilliant stat line, finishing only one assist shy of a triple-double, but the Bucks lost 92-87 and now go back to Milwaukee trailing the first-round matchup 3-2.

Game 6 of the Celtics-Bucks series is the lone matchup on the Thursday night NBA schedule.

“Game 6, I’ve got to come out and be more aggressive,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s on me. I had open shots, but they weren’t my shots so I didn’t feel comfortable taking them. … I’ve got to be more aggressive, make more plays because definitely, my teammates need me.”

It’s not like he was choosing to not be involved.

The Celtics got Marcus Smart back for Game 5, and Boston is much better defensively when he’s on the floor. Open looks seem to happen far more infrequently when Smart is out there, and the Bucks must solve that riddle or else their season is about to end.

Smart wasn’t the only defensive hero for Boston in Game 5. The Celtics put Semi Ojeleye on Antetokounmpko, and it worked as well as Boston could have hoped.

“Giannis is a heck of a player,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “You’re not going to be perfect against him. You’re not going to hold him down by any means. He makes plays for other people, he’s very unselfish … but we just felt like we needed a little bit more ball pressure overall, and so that was the decision to go smaller.”

If Antetokounmpko doesn’t come up bigger Thursday, it’ll be Boston going to the second round.

Here’s some of what to know going into Game 6:

CELTICS AT BUCKS

Boston leads 3-2. Game 6, 8 p.m. EDT, TNT

NEED TO KNOW: Since 2002, there have been 29 NBA teams with at least one postseason series win to their credit. The lone exception: The Bucks. It’s been 17 years since the Bucks advanced to the second round, and the Celtics are on the cusp of adding another year to Milwaukee’s wait. So far in the series, Milwaukee has outscored Boston 520-519 – which would indicate that it’s been a super-close matchup. That’s not the reality. There have been wild ebbs and flows, with one team leading by 16 points at some point in each of the last four games.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Free throws. Boston is 99 for 130 in the series from the line, while Milwaukee is 68 for 100. The Bucks have been called for 30 more fouls in the series, 124-94 – which works out to six more per game.

PRESSURE IS ON: Clearly, the Bucks. They’re facing elimination, of course, so there’s the pressure. Antetokounmpko was on the Milwaukee team that won two elimination games against Chicago in 2015 (before the Bucks eventually lost that series in six games). And he also remembers the sting of last season, when the Bucks went home for Game 6 trailing Toronto 3-2 and wound up letting a pair of late leads slip in what became a season-ending loss.

INJURY UPDATE: Getting Smart back was a rare bit of good news for Boston in this injury-marred season, one where the Celtics have been without Gordon Hayward since opening night and ultimately lost Kyrie Irving for the playoffs. Smart hadn’t played in about six weeks after tearing a ligament in his right thumb, but was a clear difference-maker for the Celtics in Game 5.

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.