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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.

NBA: Suns got away with offensive foul before key points in win over Spurs

Phoenix Suns Devin Booker acknowledges a foul as San Antonio Spurs Tony Parker lies crumpled on the floor, in the second half of their regular-season NBA basketball game in Mexico City, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
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Devin Booker scored 39 points in the Suns’ 108-105 win over the Spurs on Saturday in Mexico City.

But Booker’s last four – which put Phoenix up for good – came directly after incorrect calls, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.

First, Booker drew a (legitimate) foul on Pau Gasol with 1:08 left and made both free throws. The problem: One second before that, Suns center Tyson Chandler should have been called for offensively fouling Tony Parker, according to the league:

Chandler (PHX) sets the screen on Parker (SAS) and makes leg to leg contact that affects his ability to defend the play.

That would’ve ended Phoenix’s possession rather than allowing Booker to get to the line.

The other missed call in the two-minute report is trickier, because it directly benefitted the Spurs but indirectly benefitted the Suns.

Manu Ginobili got away with travelling with 59.1 seconds left, according to  the league:

Ginobili (SAS) moves his pivot foot.

But he coughed up the ball moments later anyway, and – thrilled to gain possession with a live-ball turnover rather than a dead-ball turnover – Booker turned the miscue into a fastbreak dunk.

Rather than debate how to evaluate San Antonio getting away with a travel and it ultimately helping Phoenix more, let’s stick to just the uncalled Chandler offensive foul. That netted the Suns two points. Their lead when the Spurs began intentionally fouling? One.

Russell Westbrook puts up 20th triple-double of season, lifts Thunder past Kings (VIDEO)

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Through 41 games — half the season — Russell Westbrook is averaging 30.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.5 assists a game. Those numbers are insane, particularly considering his 42 percent usage rate. He has to put up numbers and do so fairly efficiently or the Thunder stand no chance of winning — and he has the Thunder on pace for 48 wins this season.

The Thunder picked up another of those wins Sunday night knocking off the Sacramento Kings behind Westbrook’s 20th triple-double in 41 games — 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. The video highlights are above.

It’s going to be fun watching him and James Harden go back-and-forth in the MVP race for the next few months.

Three questions to answer: Cavaliers vs. Warriors rematch (plus notes on other MLK Day games)

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It’s the best rivalry going in the NBA — the game that matters most to both teams. Even if they try to deny it. This is a rematch of the last two NBA Finals and a likely preview of the next one, and this January game is a measuring stick. Here are three things to watch for, and after that notes on the other nationally televised games on Martin Luther King Jr. day.

1) Can the Warriors break the Cavaliers’ mental advantage in this series? The Warriors will say the Cavaliers are not in their heads, because that’s not just what competitors say, it’s what they have to believe. However, The Cavaliers have won four straight games against the Warriors dating back to last year’s Finals — Cleveland came from 3-1 down on basketball’s biggest stage to take the title, then came from 14 down to beat the Warriors on Christmas Day. In those games, LeBron James has been nothing short of brilliant and Kyrie Irving has been a late-game killer.

January games don’t decide June series, but the Warriors certainly could use the confidence boost against the Cavs. David West was honest about that speaking to CSNBayArea.com.

“This is a very important game for us,” West said Sunday, “because this is the last time we’re going to be able to measure ourselves against these guys. The only other time we’d get to face them would be in The Finals.”

Two straight Finals meetings means these teams know each other and their sets very well. There are no secrets. That’s an advantage for Cleveland: Golden State runs a lot of deception, fake screens, relatively meaningless actions designed to distract from what they really want to do. But by now the Cavs have seen it all. They aren’t fooled. The Warriors need to beat the Cavs one-on-one occasionally. That is what’s at the core of the Cavaliers game plan — we’re going to force Stephen Curry onto LeBron James or Kyrie Irving (via a switch on a pick), then isolate and bet he can’t stop them. It’s simple but it works, and the Warriors have not had an answer.

Being at home should help the Warriors. The bottom line is they can say the Cavaliers are not in their heads all they want, the Warriors could use a confidence-boosting win to convince themselves of that.

2) Kevin Durant was the best player on the court on Christmas, can Stephen Curry be? There is another way to phrase that question (which ties into the first one): Are the Cavaliers in Curry’s head? He had a rough Finals at points. Curry was a relatively passive 4-of-11 for 15 points on Christmas Day, and immediately after said he needed to be more aggressive.

In the Cavaliers’ four straight wins over the Warriors, Curry has shot  37 percent overall (36 percent from three) and has 15 turnovers to 10 assists. Cavaliers use physical defenders and are aggressive against Curry, they try to trap him and bait him into the flashy, playground-style passes that ignite the Warriors — except the Cavaliers have the defenders to turn those passes into steals and transition buckets. It’s the reason Durant was the best player on the Warriors on Christmas Day (36 points on 26 shots) — the Cavaliers are a very good help/schematic defensive team, but they have guys who can be beaten in isolation. Durant thrives in isolation.

Curry needs not to be baited into bad passes, be aggressive looking for his shot but pick his spots, get to the line a little more, and just knock down some shots.

3) How do the Warriors handle Kyle Korver? This is the one change after the Christmas day matchup. After they finally got a practice under their belts to figure things out, Tyron Lue slid Korver into the “LeBron and the bench” lineup —LeBron James, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, Korver, and Channing Frye. It worked well, as you might expect LeBron surrounded by shooters would work, and Kover had 18 against the Kings. How well this works against the Warriors though could be different — it’s not easy for the Cavs to keep Frye on the court against the Warriors matchups.

That said, the fact defenders can’t leave Korver to help is a boost to the Cavs when they start to run picks to get Curry switched onto Irving or LeBron. Either Korver is going to get some “butt-naked looks” (Tyronn Lue’s words) or he’s going to open it up for teammates. Either way, it will be interesting to see if the Warriors go with Shaun Livingston or someone else off the bench to counter Korver Sunday.

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There are other interesting games on Martin Luther King day, here’s a few things to watch (all times Eastern):

Atlanta Hawks at New York Knicks, (1 p.m. NBA TV). The Hawks have won 8-of-9 and are defending incredibly well. The Knicks have won 2-of-12 and have defended very poorly — and that has led to all kinds of speculation and rumors around the team. Another loss would just stoke that fire.

Orlando Magic at Denver Nuggets (5 p.m. NBA TV). The teams have struggled but there are two players worth watching here. Denver’s Nikola Jokic is one of the best sophomores in the league, averaging 13.3 points a game on 58 percent shooting, plus he is a gifted passer. Orlando’s Aaron Gordon is struggling in his adjustment to playing the three, but he’s a good perimeter defender and the games he is aggressive on offense good things happen.

Oklahoma City Thunder at LA Clippers (10:30 p.m. TNT). The Clippers have won six in a row, and Chris Paul has been phenomenal since his return. Russell Westbrook has been phenomenal all season, 18 triple-doubles in 40 games, but the Thunder are on the second night of a back-to-back.

James Harden’s 12th triple-double helps Rockets end 2-game skid

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NEW YORK (AP) James Harden had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in his 12th triple-double of the season and the Houston Rockets easily ended their first losing streak of the season by beating the Brooklyn Nets 137-112 on Sunday night.

Held to 105 points in losses to Minnesota and Memphis, the Rockets bounced back with 104 after three quarters and handed the Nets their 10th straight loss.

Eric Gordon led the Rockets with 24 points and Trevor Ariza added 23. Houston made 21 3-pointers and had five players with at least 16 points.

Houston shot just 40.8 percent during its two losses, well below its 46.8 season average, while being held nearly 10 points below its season scoring average. But the Rockets had no trouble bouncing back against the Nets, who allow an NBA-worst 114.3 per game.