NBA Power Rankings: Spurs back in the saddle again

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You know the consistently good Spurs are going to climb into the top spot a couple times during the season. The top four remain the same but we see some teams fall farther down the list while teams like the Wizards and Hornets climb.

source:  1. Spurs (36-11, last week ranked No. 2). They have won eight in a row and have a top five offense and defense. They bring a level of execution to the regular season every other coach covets. So why do I still feel like the elite teams can scheme them out of the playoffs with time to prepare?

 

source:  2. Thunder (34-11, LW 3). As expected, they beat one Los Angeles team this week and lost to the other… wait, they lost to the Lakers? They went 3-3 on a six game road trip, which feels pretty blah for their standards.

 

source:  3. Heat (28-13, LW 4). They still seem to be just coasting through games like the Sunday loss to the Celtics. Do that this week against the Nets and Pacers and they will pick up a couple more losses.

 

source:  4. Clippers (33-13 LW 1). They had lost four in a row before Blake Griffin and the front line took over against the Trail Blazers Sunday night. Chris Paul (bruised knee) keeps missing games and that’s okay, they have Eric Bledsoe. Let CP3 get right.

 

source:  5. Bulls (26-17, LW 10). Tough road trip that will really test the team starts this week — six games, all against winning teams and the first four against teams from the East (Bucks, Nets, Hawks, Pacers). This is a huge stretch for Chicago.

 

source:  6. Nets (26-18, LW 8). The big question — does Brook Lopez get called up to take Rajon Rondo’s spot on the All-Star team? David Stern makes the pick and he is not bound by position.

 

source:  7. Knicks (27-15, LW 5). Raymond Felton’s back and maybe that can mean some easy buckets for Tyson Chandler off the pick-and-roll. But Sunday against Atlanta shows us again that when the Knicks just knock down threes they are dangerous.

 

source:  8. Nuggets (27-18, LW 9). They have won 8 out of 10, they are playing at a faster pace and Ty Lawson seems to be thriving in that environment. Amazing what a few games in a row at home can do.

 

source:  9. Grizzlies (28-14, LW 7). Mike Conley tweaked his ankle Sunday but it doesn’t appear to be serious, which is good for a team that’s offense is already dragging the team down. In their last 10 games the Grizzlies have averaged 96.4 points per 100 possessions, 28th in the league for that stretch.

 

source:  10. Warriors (26-17, LW 11). They beat both the Clippers and the Thunder last week, how about that for a statement? When they focus on defense and rebounding they still do well, but they’ve had some inconsistent moments on that end recently.

 

source:  11. Pacers (26-18, LW 6). Their eight-game road trip comes to an end Monday in Denver and they have gone 3-4 on it so far (and Denver with it’s fast pace is about the worst place to end a trip on). Back home look for them to rack up a few wins.

 

source:  12. Hawks (25-18, LW 15). Atlanta is becoming the Utah Jazz of the East — really good at home and really beatable on the road — they have lost 7-of-8 away from home and the one win was against Charlotte. They have four of the next five at home, then 8 of 10 out on the road again.

 

source:  13. Bucks (23-19, LW 13). In his last five games, Ersan Ilyasova is shooting 53.3 percent overall and 60 percent from three, and that’s been part of the Bucks success under interim coach Jim Boylan. He looks like the Ilyasova from last year smart fantasy players snapped up.

 

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14. Jazz (24-20, LW 14). They are 4-1 in their last five, mostly because the offense really seems to have found its groove. They have six of their next seven at home, where they are 15-4 on the season. This is a good time to solidify a playoff spot for them.

 

source:  15. Rockets (24-22, LW 17). James Harden will get a heroes welcome as the lone representative of the host Rockets at the 2013 All-Star Game. He’ll get more than that if he can get this team back up into the eighth playoff spot in the West.

 

source:  16. Trail Blazers (22-22, LW 16). They are stumbling of late, 3-7 in their last 10, and starting Friday they will have seven of eight games on the road. They are one game out of a playoff spot now and can’t slip way back during this upcoming stretch.

 

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17. Celtics (21-23, LW 12). No Rajon Rondo is going to mean a lot of trade rumors and talk of blowing it up, and as much as Doc Rivers will play it down and there is a veteran core on this team, it will be hard for this not to impact them.

 

source:  18. Mavericks (19-25, LW 18). They are starting to make their push up the standings, but like the Lakers the math is hard for them to climb all the way back into the playoffs.

 

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19. Lakers (19-25, LW 23). The Lakers have won two in a row but now comes the real test — starting Wednesday in Phoenix the Lakers are on the road for seven straight. Any dreams of getting the eight seed (and getting thumped by the Thunder in the first round) hinge on having a good road trip, at the very least 4-3.

source:  20. 76ers (18-25, LW 20). It’s really simple — they are 2.5 games back of the Celtics now and now catching them suddenly looks more possible. But Boston still defends and will not make it easy. Jrue Holiday making the All-Star Game is well deserved, not sure I’d give him Rondo’s starting spot over Kyrie Irving, however.

 

source:  21. Pistons (17-27, LW 24). They are 5-5 in their last 10 and four games back of the Celtics. Eight of the next 11 Pistons games are in Detroit, if they are going to make a run between now and the All-Star Game is when they need to do it.

 

source:  22. Raptors (16-28, LW 21). Toronto is playing better of late and that is sparking playoff dreams north of the boarder — but making up five games and leapfrogging two teams (Detroit and Philly) is going to take more than the 4-6 they are in their last 10.

 

source:  23. Hornets (15-29, LW 25). Something to watch as the Hornets keep picking up wins (like Sunday against Memphis): Anthony Davis to start closing the Rookie of the Year gap on Damian Lillard. Davis is playing smart, efficient basketball and people are starting to notice.

 

source:  24. Wizards (11-31, LW 26). They are 7-3 in their last 10 and the losses they made the other team work for it — finally healthy they look like a playoff team. Unfortunately injuries dug them too deep a hole to start the season.

 

source:  25. Cavaliers (13-32, LW 27). Kyrie Irving has this team winning three games in a row and in my book is the guy who should get Rajon Rondo’s starting spot in the All-Star game.

 

source:  26. Timberwolves (17-24, LW 19). Four game losing streak and they have lost 9 of their last 10. The good news is Rick Adelman is back at the helm as coach, but the Timberwolves woes go well beyond interim coach Terry Porter and straight to the rash of injuries.

 

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27. Kings (16-29, LW 22). They have lost four games in a row and it seems like nobody is noticing because the focus is off the court. On the court Tyreke Evans has played better of late.

 

source:  28. Suns (15-30, LW 29). Lindsay Hunter is 2-2 as a coach but you can see why he was hired on Sunday — it was an ugly loss but Kendall Marshall played nearly 15 minutes, the most he has in months. It’s about playing the rookies.

 

source:  29. Bobcats (11-32, LW 30). They have won two of their last five (including one over the one team below them) but have six of their next seven on the road and the only teams below .500 in that stretch are the hot Cavaliers and the Lakers.

 

source:  30. Magic (14-29, LW 28). J.J. Redick is playing well (31 on Sunday), so expect a whole lot of trade rumors to start flying around him as we move closer and closer to the deadline.

Report: LeBron James wins overall All-Star fan vote

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For the first time in a dozen years, a player has won the All-Star fan vote for consecutive years.

LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett have all taken turns as leader since Yao Ming claimed the vote lead in 2005 and 2006. Apparently, LeBron will retain the top spot he held last year.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

The fan vote means less than ever, with media and players also playing a role in who starts the All-Star game and a draft assigning players to teams. But the leading fan-vote-getter in each conference still matters, as those will be the captains for the draft.

LeBron will be one. Warriors Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry were neck-and-neck for the other captaincy.

Last I heard, the NBA was leaning toward giving the top overall fan-vote-getter the first pick in the All-Star draft, but that hadn’t been formally decided. So, it’ll probably be on LeBron to select his top choice among the other eight starters, who will be announced tonight. (All starters must be drafted first, so each team still has five starters.)

One more time: Let LeBron make that pick on television. He doesn’t mind.

Austin Rivers: Maybe I got a chance because Doc is my dad, but I know my swagger keeps me from succumbing to negativity

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Austin Rivers was the No. 10 pick out of Duke in 2012, and he struggled mightily his first few years in the NBA. His gaffes are so jolting, his teammates mock them. Yet, Rivers still carries himself as if he’s a star.

Chris Paul reportedly despised Doc Rivers over the Clippers coach’s favoritism toward his son. Former Clipper Glen Davis said Austin got paid because of his dad. Jamal Crawford reportedly chafed at the Clippers’ initial offer to him a couple years ago because it was lower than Austin’s.

These are issues Austin has been hearing about and handling for years.

Monday’s Clippers-Rockets game – Paul’s return to L.A. – was a breaking point, though.

An injured Austin stood on the sidelines talking trashing during the game, sparking a confrontation that got Trevor Ariza and Blake Griffin ejected. After the game, Austin reportedly continued jawing with Ariza as the Houston forward charged toward the Clippers’ locker room (drawing a two-game suspension).

Again in the crosshairs, Austin is opening up.

Rivers, via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

“People can say whatever they want about me and my father [LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers],” the guard told ESPN during a lengthy interview Wednesday night. “I get it. I can even put my ego aside and understand why people don’t like the situation. When I was growing up and I’d see the coach’s son, you’d be like, ‘He sucks. He’s only on the team because of his dad.’ So I get it.”

“People are like, ‘Well, his dad gave him his chance.’ Is that true or not? I don’t know. It might be,” Rivers said. “[But] could it be that my pops knew how good I could be because he’s my pops?

“I know what the narrative is on me,” Rivers said. “It’s because I come from money and I have a swagger and confidence about me.

“[But] if I didn’t have this confidence or swagger in myself, I wouldn’t be built to handle the negativity that I’ve gotten. I would’ve already broken down years ago because I’ve gotten this since high school. I’ve turned it into a fuel and it’s helped me. I go into each away arena and it’s rough, because of the s— I hear. This chip on my shoulder, this swagger and confidence, it helps me. If I didn’t have it, I would not be in the NBA.”

“I’m not saying poor me. There’s people that have real problems,” Rivers said. “So don’t feel bad for me. I don’t need anybody’s sympathy. I’m having my best year yet. I’m trying to get back and healthy so I can help our team.

This is more relatable than Austin has ever sounded, and I applaud him for sharing a more authentic point of view rather than maintaining the facade of an aloof superstar. He deserves better treatment from the public than he has gotten, though he’s responsible for the much-maligned persona he has displayed.

Austin hasn’t received nearly enough credit for how much he has improved. Part of that is due to just how bad he was when he entered the NBA, but he has gotten steadily better. That shows how hard he works.

Some of the criticism of Austin and Doc is fair. Some is not. They probably should have better-anticipated what Doc trading for then re-signing Austin would be perceived, inside and outside the Clippers. But it’s too late to undo those deals, so they’re trying to manage the situation the best they can.

Austin’s interview here is a good step.

Reunited with Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza embracing role as Rockets’ glue guy

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Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza went out for dinner together Dec. 8, 2011. They were back in Paul’s condo when the star point guard was thrown headfirst into one of the NBA’s biggest controversies.

New Orleans agreed to trade Paul to the Lakers, but the league – which was operating the New Orleans franchise while it was for sale – vetoed the deal.

“It was crazy,” Paul said.

Paul and Ariza, then New Orleans teammates, have reunited with the Rockets. This time, Ariza might have more than a front-row seat to Paul’s saga. Ariza could be a central character in the story.

Of course, Paul came to Houston to escape the Clippers, team up with James Harden and try to win a championship. But Paul also said his friendship with Ariza “had a whole lot to do with it.”

Three Rockets starters – Paul, Ariza and Clint Capela – will be free agents next summer. Paul is the obvious priority, and general manager Daryl Morey said Clint Capela, who will be restricted, “couldn’t price himself out” of Houston.

The Rockets already have nearly $76 million in 2018-19 and more than $85 million in 2019-20 committed to just five players (Harden, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and Nene). New owner Tilman Fertitta has expressed limitations on paying the luxury tax.

So, where does that leave Ariza? And perhaps more importantly, how would whether or not Houston re-signs Ariza affect Paul?

“Trev, like I said, is a good friend of mine. We talk about any and everything,” Paul said. “But, when that decision comes, I’m sure we both will make the best decision that’s best for my family and best for his family.”

If the Rockets discard Ariza to to sign another of Paul’s friends, LeBron James, it probably wouldn’t be a problem. Really, worldly veterans like Paul and Ariza would likely understand if Houston lets Ariza walk even without replacing him with LeBron.

But how much risk do the Rockets want to take? Would they chance losing their big acquisition after only one season? Remember, they were reportedly reluctant to deal Ariza in a package for a third star last summer because of his Paul connection.

That bond is already showing this season.

When Paul’s new teammates questioned Ariza after the trade about Paul’s’ personality, Ariza assured them Paul, though extremely competitive, is a “real nice dude.” Houston is outscoring opponents by 7.7 points per 100 possessions when Paul and Ariza share the court. And in Paul’s highly charged return to L.A., no Rocket answered the emotion of the night more than Ariza, who got ejected then reportedly led a post-game charge into the Clippers locker room, drawing a two-game suspension.

His point guard might be (re)new(ed), but Ariza still has the same overall job description – steady, unheralded contributor.

“I’ve been doing the same thing for a long time,” Ariza said.

His production is in line with Ryan Anderson’s and Eric Gordon’s. But Anderson’s salary nearly triples Ariza’s, and Gordon – who also earns more money – gets the plaudits of being reigning Sixth Man of the Year because he comes off the bench.

Ariza’s modest windfall: comfort. In his fourth straight year with the Rockets, this stint in Houston has been his longest anywhere.

A second-round pick in 2004, Ariza shuffled between the Knicks, Magic and Lakers. He excelled in the 2009 playoffs, helping the Lakers win the title in a contract year. But the Lakers let him walk to sign Ron Artest (who later changed his name to Metta World Peace) – a particular disappointment for Ariza, who grew up in Los Angeles. So, Ariza agreed to terms with the Rockets for nearly $34 million over five years. But in his only season with an above-average usage, Ariza underwhelmed, and Houston traded him to New Orleans, where he teamed with Paul. In cost-cutting mode after Paul, New Orleans sent Ariza to the Wizards. He parlayed a career year in Washington into a four-year, $32 million contract with the Rockets in 2014.

Along the way, Ariza developed a 3-point shot that wasn’t at all on his résumé his first few seasons. He picked up tricks of the trade defensively. And he displayed professionalism and a strong work ethic.

He isn’t an elite outside shooter, but he shoots well enough to provide clearly efficient scoring and floor-spacing. He isn’t an elite defender, but he can credibly guard all five positions. Important and perhaps the most overlooked aspect of his game, he maintains his two-way effectiveness over long stretches.

Only Ariza, Jimmy Butler, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Paul George, Jrue Holiday and Ben Simmons rate as above average both offensively and defensively by ESPN’s real plus-minus while playing 35 minutes per game.

The 32-year-old Ariza is easily the oldest of that group. He keeps in excellent shape, playing 36.2 minutes per game, an age-playing time combination matched by only LeBron James, whose workload has been deeply dissected.

While Luc Mbah a Moute was injured and before Houston signed Gerald Green, Ariza played more than 41 minutes in six straight games last month.

“I’m real aware that we’re playing him too many minutes,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But he says, ‘Coach, I’m fine. It doesn’t bother me.’ During the game, he’s never winded.'”

Ariza’s steadiness is historic considering how he entered the league. Since the NBA instituted a two-round draft in 1989, he ranks eighth among second-rounders in career games:

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Ariza says he has always focused competing against the man in front of him, not caring about where he was drafted or contract status.

That approach has taken Ariza a long way in his 14-year career. He has earned a healthy living playing basketball and respect from teammates and coaches – but not job security.

He’s key to the Rockets’ present and future, but with his contract expiring, that can mean a number of outcomes.

“It’s there. You know it’s there,” Ariza said. “But you that’s not what I put all my focus into.

“I’m just going to go out and play my game and do my job, and whatever happens happens.”

Bulls’ Kris Dunn breaks teeth on dunk landing (video)

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Kris Dunn struggled in the first three quarters of the Bulls’ 119-112 loss to the Warriors last night. Then, he and Chicago played better in the fourth quarter.

Yet, that was the worst period for Dunn – because this happened.

Bulls:

Ouch.