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.

O.J. Mayo says abusing prescription painkillers triggered NBA ban

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Last year, O.J. Mayo was banned from the NBA for at least two years due to a drug violation. Aside from stating a plan to come back, Mayo didn’t say much publicly.

Until now.

Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated:

He acknowledged smoking marijuana and abusing a prescription pain medication that triggered his two-year ban because it is on the NBA’s “drugs of abuse” list. (He emphatically denied testing positive for hard drugs like cocaine.)

Mayo also concluded that he had been “overwhelmed” by a string of difficult life events: his father, high school basketball star Kenny Ziegler, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for distributing crack cocaine, his brother was placed in juvenile lock-up, a close friend went to jail, and another was killed. “I was bred to play basketball and I thought I could balance everything,” he said. “I couldn’t.”

That’s part of an interesting feature on Mayo, who’s training for his come back. Golliver’s story makes it easy to pull for Mayo.

But the guard will be 30 when he’s eligible to apply for reinstatement, and he played lousily in his last three seasons with the Bucks.

Hopefully, Mayo has and keeps his personal life in order. But returning to the NBA will be an uphill battle.

James Harden throws alley-oop to Chris Paul, pair puts on show at Houston charity event

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What chemistry problem?

There are legitimate questions about how Chris Paul and James Harden will share the backcourt and ball with the Rockets, but none of those were on display on Sunday. That’s when CP3 joined his new teammate in Harden’s charity game (raising money for Harden’s charity, which helps children from single-family homes get a higher education), a kind of pro-am with some names thrown in to draw a crowd.

Harden and CP3 put on a show for the fans.

This is a charity event, not every team is going to defend like this or the Phoenix Suns. It’s going to be harder when the games matter.

But the Rockets are going to be entertaining to watch this season. No doubt.

Tampering is common in the NBA, but proving it is very difficult

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Want proof there is tampering in the NBA: Free agency starts on July 1 at midnight Eastern every year, and every year a number of new contracts for players with new teams are announced at 12:01 a.m. There is no way that a complicated NBA contract — even one where the two sides are both interested and will agree quickly on the price — is negotiated faster than it takes to get an In-N-Out Burger (or Five Guys burger, if you prefer the inferior).

Those deals are announced that fast because everything’s already been agreed to through back channels. Same with meetings when a major (or even mediocre) free agent starts talking to teams on July 1. Yet, the NBA rarely investigates, and even more rarely punishes a team for tampering. Why? Because it’s very difficult to prove.

The Lakers are being investigated for tampering with Paul George while he was under contract to the Indiana Pacers, an investigation reportedly started at the request of Pacers’ owner Herb Simon. Teams are not allowed to recruit or entice players under contract. The Lakers have denied any wrongdoing. Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and, with a wink, joked about what he’d tell George if they met this summer, and that ticked Simon off. The Pacers had to trade George, and because everyone around the league knows he more likely than not is a Laker next summer (long before Magic went on TV), his trade value was diminished. The Pacers got back Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him the day before free agency opened (although there may have been better offers on the table, and the choice and timing were odd). The Pacers think if there is an agreement in place between the Lakers and George that would have driven down the trade market (because he was a one-year rental, that market was already depressed).

Good luck proving tampering. Unless Magic did something stupid like text George directly, it will be almost impossible to prove.

NBA agents and front offices know how to avoid tampering using “back channels” — not unlike how governments who are public enemies still communicate. Someone, a couple of people removed from the agent/GM, can talk with someone a couple of people removed from the other side and set something up that gets brought back and agreed to. Or, an agent can have one of his other players do some of the work for him — players recruit each other all the time on social media (and off it), and the league doesn’t see that as tampering, unless specifically ordered by a GM/owner. James Harden recruited Chris PaulDraymond Green and other Warriors recruited Kevin Durant, and the league shrugged, but GM Bob Myers could not have done that (or directed the players to do that… again, good luck proving it if you think he did).

There are a few reasons it will be hard to prove the Lakers did anything. First, the Lakers’ GM Rob Pelinka is a former agent and knows how to work the system — he’s not getting caught. Look what another agent told Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer.

“Pelinka for sure knows how to tamper without getting caught,” one agent told me. “Pelinka will do whatever it takes to get players. Magic could easily have done something dumb and got caught for it, though.”

To prove tampering, Magic needs to have left a “paper trail,” which more accurately is a digital trail of texts or emails. But even that can get tricky. If Magic was texting with George’s agent Aaron Mintz that alone proves nothing, he also represents Julius Randle on the Lakers and D'Angelo Russell, who the Lakers traded a week before the George trade. It will take an email or text specifically talking about George for the Lakers to get in trouble, and Magic is smarter than that. Well, we think he is.

The bottom line is tampering is common and almost impossible to prove. Unless Magic screwed up, it will be unprovable here. Maybe the Pacers made their point, maybe Simon feels better, but it’s hard to see how this is going to be tampering.

Joakim Noah talks of “bounce back” year for himself, Knicks

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In a season of disappointments in New York, none was bigger than Joakim Noah.

There was plenty of scoffing around the league in the summer of 2016 when Phil Jackson signed the oft-injured, already declining Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract that was seen as one of the worst of a summer (and it was an ugly summer for contracts). He only played in 46 games, averaging 5.5 points on 49 percent shooting, plus 8.8 rebounds a game in those (and basically being averaged on offense and a step slow defensively). He missed time with a rotator cuff surgery and got a 20-game suspension for testing positive for Androgen (he has 13 of those games left and can’t play until Nov. 13).

Noah realizes how poorly last season went he told the “Truth Barrel’’ podcast, doesn’t think Jackson deserves all the blame, and said his goal is to make it up this season (hat tip The New York Post for the transcription).

“It’s tough, man, because I got a lot of love and respect for Phil,’’ Noah said. “He gave me an opportunity to play back home. Somebody I read all his books as a kid. I was just a big fan and still am. I have a lot of respect for him. It didn’t work out. That sucks. It’s something I have to live with. He believed in me, and I kind of let him down. That’s frustrating. He got a lot of blame that it was his fault. But we didn’t lose all those games because of Phil Jackson…

“I went through a lot of adversity,’’ Noah said. “You go through injuries. I lost my confidence this year. It’s about bouncing back and showing who I am through these tough times. It can really show what you’re made of.”

This is the only attitude Noah should have — look forward, get healthy, and look to right his wrongs next season.

Once he finishes his suspension, Noah likely will come off the bench behind Willy Hernangomez. (The Knicks should spend more time with Kristaps Porzingis at the five, but that’s another discussion.) Noah is going to get his chances, but nothing he has shown the past few seasons should have Knicks’ fans expecting a return to form. Noah has been an average to below-average player for a couple of seasons, he’s not moving the same way, and he’s not getting younger.

Noah can still have a positive impact on this team, he has a role to play, but it has to start with him getting back on the court.