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.

Kevin Hart plays Shaq, Saturday Night Live takes on Inside The NBA

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Notoriously undersized actor — and NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game MVP — Kevin Hart playing the notoriously oversized Shaquille O’Neal is brilliant.

That was at the heart of it when Saturday Night Live took on Inside the NBA on its Christmas show Saturday night. Hart was into it poking fun at Shaq’s penchant for going off with his own word salad during the show.

Charles Barkley and Shaq are rich satire targets, and SNL went right at them. Well done.

James Harden, Chris Paul lead Rockets to 13th straight victory

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HOUSTON (AP) — Nursing a sore knee, James Harden said he came close to not playing Saturday night.

When team doctors warned him that it would be painful, but he could play through it, he said, “Let’s go.”

Harden scored 31 points and Chris Paul had 25 and the Rockets beat the Milwaukee Bucks 115-111 for their 13th straight victory.

The winning streak is the Rockets’ longest since a franchise-best 22 straight in 2007-08.

Harden hit a step-back 3-pointer over Malcolm Brogdon and was fouled, giving Houston an 11-point lead with less than six minutes remaining. In the last two minutes, Paul hit back-to-back mid-range jumpers on consecutive possessions to put the game out of reach.

“Mentally, this was a big win for us,” Paul said. “We never let go of the rope. Every time they made a little push, we stayed right there down the stretch. James was out there, basically, on one leg. The mental toughness we showed as a team is what we take from this game.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals for Milwaukee. Khris Middleton had 23 points, and Brogdon added 20. Milwaukee has lost three in a row after winning six of seven.

“Harden made some tough shots and Chris Paul made some big shots down the stretch as well,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “We gave ourselves a chance, but we just came up short.”

The Rockets grinded through frustrations, 15 turnovers and a below-average shooting night. Paul had a technical foul, Harden had a delay of game warning, and the Rockets faced serious adversity for the first time in weeks. Entering Saturday, Houston had dominated teams in its streak, winning all but two games by double figures with an average margin of victory of 16.9 points.

“We just didn’t have our best stuff tonight,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But we found a way. It was one of those typical grind games where you’ve just got to find a way somehow.”

Paul scored 23 of his 25 points in the second half, overcoming a rocky first half where he missed all five shots he attempted and turned the ball over five times.

“I had never coached him in a back-to-back, but I’m thinking he’s kind of dead,” D’Antoni said. “Then, all of a sudden, he comes out in the third quarter and turns into Superman.”

Paul made 7 of 8 shots in the second half, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, also making all eight free throws in the game.

Harden scored 20 points or more for the 29th straight game, matching Houston’s franchise record set by Moses Malone.

Both Harden and Clint Capela (left heel contusion) were game-time decisions after suffering injuries on different collision plays in Friday night’s win over San Antonio. Capela sat out the game, and P.J. Tucker started in his place, getting 10 points and 10 rebounds in 38 minutes.

Behind Tucker, Nene scored a season-high 16 points, largely on thunderous one-handed dunks. The Rockets were outscored by the Bucks 44-40 in the paint and outrebounded 40-38.

Milwaukee and Houston traded blows in the first half, with the Rockets leading by three at the end of the first quarter. They were tied at 55 at the half. The Rockets haven’t trailed at the half since Nov. 25 in a 117-102 win over the Knicks.

The Rockets took an 84-79 lead into the fourth quarter.

At 24-4, the Rockets are tied for their best 28-game start in franchise history, matching the 1993-94 season when they won their first championship.

 

Knicks shut out Carmelo Anthony in 2nd half, beat Thunder 111-96

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NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony‘s return to Madison Square Garden was much like the 6 1/2 years he spent playing for the Knicks.

A video played on the overhead scoreboard as part of a huge welcome from the fans and franchise, followed by a fast start that gave Anthony hope he could have everything he wanted.

Then things fell flat until the finish.

The Knicks shut out their former All-Star in the second half and beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-96 on Saturday night for their fourth straight victory.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling for me, coming back here knowing the goal that I had and what I wanted to accomplish here and falling short in that category,” Anthony said.

Michael Beasley tied his season high with 30 points in place of injured Kristaps Porzingis, and Doug McDermott, acquired with Enes Kanter for Anthony, added 11 of his 13 after halftime to help the Knicks break open the game.

“This game was kind (of) about him and I thought we did a really good job of not letting that distract us and just focus on winning the game,” McDermott said. “And it felt great, especially being a part of the trade (with) Enes.

Anthony scored 12 points in the first half but was 0 for 5 after, perhaps low on energy after the Thunder’s three-overtime victory at Philadelphia a night earlier.

He made a 3-pointer for the Thunder’s first basket of the game after refocusing following a video tribute that caught him off guard, but finished 5 of 18 from the field as the Knicks played with passion and precision they lacked in Anthony’s final years in New York.

“You got to beat the best to be the best,” Beasley said. “He’s one of the best of our era.”

Russell Westbrook had 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Thunder, who were trying to sweep a three-game trip that began with Paul George‘s winning return to Indiana on Wednesday.

But they couldn’t deliver a victory for Anthony back at Madison Square Garden, even with the Knicks playing without leading scorer Porzingis because of a knee injury.

“I think the guys just, they were ready for tonight’s game,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “And we caught them after a triple-overtime game so that probably helped us too, but our guys played hard all night which probably wore them down.”

Anthony received a pair of loud cheers during pregame introductions, before and at the end of a video tribute showing his highlights on the court and his charitable efforts off it that was played after the first four Thunder starters were announced. But the boos became more noticeable once play got underway, and soon they were coming every time he touched the ball.

“That was expected,” Anthony said. “They can’t cheer for me, I’m on another team.”

Later, the cheers were all for the Knicks, who after trading their leading scorer on the eve of training camp are a surprising 16-13 – better than Anthony’s new team (14-15). Anthony was booed one last time as he was removed with 1.4 seconds remaining.

Beasley had a hand in 12 of the Knicks’ final 15 points of the third quarter, scoring nine himself and assisting on Ron Baker‘s 3-pointer. That turned a two-point lead into an 80-73 advantage over the final 3 1/2 minutes of the period.

The Knicks pushed it into double digits in the fourth behind five straight points from McDermott – originally it was six by a 3-pointer was changed to a 2 after review – and he later made it 100-87 with a 3-pointer with 6:02 remaining.

The Thunder played without starting center Steven Adams because of a concussion.

 

Manu Ginobili game-winner caps 13-0 closing run to rally Spurs past Mavericks

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — At 40 years old, Manu Ginobili‘s refusal to slow down in his 16th season with the Spurs has been a source of inspiration to the team’s young core.

The man and the mantra helped propel San Antonio to an improbable victory over Dallas on Saturday night.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 22 points and 14 rebounds and the Spurs scored the final 13 points of the game, rallying for a 98-96 victory over the Mavericks.

Aldridge’s fall-away, 11-foot jumper tied the game at 96 with 23.4 seconds remaining and Ginobili’s driving layup with 3.1 seconds was the game-winning shot.

“He’s our grandpa,” 21-year-old Dejounte Murray said, chuckling afterwards. “He’s a beast, man. You’ve all seen what he’s done for this organization and he’s still around giving his wisdom to all the new guys. To see him coming in every day, I mean there’s not one day I’ve seen Manu not show up at the facility. Being a young guy, I’ve got to be there every day.”

Ginobili’s layup off the left side of the glass gave the Spurs their first lead of the game after trailing by as many as 16 points.

“We did a lot of good things, but the ending is unforgiveable,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.

Maxi Kleber had 21 points and Dirk Nowitzki added 19 for Dallas in the final regular season matchup between the Southwest Division rivals.

Kleber’s 3-pointer gave Dallas a 96-85 lead with 4:11 remaining, but the Spurs held them scoreless the remainder of the game.

The Mavericks drought included a turnover when Wes Matthews was unable to inbound the ball with 23.4 seconds remaining. Mathews threw the ball at Ginobili’s legs to avoid a 5-second violation, but the Spurs gained possession when the ball ricocheted off Matthews just as he stepped inbounds.

“We did everything right to lose,” Nowitzki said. “We missed shots offensively, bad turnover, gave them some offensive rebounds. Letting Ginobili go left down the stretch to lay it in. We literally had to do everything perfect to lose this one and we did.”

Aldridge had his 12th double-double of the season to help offset the absences of starters Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Danny Green.

Coming off a 15-point blowout in Houston on Friday night, San Antonio was able to avoid its third straight loss.

“We played with everybody in Houston and hoped to play a good game in which we could grow and learn from our mistakes while playing against the best team in the NBA right now and I don’t think we got anything out of it,” Ginobili said. “So, if after that poor effort we came here and played badly again and lost, it would’ve been a tough one. We are proud of this win.”

The Spurs missed their first five shots, all short jumpers from Aldridge and Pau Gasol, on their way to shooting 30 percent in the opening quarter. The Mavericks took advantage, charging to a 31-18 lead after the first quarter.

San Antonio’s reserves reversed the team’s fortunes in the third quarter.

Davis Bertans finished with 13 points and Ginobili added 12 off the bench.