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.

Reports: Phil Jackson attending Shaq statue ceremony, Magic Johnson missing it to scout UCLA-Kentucky

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The Lakers are formally unveiling Shaquille O’Neal’s statue outside their arena tonight. Also tonight: UCLA-Kentucky in the Sweet 16, which features NBA prospects Lonzo Ball, Ike Anigbogu, T.J. Leaf, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo.

That makes an interesting choice for the NBA’s two highest-profile team presidents – the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Knicks’ Phil Jackson (who coached Shaq in Los Angeles), both of whose teams are headed toward a high picks in the upcoming draft.

And the front-office heads are going different directions.

Arash Markazi of ESPN:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Watching a single game in person is unlikely to swing anything. Both Johnson and Jackson could send scouts to watch UCLA-Kentucky live and then the presidents could watch video later.

But attending in person is ideal, and there are already questions about Jackson’s work ethic. This will only fuel them.

If nothing else, this is an opportunity for Johnson, new on the job, to establish an image. He can clearly juxtapose himself with the failing Jackson and establish himself as a diligent alternative. The Lakers hired Johnson at least in part due to his high profile, but that needn’t stop him from grinding now that he has the position. Anyone doubting him would respect that.

Tyreke Evans: Giannis Antetokounmpo is like a taller me

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Giannis Antetokounmpo torched the Kings for 32 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two steals in the Bucks’ 18-point win Wednesday.

Afterward, Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans paid the Greek Freak the ultimate compliment.

Sean Cunningham of ABC 10:

Do you see many players like Antetokounmpo? Evans:

Nah. He like me, but 6-7 – I mean like almost 6-8, 6-7, whatever height he is. He just long, athletic. He get to where he want to go. He got good handle for his size, and he athletic. Once he get around the rim, he can finish.

If only you were an inch taller? Evans:

That’d be a problem. I mean, it’s still a problem, I think, for me to get where I want. But just the athleticism he have and the way he get up off the ground – he got quick bounce. He pretty good at it.

Antetokounmpo is listed at 6-foot-11, Evans 6-foot-6.

This isn’t totally unreasonable. Make Evans five inches taller and add none of the dexterity awkwardness that tends to accompany growth, and he might look a lot like Antetokounmpo. Both are usually slotted at forward while possessing point-guard skills.

But Evans isn’t 6-foot-11, and most 6-foot-11 players can’t move like Antetokounmpo. That fluidity for his size is a big part of what makes Antetokounmpo special. If Evans grew up to be 6-foot-11, he likely would have developed a different skill set than he has now.

Antetokounmpo is the rare player with both the height of a big man and skills of a guard. Evans didn’t miss out on that just because his genes kept him from growing another five inches.

This discussion is also silly for another reason. Somewhere, there’s someone who’s 6-foot-1 and certain he’d be as good as Evans if only he were five inches taller.

Rumor: Blake Griffin increasingly believed to be open to leaving Clippers in free agency

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The Clippers were rumored to have already verbally agreed to terms with pending unrestricted free agents Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and J.J. Redick.

But with formal contract extensions unviable, L.A. was always going to have to play out the season and hope those players remained committed into July.

There might be a hitch in that plan.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

That Griffin would also stay and reap the biggest payday he can seems likely, too—in theory. But more and more people around the league believe he would be open to a fresh start—perhaps with the Lakers or the Boston Celtics, who have coveted Griffin for years and would offer a new chance to win.

Does Ding have credible information to suggest Griffin could join the Lakers or Celtics, or is that just speculation on the writer’s part about potential fits? It’s unclear. This is already fairly loosely sourced.

But we should gather more information quickly once free agency begins. Griffin reportedly planned to re-sign quickly. If he shows the faintest hint of exploring the market, that could open the floodgates.

Griffin had been frequently linked to his home-state Thunder, but Oklahoma City would interfere with his burgeoning Hollywood connections.* The same issue would exist with Boston, though obviously not the Lakers. That said, the Celtics are WAY better than the Lakers – and maybe soon the Clippers and Thunder, considering those Nets picks headed to Boston.

*Oklahoma City also since nuked its cap space with contract extensions for Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo, though trades could always clear room if Griffin wants to come home.

The Clippers are in a bad place right now. One one hand, that forebodes another disappointing end to the season. On the other hand, there’s still time to overcome and send Griffin into free agency on a more positive note.

These are dangerous times for the Clippers, who wouldn’t have cap space to adequately replace Griffin, Paul or Redick if one leaves. So, if one bolts, the others seems more likely to follow. Interpersonal relationships matter, but the Clippers’ primary selling points were always going to be money and winning (with Hollywood proximity a bonus). Winning gets harder if talent walks.

They can still offer the most money, and they’re not leaving L.A. But the Clippers better win more to help avoid what could be a tenser-than-expected summer.

Suns use youngest starting lineup in NBA history

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The Suns have shut down their veterans or been shut down by their veterans with two goals in mind – developing young talent and tanking.

Incidentally, Phoenix also made history.

Against the Nets last night, the Suns started:

ESPN:

Elias on ESPN:

The previous youngest was the Clippers’ starting five consisting of guards Eric Bledsoe and Eric Gordon, forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Blake Griffin, and center DeAndre Jordan, who averaged 21 years and 143 days old in a matchup with the Nets on November 15, 2010.

The young Suns gained quality experience – and helped their team to an important loss, 126-98 to Brooklyn.

Phoenix is still 1.5 games “behind” the Lakers for the No. 2 seed in the lottery, but the Suns are within striking distance in case the Lakers screw up and win too much down the stretch.