Tim Duncan, Tony Parker

NBA Power Rankings: Spurs still riding along in top slot

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Not a lot of changes at the very top, although we see the Knicks and Nuggets making climbs with winning streaks. At the bottom the Magic have lost 9 in a row, lost Big Baby for the season and are about to trade their best shooter in the next couple of weeks. Do they ever get out of the cellar?

source:  1. Spurs (38-11, last week ranked No. 1). They are the winners of 10 in a row overall and 18 in a row at home (the San Antonio record for consecutive home wins is 22, set two seasons ago). That was enough to make Gregg Popovich an All-Star Game coach. Hopefully the sprains to Tim Duncan’s left knee and right ankle are not severe. Also, the league needs to #LetBonnerShoot.

source:  2. Thunder (35-12, LW 2). They had seven of their last eight on the road and went an unimpressive 3-4 in those games. Throw in a Russell Westbrook tantrum and you have what passes for a tough stretch for this team. Not sure it really matters much to them. Fun game this Wednesday against Golden State (hope everyone is healthy for GSW).

source:  3. Heat (29-14, LW 3). The Heat have coasted through this season and still have the best record in the East, so Erik Spoelstra gets to coach the All-Star Game. Things get interesting starting Friday with both Los Angeles teams coming to Miami, leading up to a Valentines night trip to OKC.

source:  4. Clippers (34-15 LW 4). They are out on their Grammy road trip and have opened it 1-2. Which is less than ideal because real tests start to come later this week with the Heat and Knicks. You are starting to see how much they are missing Chris Paul at the point.

source:  5. Knicks (30-15, LW 7). They have won four in a row and now four of their next five games are against teams playing under .500 (although Toronto and Detroit are no pushovers of late). Maybe they can make a run and get Mike Woodson to coach the All-Star… oh, too late. Sorry.

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6. Nuggets (30-18, LW 8). They have won six in a row, but we told you to watch as they climbed up the rankings with a string of home games. That ends Saturday in Cleveland and they will be on the road up to the All-Star break.

source:  7. Warriors (30-17, LW 10). They have won four in a row and with Andrew Bogut back they have a much better defensive presence in the paint. They need Stephen Curry and Harrison Barnes healthy because the schedule this week consists of Houston, Oklahoma City, Memphis and Dallas and all of those on the road.

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8. Nets (28-19, LW 6). They remain in a tough stretch of the schedule. While the next three teams (Lakers, Pistons, Wizards) are all under .500 all have played better of late, then it’s the Spurs, Pacers and Nuggets. Do you watch the Nets against these top teams and think, “That team is a contender.” Neither do I.

source:  9. Bulls (29-18, LW 5). They’ve started their road trip 2-1, with wins over the Bucks and Hawks (the loss is to the Nets). What’s more they have done it without Joakim Noah, and for part of it Carlos Boozer. Tom Thibodeau gets his guys to play.

source:  10. Grizzlies (30-16, LW 9). Rudy Gay is gone and some in the media reacted like Jerry Krause just broke up the ‘90s Bulls. I don’t think the Grizzlies were serious contenders (fourth best in their own conference) and I also don’t think they took a step back with this deal. I think people who don’t watch him a lot overvalue Gay.

source:  11. Pacers (28-19, LW 11). Every few games there is one where Roy Hibbert shows up and plays well, and when he does you think “there is the team that pushed the Heat last playoffs.” He remains the key to them doing anything like that again.

source:  12. Hawks (26-20, LW 12). If you’re thinking the Hawks will move Josh Smith at the deadline, you might want to reconsider. They want cap space this summer and if they trade his expiring deal they will have to take $13 million in salary back. That said, the Hawks have a lot of other expiring deals on the roster (Devin Harris, Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow and more).

source:  13. Bucks (25-21, LW 13). Losses to the Bulls and Knicks last week show the Bucks to be what they are — a playoff team but a team on the third tier at best in the East. Tough games against Denver and Utah on the road this week.

source:  14. Rockets (26-23, LW 15). The Rockets are in that last playoff spot in the West, one game up on Utah and 3.5 up on the Lakers. They get a big test this week with the Warriors, at the Heat, then the Blazers on Friday.

source:  15. Jazz (26-22, LW 14). The Jazz are the seven seed in the West, 1.5 games ahead of nine-seed Portland and four up on the 10 seed Lakers. They have a stretch of home games this week where they need to rack up some wins and build a cushion in case a team does make a charge.

 
source:  16. Trail Blazers (24-23, LW 16). They are just a game out of the playoffs in the West but with a key seven of their next eight are on the road — the Blazers can’t fall back now, especially with the Lakers seeming to make a charge from below.

 
source:  17. Celtics (24-23, LW 17). They won four in a row last week – and their offense looked great against the Clippers — but the loss of Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger for the season still stings. They can hold on to that last playoff spot if they can keep playing like this, keep moving the ball and getting key shots from Paul Pierce.

 
source:  18. Lakers (22-26, LW 19). They have opened the Grammy road trip 2-1, but the bigger concern is Dwight Howard’s shoulder. Lakers say they want to strengthen the area to reduce chance of future injury there… can you make Dwight Howard’s shoulders stronger?

 
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19. 76ers (20-26, LW 20). It’s fun to say the Sixers can make a run at the Celtics for the 8th playoff spot in the east once Andrew Bynum returns, but the reality is they have 3.5 games to make up and as Boston has shown this week they are not coming back to the pack. Can Philly get that hot?

 
source:  20. Mavericks (20-27, LW 18). Two gut-shot close losses last week. You look at games like those, and how Dallas is five games out of a playoff spot with team above them surging, and you think this is going to be the end of their 12-year playoff streak. And that’s a little sad.

 
source:  21. Pistons (18-30, LW 21). They went 1-2 at home last week and now this week have to face the Knicks, Nets, Spurs and Bucks. Not an easy landing spot for Jose Calderon but I think he helps them if they move Brandon Knight to the two spot for him.

 
source:  22. Raptors (17-31, LW 22). They have gone 1-1 since the arrival of Rudy Gay, with a win over the Clippers and a close loss to the Heat. Good signs. Still, while I get he makes them more athletic and Gay is their best player, I’m still not sure Toronto what kind of team Toronto is building.

 
source:  23. Cavaliers (14-34, LW 25). I’ve been saying that after all their trades Memphis upgraded sending Marreese Speights to Cleveland and replacing him with Ed Davis off the bench. But since getting to Cleveland Speights has averaged 15.4 points and 6.8 rebounds a game. He has played well.

 
source:  24. Timberwolves (18-26, LW 26). They snapped their six-game losing streak against the Hornets in a game where Ricky Rubio found space to operate and looked a little like his old self. We missed that Rubio.

 
source:  25. Hornets (15-33, LW 23). The Super Bowl kicked them out of town for a while and they went 1-4 on the road trip because as it has all season their defense seems to fall apart on the road. Which means this isn’t good news for the future Pelicans —three of their five before the All-Star break on the road.

 
source:  26. Wizards (11-36, LW 24). Another winless week where their pathetic offense could not help out some solid defensive efforts. That was quite a scare when John Wall went down in the second quarter Friday; big sighs of relief throughout the District when he returned for the second half. That was scary.

 
source:  27. Kings (17-32, LW 27). With a lame-duck GM and an ownership in flux, don’t expect any deadline trades. Nor is Keith Smart going to get fired if he keeps asking DeMarcus Cousins to act like an adult. All eyes in Sacramento will be on New Orleans All-Star weekend to see what the leanings of David Stern and the owners are about the sale and proposed move to Seattle.

 
source:  28. Suns (16-32, LW 28). They got a quality come-from-behind win over the Lakers when Dwight Howard went out and the Lakers defense opened up a toll-free highway to the basket on drives. But Beasley is Beasley, the next night he was 2-of-13.

 
source:  29. Bobcats (11-35, LW 29). Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s jumpshot may need more work than the Superdome circuit breakers, but the kid brings real energy, defense and effort every night. Hate to see him down with a concussion.

 
source:  30. Magic (14-33, LW 39). They have lost nine in a row and this week had the painful loss of Glen Davis (likely for the season), he was having his best season as a pro. Be ready for the J.J. Redick trade rumors to really catch fire in the coming weeks (and he will get moved).

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.