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).

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.

Tyronn Lue doesn’t hold back with retort to heckling Pacers’ fan

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It’s a part of the NBA experience that most fans don’t get to hear — some fans courtside heckling opposing players and coaches, and those guys occasionally firing back. We only tend to hear about it when things cross a line.

Sometimes the interactions are just funny, such as this one passed along by J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Well played, Lue.

Although is Cleveland really a city at the forefront of fashion? Well, I suppose if you went to college in Nebraska…

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.