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).

Kobe Bryant pays tribute to Kevin Garnett on Twitter

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 12:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers puts a shot up over Kevin Garnett #5 and Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics in Game Four of the 2008 NBA Finals on June 12, 2008 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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This summer, three of this generation’s defining NBA players, and three of the greatest players of all time, called it a career: Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. The latter two in particular had a lot in common, as psychotic competitors and polarizing personalities. They had many memorable battles over the years, including the Lakers-Celtics Finals in 2008 and 2010 (they each won one) and the playoffs in 2003 and 2004, when Garnett was in Minnesota. On Saturday afternoon, a day after Garnett officially announced his retirement, Kobe paid tribute to him with a tweet.

The next time they’ll be together is 2021, when they go into the Hall of Fame together.

Doc Rivers calls anthem protests “the most patriotic thing we can do”

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 23:  Head coach Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers shouts to his team during their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 23, 2016 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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With the NBA season around the corner, there are a lot of eyes on how teams and players will handle the national anthem protests that have become prominent in the NFL. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers wholeheartedly supports the notion of his players participating, and hopes the whole team can figure out a statement to make together. Via Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“Listen, we need social change. If anyone wants to deny that, they just need to study the history of our country,” he told the Southern California News Group on Friday. “… I’ve said it 100 times. There’s no more American thing to do than to protest. It’s the most patriotic thing we can do. There are protests I like and protests I don’t like. It doesn’t matter. …Protests are meant to start conversation. The conversation, you hope, leads to acknowledgement, and the acknowledgement leads to action. We’re, right now, still in the conversation.”

“I hope we do it as a group. I know whenever you protest as one solid group, the protest has more teeth if you want to protest,” he said. “… I’m supporting our guys’ right to protest. I’m saying that up front. My hope is you believe it and do it for the right reasons and not just because it’s a hot topic on Instagram.

Rivers has a unique perspective — his father was a police officer, but he’s seen plenty of racism in his life. This won’t be his first time leading a team when it comes to social issues — he was able to unite the Clippers in the spring of 2014 when the Donald Sterling racism scandal broke. It’s encouraging to see NBA coaches trending towards fostering open dialogue on their teams about these issues.

Harden focused on helping Rockets improve after tough season

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 24:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets warms up before playing the Golden State Warriors in game four of the first round playoffs at Toyota Center on April 24, 2016 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dowloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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HOUSTON (AP) James Harden was second in the NBA with 29 points per game last season and his 7.5 rebounds were a career high.

Still, it was a disappointing year for Harden and the Houston Rockets, who were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by Golden State, and the star knew he had to adjust things to take the team farther this year.

“Last year was frustrating, numbers individually was pretty solid, but just the love and excitement wasn’t there,” he said. “So I had to look in the mirror this summer and realize that I got to change and I got to get back to how I was.”

To that end, he refocused this offseason and put an emphasis on becoming a better leader. He organized players-only training and outings in both Miami and Las Vegas in an attempt to create cohesiveness within the group before camp.

“Just getting to know somebody and hanging out … it was really good,” he said. “That’s going to carry over onto the court.”

The way his embraced his role as the undisputed leader of this team has impressed everyone in the organization, starting with owner Leslie Alexander.

“It shows that James wants to win very badly,” Alexander said. “He’s a winning player … James is one of the top three or four players we’ve ever had here and he wants to win as much as (Hakeem) Olajuwon and (Clyde) Drexler and everybody else.”

Trevor Ariza is entering his 13th NBA season, but had the excitement of a rookie on Friday as he talked about how much better things feel entering this season than they did last year. It was a season that saw coach Kevin McHale fired after just 11 games and the Rockets take a step back after reaching the Western Conference finals in 2015.

“I think just last season was frustrating for everybody because we just couldn’t figure it out together,” Ariza said. “I don’t even know how to explain. It was just a weird, weird, weird year.”

So how have things changed now?

“The vibe has just been totally different,” Ariza said. “Everybody is excited to show what they’ve worked on and excited just to be around each other.”

These positive-attitude Rockets enter the season with new coach Mike D’Antoni and without eight-time All-Star center Dwight Howard, who signed with Atlanta in the offseason. A big question for this team will be who will step in to make up for Howard’s absence.

Their top options are Clint Capela, a third-year player who saw limited action the past two seasons as Howard’s backup, and Nene, who played 53 games for Washington last year before joining Houston in the offseason.

General manager Daryl Morey raved about Capela’s improvement in his first year, but knows he’ll have to do more this season if the Rockets hope to be a force in the Western Conference.

“Clint is going to have to take a big step forward and it’s not an easy step,” Morey said. “To go from playing 15-20 minutes against often not the starting center to playing 25-plus minutes against front-line guys, that’s a big step forward. It’s more physical. It takes a big toll on your body to do that night-in and night-out.”

Along with Nene, the Rockets also added outside shooters Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon this offseason. Houston expects the addition of those two to fill a void that this team has had in recent years.

“We were able to upgrade our shooting … for the style we want to play,” Morey said. “I don’t feel like we had enough shooting (before). We do have that.”

Everyone is saying the right things and Morey believes he made the upgrades necessary for the team to succeed in D’Antoni’s system. But with all the improvements other teams made in the West, it’s hard to know what to expect from this team.

Alexander was confident, yet tempered when asked about his expectations.

“I think we’ll win more games than people anticipate,” he said. “But when the season rolls on we’ll see how well we do.”

Front desk at new Sixers practice facility made out of court from Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 23:  Ben Simmons walks on stage after being drafted first overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 23, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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The Philadelphia 76ers have just opened a new, state-of-the-art practice facility, and maybe the coolest part is a unique touch that nods to one of the iconic moments in the history of Philadelphia basketball. The reception desk in the lobby of the building is made out of hardwood, but not just any hardwood — it’s a part of the court from Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game on March 2, 1962. Here’s a photo, via CSN Philly’s Jessica Camerato:

When Chamberlain scored 100 points, it was for the Philadelphia Warriors, not the 76ers, but it’s still a piece of the city’s sports history, and this is a cool, unique way to honor it.