Miami Heat v Oklahoma City Thunder

NBA Power Rankings: Finals rematch Thursday could be finals preview

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Finally, here are the delayed regular Monday PBT NBA power rankings.

We said this a lot during the NBA finals last year — if we see the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder face off in three of the next five NBA finals it shouldn’t be a shock. This season looks more and more like that rematch could be a reality, which makes their Thursday night showdown interesting.

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1. Thunder (39-12, last week ranked No. 2). They have the best offense in the NBA this season and that has started to really kick into gear this week scoring 110 points or more in four straight games (before Sunday, when they took their foot off the gas against the hapless Suns). They have won four in a row and while the schedule wasn’t tough they beat up their opponents.

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2. Heat (34-14, LW 3). Winners of five in a row and that includes beating Houston and both Los Angeles teams last week. LeBron James lately has started to make a real MVP push — 30.2 points a game on 68.4 percent shooting overall and 56.3 percent shooting in his last five games going into Sunday.

source:  3. Spurs (40-12, LW No. 1). They have gone 12-1 recently but the impressive part is they have done it for stretches without Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili. People just take for granted how good Tony Parker is — he is injecting himself into the MVP conversation — but they over look Tiago Splitter who has been solid in the paint.

source:  4. Nuggets (33-19, LW 6). They had won 9 in a row until a thrilling 3OT loss in Boston. While part of that run is because of the heavy home schedule part of it is that this is a good team that is a tough matchup because of their athleticism. Tougher stretch on the road started with a 3OT loss to Boston Sunday and the Raptors and Nets next on the road heading into the break.

source:  5. Clippers (36-17 LW 4). They didn’t play that well during their Grammy road trip, going 3-4 (with one more game Monday night in Philly) but the return of Chris Paul and what he did to the Knicks reminds you how much they missed him.

source:  6. Knicks (32-17, LW 5). After a five game win streak the Knicks dropped two of three including a loss to the Clippers. What helps the older legs of the Knicks bench is rest and they have one game this week, Wednesday (at home vs. Raptors) then they are off for a week.

source:  7. Pacers (31-20, LW 11). They won all three games of the NBA’s lone back-to-back-to-back last week. More and more I think this is the team that could be the biggest threat to the Heat in the East. But that’s not going to happen if Roy Hibbert doesn’t start to play like his old self, he’s still off his game.

source:  8. Bulls (30-20, LW 9). Here is the Derrick Rose update, courtesy Aggrey Sam of CSNChicago.com from our PBT Podcast: He is taking full contact in practice but has not participated in any 5-on-5 drills, which is more a matter of the Bulls not having practice time to run that lately. He’ll be back pretty soon after the All-Star game, but no date is set.

source:  9. Grizzlies (31-18, LW 10). They are a .500 team of late, 3-3 after the Rudy Gay trade. They are still trying to find their way. They have a chance in the next four games against under .500 teams to put together a few wins and find that groove.

source:  10. Celtics (27-23, LW 17). Count me among those impressed — Boston has gone 7-0 since Rajon Rondo went down. Their defense has been better, they are moving the ball and moving without the ball better, their bench guys are stepping up. Heck, they beat the Heat in this streak. But things get tough after the All-Star Game with a West Coast Road trip.

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11. Nets (29-22, LW 8). This team got the coach change bump of energy — they played harder for P.J. Carlesimo. For a while. But lately that energy is gone and the result is half-run sets followed by isolations late in the shot clock on offense. That will doom them.

source:  12. Rockets (28-24, LW 15). Nice wins last week over the Trail Blazers and the Warriors (although the Golden State will want some revenge for that one). James Harden is starting to look like an elite player you can build a franchise around.

source:  13. Warriors (30-21, LW 7). The schedule got tough and the Warriors dropped four in a row — they are playing better this year but their defense is holding them back from being close to elite. Really looking forward to the rematch with Houston on Tuesday.

source:  14. Jazz (28-24, LW 14). Two straight losses over the weekend and you have to wonder how much the trade rumors swirling around Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and this team will start to impact their play. They are not on solid playoff footing ground, with the Lakers 4 games back and Portland 2.5 back.

source:  15. Hawks (27-22, LW 12). Everyone talks about them moving Josh Smith (and they may, but not for Kris Humphries, sorry Nets fans) but the Hawks have Seven other expiring deals on their roster look for them to move someone like Kyle Korver or Anthony Morrow.

source:  16. Bucks (25-24, LW 13). Lost three in a row and just 4-6 in last 10. Suddenly we are seeing a lot of Samuel Dalembert on the court, which feels like a trade showcase (and he responded with a 35 point game).

source:  17. Trail Blazers (25-26, LW 16). They have dropped three in a row (including one to the Magic who had lost a dozen in a row before that) and have two more road games before the break — at Miami then a back-to-back at New Orleans. They are only 2.5 games out of the playoffs but they need to start picking up wins. Fast.

source:  18. Lakers (24-28, LW 18). They went 4-3 on their seven game Grammy road trip, which isn’t bad but isn’t great. They need wins. Just to have fun with math, the Rockets and Jazz are on pace for 44 wins, the Lakers need to go 20-10 the rest of the way to get to 44.

source:  19. Mavericks (22-28, LW 20). They are playing better, 9-5 in their last 14, but if they are going to grow beards until they reach .500 they may be tripping over them first.

source:  20. 76ers (22-27, LW 19). And the Andrew Bynum wait continues — they are shopping Evan Turner around (or at least gauging interest in him) but how do you evaluate this team without Bynum in the lineup?

source:  21. Cavaliers (16-35, LW 23). They have been a good offensive team of late, which is mostly due to the fact that Kyrie Irving is awesome, but Tristan Thompson has played much better of late as well.

source:  22. Pistons (20-32, LW 21). No Andre Drummond for four to six weeks just makes me sad.

source:  23. Wizards (14-35, LW 26). Washington beat three playoff teams last week (Clippers, Knicks, Nets), and are 10-7 in about the last month. If they had Wall from the start of the season they are a playoff team, but alas…

source:  24. Raptors (18-32, LW 22). I think their playoff dreams are dead. Part of it is that Boston went on a win streak without Rondo rather than fall back to the pack, but the Raptors keep losing and remain 3 games below .500 and 7 out of the final playoff spot in the East. They are not making up that ground.

source:  25. Hornets (17-33, LW 25). Eric Gordon is just bad about half the time for this team and his body language is that of a guy trapped in a place he hates. Does he just simply not like being in New Orleans that much?

source:  26. Kings (19-33, LW 27). If you don’t think fans make a difference, you should have heard them during the Kings 10-point fourth quarter comeback on the Rockets Sunday. Problem is the other owners don’t care about that, they care about money going into their pockets. That’s where Seattle is not easy to beat.

source:  27. Timberwolves (18-29, LW 24). Three straight losses and Minnesota is now just 4-17 since New Years day. Injuries are a big part of that, this team has seemed cursed by the basketball gods.

source:  28. Suns (17-34, LW 28). The Suns are really active on the trade market, clearly willing to take on some salary for the right quality player. When you look at their roster they need more quality players.

source:  29. Magic (15-36, LW 30). The losing streak has reached 12 before the Trail Blazers obliged with a terrible defensive effort to end it. Wherever J.J. Redick lands after the trade deadline will be a better situation.

source:  30. Bobcats (11-39, LW 29). They have dropped seven in a row and their roster is so bad that sending out Ben Gordon for the slumping Kris Humphries would be an upgrade.

LeBron James on surpassing Michael Jordan: “It’s a personal goal”

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Since he was a teenager, LeBron James has been compared to Michael Jordan. That comparison has usually been used as a way to cut him down or explain why he’s not in the same class, but that’s changed since he won his third championship, and first in Cleveland, in June. Now, LeBron has started to be a lot more open about his desire to eventually surpass Jordan. He said so in an interview with the AP’s Tom Withers after practice on Tuesday:

Now that LeBron James has won a championship for the ages, he’s set a loftier goal:

Catching Michael Jordan.

Long flattered to be mentioned in the same company with Jordan and other NBA legends, James has been hesitant to publicly acknowledge that he wants to be remembered as the greatest in league history.

It’s time now.

“It’s a personal goal,” James told The Associated Press on Monday. “I just never brought it up. It’s my own personal goal to be able to be greater than great. I think that should be everybody’s personal goal.”

Now that James has indisputably cemented his legacy as one of the handful of greatest players ever to play the game, he has a lot less to lose by openly talking about these things. Five years ago, he would have gotten killed for bringing it up. Now? It just seems plausible more than anything else.

Kevin Durant says Nike didn’t influence his free-agency decision

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors poses for NBA team photographer Noah Graham during the Golden State Warriors Media Day at the Warriors Practice Facility on September 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Many different factors went into Kevin Durant‘s decision this summer to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors — basketball fit, location, his friendships with Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, and more. But one thing he wants to make sure you know didn’t influence him is Nike. Durant told reporters this week that the shoe company, which he endorses, didn’t steer him one way or another in free agency, and they didn’t even know his plans beforehand.

It’s a little hard to believe that Nike had zero advance knowledge of Durant’s plans — if not a hard answer, at least a strong indication of which way he was leaning. Durant was one of the most popular players in the league in Oklahoma City, so Nike would have been fine either way. But his presence in Golden State, a much bigger market and the dominant story in the NBA this season, will only help them. It doesn’t hurt, either, that they now have one of their biggest athletes in the same market as Stephen Curry, who had been taking advantage of all the attention on the Warriors to raise Under Armour’s profile. Now, Nike can get some of that spotlight back in the Bay Area.

Barnes, Bogut highlight latest round of changes for Mavs

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 08:  Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors reacts in Game 3 of the 2016 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on June 8, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut are in, Chandler Parsons and Zaza Pachulia are out and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle has a retooled roster for the sixth consecutive time since winning a championship.

“Well, we love it,” Carlisle said at media day this week as someone chuckled. “What’s more exciting than getting seven new guys? New blood. It’s fresh every year.

“Really, that wasn’t meant to be a joke,” he added. “If you view it as a negative, there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to be a negative. I don’t look at it that way.”

The Mavericks have made the playoffs all but one season since the constant turnover started after owner Mark Cuban chose salary cap flexibility over keeping a few key players when a new labor agreement was reached six months after his team won the title in 2011.

But Dallas still hasn’t won a postseason series since beating Miami in six games in those NBA Finals.

Repeated efforts to land big names in free agency failed, which this year led to the additions of Barnes and Bogut from 2015 champion Golden State after the Warriors lured Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City and had to unload both starters to make cap room for the four-time NBA scoring champion.

Barnes headlines the group of newcomers because he’ll be a top option on offense after signing a four-year, $94 million max contract. Over his four seasons with the Warriors, he was always a role player behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

“It’s going to be bigger expectations and I’m going to have a larger role on this team,” Barnes said. “I feel like we have a lot of pieces this year, either coming back off injury, guys who are motivated, have a lot to prove. So hopefully we can all come together and do something special.”

There’s actually some stability in the starting five because point guard Deron Williams is back for a second season with his hometown team.

Nowitzki, going into his 19th season at age 38, says Williams was the best player on the team at times last season, and the Mavericks missed him in their five-game loss to Oklahoma City. He was limited by a sports hernia injury that required offseason surgery.

Parsons signed a max deal with Memphis, and Pachulia went to the Warriors after the trade that landed Dallas the 7-footer Bogut, who should be a much stronger shot-blocking presence than his predecessor.

The changes fit the formula of at least two new starters each season going back to the title year.

“There are similarities to other years,” Carlisle said. “The ability to add Bogut and Barnes was huge for us. We caught some good luck on that.”

The other notable newcomer is Curry’s younger brother, Seth Curry, who is on his fifth team in his fourth season but finally had a more prominent role last season in Sacramento. Former Baylor standout Quincy Acy is in Dallas after bouncing around his first four years.

The Mavericks are deep at guard with holders J.J. Barea and Devin Harris behind Williams and Wes Matthews, in his second season as the shooting guard and now more than a year removed from tearing an Achilles tendon his final season in Portland.

Also returning are athletic young forwards Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell along with 7-2 Tunisian center Salah Mejri, a surprising shot-blocking presence last season as a 30-year-old rookie.

“They’re definitely athletes and we should be able to have a great defensive lineup once I’m out,” said Nowitzki, poking fun at his defensive skills. “I think we have a (backup) lineup out there that could be really, really good, and obviously youth and athleticism is a big part.”

Barnes wanted to be a part of it even though the Mavericks appear further from championship contention than other Western Conference teams.

“I think when you look at what this franchise has done year in, year out, stable on their ship,” Barnes said. “And be able to learn from a guy named Dirk who’s done it year in, year out. He’s pretty much built this place through his work ethic.”

And now Nowitzki is getting used to another new collection of teammates.

Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

Jazz’s Dante Exum says his knee is completely healed from 2015 ACL tear

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 17:  Dante Exum #11 of the Utah Jazz drives to the lane during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on December 17, 2014 in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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After a promising rookie season, Dante Exum missed all of 2015-16 rehabbing a torn left ACL he suffered during an exhibition game with the Australian national team in summer 2015. As the Jazz kick off training camp, Exum says he’s fully recovered after his year off and he’s ready to go.

Via Jody Gennessy of the Deseret News:

“I was just excited to get back out there,” Exum said after the first of two practices Tuesday. “I was feeling good. … I was just ready to come out there, talk when I can and run between every drill.”

Both his attitude and his body were at 100 percent as he returned from a yearlong rehab that followed his September 2015 surgery on his left knee that had been injured in a friendly international game with the Australian team.

With the Jazz’s trade for George Hill over the summer, Exum won’t have to be the starting point guard, which will take some pressure off of him to get back to full strength right away. A torn ACL is something that usually takes time to return from, and having guard depth to ease his workload will help with the transition. If the Jazz get good production out of Exum, it will be a bonus for what looks to be one of the most exciting young teams in the Western Conference.