NBA Power Rankings: It’s Miami then everyone else

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Not much change at the top of the rankings this week, the Heat can’t seem to lose (the only real shift was the Clippers jumping the Pacers after beating them). The interesting question going forward is how far will the Spurs tumble without Tony Parker for a month. And if they tumble here, do they give back 3 games to the Thunder in the race for the top seed out West?

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1. Heat (43-14, last week ranked No. 1). LeBron was ridiculous in February and this becomes the problem trying to stop the Heat in the playoffs — if you fully commit to taking him out of the game Dwyane Wade (playing very well) or Chris Bosh will beat you. Are you better off with the “Jordan rules” idea of letting LeBron get his and shutting everyone else down?

 
source:  2. Spurs (47-14, LW 2). Let the record reflect the Spurs had a 3 game lead over the second-seed Thunder and 3.5 over the Clippers when Tony Parker went down for a month with a sprained ankle. The Spurs have a way of still winning despite injuries, (they are 4-1 without Parker this season) but it is going to be tough to not slide back in the standings this time.

 
source:  3. Thunder (43-16, LW 3). If you are the Thunder, are you not thinking you need to use Sunday’s win over the Clippers as a springboard to chase down the Spurs for the top seed in the West. And maybe the best overall record. That is one loud home court the Thunder have and it would be handy in the playoffs.

 
source:  4. Clippers (43-19 LW 5). They won four in a row — including a quality win last week in Indiana — then fought back to make it a close game before losing to the Thunder on Sunday. Still, it’s becoming clear they are a step back of the Spurs and Thunder out West.

 
source:  5. Pacers (38-22, LW 4). David West was the reason the Pacers beat the Bulls Sunday, he’s the reason the Pacers beat a lot of teams this year. He is an unrestricted free agent this summer and the Pacers have to pay the man. They need him. Indy’s Roy Hibbert also starting to find his groove.

 
source:  6. Nuggets (38-22, LW 7). Winners of four in a row, including a quality one over the Thunder last Friday. They could have a first-round matchup with the Grizzlies in the playoffs, which would be a fascinating contrast of styles.

 
source:  7. Grizzlies (39-19, LW 6). They have won nine of 10 and their loss in that stretch is to the Heat. They have played much better after the Rudy Gay trade, but that could slow now with Zach Randolph banged up a little. Ed Davis, opportunity is knocking.

 
source:  8. Knicks (35-21, LW 8). The Knicks are about to enter a brutally tough month of their schedule, including the second night of a back-to-back, fourth game in five days Thursday at Oklahoma City. It’s going to be tough to retake the two seed against this schedule.

 
source:  9. Rockets (33-28, LW 9). I love that coach Kevin McHale is still experimenting with his roster, taking lightly-used rookie Donatas Motiejunas and starting him to give better floor spacing. And it works. The Rockets are a team in progress but they are making progress.

 
source:  10. Bulls (34-26, LW 10). The Bulls are 4-6 in their last 10 and that is all about the lack of offensive spark — they traded their depth away last summer and that comes at a price. We all just continue to wait patiently for Derrick Rose to feel ready to go.

 
source:  11. Nets (34-26, LW 11). The Nets are not a bad team — not a contender, not top three in the East even, but good. We say that so you don’t get fooled by the next three weeks when the Nets feast on a schedule heavy with lottery teams and they start to look better than they are.

 
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12. Lakers (30-30, LW 14). They are a .500 team again and as of Monday morning just 2.5 games out of the playoffs after winning 13-of-17. The playoffs are within reach, but they have to keep winning at least two thirds of their games to make it work. Tough start to week at Oklahoma City.

 
source:  13. Jazz (32-27, LW 12). If the Lakers are going to catch the Jazz it could happen in the next three weeks — Utah’s schedule gets road heavy (six of eight) and playoff team heavy (eight of next 10). How they play in that stretch may determine where they are in late April (Oklahoma City of golfing).

 
source:  14. Celtics (31-27, LW 16). Really good tests coming up for the Celtics — at Indiana, home to Atlanta then back out on the road at Oklahoma City. It’s going to be interesting to see who Boston faces in the first round of the playoffs, they will be a tough out.

 
source:  15. Hawks (33-24, LW 15). Every time I watch this team in a late-game situation against a good team — take the Lakers on Sunday night for example — I’m left to wonder, “Does this team even get out of the first round?”

 
source:  16. Bucks (29-28, LW 17). Right now there is a fun little competition as Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings and J.J. Redick try not to be the guy on the bench at the end of the game. The Bucks are a playoff team but head out on a tough West Coast road swing this week.

 
source:  17. Warriors (33-27, LW 13). Losers of four in a row and seven of their last 10, the Warriors have picked a tough time to slump. They are the six seed in the West now and 3.5 games up on the 9 seed Lakers.

 
source:  18. Mavericks (26-33, LW 18). Two losses last week where they had leads and gave them up — those are the kind of games they had to start winning and just haven’t. So they are looking up at the playoffs. We’ll see if they can keep the Rockets under 130 on Wednesday in a rematch.

 
source:  19. Cavaliers (20-39, LW 19). I’ll admit I was concerned Dion Waiters was just going to develop into a gunner in this league, but with Kyrie Irving sidelined he’s been dishing out assists and looking the part of playmaker. He is going to be better than I thought draft night.

 
source:  20. Trail Blazers (27-31, LW 24). As their focus goes from making the playoffs to the summer, the question I wonder about is if LaMarcus Aldridge can be the recruiter the Blazers can use to go with that cap space they have

 
source:  21. Wizards (19-39, LW 23). In his last five games, Bradley Beal is averaging 20 points a game and is taking better than half his shots from three, where he is hitting 45.5 percent in that stretch. Plus, I could swear in crunch time Sunday I saw John Wall knock down some key jumpers.

 
source:  22. Raptors (23-37, LW 20). Toronto has lost four in a row. Rudy Gay is scoring 20.5 points a game but is shooting just 38.7 percent as a Raptor — Toronto’s fans, that is who Rudy Gay is. He gets you points, but don’t expect any level of consistent efficiency.

 
source:  23. 76ers (23-34, LW 21). If Andrew Bynum doesn’t play this season — and do you really think he will? — the question is how much does he get offered this summer? My guess, at least two years at $13 million per with team options for future years. Big men are at a premium.

 
source:  24. Pistons (23-39, LW 22). They have lost five of their last six and with Andre Drummond out they aren’t nearly as much fun to watch. The question is do they want to keep Jose Calderon after this season and if so how much are they willing to pay to do so.

 
source:  25. Suns (21-39, LW 28). They have won three in a row including a stunning win last week over the Spurs. Not so coincidentally, Jermaine O’Neal has played well the past couple weeks.

 
source:  26. Hornets (21-39, LW 26). Jason Smith is out for the season with a shoulder injury. Anthony Davis has a bone bruise in his shoulder area and is out a while. So, good time to see New Orleans and their weak defense on your schedule.

 
source:  27. Timberwolves (20-36, LW 25). Losers of five in a row and now both Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko are battling injuries that could have them sidelined a while. On the bright side, more Ping-Pong balls for the lottery.

 
source:  28. Kings (20-40, LW 27). You have to say this much for Sacramento — their city management has put together a good offer that will challenge the league’s other owners to make a tough decision on where this team plays next season. We’ll see if that’s enough.

 
source:  29. Magic (16-44, LW 30). Each of their last three opponents have shot at least 53 percent for the game. The plan all along was to get worse to get better, so, congratulations on fulfilling the plan.

 
source:  30. Bobcats (13-46, LW 29). They lost to the Clippers last week and it was expected. They lost big to the Jazz, who were without Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap. But they are back on the bottom because they got just crushed by the Kings. It was an ugly week in Charlotte.

Serge Ibaka, Giannis Antetokounmpo trade massive blocks during Raptors-Bucks (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is a long dude. So is Toronto Raptors big man Serge Ibaka. The two faced off in Game 6 at the Bradley Center on Thursday night, so it makes sense the two wound up using one of their most impressive physical assets against each other.

Let the battle of length begin!

Via Twitter:

That’s Ibaka blocking the Milwaukee Bucks star on an attempt at the rim, on a dunk no less. That was impressive, no doubt, but just a minute later, it was Antetokounpmo coming through with a big time block on DeMar DeRozan:

But DeRozan got his revenge later in the fourth quarter, throwing down a dunk over the Bucks defense that was perhaps the finger in the wall needed to stop the leak that was Toronto’s disastrous final period.

DeRozan and the Raptors got the last laugh, winning the closeout game on the road, 92-89. Toronto will go on to play the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semi finals.

Should the Trail Blazers go after Pacers star Paul George? CJ McCollum says yes

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The Portland Trail Blazers need to do something drastic this offseason. Fans in Oregon should be expecting something big with a roster of players prime for the trade market and three first round picks in GM Neil Olshey’s pocket for the 2017 NBA Draft.

Who should Portland go after? That is a tough question to answer.

The Blazers are not exactly a huge free agent destination, although the city is changing its reputation toward NBA players in recent years with the help of star players Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who have fully embraced Oregon’s largest city.

McCollum, in fact, has his own opinion on who the Blazers should go after this summer: Indiana Pacers star Paul George.

Via Twitter:

George, who is under contract for 2017-18 but has a player option for 2018-19, has been rumored to desire playing in Los Angeles. In any case, fans around the league are looking at George as a potential trade candidate.

He would certainly do well on the Blazers, who had a disappointing 41-41 season in 2016-17. After a surprising effort last year, the Trail Blazers were slotted to expand upon their finish in 2016. But a sluggish start from Damian Lillard mixed with one of the worst defensive rosters in the NBA found them battling for the No. 8 seed come the end of the season. Even still, a miraculous stretch of good play after the All-Star Game was what it took for the Blazers to beat out the likes of Denver, Dallas, and Sacramento for the final playoff spot.

We know now that the Blazers were swept by the top-seeded Golden State Warriors, and up here in the Northwest it only solidified the fact Portland needs to get better on the wing.

Last season, Al-Farouq Aminu showed he could shoot a league average percentage from 3-point range, which helped relieve some pressure off Lillard and CJ McCollum. But Aminu regressed to shooting 33 percent from deep in 2017, and although Maurice Harkless did an excellent job as a young starter he’s not yet the kind of dynamic offensive player the Blazers need to be a Top 4 team in the West.

Aminu projects for Portland better as a 4, and with Jusuf Nurkic now anchoring the center position, the goal for Portland will be to strengthen the wing and flesh out the bench.

George would be an excellent get, but the Blazers would need to have the salaries match in any trade with Indiana. Allen Crabbe seems the most likely option, given his RFA match for Portland was a clear move to retain an asset. Evan Turner occupied a lot of guard minutes for Portland, and it seems the Blazers aim to keep him.

Meanwhile, you have other players like Meyers Leonard and Ed Davis who still have some value and could help Portland’s cap situation or work as part of a trade with Indiana.

Having watched Portland closely the past six seasons or so, and seeing how parts of this roster has developed, it would make the most sense to add a third star to this team. Turner hamstrings the bench unit with his gargantuan $17 million salary next season, so building out the bench unit under him still won’t put the Blazers in a position to compete with the top teams in the West without another star.

I think the clearest way to capitalize on the prime part of the careers for Lillard and McCollum is to grab another star right now. George might be out of reach — and he reportedly wants to play in LA anyway — but I think the Blazers should think big this offseason. Whether that means trading for George or doing something else bold remains to be seen.

Report: Clippers’ management remains committed to re-signing Blake Griffin

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Maybe Friday night in Utah, maybe not for a few weeks, but the Clippers season is going to end before they reach the conference finals, and with Blake Griffin sidelined by injury. It’s an all-too-familiar scene. It will be six seasons of the Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Griffin experience in Los Angeles, and they will not have gotten out of the second round (unless you think they can come back on the Jazz from down 3-2, then beat the Warriors).

That has come with a lot of talk about the Clippers breaking up the core. Jordan remains under contract, Paul would be too hard to replace, and that leads to a lot of speculation — inside and outside the league — that Griffin could be on the move this summer, when he becomes a free agent.

That’s not what the Clippers want, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports in a video essay.

Management remains committed to signing him to a long-term deal this summer, league sources tell me.

Doc Rivers has said he wants to bring back this core. Multiple times. His argument is that this is a 50+ win team that is one of the better teams in the NBA, why would you take a big step back rather than look for the tweaks that get the team to a title?

Steve Ballmer has the checkbook deep enough to pay both Paul and Griffin max money (although keeping fellow free agent J.J. Redick as well would be difficult). The Clippers will have one of the highest payrolls in the NBA, and is this team worth that? Especially in a conference where the Mount Everest of Golden State is not going anywhere for a few years, not to mention the Spurs and Rockets will remain good, Utah is on the rise, and so are teams like the Wolves. The Clippers will be a good team that needs a lot of breaks to go their way to really contend — how much would Ballmer pay for that?

The Clippers need to do some soul searching this offseason.

Just don’t be shocked if the result of that is them running this team back again.

Playing through sore knee, Jimmy Butler says “I’m good,” will go in Game 6

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At this point in the season, everyone is banged up. It’s just a matter of degree.

But with Rajon Rondo listed as out for Game 6, the Bulls’ need a big game from Jimmy Butler if they are going to extend this series to a Game 7. And he is not near 100 percent.

In Game 4, Butler banged knees with a Celtic and it impacted him during Game 5, as Vincent Goodwill detailed at CSNChicago.com.

But he could only muster two shots and barely seemed to push off on his left foot—his lead foot, and it hampered what the Bulls could do late as he was their prime fourth-quarter performer.

He couldn’t even go straight up on a jumper over the diminutive Isaiah Thomas without pump-faking, throwing off his rhythm. He wouldn’t elaborate on the injury, although he said it happened during the second half of Game 4 on Sunday night when he collided with a Celtics player.

“I’m good. Everyone’s a little nicked up; I’ll be all right,” Butler said in the locker room.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune added this detail.

Boston has done a good job of limiting the number of times Isaiah Thomas is exposed on defense, having to cover Wade or Butler. Essentially, the Celtics switch in sort of a matchup zone to keep IT covering a shooter on the wing, even if his man goes up and sets the pick. Zone’s can be exposed (there’s a reason they’re more a change-of-pace rather than a basic set defense in the NBA), but it involves getting into the middle, getting into the paint. Which comes back to driving the ball and pushing off, things that Butler is struggling to do at his usual level.

There are a lot of other factors favoring Boston in Game 6, but if Chicago is going to force a Game 7 Sunday they need Butler to be an All-NBA level player.