NBA Power Rankings: After the Heat it gets interesting

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Going to be an interesting week out West — Thunder and Spurs on Monday, while the Grizzlies play the Clippers and Nuggets this week. Those games don’t foreshadow playoff outcomes as much as hint at seedings — if Denver can get home court in the first round whoever has to face them is in trouble.

source:  1. Heat (47-14, last week ranked No. 1). Winners of 18 in a row. What is amazing is they need another 15 to tie the NBA record (1972 Lakers). The heat have done it with defense — the last five games the Heat defense is allowing just 94 points per 100 possessions, seven better than their season average.

 
source:  2. Thunder (47-16, LW 3). Winners of five in a row and four of those are over playoff teams. Looking forward to the Monday night showdown with the Spurs as we start to get a sense of what looks more hand more like the Western Conference finals showdown.

 
source:  3. Spurs (48-15, LW 2). Every team is allowed an off night now and again, so we’re just going to ignore whatever that was against Portland last week. Good test against the Thunder Monday — can the Spurs continue to defend them well — but the rest of the week is winnable games even without Tony Parker.

 
source:  4. Nuggets (42-22, LW 6). Winners of eight in a row and they are doing it on both ends of the floor, outscoring opponents by 16.2 points per 100 possessions the last five games. But some interesting tests ahead this week with the Knicks and potential first round matchup preview with the Grizzlies.

 
source:  5. Grizzlies (42-19, LW 7). They are 9-1 in their last 10 but they have done it against some soft competition. This week they get the Clippers, Nuggets and a Jazz teams that should be desperate. Also they are road heavy at the end of the season and they need wins to hold onto that playoff top-four seed (and home court in the first round).

 
source:  6. Clippers (45-20 LW 4). This team is a lot more than just dunks, we just get distracted by the shiny objects of Jamal Crawford’s alley-oop to Blake Griffin, then Chris Paul’s to DeAndre Jordan. Just two games this week but they are the Grizzlies and Knicks, so now gimmies.

 
source:  7. Knicks (38-22, LW 8). Good win over Utah despite the injuries, but they will miss the depth Amare Stoudemire bought (particularly when Carmelo Anthony is out). Tough West Coast swing this week with the Warriors, Nuggets and Clippers on the docket.

 
source:  8. Pacers (39-23, LW 5). I think the Pacers are the team in the East best suited to beat the Heat in a seven game series. And the Heat crushed them Sunday. Which pretty much sums up the East.

 
source:  9. Lakers (33-31, LW 12). I’ll admit it, I didn’t think they Lakers could get here. I didn’t see evidence they could get on a winning streak like this. I didn’t think the wheels would come off the Jazz. But as of Monday the Lakers are the eighth seed and the team everyone at the top of the Western Conference would like to avoid in the first round of the playoffs.

 
source:  10. Nets (37-26, LW 11). I’m not sold on Brooklyn but they are continuing to beat the teams they are supposed to beat and with a lineup of the slumping Sixers, the Hornets and the Hawks on the schedule they could keep going. Deron Williams is looking like his old self lately, n

 
source:  11. Celtics (34-28, LW 14). They had won five in a row until they ran into the Thunder on Sunday, and you can’t hold that loss against them. They are winning close games, which is a sign of a veteran team but eventually close games come back to bite you.

 
source:  12. Rockets (34-30, LW 9). They keep losing games a team fighting for a playoff spot needs to win, but they have nine of their next 10 at home so look for them to make a little run and secure a playoff spot in the West.

 
source:  13. Bulls (35-28, LW 10). They have been going through a tough part of the schedule and they stay out West this week to play the Kings and Warriors on the road. But things will lighten up. And Derrick Rose should only come back when he is ready, not before.

 
source:  14. Bucks (32-29, LW 16). Swept a two-game series against the Warriors, with Brandon Jennings having a huge second game. Watch them play lately and you see a lot better ball movement and a lot less isolation. Not sure we should credit J.J. Redick for that, but whatever the reason it’s working they have won six of seven.

 
source:  15. Hawks (34-28, LW 15). When really tested the Hawks rarely seem to pass, such as their loss to Boston last week. This week the Heat, Lakers and Nets are on the schedule to provide real tests. I’m not optimistic for them.

 
source:  16. Warriors (35-28, LW 17). The Warriors are 4-11 in their last 15 and are sliding back down the Western Conference standings. They are just 2-2 on the current seven-game homestand that was supposed to help right the ship. The Warriors miss the old David Lee, and David Lee misses his old, pain-free knees.

 
source:  17. Jazz (32-31, LW 13). They have lost seven of their last eight games (including to a Knicks team missing key players) and have fallen behind the Lakers. The next week gets no easier with the Thunder and Grizzlies on the schedule (and the following week is just as daunting).

 
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18. Mavericks (29-33, LW 18). They have won 4-of-5 behind a resurgent Vince Carter. Too late to make a playoff run, but they have played well. The winning ways could slow with the Bucks, Spurs and Thunder on the schedule this week.

 
source:  19. Trail Blazers (29-33, LW 20). As injuries have pushed Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis and others to the side it has become more and more clear Damian Lillard will run away with Rookie of the Year. So, there’s your bright spot, Blazers fans.

 
source:  20. Raptors (25-39, LW 22). Rudy Gay continues to be an enigma to Raptors fans — he missed a whole lot of shots at the end of a tight game against the Lakers, then they cam back to beat the Cavs without him. Raptors fans, my advice is to get used to it.

 
source:  21. Cavaliers (21-42, LW 19). No Kyrie Irving for three to four weeks. Ugh. It might be time to shut Irving down for the season because he’s a franchise-changing player when healthy but the Cavs need him to stay that way.

 
source:  22. Wizards (20-41, LW 21). Bradley Beal being out has seen the Wizards offense take a step back — he and John Wall were starting to find a groove. So Wizards fans, what kind of contract extension would you offer John Wall this summer?

 
source:  23. Suns (22-41, LW 25). No Marcin Gortat for a month. The Suns continue to be a team that can surprise you and beat a playoff team one night, then lose to the worst team in the league the next. They need an identity, and that needs to start at the top.

 
source:  24. Pistons (23-42, LW 24). Andre Drummond is still out and will not be back on this road trip, but he is traveling with the team and was getting a workout in with a trainer before the Pistons faced the Clippers Sunday.

 
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25. Timberwolves (21-38, LW 27). They have lost eight of nine and even Ricky Rubio can’t save this offense — what is the point of a great passer when nobody can finish. Injuries have devastated this roster.

 
source:  26. Kings (22-42, LW 28). Before he was ejected before the end of the game on Sunday, DeMarcus Cousins was already being benched at the end of games recently. What to do about Cousins becomes the issue for the next ownership group, whoever they are.

 
source:  27. Magic (17-46, LW 29). Dwight Howard comes to town on Tuesday, we’ll see how cathartic it is for the fans to get their venom out of their systems.

 
source:  28. Hornets (21-42, LW 26). They blew double-digit leads and lost to the Magic and Lakers last week, and they almost did it a third time to the Trail Blazers but held on for the win Sunday. Still, not a good trend.

 
source:  29. 76ers (23-38, LW 23). The most disappointing team in the NBA this season. On a lot of levels.

 
source:  30. Bobcats (13-50, LW 30). They have lost 10 in a row, their second double-digit losing streak of the season. They also are the first team to 50 losses. So, Bobcats fans, spend March scouting college tournaments for your lottery pick.

Report: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

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There’s been a lot of talk as the coaching carousel ramps up, long before the NBA season is even over. Now, we know one coach won’t be heading to the Phoenix Suns: Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was reportedly among one of the candidates for the Suns job, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi the Hawks coach has decided not to pursue the position after being given the opportunity to do so.

The Suns coaching search still includes current interim coach Jay Triano and former Memphis Grizzlies head man David Fizdale.

Via ESPN:

Budenholzer met with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver early this week, but there was never traction on reaching a contract agreement as the week wore on, league sources said.

As the Suns kept interviewing candidates — including David Fizdale and interim coach Jay Triano — Budenholzer informed the Suns on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for the job, sources said.

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season. Budenholzer had a hefty resume to consider — he won 60 games in Atlanta in 2014-15, heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns need someone to guide their young star in Devin Booker. Who they choose will influence the direction of their franchise for longer than the next coach may even be around.

Warriors beat Spurs in glum Game 3

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The Spurs were playing with heavy hearts following the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appeared to injure their left ankles on back-to-back plays late.

Everyone seemed ready for the Warriors’ 110-97 Game 3 win Thursday to end well before it did.

Soon enough, the first-round series will. Golden State is up 3-0, and all 127 teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series won it – most of them via sweep. Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

There’s hope neither Durant’s nor Livingston’s injury is serious. Durant walked off on his own, though gingerly. Livingston shot his free throws before exiting.

Durant (26 points) and Klay Thompson (19 points) have carried the Warriors’ offense with Stephen Curry sidelined by his own injury. If Durant isn’t at full strength for Game 4, Golden State could really struggle to score.

But it still might not matter, as the Spurs are overmatched against the Warriors’ dialed-in defense. Draymond Green (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals) led tonight’s effort.

After two losses in Oakland to start the series, returning to San Antonio didn’t do much for the Spurs, who were 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road this season – the NBA’s largest home-road disparity in a half decade. It’s just had to see San Antonio – whether Popovich returns or Ettore Messina remains acting coach – finding enough sources of offense.

Pelicans move one game away from sweep after bashing Blazers in Game 3

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But for a moment, the Portland Trail Blazers felt as though they could turn the series. For half a quarter, the Blazers had hope. Then, Nikola Mirotic dropped a career-high 30 points, Anthony Davis added a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game away from completing a sweep of the third seed after a big win on Thursday night, 119-102.

Under the guidance of Mirotic, the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers starting midway through the first quarter. The game was close to being a contest, but Jrue Holiday and Mirotic started to pour it in after being uncorked, with New Orleans taking a 16-point lead going into the second period.

Running up and down the court in a panic, Portland looked nervous in the spotlight. The Blazers racked up 12 turnovers by halftime, all while rattling 3-pointers off the back iron. Portland rushed its offense in the face of unlikely success by the Pelicans, who continued to rain down from deep. New Orleans hit four big shots in the final 1:47 of the half, including three from beyond-the-arc.

Never one to back down, Blazers star Damian Lillard tried to force the issue. He would finish with 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but most evidentiary of his night was Lillard lobbing up a wild 28-footer with 24 seconds left in the half as he tried to answer a gutshot 3-pointer from E'Twaun Moore from a moment before. It didn’t work, and the Pelicans took commanding 64-45 lead to start the third quarter.

So went the story of the rest of the game, as Portland couldn’t fully tamp down the New Orleans offensive attack for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after one 10-0 run for the Blazers in the third, the Pelicans ended it in the most deflating way possible — a wide open dunk for Mirotic on a cut after Portland’s defense fell asleep.

It was an electric atmosphere at Smoothie King, and the sellout crowd that gave us a glimpse of what kind of homecourt advantage the Pelicans could have in the second round. The New Orleans fans were in a back-and-forth with the players, with Smoothie King working to such a fever pitch it felt as though every shot hoisted by the team in red and gold was destined for the nylon.

Demoralized, Portland battled — flailed, really — but the Blazers couldn’t make up any ground as the momentum continued for New Orleans. Finally Blazers coach Terry Stotts relented and waived the white flag for Portland with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter as he subbed in his bench.

Even with a 49-win season under its belt, the questions surrounding the Blazers become more serious. The team that had a 13-game win streak this season now will face rumblings about whether Stotts will remain with the team. An exit for Stotts would be unwise for Portland — he did wonders with a team that didn’t play up to its potential most of the year — but it’s not out of the ordinary for a team looking to break through to look elsewhere, especially after Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen.

Although their work isn’t done yet, New Orleans looks as though it’s a team to be feared in the playoffs. What it needs to do is concentrate on sweeping the Blazers, not only to give themselves confidence heading into the second round but to show their second-round opponent (likely the Warriors) that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

How Porltand can counter in the deciding Game 4 isn’t clear. The Pelicans have looked like the better team for nearly every quarter of the series, and the Blazers clearly don’t have an answer for them on either side of the ball.

Happy New Orleans fans will pack Smoothie King on Saturday for Game 4 at 2:00 PM PST in Louisiana. Davis will look to win his first playoff series, and Portland will try to avoid their most embarrassing sweep since they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

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The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.