Indiana Pacers guard Stephenson is guarded by Heat forward Andersen and Battier during their NBA game at the American Airlines Arena in Miami

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).

 
source:
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.

Suns coach Earl Watson cautions support for marijuana use a “slippery slope”

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 30:  Head coach Earl Watson of the Phoenix Suns reacts during the second half of the NBA game against the Golden State Warriors at Talking Stick Resort Arena on October 30, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Warriors defeated the Suns 106 -100. 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr is a thoughtful, measured adult who made a very rational decision: He was battling debilitating back pain that was keeping him away from the Warriors, so he chose to try marijuana to try to ease that pain. It didn’t work for Kerr, but he advocated for professional sports leagues to have a more open mind toward allowing the drug to be used for pain management.

Suns’ coach Earl Watson is a thoughtful, measured adult who comes from a very different world than Kerr, and that gives him a different perspective. Watson’s story is that of a child who grew up in poverty, surrounded by violence, in Kansas City, and used basketball to pull himself out of that world.

Watson urged caution in NBA coaches endorsing the use of marijuana, speaking to Chris Haynes of ESPN.

“I think our rhetoric on it has to be very careful because you have a lot of kids where I’m from that’s reading this, and they think [marijuana use is] cool,” Watson told ESPN on Saturday after the Suns’ 138-109 loss to the Warriors. “It’s not cool. Where I’m from, you don’t get six fouls to foul out. You get three strikes. One strike leads to another. I’m just being honest with you, so you have to be very careful with your rhetoric…

“I think it would have to come from a physician — not a coach,” Watson said. “And for me, I’ve lived in that other life [of crime and drugs]. I’m from that area, so I’ve seen a lot of guys go through that experience of using it and doing other things with that were both illegal. And a lot of those times, those guys never make it to the NBA, they never make it to college, and somehow it leads to something else, and they never make it past 18.

“So when we really talk about it and we open up that, I call it that slippery slope. We have to be very careful on the rhetoric and how we speak on it and how we express it and explain it to the youth.”

There is no doubt that as a society, the United States is moving toward the legalization of marijuana. More and more states move that way each election, and the generational shift in attitudes toward the drug is an unstoppable trend.

How the NBA (and other professional sports leagues) adjust their rules and procedures in dealing with this will be a topic in the coming years. With that is the issue Watson brings up — the image the NBA projects on the issue. NBA players are free to drink alcohol, but it can’t impact them at work (like just about every other job), but the NBA doesn’t want to be seen as pro-drinking. It will have to find a way to walk that same line with marijuana.

Dirk Nowitzki will not fade away: “I’m all-in. I want to play.”

DALLAS, TX - APRIL 21:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts against the Oklahoma City Thunder during game three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center on April 21, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  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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Dirk Nowitzki has played in just two of the Mavericks’ last 13 games, and five games total all season. When he has played he hasn’t been his vintage self, he’s been slowed by injury. This is a 38-year-old battling a sore Achilles, and Dallas doesn’t want to see its future Hall of Famer limping off into retirement, and he is out indefinitely. They are being cautious.

But make no mistake, Nowitzki wants to play. He doesn’t see himself as done.

Here is what he told Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“I’m all-in. I want to play,” Nowitzki said in front of his locker after his teammates pulled off the Mavs’ most lopsided win of the season, a 107-82 victory over the Chicago Bulls that improved Dallas’ record to a Western Conference-worst 4-15. “This is obviously not a career-ending injury that I’ve got. It’s something that just keeps lingering unfortunately. I can hopefully get over it.

“There’s still a lot of season left. December just started. We know that there’s a lot of games coming, so hopefully sometime soon I’ll be out there and then stay out there. I don’t want to jump in and out of the lineup with soreness or fight this whole year. I’d love to be healthy and stay out there once I go….

“It’s frustrating for me,” said Nowitzki, a 19-year veteran who has missed more than 10 games in a season only once before in his career. “The whole situation is frustrating to be dealing with something I never have before in my career, so it’s tough. But once I’m out there, I don’t want the same thing to happen again that just happened last week, so I want to make sure now it’s good to go. At this stage of my career, I don’t move well anyways, so if I’m out there at 80-90 percent, I don’t think I’m a big help. I want to make sure my body’s responding the right way and we’ll go from there.”

At this point, Dallas has dug too deep a hole to climb back up and make the playoffs, but Nowitzki doesn’t want the Kobe Bryant send-off tour. When he returns, Dallas will get better.

Watch Nowitzki get in a sweat before a game now — even when he is not playing he puts in a thorough workout — and you see a model for how other players should take both their craft and conditioning more seriously. He is meticulous about the details but is going to get in his work. The problem for him is with an Achilles it’s going to be about rest. He can get treatments, but time is his biggest ally.

Being patient sucks. But that’s where we are with getting to see Nowitzki play again.

Reggie Jackson to return to Pistons lineup Sunday vs. Orlando

AUBURN HILLS, MI - APRIL 24: Reggie Jackson #1 of the Detroit Pistons tries to get around the first quarter defense of Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in game four of the NBA Eastern Conference quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Palace of Auburn Hills on April 24, 2016 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. 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 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The Detroit Pistons’ playoff dreams hinged on them being able to hang around until point guard Reggie Jackson got back from this thumb and knee injuries. They have done just that — the Pistons are 11-10 and would be the eighth seed if the playoffs started today.

And now they get Jackson back. Stan Van Gundy made the announcement Sunday at shootaround, before the team takes on the Orlando Magic.

It will take a few games to get his conditioning back, but this is huge for Detroit. Jackson running the pick-and-roll with Andre Drummond is at the heart of Detroit’s offense – the Pistons were 2.3 points per 100 possessions better with the ball in his hands. Ish Smith played well for the Pistons in his absence — 10.8 points per game, 6.4 assists, and he’s been solid. Move his playmaking to the second unit and suddenly the Pistons become a lot more dangerous.

Jakob Poeltl with huge poster dunk for Raptors. Yes, Jakob Poeltl. (VIDEO)

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The scouting report on Jakob Poeltl coming out of Utah said he could run the floor well and he was a good finisher around the rim.

But we didn’t expect this.

During the Raptors win Sunday against the stumbling Hawks, Poeltl filled the lane on the break, got the rock, and nobody was going to stop that finish. Least of all Tim Hardaway Jr., he just ends up in the poster.