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.

 
source:
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.

Wall has to work for recognition among top NBA point guards

Washington Wizards guard John Wall dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Fresh off scoring 51 points against the Washington Wizards, reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry praised John Wall, who dropped a quiet 41 against the Warriors.

“He’s a top-tier point guard,” Curry said, “and it’s like that – not his caliber every night – but obviously at the point guard position you’re going to have some talent on the other side of the ball most nights.”

Wall has never played better in what is now a point-guard league.

It doesn’t stop with Curry. The talent pool includes Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, to name a few.

“I think I’m having a career year,” Wall said. “I can say I’m playing my best basketball, but not the way I want to play because it’s not equaling up to wins.”

Wall is an All-Star for the third time but gets lost in the packed field of “top-tier” point guards. His 20.1 points a game are sixth at the position, while his 9.9 assists are third behind only Sacramento’s Rajon Rondo and Westbrook.

But some nights there is just no denying his talents.

Like Tuesday at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Wall had 28 points and 17 assists to lead Washington past the Knicks. It was another showcase performance during a season that hasn’t gone the way he or the Wizards have wanted.

The Wizards will be a sub-.500 team and outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture at the All-Star break. Injuries to sidekick Bradley Beal and many others have hampered Washington this season.

But Wall is holding up his end and is playing like a top-five point guard.

He has an all-around game – the ability to beat defenders off the dribble, to spot up, pass, use his court vision and rebound. As Celtics coach Brad Stevens said recently, “you have to pick your poison” when defending Wall.

“Being able to shoot the ball off the pick and roll with great consistency – that’s what makes defenses choose what to do next,” Stevens said. “He’s been a great passer off the pick and roll.”

There’s no shortage of admiration around the league for Wall, who Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown deemed “the fastest guard in the NBA.” Brown compared Wall to a Maserati sports car and said the 25-year-old has improved because “you learn how to drive your Maserati better.”

Much of Wall’s game has improved in his six pro seasons since he was the first overall pick out of Kentucky in 2010.

“His speed is probably second to none in the NBA. … He’s a one-man fast break and it’s crazy because he logs so many minutes,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “His midrange jumper is also so much improved. You can tell he’s been working on his game a lot, and you like to see that from guys.”

Wall doesn’t get the headlines like Curry, Irving or even Thomas, of late. He has only scored the most points in a game he’s played in eight times this season, but Wall is the kind of player that teams have to game-plan against.

“You’ve got to build a wall against Wall,” Cavaliers star LeBron James said. “You let him play in open court one-on-one, he’s too fast, he’s too strong. He’s going to put your defense at bay.”

Opponents have tried to close off Wall’s drives to the basket and force him to take jump shots. At times, it has worked, like when the Trail Blazers limited him to 4 of 17 shooting in a victory last month.

“When you’re playing against an All-Star-caliber player like him, you work as hard as you can, you try and contain his penetration and hope he misses some jumpers,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said.

More often than not, Wall makes the most of his time and space. Even so, Washington coach Randy Wittman believes Curry should get more recognition than Wall because of team results.

“John’s body of work has been pretty good; he’s been recognized with that,” Wittman said. “You’ve got to go out and play, you’ve got to go out and win. Those are the two things in our league. You want recognition? Be a winner and play your butt off. That’s how you get recognition, and John’s gotten it.”

NBA writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.

Report: “Al Horford is a legitimate possibility for the Celtics”

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The Boston Celtics have assets, a collection of good role players but lacking the true stars, the alpha, the No. 1 option that any team needs to really win in the NBA.

How about Al Horford?

The Hawks are testing the waters for Horford, and as you can see in the video above, Chirs Mannix of Comcast Sportsnet New England (as well as The Vertical at Yahoo Sports) sees a fit.

“I think Boston, Al Horford is a legitimate possibility for the Celtics. I think that is one of the guys across the league that Danny Ainge is the most excited about. He is a four man that would fit right into what Boston is trying to do. It would cost a lot of money to re-sign him in the offseason, but I think Boston is willing to play it, because they haven’t paid a lot of money for players in recent years.”

The question here, of course, is the cost going back. All sources around the league right now say the Hawks are asking for the moon (as Mannix mentions). The givens in this kind of deal would be David Lee‘s expiring contract (for salary reasons), and the Nets unprotected pick. But it’s going to take more. Jae Crowder? Marcus Smart? Avery Bradley? Kelly Olynyk? Isaiah Thomas? It’s going to take a couple of those guys on top of Lee and the pick.

But if you’re the Celtics, that’s the move — you have put together all these assets, now you need to consolidate them into a couple of stars. Horford’s good-at-everything will fit beautifully in Brad Stevens’s system.

Just something to keep your eyes on. Unless the Hawks decide not to move Horford at all. Which is still a possibility, they may not break this thing up.

Damian Lillard added to Team USA Olympic roster pool

Damian Lillard
Getty Images
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If you’re looking for a point guard who can flat-out score the rock, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many better than Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers’ guard is averaging 24.2 points and 7.3 assists per game, with an above-average true shooting percentage of 54.6 percent, and a very high usage rate of 30.9.

He’s the kind of guy who might have a place on the Team USA Roster.

Which is why USA Basketball has added him to the pool to be considered for the Rio Olympics summer. The reason for the change is both Lillard’s level of play this season, and the fact he called USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo to ask for a spot, as reported by Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

Lillard deserves consideration, but there are two key reasons he likely doesn’t make the team:

1) He is still a terrible defender.

2) The list of guards for the USA Roster is ridiculous: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Klay Thompson, John Wall, and Russell Westbrook. And now Lillard. That’s 10 guys for likely five spots. It’s hard to see Lillard making that cut.

But he deserves consideration.

Kings co-owner Shaq: Vivek Ranadivé told me George Karl would coach rest of season

Shaquille O'Neal
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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Kings general manager Vlade Divac said keeping George Karl as coach was right move “for now.”

How long is “for now”?

Shaquille O’Neal, a Kings minority owner, shares insight.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

This would mean a little more if Vivek Ranadivé weren’t prone to wild swings. Remember, the Kings said Tyrone Corbin would finish last season as coach before firing him for Karl.

Divac also said in November that Karl would coach the rest of the season, and that came up for debate fewer than three months later.

Shaq’s revelation is as likely to embarrass the Kings in a few weeks as it is to signal Karl’s job security.