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.

Pistons’ Stan Van Gundy “encouraged” by players speaking out, protesting social issues

CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 17: Head coach Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons yells to his players during the first half of the NBA Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on April 17, 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)  *** Local Caption ***Stan Van Gundy
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Athletes are injecting themselves into the needed national conversation about race, violence, and policing in this nation. That has taken some very public forms, including LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony speaking at the ESPYs, and Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem and leading others to do so. Some NBA players likely will follow Kaepernick’s lead.

Pistons coach/GM Stan Van Gundy likes seeing players speak out.

A couple of his Detroit players — Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris — said they backed the 49ers quarterback. Here is what the never shy Van Gundy said about all of it, via Vincent Ellis of the Detroit Free Press.

“I’m encouraged by the fact of what some of those guys stood up and did at the ESPYs and had a conversation,” Van Gundy said. “I’m really proud of the fact that we have guys that not only see the problem, but want to try to do something about it…

“To me, in some ways, (police brutality is) just the most visible to focus on and it goes to deeper inequities in our criminal justice system, our education system so there’s so much to focus on,” Van Gundy said. “I think it’s great that we have players that want to be part of that conversation, and a lot of players that want to go beyond the conversation and be part of the solution.”

Van Gundy has been telling his players part of that solution is to vote.

The players union and NBA sent out a release saying they wanted to work together to create positive change, but details are still vague on what that might be. The only thing we know for sure as we head into the NBA season — with as divided a nation and election as anyone can remember as a backdrop — is that some NBA players are going to try and keep the conversation going.

Sunday is 16th anniversary of greatest dunk ever: Vince Carter over Frederic Weis

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It was the last game of the group stage of the 2000 Olympic basketball tournament at the Sydney Olympics, the USA was taking on France, another USA win on its way to another gold medal.

But what we all remember is this one play — Vince Carter dunking over the 7’2″ French center Frederic Weis.

Best. Dunk. Ever.

By anyone.

Weis was never the same.

In an impressive career — two-time All-NBA, eight-time All-Star, hours and hours of crazy highlights — this is always going to be the highlight at the top of the list. So we will use the anniversary of this dunk to look at it one more time.

Hat tip to nitramy at NBA Reddit.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford suggests allowing teams to advance ball in final two minutes without timeout

Steve Clifford
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The final minutes of a close NBA game rank among the best moments in sports – which is pretty remarkable, considering frequent stoppages interrupt and impede enjoyment of the game.

Clutch play. Timeout. Clutch play. Timeout. Clutch play. Timeout.

Coaches should probably call fewer timeouts, because drawing up a play also allows the defense to set. But timeouts give the offense the option of advancing the inbound spot into the frontcourt, a key advantage. So, teams will keep calling timeouts.

Unless…

Steve Aschburner of NBA.com:

For Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, the ability in the final two minutes of a game to advance the ball without requiring a timeout to be called could speed up the action. That has been used on a trial basis in the D League and in Summer League, and several coaches felt it worked well.

“The game is at an all-time high in popularity, but a lot of people complain about the last two minutes,” Clifford said. “I think it would add a different dimension but it would also be a good thing in addressing our biggest issue.”

Not that the coaches would be willing to lose any of their timeouts, though. They just wouldn’t save them specifically for that purpose.

I’m here for that.

I’m unsurprised control-seeking coaches want to keep all their timeouts, and reducing those seems unlikely, anyway. The NBA pays its bills through commercial breaks.

Would moving those advertising opportunities earlier in the game pay off? Audiences are probably larger in crunch time, but an action-packed closing stretch could hook fans and grow overall audiences. It’s always a difficult decision to forgo maximizing immediate revenue in pursuit of more later.

But I’m fairly certain fans would appreciate the change, which is at least a starting point in considering it.

Kyrie Irving feels validated after hitting game-winning shot to bring title to Cleveland

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Back in July during the pre-Olympics USA Camp in Las Vegas, I asked Kyrie Irving what had changed for him, what was different for him after winning an NBA title. His answer was about the doors it opened, the possibilities that suddenly felt available to him. A month after winning the title he still seemed a little overwhelmed by the experience, and he hadn’t fully processed it yet. Which is completely understandable.

Now, as training camp is set to open for the Cavaliers and their defense of that title, Irving clearly has gotten used to being a champion — and he feels validated. Look at what he told Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Yes, my life’s changed drastically,” Irving told cleveland.com Saturday, during Irving’s friendship walk and basketball challenge downtown for Best Buddies, Ohio — an organization that gives social growth and employment opportunities to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“It’s kind of, you’re waiting for that validation from everyone, I guess, to be considered one of the top players in the league at the highest stage,” Irving said. “That kind of changed. I was just trying to earn everyone’s respect as much as I could.”

It’s amazing to think of the impact one shot — Irving’s three over Stephen Curry with 53 seconds left in Game 7 — can have. If he misses, there is less pressure on the Warriors to answer with a three, maybe they come down and get a bucket inside for two (one could argue they should have done that anyway rather than hunt for the three), from there maybe the Warriors win. If so, that could change everything from Kevin Durant‘s summer plans to what the Cavaliers’ roster looks like today — there’s a good chance Cleveland’s lineup would have changed if they lost to the Warriors two Finals in a row.

One shot can have that kind of impact on a player, too.

Kyrie Irving was one of the top five point guards in the NBA for a while, a score first guy but one who had some floor general in him and got some steals. A lot of time seemed to be spent focusing on his flaws defensively and passing. But with that shot, he feels validated. If he carries that confidence into next season, the Cavaliers just got better.