NBA Power Rankings: Western teams jockey for position behind Heat.

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It’s Miami and then everyone else right now — but notice the next six teams in our weekly power rankings are from the West. That’s because the play of the second tier teams in the East has fallen off (Indiana, New York, Brooklyn)

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1. Heat (51-14, last week ranked No. 1). What kind of concerns can we come up with? They are peaking too early? They will need to sacrifice the streak to get guys rest before the playoffs? Do those things really concern you at all?

 
source:  2. Spurs (51-16, LW 3). Tony Parker or no Tony Parker (and he may be back sooner than projected) they thumped the Thunder on Monday. I’ve moved from the camp that thought the Spurs were a regular season team that would bounce early in the playoffs again to seeing their defense and thinking they are legit contenders.

 
source:  3. Thunder (50-17, LW 2). At what point are the Thunder really going to miss James Harden? Well, did you see them lose to the Spurs Monday and their bench get outplayed? Overall the Thunder are better this year than last, but that punch off the bench is going to matter deep in the playoffs.

 
source:  4. Nuggets (45-22, LW 4). Winners of 11 in a row, including beating the Grizzlies last week. This is a team that has sold the future to its fans for a few years, they need to deliver on that now at least some and get to the second round of the playoffs. They face the Thunder this week, we’ll see if the streak survives that.

 
source:  5. Grizzlies (44-21, LW 5). They beat the Clippers and lost to the Nuggets in a close one this week. Yes, their 14-1 streak was against softer competition, but don’t sleep on this team being real. This week they get the Thunder.

 
source:  6. Clippers (46-21, LW 6). Was in the building to watch them against the Knicks Sunday, and they coasted to a win against a shorthanded team. That’s fine earlier in the season but this does not feel like a team gearing up for the playoffs.

 
source:  7. Lakers (36-32, LW 9). This ranking feels high for a team without Kobe Bryant, but they catch a break in the schedule with just a couple games against softies Phoenix and Washington. Kobe can rest and the Lakers are not going to fall back.

 
source:  8. Pacers (40-26, LW 8). They may get Danny Granger back next week — and they need him. They have lost four of six and their offense takes vacations for stretches each game. But the bigger issue of late is their defense has gone from lockdown to pretty good (allowing 101.8 points per 100 possessions in the last five games, 12th best in the NBA).

 
source:  9. Celtics (36-29, LW 11). Boston is a legitimate threat to the Heat streak — the Celtics have won 11 in a row at home and they catch Miami on a back-to-back. But if Kevin Garnett is out, that mountain suddenly looks a whole lot more steep.

 
source:  10. Nets (38-28, LW 10). They are the four seed but are 1.5 games away from being the seven seed as they embark on an eight game road trip, forced out of their new home by a circus. Which means brace for the fall about to come. They are at the Mavericks and Clippers this week.

 
source:  11. Rockets (36-31, LW 12). They have a lot of home games left but the Rockets are not pulling away in the standings, going 5-5 in their last 10. Big game against the Jazz Wednesday. Hopefully they shoot better than they did against the Warriors Sunday.

 
source:  12. Knicks (38-26, LW 7). They lost four in a row and with injuries to Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire they just cannot create offense. J.R. Smith tries but he’s streaky. Raymond Felton needs a pick-and-roll partner. The Knicks are now 20-21 since their hot start.

 
source:  13. Hawks (37-29, LW 15). When you watch Al Horford and Josh Smith play off each other like they did against the Nets on Sunday, you wonder why it can’t be like that all the time in Atlanta?

 
source:  14. Bulls (36-29, LW 13). They are an up-and-down team right now that needs to get Joakim Noah and Luol Deng some rest down the stretch. And sure, Derrick Rose back if he wants to. Tough games against the Nuggets and Pacers this week.

 
source:  15. Warriors (38-30, LW 16). That was a key win over the Rockets Sunday — gives them a little cushion because the Rockets and Lakers are eyeing that six seed and avoiding OKC and San Antonio in the first round. We’ll see how much Andrew Bogut helps their defense in the coming weeks.

 
source:  16. Bucks (33-32, LW 14). They lost three straight and looked terrible doing it, and only salvaged a win against Orlando because Monta Ellis went nova for a quarter. They look more and more like the sure thing eight seed out East, which means the Heat in the first round. Have fun with that.

 
source:  17. Jazz (34-32, LW 17). They got a quality win over Memphis Sunday and they are going to need a few more of those. They are not out of it — the last 10 games of the Lakers schedule is not easy — but they need wins. It won’t be easy this week against the Rockets, Spurs and Mavericks all on the road.

 
source:  18. Mavericks (31-35, LW 18). They tread water last week (2-2, although in the losses they played the Spurs and Thunder well) and you have to think at this point just getting to .500 on the season is the goal. And it won’t be an easy one with eight of their next nine against playoff teams.

 
source:  19. Trail Blazers (31-34, LW 19). Going small with Damian Lillard and Eric Maynor in the backcourt together has Portland playing some fantastic offensive ball. Five road games this week, tough schedule that includes stops in Chicago, Atlanta and Oklahoma City.

 
source:  20. Wizards (23-42, LW 22). Don’t tell anyone, but John Wall’s jumper looked pretty good last week and he was scoring 24 points a game and earning player of the week honors from the league. Washington swings through the West Coast for some road games this week.

 
source:  21. Raptors (26-41, LW 20). They played the Heat hard on Sunday. So that’s something. It and Amir Johnson’s play on the glass is really all the positives we can come up with.

 
source:  22. Cavaliers (22-44, LW 21). What would be the point of bringing Kyrie Irving back this season? Can’t think of one. Let the man’s body rest.

 
source:  23. Timberwolves (23-41, LW 25). Minnesota has to decide if they want to talk contract extension with Nikola Pekovic this summer or play the restricted free agent game in 2014. The bigger question may be is it David Kahn or Flip Saunders who will be making that call?

 
source:  24. Suns (22-45, LW 23). They have lost four in a row and it feels like the rest of the season is a countdown to big changes in the front office and everywhere this summer.

 
source:  25. Kings (23-44, LW 26). I can’t wait until the ownership situation gets settled there, so we don’t see things like the Thomas Robinson trade again.

 
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26. 76ers (25-40, LW 29). There is still some fight in this team — they almost beat the Heat last week. They have beaten Golden State and Indiana recently.

 
source:  27. Hornets (22-45, LW 28). Anthony Davis has started to consistently put up nice numbers again, and we’ve seen a couple nice games from Eric Gordon. I still want to believe that could be two key cornerstone guys for the franchise, but if seems like that ship has sailed.

 
source:  28. Pistons (23-45, LW 24). They have lost eight in a row but could at least get Andre Drummond back soon, which makes them infinitely more watchable.

 
source:  29. Magic (18-49, LW 27). Hey Milwaukee, why weren’t you playing Tobias Harris again? He looks pretty good down in Orlando.

 
source:  30. Bobcats (14-52, LW 30). They have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the first team in the NBA to do so. Congratulations.

Fergie says she “tried my best” after national anthem blowback

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Fergie is apologizing after trying something different with the national anthem at the NBA All-Star Game.

“I’ve always been honored and proud to perform the national anthem and last night I wanted to try something special for the NBA,” the Grammy-winning singer said in a statement Monday. “I’m a risk taker artistically, but clearly this rendition didn’t strike the intended tone. I love this country and honestly tried my best.”

Fergie’s slow, bluesy rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Sunday night wasn’t particularly well received at Staples Center or on social media before the 67th edition of the NBA’s annual showcase.

A low chuckle rumbled through the sold-out arena after she finished the first line of the song with a throaty growl on “the dawn’s early light.”

Fans throughout the star-studded crowd reacted with varying levels of bemusement and enthusiasm while her languid, 2 +-minute version of the song continued. Although Fergie was on pitch, her tempo, musical accompaniment and sexy delivery were not exactly typical for a sporting event or a patriotic song.

Golden State All-Star Draymond Green captured Sunday’s mood – and became an instant GIF – when he was shown open-mouthed on the scoreboard and the television broadcast in apparent confusion over the unique vocal stylings. Green then chuckled to himself after realizing he was on TV.

After a forceful finish, Fergie finally got big cheers when she shouted, “Let’s play some basketball!”

The Black Eyed Peas singer, born Stacy Ann Ferguson, is from nearby Hacienda Heights, California.

Famed basketball commentator Charles Barkley joked that he “needed a cigarette” after Fergie’s performance during the TNT halftime show.

Former Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal leaped to Fergie’s defense, saying: “Fergie, I love you. It was different. It was sexy. I liked it. Leave her alone.”

Others on social media weren’t as kind, with criticism of the performance outpacing the positive reviews.

 

Did Lakers help keep LeBron James in Cleveland with trade?

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When the trade went down between the Lakers and Cavaliers before the deadline — sending Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to Cleveland in exchange for Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye plus Cleveland’s 2018 first-round draft pick (top-five protected) — it caught the NBA by surprise.

The first reaction for a lot of people to the deal? This opens up as much as $70 million in cap space for the Lakers this summer (depending on other moves with players such as Julius Randle). Los Angeles could sign two max players — LeBron James and Paul George. Why would Cleveland help Los Angeles open up room to steal LeBron.

The Cavaliers didn’t see it that way — they knew they had to make a major shakeup or LeBron was gone. At that point, does it matter where? So in a series of moves, Cleveland GM Koby Altman radically remade the roster around LeBron. The goal was to energize them back into being the team to beat in the East, and from there make it hard for him to leave as a free agent. Since the trades, the Cavaliers are 2-0 and LeBron has clearly been reinvigorated, plus they will add Kevin Love back in a few weeks.

Altman’s plan seems to be working, one executive told Mark Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays in Cleveland now,” one high-ranking Eastern Conference team executive said. “The Cavaliers put a really good team around him. The Cavaliers have made it really tough for him to decide to leave Cleveland again. The Lakers might have helped them keep LeBron.”

I had heard from sources for a while LeBron to the Lakers was not likely (Paul George is another story, that door remains open). As Spears notes, the Lakers did not have an All-Star in Sunday’s game. Even if LeBron and PG13 went to Los Angeles, that team was third or fourth best in the West next season. LeBron is in full on legacy mode and wants to win rings. Los Angeles is not the place to do it.

Houston is interesting (and it’s still a team I hear some execs think has a real shot), but the gutting or role players on that roster to make it work would be a concern. Maybe a dark horse such as Philadelphia can emerge. However, if LeBron can lead this newly-energized Cavaliers team to the Finals again (his eighth consecutive trip there), they get a high draft pick with the Brooklyn pick, then LeBron gets a commitment from Altman and owner Dan Gilbert to keep spending and being aggressive, where is he going to be closer to a title than at home?

Lou Williams trolls Jimmy Butler for resting during All-Star Game

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Jimmy Butler was in Los Angeles and enjoying his well-earned All-Star slot on Team Stephen.

Well, except for the actual playing basketball part. Butler did not set foot on the court during the All-Star Game at his own request.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

Lou Williams, the Clippers’ guard who likely would have been near the front of the line for an open All-Star roster spot in the West (likely second in the queue behind Chris Paul), but instead took part in the Saturday Skills Competition then had Sunday off, trolled Butler for it on Twitter.

This seems more good natured than genuinely bitter.

Williams will roll with it, but his point’s a valid one — if you’re an All-Star, at least play a little and give the people what they want. Get out there for five minutes or whatever. LaMarcus Aldridge only played four minutes, no big deal.

If you’re not going to use the roster spot, give it up to someone who will.

Report: Raptors won’t sign Vince Carter if he gets bought out

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Of returning to the Raptors, Vince Carter said, “It’ll happen one day.” It sounds as if the Kings would buy him out if he wants.

Will he end the season with Toronto?

Josh Lewenberg of TSN 1050:

After speaking with a few team sources, I can confirm that they’ve had internal dialogue and debate about the idea of bringing Vince Carter back. It’s something that they wanted to do over the summer. That’s why they made him an offer, something that I’ve reported in the past. And it’s also something that they’d be open to in the future, perhaps next year in some capacity. But they’ve decided now is not the right time. And I think the consensus seems to be there’s so much going on right now, and they want this season to be about this team, their accomplishments and their playoff push and not the sideshow that I think would come with a Vince Carter return.

The Raptors (41-16) are on pace for their best record ever. They’re excelling offensively and defensively. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are spearheading a more dynamic offense that spurs hope for more playoff success.

Toronto is probably correct to save the Carter reunion for another year – though it depends who else is available. That 15th roster spot could be useful. If Carter is the best player who’d sign, the Raptors should sign him and deal with the hoopla.

But it’s not clear whom they could get or whether they could even get Carter. He hasn’t sounded like someone who’d forgo guaranteed salary to play for the minimum.