Kings Heat Basketball

NBA Power Rankings: Streakers go to front of the line

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Obviously the Heat are undefeated in their last 10 games, but in the East the Brooklyn Nets are the only team with a better than .500 record in their last 10 games. Which is why after the Heat the next five spots on this list come from the Western Conference.

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1. Heat (54-14, last week ranked No. 1). And the train keeps a rollin… Sure, the Heat have needed comebacks against lesser teams to get the streak to 26 straight wins, but they keep withstanding the best punch of opponents. Good showdown at San Antonio Sunday.

source:  2. Nuggets (49-22, LW 4). The win streak is at 15 and this has not been because of a cupcake schedule — they’ve got wins over the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks, Grizzlies, Bulls and the Thunder twice now in that 15. Denver is no fluke. Big showdown with the Spurs on Wednesday.

source:  3. Spurs (53-16, LW 2). Tony Parker is back and they keep on racking up wins. The theory among some is that the Spurs have the best shot at Miami out of the West (because of their ball movement and movement off the ball), that gets tested Sunday. Tough week for the Spurs with the Nuggets and Clippers also on the schedule.

source:  4. Grizzlies (47-22, LW 5). They get a quality win over the Thunder (so they move ahead of them in the rankings). Memphis is in a real struggle with Denver and the L.A. Clippers to get the three seed and avoid the 4 vs. 5 first round playoff series between two of these teams — that series will be brutally hard, no matter which two it is.

source:  5. Thunder (52-19, LW 3). Losses to the Nuggets and Grizzlies last week drop them back. As I’ve posted before, those games don’t mean Denver or Memphis can beat OKC in a seven game series, but it means those teams think they have a chance. And that is huge.

source:  6. Clippers (48-22, LW 6). When the season started the questions were: Is the Clippers defense good enough? Will DeAndre Jordan give them what they need in the paint in key moments? As we head toward the playoffs, I still am not sold on either of those, but they can start to change my mind on a four-game road trip this week.

source:  7. Pacers (43-27, LW 8). That loss to the Bulls last week was disheartening — Indy needs to find some offense. Tyler Hansbrough tried to carry the load with David West out (he averaged 15.3 and 10.8 boards in his starts) but it’s not the same. Tough Texas two step at Houston and Dallas this week.

source:  8. Nets (41-29, LW 10). They had a good week, beating Dallas on the road and almost knocking off the Clippers (damn that Chris Paul). They are the only playoff team in the East other than the Heat playing well right now, but will that continue on a Western road swing this week?

source:  9. Knicks (42-26, LW 12). Watching them of late, it wouldn’t shock me to see the Knicks in the Eastern Conference finals or ousted in the first round again. Anything is possible. Two games against Boston this week, should be an interesting measuring stick.

source:  10. Rockets (39-31, LW 11). That win against the Jazz last Wednesday didn’t seal a playoff spot but came pretty close to it. They just need to keep getting some wins and they are in, but it won’t be easy with the Pacers, Grizzlies and Clippers scheduled this week.

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11. Lakers (36-34, LW 7). Soft schedule last week — only Phoenix and Washington on the schedule — and they lost both. If Utah wasn’t a mess the Lakers would be in trouble. Four game road trip this week will be big for their playoff dreams.

source:  12. Celtics (36-33, LW 9). They have lost four in a row and now will be without Kevin Garnett for one game and maybe as many as four or five more. Their defense is average at best with him out. They need to hold off the Bucks, you don’t want the 8 seed in the East and the Heat in the first round.

source:  13. Warriors (40-31, LW 15). Another ankle problem for Stephen Curry. Ugh. He tweaked it Saturday night. That might overshadow the fact the Warriors have played better defense of late.

source:  14. Hawks (39-31, LW 13). A couple nice wins over the Bucks last week has them half a game ahead of Chicago for the five seed in the East. But the uninspiring Hawks are on the road against the Pacers and Celtics this week as the race for seeding in the East goes on.

source:  15. Bulls (38-31, LW 14). Lost to the Nuggets (doesn’t everyone?) but that was a big win over the Pacers last weekend. I know Derrick Rose wants to be 100 percent upon his return, but soon he needs to say he is in or out this season, this thing has become a distraction.

source:  16. Mavericks (33-36, LW 18). They are tied with the reeling Jazz, just two games back of the Lakers. Their next five games are against playoff teams — Clippers, Pacers, and Bulls this week — if they can stay with the Lakers through this stretch they might have a shot at the end of the season.

source:  17. Bucks (34-35, LW 16). I’m throwing Larry Sanders out of this power rankings, just because it’s the trendy thing to do.

source:  18. Trail Blazers (33-36, LW 19). They are three games back of the Lakers for the last playoff spot in the West. They have to make that up and leapfrog two teams, hard to see that happening with the .500 ball they have played of late.

source:  19. Wizards (25-44, LW 20). They are one of three Eastern Conference teams that are better than .500 in their last 10 games (Miami, Brooklyn). Waiting until next season is not fun for fans, but the Wizards should be a playoff team if healthy.

source:  20. Jazz (34-35, LW 17). The Lakers stumbled this week but the Jazz couldn’t do anything about it, losing to the Rockets, Spurs and Mavericks. They remain two games back of the Lakers they need to find some wins. Fast. Lucky for them their schedule lightens up.

source:  21. Timberwolves (24-43, LW 23). Kevin Love wants to come back for some of the final games of the season. He shouldn’t bother. There’s no reason to and a few more Ping-Ping balls doesn’t hurt Minnesota. Save it for next season.

source:  22. Kings (25-45, LW 25). Only one question matters: Do the Kings have six games left in Sleep Train Arena or are there many more seasons? Bet on that all being decided before the Board of Governor’s meeting April 18, the votes will be counted before the owners step in that room.

source:  23. Hornets (24-46, LW 27). As noted by Marc Stein at ESPN: Anthony Davis is averaging 15.1 points on 52 percent shooting plus 9.5 rebounds a game since the All-Star break.

source:  24. Suns (23-48, LW 24). The one bright spot has been Goran Dragic, who dropped 31 points and 11 assists on the Nets Sunday night. He can play and has value, both with the Suns and as potential trade fodder.

source:  25. 76ers (26-42, LW 26). That loss in Denver was just crushing, but they bounced back the next night with a win in Sacramento. Which is something positive. Sixers fans need something positive.

source:  26. Raptors (26-44, LW 21). Lost four in a row and it looks like they might shut Rudy Gay down for the year because of his back (what’s the point in playing him?). By the way, I’m far from sold on Gay and DeMar DeRozan as a combo.

source:  27. Cavaliers (22-47, LW 22). Lost five in a row, although it is the Miami loss that will sting (blowing a 27 point lead to the hated one). And I still think there is little to no chance LeBron returns there in 2014.

source:  28. Bobcats (16-53, LW 30). They won twice last week, so they move out of the cellar here, but they still will have the best lottery odds, which is what they really want. So, Nerlens Noel or Ben McLemore?

source:  29. Pistons (24-47, LW 28). They are 1-9 in their last 10 and until Andre Drummond returns this team is just hard to watch.

source:  30. Magic (18-52, LW 29). They have lost six in a row and now Orlando will be without leading scorer Arron Afflalo for the rest of the season and Nikola Vucevic for a while. Plus, they get the Heat Monday. So, fun times in Orlando.

Mario Chalmers says he’s cleared to play

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers moves the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015, in Washington. Chalmers was ejected in the first half. The Wizards won 100-91. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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Mario Chalmers was thriving with the Grizzlies after a midseason trade from the Heat when a torn Achilles ended his season.

Not the way Chalmers wanted to enter free agency.

Still unsigned, he says he’s progressing.

Chalmers:

Can he go 100%, though? If not, when?

A few teams could use another point guard. If Chalmers shows his health, he belongs in someone’s rotation. But that might require taking a low-paying deal and working his way up from the third point guard spot – or even just onto the regular-season roster.

Report: John Wall ‘rankled’ by James Harden’s high-paying Rockets contract

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 29: John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards is defended by James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets in the second half at Verizon Center on March 29, 2015 in Washington, DC. 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 Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Bradley Beal isn’t the only player bothering John Wall.

James Harden – who’s earning a lot of money from the Rockets and adidas – is drawing the ire of the Wizards point guard.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:

One league source familiar with Wall’s state of mind simply put it this way: “Wall’s got jealousy issues. He’s always upset with someone who makes more money than him.”

A front office executive tells The Ringer that Wall was “rankled” after Harden signed a four-year, $118 million extension with the Rockets.

O’Connor also pointed out this line from Nick DePaula of Yahoo Sports on Wall rejected adidas’ offer:

“He wanted Harden money,” a source told The Vertical.

I wonder how Wall feels about Beal’s max contract, which pays much more than Wall’s deal. Wall didn’t like Reggie Jackson, another lesser player, earning the same amount as him.

The union rejecting cap smoothing in light of the new national TV contracts has certainly adversely affected Wall, who locked in long-term just before the salary cap explosion became known. As other players sign huge contracts, he’s stuck on his old-money deal.

Washington could’ve renegotiated and extended Wall’s contract, but it would have been more complicated than Harden’s arrangement. Wall has three years remaining to what was previously two for Harden. How much extra money would the Wizards have paid Wall over the next three years just to get him committed for one more year? Instead, they signed Ian Mahinmi, Andrew Nicholson and Jason Smith.

I’m also unsure Wall would’ve accepted an extension. He doesn’t seem overly happy in Washington, and a raise via renegotiation was coming only if Wall provided something in return – an additional year of team control added to his contract.

And don’t lose track of this: Harden is better than Wall.

I don’t mind Wall monitoring other players’ contracts. That jealousy or whatever you want to call it has driven Wall to become a star NBA player. Whatever motivation works.

But demanding Harden’s deal is unrealistic. The Wizards also ought to be mindful of how Beal’s new contract affects chemistry, but that’s their problem.

Wall’s issue – as a player, not endorser – is primarily theoretical. He’s tied to his current contract, and lesser players will earn more than him due simply to timing. He must find a way to make peace with that.

51Q: Is there any reason the Jazz won’t be really good?

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 25:  Gordon Hayward #20 of the Utah Jazz celebrates his three point during a timeout with Derrick Favors #15 and the bench at Staples Center on November 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Today is day two of PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. Between now and the start of the NBA season we will tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season (we’re taking some weekends off). Today:

Is there any reason the Jazz won’t be really good?

The Utah Jazz barely missed the playoffs last season, but virtually no team in the middle tier of the league is as universally adored for their direction. They’re well-coached by Quin Snyder, have a roster that makes sense together and made sensible moves this summer to get better. Barring injuries, they should be a lock to make the postseason for the first time since the 2011-12 season.

In the non-Warriors category, it’s hard to argue that very many teams had better offseasons than the Jazz when it comes to filling holes on their roster without giving up any core pieces. Utah’s weakest position last season was point guard — with Dante Exum out for the year rehabbing a torn ACL, things got so bad that a midseason trade for career backup Shelvin Mack was considered a major upgrade. This summer, they flipped a lottery pick they didn’t really want to Atlanta in a three-team deal that got them George Hill, as solid a starting-caliber point guard as would realistically be available for them. Hill’s playmaking and outside shooting immediately improve Utah’s offense and gives Snyder a rock-solid veteran to take pressure off Exum coming back from missing a full year of action. Even if the Jazz view Exum as their long-term answer at point guard, it’s going to take him a full year to get back up to speed, and having Hill means he has to do less right away.

The Jazz’ other major upgrade came with the signing of seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson to a two-year, $22 million deal. Johnson isn’t a first or second option on offense anymore at this point in his career, but as a veteran scorer off the bench, he can still be effective and should be a great fit in the offense. Taking on Boris Diaw‘s contract could prove savvy, too, if he’s as engaged as he was in San Antonio.

Beyond the roster upgrades, the driving force of all the Jazz optimism this summer is how well all of their young pieces fit together, and the potential for improvement from all of them. Nobody knows what Exum will be, but even if Utah gets nothing out of him, they have an enviable core just entering its prime. Rudy Gobert is one of the most lethal rim protectors in the league at 24 years old. Derrick Favors has developed into an excellent all-around power forward. Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood provide a potent scoring combo on the perimeter, and if Alec Burks is healthy, he can help there too.

The Jazz are also the beneficiaries of the shifting balance of power in the Western Conference. The Thunder lost Kevin Durant and while they’re probably still a playoff team, they’re far from a lock. The Blazers spent a lot of money but didn’t necessarily get better, and may have overachieved last season. The Timberwolves, despite having arguably the brightest future in the league, are still probably a couple years away. The Rockets and Grizzlies are still total question marks, and the Pelicans haven’t been able to construct a solid group around Anthony Davis. Meanwhile, the Jazz are sitting there with the least downside of any of these bubble teams, not a lot of rotation question marks and play in a division without a clear-cut favorite.

Nobody thinks the Jazz are going to be title contenders, but looking up and down the west hierarchy, there isn’t a team that the Warriors or the Spurs should want to face less in the playoffs. And this year, they have the depth to get there.

Ryan McDonough: Suns plan to be ‘major players’ in 2017 free agency

Ryan McDonough
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The Suns have swung big in free agency the previous couple years, chasing LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in 2014 and LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015.

But 2016 appeared to be the year Phoenix really eyed.

The Suns structured the contracts of multiple players – including Brandon Knight, Tyson Chandler, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris – to have salaries that dipped this summer. Time that flexibility correctly, and it can really pay off.

Phoenix big prize? Jared Dudley.

Dudley is a nice player, but he’s hardly the star the Suns seek. So, they’ll try again next year.

Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough, via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

That’s been one of our frustrations this summer. We were kind of on the sideline for some of the marquee free agents. But as you know, Woj, it wasn’t the deepest free agent class.

Potentially, it’s a very strong free agent class next year. And one of the things we’ve done with our contracts is we’ve lined them up to have max cap space next year without really touching the core of our roster.

I think and I hope at this time next year, we’re major players in free agency. Because as you mentioned, the Phoenix Suns are a destination franchise.

The 2017 free agent class won’t be as strong as hoped.

LeBron James locked in for multiple years with the Cavaliers. Russell Westbrook signed a contract extension with the Thunder. Kevin Durant indicated he’ll re-sign with the Warriors. So has Stephen Curry. Blake Griffin is reportedly “adamant” about re-signing with the Clippers.

Teams will almost certainly match any offer for the top restricted free agents – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel – if they don’t extend their contracts first.

That still leaves several quality unrestricted free agents – including Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap – but Paul and Lowry are point guards. Phoenix already has Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, and Devin Booker looks like the shooting guard of the future. So, forget simply sliding Bledsoe or Knight to off guard. It’d take a major shakeup for Paul or Lowry to make sense with the Suns.

Still, McDonough’s approach is logical. If he can keep kicking the can down the road, perpetually selling that his plan is a year from taking it hold, it’ll make it easier for him to retain his prestigious job.

But if he has to make his 2017 free agency plan work rather than deferring to 2018, it could be difficult.

The Suns project to have about $17 million in cap space (under a system that could change significantly with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement). Renouncing restricted free agent Alex Len could clear about $12 million more, and just $500,000 of Leandro Barbosa‘s $4 million salary is guaranteed. Trading Tyson Chandler, Bledsoe and/or Knight could open even more space. Losing Len isn’t ideal, but for the right free agent, the upgrade would be worthwhile.

The bigger issue is winning. Phoenix has struggled to lure top free agents, because the team has missed the playoffs six straight years. That’s unlikely, though not impossible, to change this year. If the probabilities hold, what does McDonough sell then?

He always has the option of using cap space to facilitate uneven trades, a route he previously broached. Depending on the deal, that could encroach on 2017 cap space.

But if his plan holds, the Suns will keep their books relatively clear until next summer.