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.

Jusuf Nurkic’s agent says big man wants to stay in Portland this summer

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Last season, after his trade from frustrated backup big in Denver to new starter in Portland, there was a honeymoon — the Blazers went 14-6, their defense was better, and Nurkic was a big man setting big picks for quick guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

This season the honeymoon is over, things have been up and down, but far from time to say the marriage should end, as he is a free agent next summer. Nurkic is the only real starting center on the roster (even if coach Terry Stotts left him on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Ed Davis a few games back). Nurkic is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and the Blazers’ defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. However, his effort level has been up and down, and his shot is off, with a true shooting percentage of just 49.4, and he is shooting just 56.6 percent in the restricted area.

Nurkic wants to stay in Portland, his agent told Ben Golliver in a story at Sports Illustrated (that story is worth the read for the Nurkic origin story, which is amazing).

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

The two sides talked extension before the season, but Portland understandably wanted to make sure there was more to this relationship than just a honeymoon. It gave Nurkic a chance to drive up his asking price.

Portland and Nurkic likely will find a long-term deal next summer because it just makes sense for both sides. There are not a lot of teams with max free agent money next summer (4-6, I was told by an insider), or a lot of money to spend in general, and both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus would be centers on the market who rank ahead of Nurkic. Portland will offer more than other free agent destinations, if not as much as Nurkic dreamed of, and they will find common ground.

But there is a lot of season to play out before then. The Blazers feel like a team that should be better than its record so far, and Nurkic is part of that untapped potential. If things change, that’s good for Nurkic — and the Blazers.

Celtics look to push win streak to 16 vs. Mavs

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DALLAS (AP) — The Boston Celtics aren’t yet halfway to the NBA record for consecutive victories, a mark the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers still hold, but at 15 in a row, they are in rare territory.

Since 1946-47, there have only been 35 instances of a 15-game win streak or longer. And of all the legendary Celtics teams, this squad already holds the franchise’s fifth-longest win streak. A victory Monday night against the Dallas Mavericks, who are an NBA-worst 3-14 overall and 2-8 at American Airlines Center, would tie the 1964-65 Boston team’s 16-game win streak.

If the Celtics (15-2) get the win, they would climb closer to the 1959-60 team’s 18-game win streak, and then comes the club mark of 19 in a row accomplished by the 2008-09 team.

This version of the Celtics has to be considered the most unexpected to string together so many wins. The team has a slew of new players, starting with guard Kyrie Irving, and Boston lost another prized newcomer, forward Gordon Hayward, in the season opener.

After starting 0-2, Boston hasn’t lost. Yet, it’s not exactly as if the Celtics are steamrolling the league. For the Mavericks, who are coming off snapping the Milwaukee Bucks’ four-game win streak Saturday, the fact that Boston has actually had to rally to get a handful of its wins must be seen as an opportunity to steal a decision.

In fact, four of the Celtics’ victories during the streak have come after Boston trailed by 16 points, including a 110-109 win against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

“Most of us have never been on a winning streak like this,” Irving said following the win over Atlanta. “I don’t know if we even know how to pay attention to all the hoopla that goes on in terms of the excitement of it. I just think that every single game we take it as a challenge.”

Irving has been accepting that challenge with tremendous success after asking to be traded away from Cleveland, where he won one title with LeBron James and lost twice in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors.

He closed out those same Warriors last week, scoring 11 of the last 15 points in the final 4:21. The clutch play has Irving already being talked about as an MVP candidate.

“He’s so good in those moments that you want to give him the appropriate amount of room,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told the Boston Globe about Irving. “Maybe it’s finding a matchup. Maybe it’s creating a two-man game with Al (Horford).”

Irving will be a major test for Mavs rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who has displayed some tremendous flashes while also showing he is a green 19-year-old with one season of college ball under his belt.

Dallas, one of the league’s lowest-scoring offensive teams, is relying heavily on Smith and Harrison Barnes to carry the load. Dirk Nowitzki, 39, has dropped off significantly, averaging just 10.3 points a game, his lowest output since his rookie season in 1998-99.

Unlike the Celtics, Dallas has lost its share of games by being unable to close out games late. On Saturday, the Mavericks won a rare game going away, blitzing the Bucks with a franchise-tying 19 3-pointers. Guard Wesley Matthews said he thinks all the hard work is starting to pay off.

The history-chasing Celtics will put that claim to test.

“We can actually see everything that we’ve been trying to do come together, and hopefully that just carries the momentum into the off day where everybody’s feeling good,” Matthews said after Dallas’ victory. “We’ve got another tough battle Monday against Boston, who is the hottest team in the league right now, but it’s another opportunity for us.”

Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone suspended one game for confronting referee

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Denver coach Mike Malone decided if he was going to get tossed and fined/suspended, he was going to get his money’s worth.

During the second quarter of the Nuggets’ Sunday loss to the Lakers, Malone ran onto the court during play to argue a no-call on a play by Nikola Jokic around the basket. Malone furiously confronted referee Rodney Mott, who swiftly ejected the coach. As he should. Malone was suspended one game for “entering the court, halting play and making contact with a game official,” the league announced. Malone will serve his suspension tonight when the Nuggets face the Kings in Sacramento.

Mott also tossed Jokic when he entered the argument Sunday night, but the NBA rescinded the ejection saying Jokic earned a technical but should not have been thrown out. A lot of good that does the Nuggets now, who had to go more than half the game without their best player and lost (not that he changes the outcome of the game, but a comeback is less likely without him).

 

 

Kevin Garnett: Thon Maker “is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down.”

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Not to get to inside baseball on NBA journalism, but one fundamental truth is player trainers pump up their guys. There usually is some truth in what they say, but it is in their interest to spin the player the best way possible. On and off the record it happens. It’s like asking a political campaign manager about his candidate, you will only get the positive.

Kevin Garnett worked out and helped the Bucks’ Thon Maker this summer.

In just his second season, Thon Maker has been in and out of the starting lineup for the Bucks at center, and he’s struggled this season with a true shooting percentage of 48 getting him 4.5 points a game, and PER of 9.3. (Bucks fans are understandably disappointed, but this is a second-year player, some patience is required).

Garnett had Makers’ back in a Q&A with Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Abrams.

Thon Maker reminds me a lot of myself. He loves the game. He’s a young, exuberant athlete who has a lot of tools—he has touch; he has agility; he has really, good feet. He has a really good shot from three-point all the way up to 19 to 21 feet. He has very good bones, as we say.

Thon is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down. He has the bones. He has the appetite to be able to chase something like that.”

Garnett may have the wrong young-stud Buck with an MVP in his future.

Maker has gotten KG comparisons for years, he’s a very mobile and athletic but thin big who can shoot from the wing… but the physical similarities are not enough. Maker is no KG. Not yet. Maker showed promise against the Raptors last playoffs but has not taken a step forward off that progress this season, looking far more prone to fouling than defending. The effort is there, but the maturity of game has a long way to go to catch up.

Garnett is right that Maker has the tools, and he is just in his second NBA season so patience is required, but there were concerns around the league before the draft if he had the makeup to put it all together and become a quality NBA player. That question is still out there, let’s get past it before we heap on accolades.