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.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelican Friday

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Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.

Report: Kevin Love was frustrated with move to center

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With Derrick Rose having to start at point guard (until Isiah Thomas returns sometime in early 2018) and Dwyane Wade starting at the two, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had no choice but to move Kevin Love to starting at center. The Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing to open up driving lanes and options for LeBron James. Start Tristan Thompson at the five (with Love at the four and Jae Crowder coming off the bench) and it adds another non-shooter to the mix that allows opposing defenses to just pack the paint and force LeBron to be a jump shooter.

That doesn’t mean everyone liked the change.

Love admitted to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was frustrated with the move at first.

“It’s been a little bit of a change for me,” Love admitted. “I still find myself spacing a little bit wanting to roll a little bit more and on the defensive end just playing the primary big on their team the whole time on the defensive end. It’s been a little bit different figuring things out on that end, but it comes with the growth I’m talking about. We need to do that and hopefully be a machine when things start clicking.”

Lue put it this way.

“We’re going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he’s enjoying it.”

While in certain matchups, when the opposition has a more traditional center, the Cavs may go back to the Love/Thompson front line for a stretch. But the small ball lineup is the way Cleveland should be leaning, even with its clear defensive deficiencies. We saw that in the opener with Love’s dagger three in the fourth quarter.

Love is adjusting, he’s already sacrificed a lot to play with LeBron. This is just another step in that evolution.

Another wing down? Celtics’ Marcus Smart likely out vs. Sixers

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The horrific, probably season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward has left the Celtics with a shortage of players on the wing.

Going up against Philadelphia Friday night, that might be getting worse, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

Looking at the pictures, I doubt Smart plays.

As noted, Smart said he hurt both ankles in the second night of a back-to-back against Milwaukee, the left one in a collision with teammate Jaylen Brown. Smart started that game and played 32 minutes. That’s a lot of time to go to lesser players.

If he’s out Friday, that likely means either Terry Rozier or Abdel Nader get the start, and both are going to see a healthy bump in minutes. Whatever happens, the Celtics would miss Smart in a game where they need to defend Ben Simmons on the wing.

What happened to Willy Hernangomez’s minutes with Knicks?

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When talking about the Knicks’ young core going forward, Willy Hernangomez was one of the names that got mentioned by the front office (alongside players such asFrank Ntilikina and Tim Hardaway Jr.). The Knicks are crowded at the center spot — Enes Kanter got the start in the opener Thursday night, and Kristaps Porzingis should get minutes there (it’s ultimately going to be his NBA position), and this isn’t even mentioning Joakim Noah — but Hernangomez looked like a developing young player who needed some run.

He got just 3:46 minutes in the opener, and that was during fourth quarter garbage time. Kyle O'Quinn got nearly 22 off the bench at the five. That follows a preseason where Hernangomez saw his minutes drop seemingly game-to-game.

What gives? Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News asked the same question.

“We have a lot of bigs,” Hornacek said. “(O’Quinn) and Enes earned the minutes in training camp. Willy’s not far behind. He’s got to keep working. When you got that many bigs, you can’t play them all. The other guys earned the minutes. I told all three of them it doesn’t matter if you’re in the rotation or out of rotation. If you’re in it, you’ve got to earn it to keep it.”

“I can score. It’s not difficult for me. I think the coach wants to see my effort on defense. That’s why I have to keep working hard everyday,” said Hernangomez, who is also Kristaps Porzingis’ best friend on the Knicks.

Without question, Hernangomez needs to work on his defense, but then again this is a Knicks team starting Kanter so it’s obviously not a requirement.

Hornacek needs to find a balance here — it’s early in the season, he wants to win games, he wants to put his best foot forward. But the Knicks are not a playoff team this season, and they are in the player development business. That means Hernangomez — as well as rookie point guard Ntilikina — need to get minutes, need to be thrown to the wolves a little, and need to learn from their mistakes. Hornacek needs to be coaching for a few years down the line… the problem is he knows he may not have this job that far down the line, so he’s coaching to get wins now.