350x-1

NBA Power Rankings: The streak is dead, the Heat not so much…

29 Comments

Only two more power rankings after this, so we are starting to turn our view toward the playoffs. Which still feel like the Heat then everyone else.

source:  1. Heat (58-15, last week ranked No. 1). A gutty performance by the Chicago Bulls ended the Heat win streak at 27. But that was a one-time performance, not something the Bulls could replicate. It would make a great NCAA Tournament upset. The question is who is going to beat the Heat four out of seven games? Anyone?

source:  2. Thunder (54-20, LW 5). We know what the Thunder are going to get from Kevin Durant every night. Same with Russell Westbrook. The question heading into the playoffs is what about Kevin Martin? He needs to start showing up every night — beginning Thursday in the big showdown with the Spurs.

source:
3. Spurs (55-18, LW 3). They will be without Manu Ginobili for a few weeks and maybe even the start of the playoffs due to a hamstring injury. The loss Sunday to a shorthanded Heat shows how much they would miss him come the postseason against an elite team. Short-term question is can they hold on to top spot in West?

source:  4. Pacers (47-27, LW 7). Won four games in a row including a tough Texas two step at Houston and Dallas last week, which gives them seven wins in their last eight. They are finding a playoff groove, too. Big tests against the Clippers and Thunder this week.

source:  5. Knicks (46-26, LW 9). They have an eight-game win streak that comes as they go with a lot of two point-guard lineups (which they used a lot at the start of the Season with Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd). Looks like they may get Tyson Chandler back for the Heat showdown on Tuesday.

source:  6. Nuggets (50-24, LW 2). The stumbled after the Hornets snapped their winning streak but they can’t stumble much longer — they have a half game lead over Memphis (tied in the loss column) and one game over the Clippers (a game back in losses) in the fight for the three seed. Get the three spot and it is much easier for them to advance out of the first round.

source:  7. Grizzlies (49-24, LW 4). Marc Gasol is back but this is a team that needs to find it’s playoff groove — they are 5-5 in their last 10. Zach Randolph has been scoring less and they haven’t been great on the road. This week they have three road games including the Blazers and Lakers.

source:  8. Clippers (49-25, LW 6). They went 1-3 on a road trip last week and are another team you watch going to the playoffs and think they are good but not playing at their peak. Do you think Vinny Del Negro can give them the Xs and Os they need (especially when Chris Paul sits)? Can he inspire them?

source:  9. Nets (42-31, LW 8). The Nets are 4-3 on a big road trip that ends Wednesday in Cleveland. Looks more and more like they will host Chicago or Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs — series that wouldn’t shock me if they went either way.

source:  10. Rockets (40-33, LW 10). They went 2-2 in a brutal week (beat Spurs and Clippers, lost to Pacers and Grizzlies) and now look like a playoff lock with some softer games ahead. This is a team that still needs some pieces, but this season has been a nice first step forward.

source:  11. Warriors (42-32, LW 13). For some franchises, just making the NBA playoffs isn’t enough. Golden State isn’t there yet. Breaking out of the shadow of the Cohen era, this is going to be big. The Warriors are 7-3 in their last 10, and while inconsistent at times (you see the loss to the Kings?) just getting into the dance is something to celebrate.

source:  12. Celtics (38-35, LW 12). If they are going to be the seven seed in the East — which looks likely — who do you think they would rather face: New York or Indiana? I’m rooting for the Knicks matchup, but just because that’s a more feisty rivalry.

source:  13. Hawks (41-33, LW 14). Coach Larry Drew ripped Josh Smith’s shot selection last week. What took him so long?

source:  14. Bulls (40-32, LW 15). They ended the Heat’s win streak and have won four-of-five without Joakim Noah in the lineup. They are not going to go far in the playoffs, but they will not be an easy out.

source:  15. Mavericks (36-37, LW 16). If they can get to .500 Tuesday night with a win over the Lakers it will mean much more than just getting to shave the beards, it will be a huge boost for their playoffs hopes. And the good news is the Lakers are just retiring Shaquille O’Neal’s number, they don’t have to play against him.

source:  16. Jazz (38-36, LW 20). They have won four in a row and they hold on to the eighth playoff spot in the West. They have five of their remaining eight at home and four are against current playoff teams.

source:  17. Lakers (38-36, LW 11). Their battle for the playoffs is really up hill now — while they have seven of their last eight at home but six games remain against West playoff teams. As it has been all season with the Lakers, it comes down to their defense. Which remains shaky and isn’t helped by Metta World Peace being out.

source:  18. Bucks (35-37, LW 17). Their hopes of catching Boston for the seven seed in the East — and avoiding Miami in the first round — have died with some average play in recent weeks. So they should revel in making the playoffs before what will be a tumultuous offseason.

source:  19. Wizards (27-46, LW 19). The Wizards have set a goal to end the season — close the three-game gap they are behind the 76ers and finish with the nine seed. And it’s pretty reasonable.

source:  20. 76ers (30-43, LW 25). They still officially say they can still catch the Bucks for the eight seed and make the playoffs. I still officially say my next car can be a Maserati Spyder convertible. About the same odds.

source:  21. Trail Blazers (33-40, LW 18). Some teams look like they have folded the tents and are just playing out the string. Portland would be in that category, having dropped four in a row.

source:  22. Timberwolves (26-46, LW 21). Stat of the season for the Wolves, courtesy John Schuhmann at NBA.com: Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Ricky Rubio have played a total of 13 minutes together this season. Over three games. And you wonder why they are 20 games below .500.

source:  23. Kings (27-47, LW 22). Despite the turmoil around the team off the court (which could come to a head this week in New York when the two sides pitch deals to a committee of owners) the Kings have played fairly well since the All-Star break.

source:  24. Hornets (26-48, LW 23). Not only did they snap the Nuggets 15-game win streak, they did it without Eric Gordon and Greivis Vasquez. There are moments you can see hope with this team.

source:  25. Raptors (27-46, LW 26). The No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft — Andrew Wiggins — is Canadian. Just trying to give Toronto basketball fans north of the border some positive news.

source:  26. Suns (23-51, LW 24). They have lost six in a row and dropped to the bottom of the West, with a big off-season shakeup seeming likely. The only “good” news is the bottom of the West still has a lot of teams below them in the East.

source:  27. Pistons (24-50, LW 29). Andre Drummond is back. Usually I would say don’t rush a guy back but any time he can get on the court next to Greg Monroe just helps build for the future. It’s a good thing.

source:  28. Cavaliers (22-50, LW 27). Well, they got Kyrie Irving back. Not that it helped them get a win — their losing streak is now up to eight.

source:  29. Bobcats (17-56, LW 28). Not even the recent strong play of Gerald Henderson can help them much with three games against Eastern Conference playoff teams this week.

source:  30. Magic (19-55, LW 30). They are on the road for four games this week and they are 8-28 on the season away from Orlando. So, this should go well.

Raptors hold on in overtime, even series with Heat

TORONTO, ON - MAY 03:  Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors hits a half-court buzzer beater to tie Game One and send it into overtime during the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami Heat during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 3, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
5 Comments

It wasn’t pretty, but the Toronto Raptors came away with a win and salvaged a tied series in their first two home games. For the second consecutive game, they went to overtime with the Miami Heat, only this time, it was the Heat that came up cold at the end, and Toronto prevailed, 96-92.

From an efficiency standpoint, Kyle Lowry wasn’t much better than he’s been thus far in the postseason, shooting just 7-for-22 from the field, but he hit two key jumpers in the final minutes of regulation that extended Toronto’s lead, forcing Miami to play from behind and tying the game on threes from Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic.

But it was Jonas Valanciunas who proved most effective late for Toronto. He finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds, and for long stretches, the only reliable offense for the Raptors was dumping the ball in to him. Valanciunas bailed the Raptors out late with a rebound and tip-in to break an 80-80 tie after DeMar DeRozan (who shot a forgettable 9-for-24 on the night) missed two consecutive free throws.

The Heat failed to score in the first three minutes of overtime, and their continued penchant for turning the ball over did them in several times down the stretch as they failed to execute.

A bright spot for Miami was Dragic, who scored 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting despite receiving eight stitches to his lower lip after catching an elbow in the first half.

Splitting the first two home games isn’t ideal for the Raptors, but they had every opportunity to go down 2-0 after controlling most of the first three quarters and managed to prevail. Plus, Lowry’s late-fourth-quarter heroics could be enough to get him going again.

Damian Lillard gets tested by Warriors, looks for rebound

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 03:  Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers stands on the court during their game against the Golden State Warriors in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on May 3, 2016 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.  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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
2 Comments

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) First it was a chest cold, then it was a fourth-quarter dry spell. The start of Damian Lillard‘s playoff series against the Golden State Warriors has been rough.

And as Lillard goes, often the rest of the Trail Blazers follow.

Portland is down 2-0 in its Western Conference semifinal series against the defending NBA champions. And it certainly won’t get much easier when the series shifts north Saturday – even though presumptive league MVP Stephen Curry is unlikely to return from a knee injury.

But Lillard and his team have a history of stepping up after getting knocked down. In fact, that’s been the theme of their whole season.

“I know the kind of guys I’m running with. Besides that, we’ve answered the call all season long. We’ve been in bad positions time and time again, and we’ve never shied away. We’ve never not answered the call. I don’t see why this time it would be any different,” he said.

Lillard, who averaged 25.1 points and 6.8 assists during the regular season, scored 25 points in the Blazers’ 110-99 loss in Game 2 on Tuesday night, including 17 points in the third quarter. But the Warriors held him scoreless (0-for-3 from the field) in the crucial final period when they came from behind to win, outscoring Portland 34-12. Portland only scored six points over the last 5:21.

With a day off on Wednesday, Lillard let the loss digest.

“After the game I was pretty frustrated by not being able to finish that game. Yesterday I didn’t even want to see a basketball,” he said. “I wasn’t even gonna watch the playoff game until I heard Cleveland was hitting a bunch of 3s. So I wanted to see for myself, but I didn’t even want to have nothing to do with basketball after that game.”

In the series opener, Lillard started cold but eventually scored 30 points in a 118-106 loss. The Oakland native admitted later to battling a cold afterward. On Thursday, he said he was healthy.

Lillard made a playoff splash in 2014 when his buzzer-beating 3-pointer against the Rockets sent the Blazers into the second round for the first time in 14 years.

But he was the lone starter left with the Blazers this season after the departures of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews. Some expected the Blazers to only win about two dozen games.

Lillard tends to rise when he’s the underdog, however. Led by Lillard and backcourt teammate CJ McCollum, a first-year starter, the Blazers overcame a 2-10 stretch in November to wind up the fifth seed in the West.

A two-time All-Star, Lillard was snubbed this year. How did he respond? By dropping 51 points, including nine 3-pointers, in a 137-105 victory over – wait for it – the Golden State Warriors. Lillard shot over Curry at will in that Feb. 19 victory, one of just nine losses for the Warriors in a record-setting 73-win season.

Knowing the Blazers are capable will be key Saturday night.

“We’ll have bounce. We came back after 0-2 against the Clippers (in the opening round) and came with a lot of energy in Game 3. We know how important Game 3 is,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “Having energy, having bounce, at the Moda Center, with our crowd? That’s the least of our concerns.”

Lillard also struggled in the opening two games against the Clippers in the first round. Portland came back to win the next four to win the series, but the Clippers were hurt when their top two scorers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, were knocked out with injuries.

The Warriors also get credit for Lillard’s struggles after making defensive adjustments on both Lillard and McCollum, particularly the play of Festus Ezeli.

“They are so explosive and they run really good stuff, I mean, it’s hard to guard. You have to cover a lot of floor against Portland, and I thought between Festus and Draymond (Green), those guys did a great job of protecting the feed and moving and handling the pick-and-roll on top,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr.

Lillard said the Blazers would learn from it.

“It hurts to go back in the locker room after you play so well for so long and you come back in there with the L. But it is a part of growth,” he said. “The entire season has been growth for us.”

Erik Spoelstra calls Frank Vogel’s firing “disturbing”

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 28:  Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat reacts as he coaches in the first half against the Indiana Pacers during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on May 28, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  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 Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
9 Comments

One thing that’s a constant in the NBA: coaches always stick up for each other. That’s what happened on Thursday, when Pacers president Larry Bird announced that he was letting Frank Vogel go. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who coached against Vogel in three memorable playoff series during the big three era, was unhappy to hear the news of Vogel’s fate and lamented the state of coaching, which has very little job security.

Via Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

“I think it’s really disturbing, actually. I’ve only been a head coach for eight years. So what am I, the second-longest-tenured?” Spoelstra asked, with Casey in his sixth season as Toronto coach and only Gregg Popovich, in his 20th season with the San Antonio Spurs, on the bench longer. “That’s a sad state of where the coaching profession is right now and stability of organizations.”

Spoelstra and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle are the second longest-tenured coaches in the league, behind only Gregg Popovich. Already this offseason, there have been five coaching changes in addition to Vogel’s: Luke Walton replaced Byron Scott with the Lakers, Tom Thibodeau replaced Sam Mitchell with the Timberwolves, Scott Brooks replaced Randy Wittman in Washington, and the Rockets and Kings jobs are still unfilled. The Knicks job could potentially turn over as well, if Phil Jackson opts not to bring back Kurt Rambis.

This is on top of five coaches who were fired during the season: Kevin McHale in Houston, Derek Fisher in New York, Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix, Lionel Hollins in Brooklyn and David Blatt in Cleveland. That’s a third of the league since the 2015-16 season began. Spoelstra is right about the instability, but that’s part of the business.

Photos: Bucks unveil interior of new arena

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 25:  Jabari Parker #12 of the Milwaukee Bucks runs down court during the third quarter against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on February 25, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

The Milwaukee Bucks are set to open their new arena in time for the start of the 2018-19 season, and now they’ve unveiled the first renderings of the inside of the building. They’re pretty nice.

Here’s the court:

There will also be several public bars out in the concourse:

It’s decidedly more modern than the aging BMO Harris Bradley Center, although that building is one of the most fun atmospheres in the league to watch a game in. Hopefully the new place can recapture that vibe.