NBA Power Rankings: Knicks climb up to No. 2

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Welcome to the penultimate PBT power rankings for the season. If you win 12 games in a row you can get the No. 2 spot, but if you asked me to pick who wins a seven game series between the Thunder and Knicks it would look different than this ranking. Same with the Spurs. But let’s give the run it’s due.

source:  1. Heat (60-16, last week ranked No. 1). No Dwyane Wade until the playoffs, Chris Bosh is going to miss a few games and you can bet LeBron James misses a few, too. Doesn’t mean much heading into playoffs.

source:  2. Knicks (49-26, LW 5). Winners of 12 in a row and while I don’t read much into beating the Heat without LeBron or Wade, beating the Thunder in OKC Sunday was a statement. Still wonder about their defense but the Knicks are finally going to win a playoff series and if they keep playing like this they’ll win more than one.

source:  3. Thunder (56-20, LW 2). They knocked off the banged up Spurs but lost a playoff-feel game to the Knicks. Their defense is improving — in their last 10 games it is 3 points per 100 possessions below their season average. But their offense seems defendable in crunch time.

source:  4. Spurs (57-20, LW 3). No Tony Parker and no Manu Ginobili and likely that will mean no top seed in the West (they have a one-game lead over OKC). Which is fine, rest and health matter. Healthy they are contender, if not they will fall by the wayside as there is not a lot of margin for error in the West playoffs.

source:  5 Grizzlies (51-25, LW 7). Mike Conley has developed into one of the best defensive point guards in the NBA. But he’s also the Grizzlies late game option — against the Lakers their last two plays were Conley isolation sets. For the playoffs they need something more creative late in games.

source:  6. Nuggets (53-24, LW 6). The Danilo Gallinari ACL injury hurts this team (they can’t go small nearly as well), but not as much as Ty Lawson being out with a foot injury. Lawson being back and close to 100 percent is key to any playoff hopes the Nuggets have.

source:  7. Clippers (50-26, LW 8). The Clippers have won 50 games and will win the Pacific Division for the first time ever. Whatever happens with them in the playoffs we need to acknowledge the best Clippers regular season ever.

source:  8. Pacers (48-29, LW 4). It looks like we should see a Pacers/Knicks second round matchup and that will be fascinating — do the Pacers have enough offense to win that series? Do the Knicks have enough defense?

source:  9. Nets (44-32, LW 9). That loss to the Bulls — very much a potential first round matchup — makes you wonder if the Nets can get out of the first round. They have struggled against NBA playoff teams all season long (14-26).

source:  10. Warriors (44-33, LW 11). One more win and they clinch a playoff spot. Which they need to do soon as Mark Jackson has gone to basically a seven-man rotation of late and he needs to get Stephen Curry and others some rest before the playoffs start.

source:  11. Rockets (43-34, LW 10). I am still hoping to see a Rockets/Nuggets first round playoff matchup, but I’m not sure we’re going to get that. Playing the Thunder would be entertaining as well, but that series isn’t going to last as long.

source:  12. Bulls (42-34, LW 14). Joakim Noah was back Sunday but Luol Deng was out with a hip issue. Forget about Rose, the Bulls could win their first round series if they could just get everyone else healthy and playing grinding defense.

source:  13. Celtics (40-37, LW 12). It feels like everybody wants to see Celtics take on the Knicks in the first round… well, probably not the Knicks. Boston is beatable right now but with Kevin Garnett and their defense the Celtics will be a tough out in the first round.

source:  14. Hawks (42-36, LW 13). We all talk about the Spurs, Nuggets and other teams needing to get healthy for the playoffs but the Hawks are in there, too — if Devin Harris is all the way back to rotate with Jeff Teague they are a much better team.

source:  15. Jazz (41-37, LW 16). After falling al the way back to the Lakers they have gotten hot again, winning seven of eight and getting great play out of Derrick Favors (the key guy they back in the Deron Williams trade).

source:  16. Lakers (40-37, LW 17). Kobe Bryant is willing this team to score and be in games, but the issue remains simply the Lakers defense — Chris Paul carved it up on Sunday and you have to think OKC or San Antonio would do the same if the Lakers even make the postseason.

source:  17. Mavericks (38-39, LW 15). One more win — over the lowly Suns at home on Wednesday — and the Mavericks get to break out the razors and shave the .500 beards. I’d be both happy for them… and a little sad to see the beards go.

source:  18. Bucks (37-39, LW 18). They are pretty locked in to play the Heat in the first round. Can they win a game in that series?

source:  19. Wizards (29-47, LW 19). The win over the Pacers on Saturday show just how good this team can be with John Wall and Nene healthy — keep them that way next season and they are a lock playoff team.

source:  20. 76ers (31-45, LW 20). It needs to be repeated — yes the Sixers rolled the dice on Andrew Bynum but it was a good gamble to make. They thought they were getting a superstar and size to challenge the Heat. But sometimes on gambles you lose, and it’s a huge hole now to dig out of in Philly.

source:  21. Timberwolves (29-47, LW 22). Congratulations to coach Rick Adelman for reaching 1,000 career wins. You’ll rack up more much faster next season if Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are healthy.

source:  22. Raptors (29-48, LW 25). They play only playoff teams from here on out, which could get a little ugly. With all the athletes on this roster, hopefully next year they aren’t playing at the 22nd fastest pace in the league.

source:  23. Trail Blazers (33-44, LW 21). Losers of eight games in a row, but you know they will be up for the game Wednesday and the chance to play spoiler for the Lakers. At least the fans will be.

source:  24. Kings (27-50, LW 23). Who knows where this team will play next year, but in case it is not Sacramento hopefully they can give the fans one last home win there. It better be against the Hornets Wednesday because the only other home game is a week later against the Clippers.

source:  25. Hornets (26-50, LW 24). Eric Gordon was arguing with coach Monty Williams then got benched. Fans in the Big Easy are pretty much done with Gordon and the team will shop him (but guys on max deals coming off knee surgeries are not easy to move).

source:  26. Pistons (26-52, LW 27). It hasn’t always been pretty, but at least they Pistons have played Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe together more. They should have been doing it all season, it’s how they get better.

source:  27. Cavaliers (23-52, LW 28). Cleveland has won two straight, but all anyone is talking about is the status of coach Byron Scott. Well, except for Kyrie Irving, who will not bring it up.

source:  28. Bobcats (18-59, LW 29). He hasn’t drawn a lot of attention, but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist still looks like a guy who could be a lot better in a couple years. Just got to rebuild the jump shot, his instincts and effort is great.

source:  29. Suns (23-53, LW 26). Losers of nine in a row (and have gone 2-15 in last 17), but they gave GM Lon Babby two more years at the helm with a new contract. Which could mean more Lindsay Hunter as coach. Are they tanking for Andrew Wiggins early?

source:  30. Magic (19-59, LW 30). Their offense is just dreadful. Which is to be expected, but it’s still hard to watch.

Report: NBA’s minor league won’t allow potentially eligible college players

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USC’s De’Anthony Melton, Louisville’s Brian Bowen and Auburn’s Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy haven’t played this season due to the FBI’s probe into college basketball. Mitchell Robinson left Western Kentucky before his freshmen season started to train for the NBA draft.

But they’re all potentially eligible to play college basketball again someday.

So, they can’t play in the NBA’s minor league.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

That ineligibility stems from a rule that prevents players who were enrolled in college during an academic calendar year from being offered a contract in the same season, unless they have been ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA with no opportunity of being reinstated (as was the case with P.J. Hairston in 2013).

“We’re not looking to compete with college basketball for their players,” a G League source said. “The NBA, specifically NBA lawyers, are concerned about the optics of NCAA players being disgruntled with minutes or coaching decisions and leaving college with the hopes of joining the G League. This is a blanket rule unfortunately that applies to all players. Like all of our rules, we are open to revisiting them if needed, but at the moment any player that was enrolled in a college this season is ineligible to play in our League.”

NBA executives and scouts are griping because they can’t evaluate these prospects in games. I don’t care about that.

This is an affront to capitalism. The basis of our economy should be competition, and the NBA is handing the NCAA – a cartel – a monopoly in this level of basketball. And it’s the workers (players) who lose.

So what if a freshman is disgruntled with his minutes and wants to turn pro during the season? He can’t join the NBA due to the age minimum. Why shouldn’t he be allowed to at least enter the NBA’s minor league, for which he’s old enough? We should trust him to manage his future, not protect the almighty college coach from facing consequences to his rotation.

I don’t know whether or not the NBA and NCAA colluded, but the NBA’s stance is the exact one it would take if it colluded. The NBA has worked to improve the quality of play in its minor league by increasing salary to compete against foreign leagues for players. It’s strange to just willingly take a backseat to college basketball when there’s a great opportunity to compete for top talent.

The players could legally challenge the policy, but they’ll be eligible for the NBA draft in June, and there’s risk in upsetting a potential future employer. And would anything be decided quickly enough in court to matter for the challenging player?

Players like Melton, Bowen, Wiley, Purifoy and Robinson aren’t allowed to let the market set their compensation as college basketball players, because NCAA schools have colluded to cap wages. Those players aren’t allowed to seek employment in the comparable American professional league, because that league doesn’t want to compete with the NBA.

It’s a travesty for capitalism and these workers.

LeBron James has tepid response when asked about Tyronn Lue’s job safety

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LeBron James was no fan of David Blatt, so he was let go around the All-Star break with the Cavaliers a couple of years ago when the team had the best record in the East.

Now the Cavaliers have fallen to third in the East and have lost 8-of-11, were blown out by the Thunder on national television on Saturday, have one of the worst defenses in the NBA, and have a brutal stretch of games against good teams ahead.

Is Tyronn Lue’s job in danger? That question has been asked around Cleveland, and when LeBron was asked about it after the OKC loss his response was tepid (via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com)

Is a coaching change really the answer? I’m not Lue’s biggest fan as a coach, I think Cleveland’s offense has too much isolation and can get simplistic, but he’s got an older team that lost Kyrie Irving (and replaced him with Isaiah Thomas, who just returned to the rotation a couple of weeks ago and is still getting his legs under him).

Maybe that wakes the team up, but the more likely change is a trade or two at the deadline. If Cleveland isn’t willing to put the Brooklyn pick in the mix (reportedly they will only do that for an elite superstar) it’s hard to see them getting a player that really makes a difference. However, get one who wakes the team up out of its malaise and plays a little defense, and the Cavaliers become more likely to out of the East.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks in Cleveland.

Thunder drop 148 points on defenseless Cavaliers, win in rout

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If you wondered why Cleveland is so active in the trade market as the deadline nears — and why they are hunting out guys who can play defense — all you had to do was watch the Thunder dismantle the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon on national television, 148-124.

The Thunder went into Quicken Loans Arena and list of offensive accolades is long (and ugly if you’re a Cleveland fan):

• Oklahoma City dropped 148 points.

• Oklahoma City shot 58 percent overall.

• Oklahoma City shot 46.7 percent from three.

• Oklahoma City got 44 percent of its shots within four feet of the rim.

• Oklahoma City’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George combined for 88 points.

• Westbrook had 23 points and 20 assists.

• Paul George had 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

Steven Adams had 25 points and 10 rebounds.

• Westbrook, George, Adams, and Anthony combined for 113 points on 66 shots.

To be fair, this was also about the Thunder playing one of their most complete offensive games of the season. They moved the ball beautifully, there wasn’t the “your turn/my turn” issues from earlier this season.

For a team still unsure of its identity and looking for validation, this game provided it.

It also provided another glimpse into the troubles in Cleveland.

Last season the Cavaliers counted on an exceptional offense to cover up for a defense that was decent when they cared and horrific when they didn’t, but when it got time in the playoffs Cleveland was able to flip the switch (it just wasn’t enough in the Finals). LeBron James has another gear and was able to lift his teammates up with it.

This season, they don’t seem to know where the switch is. The good defensive habits they had built over time seem lost and forgotten, as they run out a litany of minus defenders in their regular rotation.

Cleveland looks like a team that needs help at the trade deadline to ensure it gets out of the East. The question becomes will they throw in the Brooklyn pick to do it? And even if they did, would DeAndre Jordan really solve their issues right now?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo out a couple of games to manage sore knee

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It’s not discussed much, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chronically sore knee that has been an issue since last summer. It’s not debilitating, it doesn’t require surgery, but it’s something Antetokounmpo and the Bucks need to actively manage.

Hence, Antetokounmpo is sitting out the next couple of games. From Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Bucks all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Monday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns as the team actively manages the health of Antetokounmpo’s sore right knee….

Antetokounmpo’s injury, which is not considered to be tendinitis, is regarded as something that is always going to bother him to some extent, according to a league source. There will be days where the discomfort is higher and some when it’s lower, and the team’s goal is to manage that on a daily basis to keep the injury from becoming severe or significant — something it is not considered to be at this point.

Antetokounmpo is going to get eight days of rest this way, which is the smart long-term move for the Bucks.

The challenge is the Bucks may be sixth in the East as you read this, but they are just one game up on the nine seed Pistons. They need to get wins without Antetokounmpo, which is hard because they have been outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they could be without him a lot longer if Antetokounmpo’s knee isn’t managed now.