Raymond Felton, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd

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.

51Q: Can Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson get blood from a stone in Brooklyn?

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 20:  Rondae Hollis-Jefferson #24 of the Brooklyn Nets reacts after a foul is called against him during the second half at TD Garden on November 20, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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We continue 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:

Can Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson get blood from a stone in Brooklyn?

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

For Sean Marks, the new GM of the Brooklyn Nets, the first steps last February was to buy out Andrea Bargnani and waive Joe Johnson, then sign D-League guard Sean Kilpatrick in a quest for undervalued talent.

No team in all the NBA is in a worse rebuilding situation than the Brooklyn Nets. In their owner-pushed quest to open a new building with a splash a few years back, the Nets traded young players and control of their draft picks for expensive players on the back ends of their careers (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Johnson). When that fell apart as everyone could see it would, the Nets were left without the tools for a quick rebuild. They don’t control their own first-round pick until 2019.

This is a long, slow journey of 1,000 miles.

The question today is: Can Marks and his new coach Kenny Atkinson squeeze more wins out of this team while making that journey? The Nets won just 21 games last season.

They should win a few more this season — 25? 28? — and they should be more competitive. Certainly, they will be more entertaining. However, real change is going to take time. And patience — we’re looking at you, Mikhail Prokhorov.

The Nets have one good young player who should be part of the future core: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. He needs to become more confident with his jumper, but he is a long, athletic wing who can get to the rim on one end and defend on the other. He should thrive in a more uptempo Atkinson system. If he can stay healthy this season and take a step forward (as expected of second-year players), the Nets get a little better.

Then the Nets have some solid veterans around him. Brook Lopez is still one of the better offensive centers in the NBA, and while the trade waters were tested (and will be again), Lopez remains a Net.

Marks added veteran point guard Jeremy Lin to the mix — Atkinson was an assistant coach to Mike D’Antoni in New York during the Linsanity era, and he knows how to get the most out of him. The Nets brought other vets on the roster such as Luis Scola, Greivis Vasquez, and Randy Foye. Trevor Booker is still on the roster. There is rookie Caris LeVert to develop.

All of this should make the Nets considerably more entertaining (they were the hardest team in the NBA to watch last season) a little better. They should win a few more games. The issues keeping them from making any real leap begin with this was the second worst defensive team in the NBA last season and adding guys like Lin, Vasquez, and Scola to the roster is not going to improve that end. Add to that the fact this team has no true alpha players, plus a lack of depth, they have a lot of fringe players trying to establish themselves (which makes cohesion on the court difficult), they have almost no home court advantage, and it’s hard to be optimistic about the short term.

But Marks and Atkinson know it’s not about the short term.

Hopefully, ownership understands that as well, stays back, and lets the men do their jobs. Find some young talent, trade for what they can, and develop it. Progress will be incremental for years.

Marks has made a lot of good moves as GM, but no quick fixes are coming to Brooklyn. They don’t even have enough picks to trust the process. Progress is going to be incremental.

Marks and Atkinson may get a drop or two of blood from the stone — if you consider five more wins some blood — but don’t expect miracles.

Expect a long journey — and Marks to keep them walking on the right path. Which is all that can be reasonably asked.

Report: Pelicans aggressively seeking ‘one of the higher level free agent guards left’

Norris Cole, Deron Williams
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The Pelicans will reportedly work out Lance Stephenson, and whether or not they’re serious about him, they seem serious about somebody at his position.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

I’m not sure who qualifies as “‘one of the higher level free agent guards left” other than J.R. Smith, who seems extremely likely to return to the Cavaliers. (The Pelicans don’t have cap space to pursue Smith, anyway.)

Norris Cole, whom New Orleans already renounced? Mario Chalmers coming off a torn Achilles? Kevin Martin who did little with the Spurs? Kirk Hinrich who’s over the hill? Andre Miller who’s five years older?

Making this harder to decipher: The Pelicans have 15 players with guaranteed salaries, most of whom signed this offseason. How will they make room for an additional guard on their regular-season roster, which is capped at 15 players? They don’t have money or roster spot to lure a quality guard, even if you grade quality on a curve for who’s left unsigned.

Does this signal another shoe to drop in New Orleans?

Former Magic player Keith Appling charged with four more felonies after third arrest in four months

Orlando Magic's Keith Appling (15) makes a shot in front of Philadelphia 76ers' Jerami Grant (39) and Nerlens Noel (4) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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Former Orlando Magic and Michigan State player Keith Appling was arrested for the third time in four months.

The latest arrest brings four new felony charges.

Elisha Anderson of the Detroit Free Press:

The new charges Appling faces are carrying a concealed weapon, resisting and obstructing police, third-degree fleeing and eluding and felony firearm.

Detroit police stopped Appling, 24, on a traffic violation Sunday while he was driving in the area of 7 Mile and Russell about 9:15 p.m, prosecutors said in a news release. A police officer reached in the car to get his identification and Appling is accused of driving off while the officer’s hand was still in the window.

Authorities say Appling threw a Gucci bag from his car. Police found the bag, which had Appling’s name on it and handgun inside, near the area of the initial stop.

Appling was a fringe NBA player. It’s a shame his basketball career probably won’t work out, because he sounds like a really bad criminal.

Tossing your gun in a personalized Gucci bag? Really?

Rutgers uses NBA incomes of Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Andre Drummond, Steven Adams to pitch recruits

AUBURN HILLS, MI - MAY 24:  Ray Allen #20 of the Boston Celtics goes up for a shot over Richard Hamilton #32 of the Detroit Pistons in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2008 NBA Playoffs on May 24, 2008 at the Palace at Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan.  The Celtics won 94-80.  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 Elsa/Getty Images)
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College men’s basketball teams earn vast revenue on the backs of players while conspiring to pay those players no more than a scholarship and some expenses. In lieu of the market dictating player salaries, that revenue is funneled to administrators and coaches – like Rutgers’ Steve Pikiell, who earns $1.6 million per year.

But the money in basketball is real, and college players want a taste. So, many coaches try to sell players that they’ll prepare them for the NBA, where they can make millions.

Which led to this Rutgers tweet featuring former Connecticut players Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Andre Drummond and former Pittsburgh player Steven Adams:

The heck?

Rutgers’ only NBA players in the last two decades were Hamady N’Diaye and Quincy Douby. So, the Scarlet Knights got creative.

An assistant on Pikiell’s staff was an assistant at UConn when Allen and Hamilton played there. Another was an assistant when Drummond was a Huskie. Yet another was a Pitt assistant during Adams’ time.

Just when I thought college teams couldn’t get any cheaper when it comes to their players, here comes Rutgers using its barely earned currency in recruiting.

Connecticut took notice:

Here’s an idea: Instead of squabbling over who deserves credit for getting players paid later, use some of that revenue to pay players now.

(hat tip: Mark Sandritter of SB Nation)