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.

Magic sending Raptors draft pick as compensation for hiring Jeff Weltman

AP Photo/John Raoux
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The Raptors promoted Jeff Weltman, still working under Masai Ujiri, to general manager last year.

That paid off for Toronto when the Magic hired Weltman as their new president.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Magic have their own and the Lakers’ second-round picks next year. Even the lower of those two selections could be somewhat value.

In other words, Weltman’s already-difficult job is getting even harder simply by Orlando hiring him.

LeBron James still striving to surpass Michael Jordan

AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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LeBron James has discussed chasing Michael Jordan’s “ghost,” motivating himself by trying surpass Jordan as the greatest player in NBA history.

Just 27 points behind Jordan for the all-time playoff scoring lead – a record he could break in Cavaliers-Celtics Game 5 tonight – LeBron is again discussing that pursuit.

LeBron, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“It’s just a personal goal of mine,” James said Thursday before Cavs shootaround in preparation of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics. “It has nothing to do with passing the rings, passing the points, passing MVPs. It’s just my personal goal to keep me motivated — that’s all.”

“You guys are going to have the conversations about who is greatest of all time and things of that nature,” James said. “It doesn’t matter to me. At the end of the day, it’s so funny that the conversation is always talked about in the NBA about who is the greatest but it’s never talked about in the NFL about who is the greatest quarterback. It’s just like: [Dan] Marino, [John] Elway, [Peyton] Manning and [Tom] Brady. All great quarterbacks, you know — and it should be the same for us.

Jordan or LeBron? Save your hot takes. LeBron just burnt them all.

The greatest quarterback of all time is never debated? Claiming that is now the hottest take in the entire realm of the Jordan-LeBron debate.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue: Kyrie Irving feeling ‘good’ after ankle injury

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BOSTON (AP) — Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue says that Kyrie Irving‘s left ankle is feeling “good” in advance of Cleveland’s Game 5 matchup Thursday night with the Celtics.

Irving was moving around and putting up shots during the Cavs’ morning shootaround.

The All-Star rolled his ankle in the third quarter of Game 4 when he stepped on Terry Rozier‘s foot. Irving was able to stay on the floor and finish the game, scoring a career playoff-high 42 points.

Cleveland leads Boston 3-1 and can wrap up its third straight Eastern Conference title Thursday night.

Several Celtics are also fighting injuries as they try to stave off elimination.

Jaylen Brown is listed as questionable with a right hip pointer. Jae Crowder is probable with a left groin strain, and Amir Johnson is probable with a right shoulder sprain.

Danny Ainge: Lonzo Ball declined to work out for Celtics, who hold No. 1 pick

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LaVar Ball said his son, highly touted draft prospect Lonzo Ball, would work out for only the Lakers.

You thought he was bluffing?

Celtics president Danny Ainge, whose team holds the No. 1 pick, on 98.5 the Sports Hub:

We just tried to get him in for a workout, and they politely said no.

It’s not ideal.

Listen, we’ve drafted guys that wouldn’t come in for workouts before. I mean, it’s not the end of the world. We’ve watched them play a ton. We have a lot of information on them.

Good for Ball. Professional sports teams already hold inordinate power over players entering the workforce. In no other industry are top young employees assigned to a particular company, the worst-performing companies typically getting priority, with no ability to bargain with competitors.

Ball wants to play for the Lakers, who offer proximity to his family and hold the No. 2 pick. He can’t force Boston to pass on him or Los Angeles to pick him. But he can influence decision-making.

It seemed likely the Celtics would draft Markelle Fultz, and though they could still pick Ball, him declining a workout with Boston makes that only less likely. The Lakers will probably draft Ball, but this plan carries risk. If they pass, he could fall once he gets to teams less familiar with him.

Still, Ball deserves to decide for himself how to manage his career – especially in such a closed job market. Not working out for the Celtics is probably his best path to getting where he wans to go.