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NBA Power Rankings: Heat end rankings where they ended last season

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For the final power rankings of the year my criteria are simple: Who do I think is most likely to win a seven game series between the teams right now. It is essentially a playoff rankings.

source:  1. Heat (64-16, last week ranked No. 1). For a couple games this week the Heat rolled out their big three together, don’t expect to see that again until this weekend. By the way, the Heat have won six in a row, the longest winning streak in the NBA.
source:  2. Thunder (59-21, LW 3). They remain the gold standard in the West, if you’re going to the finals the road swings through Oklahoma City. Yes, their offense can be a bit predictable, but when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook run it good luck stopping it.
source:  3. Spurs (58-22, LW 4). The Spurs have lost three of five and Gregg Popovich was very frustrated after the Spurs loss to the Lakers, saying Tim Duncan was the only guy playing like he wanted to win a championship. The Spurs are a veteran team that should get it together for the playoffs, but it puts a seed of doubt in my mind.
source:  4 Grizzlies (54-26, LW 5). It’s looking more and more like it will be Clippers vs. Grizzlies in the first round (although that is not set) and that has to scare Memphis. The Clippers won twice on the road to knock the Grizzlies out of the playoffs last year and they just went into Memphis and beat them again. Still, I have a feeling Memphis could make a deep playoff run this year.
source:  5. Nuggets (55-25, LW 6). It’s the team a lot of people want to see succeed — but with Danilo Gallinari out, Kenneth Faried maybe hobbled (they aren’t giving a return date but don’t expect him back for the playoff opener) and Ty Lawson coming of an injury, I fear they are just not the same team. Which is too bad, I had high hopes.
source:  6. Knicks (53-27, LW 2). I can hear Knicks fans ripping me for the Knicks ranking, but let me say I am convinced they are the second best team in the East. That grinding win over the Pacers was a good sign for a team that has grinding Boston coming in the first round.
source:  7. Clippers (54-26, LW 7). They have won five in a row including a quality win in Memphis last week. Which is huge because that is likely their first-round opponent. I still am not sold on their defensive consistency. Can Vinny Del Negro get them to the conference finals?
source:  8. Pacers (49-31, LW 8). If they end up facing the Bulls in the first round it’s going to be tough — it will be a low scoring, grind-it-out series where the winner will be bloodied and then likely have to take on the Knicks. Indy needs to find consistent offense, and we’re looking at you, Roy Hibbert.
source:  9. Nets (47-32, LW 9). They will be the four seed, and considering this team won 33 percent of its games last season and hasn’t been above .500 since 2006. Deron Williams is playing like his old self and they will be a favorite in the first round of the playoffs (not so much against Miami in the second).
source:  10. Rockets (45-35, LW 11). Houston is one of the league’s youngest teams and they made huge steps this season (likely finishing the six seed). It’s unlikely they get out of the first round but they will not go quietly in that series.
source:  11. Warriors (45-35, LW 10). Golden State is another young team that made a big leap this year, but if they get the Clippers in the first round they could push Los Angeles (they won three of four in the regular season). A team with a shooter and player like Stephen Curry is dangerous in any game.
source:  12. Bulls (43-36, LW 12). There may be no team harder to predict in the playoffs — their defense has been down of late but come the playoffs you expect the focus and attention to return on that end. But what kind of offense they get varies dramatically night to night. Still, teams in the East would prefer to avoid them
source:  13. Hawks (44-36, LW 14). What does it say about the Hawks that they are the team everybody in the East would prefer to play instead of the Nets or Bulls? Well, that they’re still the Hawks. Same as it ever was.
source:  14. Celtics (41-39, LW 13). They get the Knicks in what should be the most watched and quite entertaining first round series. They are going to defend, but the question is can they get enough offense out of Jeff Green and other role players to win more than a couple games.
source:  15. Lakers (44-37, LW 16). With Kobe Bryant out the Lakers went to a fairly standard offense — pound the ball inside with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, then hope somebody can make enough outside shots. It will work fine in the playoffs, it’s the defensive end of the floor that will be their undoing no matter who they face.
source:  16. Jazz (42-38, LW 15). If they make the playoffs or not (and probably not), Ty Corbin is going to be back as coach of the Jazz next season. Aside that there are going to be a lot of changes this summer. Hopefully one is to get a new point guard.
source:  17. Mavericks (40-40, LW 17). They reached .500 and Dirk Nowitzki got to shave his beard, but this season was a disappointment. Thing is, they will make moves this summer but it’s hard to see how any really make any big moves to get dramatically better. Other than having Dirk healthy all season.
source:  18. Bucks (37-43, LW 18). They will make the playoffs, but only because the rest of the bottom of the East is so bad — Milwaukee has lost 11-of-14 down the stretch.
source:  19. Wizards (29-51, LW 19). When they got John Wall and Nene healthy at the same time they looked like a playoff team. They will bring Wall back with a big contract, whether they can keep Nene healthy next year is the bigger question.
source:  20. 76ers (32-47, LW 20). No Doug Collins next season. We’ll see about Andrew Bynum. But the Sixers rebuilding process is going to take a lot longer than they thought it would last summer, the gamble on Bynum came up snake eyes.
source:  21. Trail Blazers (33-46, LW 23). They have the Rookie of the Year in Damian Lillard. They have an All-Star in LaMarcus Aldridge. They have some good role players such as Nicolas Batum and Will Barton. If they get a real defensive center this team could make a big jump next season.
source:  22. Timberwolves (30-50, LW 21). If they can just keep Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love healthy they should make the playoffs next season. But if Rick Adelman decides to retire and be with his wife (who has battled illness) he will be very difficult to replace.
source:  23. Raptors (31-48, LW 22). They don’t have a lottery pick (unless they land in the top three it goes to OKC) but they can still make one dramatic move to improve the team this summer — trade Andrea Bargnani. It just won’t be that easy.
source:  24. Pistons (28-52, LW 26). If they bring back Jose Calderon, if Andre Drummond can make the kind of leap we hope from him, if they can get a role player or two that fit, the Pistons are a team that could make a jump up into the playoffs next season.
source:  25. Kings (28-51, LW 24). We will likely know in a week for sure if the Kings will be in Seattle or Sacramento next season. Talk about a situation where both sides deserve a win. The good news on the court is that a new ownership, new front office and new coach is bound to make this team better no matter where they play. They need a fresh start.
source:  26. Hornets (27-53, LW 25). Anthony Davis is still the future — he needs to get stronger (that may help reduce his injuries). He needs to keep playing and watching film. Meanwhile the Hornets need to figure out what they are going to do with Eric Gordon.
source:  27. Cavaliers (24-55, LW 27). They have Kyrie Irving and a ton of cap space, plus young players like Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters that can be part of a good rotation going forward. They have a lot of cap space. This is a team poised for a jump.
source:  28. Suns (24-56, LW 29). They thought they would get an extra lottery pick when the Lakers missed the playoffs, but the Lakers made a late run. Been that kind of season for Suns. They are not changing management, we’ll see about the coach, but they have a lot of building to do.
source:  29. Bobcats (19-61, LW 28). Another team with a long road to getting better, and they could use some luck in the lottery. The one other big job for the summer — re-work Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s jump shot.
source:  30. Magic (20-60, LW 30). Remember that 25 games into the season this team was playing over its head — they went 12-13 to start, 8-47 since. The plan has been to be bad, get draft picks, get free agents and that means they will be bad and be drafting for a few years. But there were bright spots such as Tobias Harris and how hard they played by coach Jacque Vaughn.

Report: Bulls pushing to trade for 76ers’ Jahlil Okafor

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 14: Jahlil Okafor #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks to pass against Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on December 14, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Bulls reportedly reached out to the 76ers about Jahlil Okafor a few weeks ago.

After unfulfilled intrigue and maybe a trade that fell through, Okafor remains in Philadelphia. And Chicago apparently still wants him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

As constituted, the Bulls already have a few interior bigs: Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson and Cristiano Felicio. But one or more could go in an Okafor trade or another deal.

Okafor would make the Chicago younger, confusing its direction with Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade already in place.

Perhaps, the Bulls are pushing for a trade only because they’re offering so little. Okafor’s low-post game offers intrigue. At the right price, he’d be worth adding, no matter the fit and direction presented.

Maybe the 76ers don’t go for a lowball offer, but that’d be worth trying considering their center logjam with Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. Otherwise, Chicago ought to tread carefully when pursuing Okafor.

Report: 76ers trading Ersan Ilyasova to Hawks for Tiago Splitter, picks

Atlanta Hawks guard Mike Dunleavy blocks the shot of Philadelphia 76ers forward Ersan Ilyasova (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Atlanta. Atlanta won 110-93. (AP Photo/John Amis)
AP Photo/John Amis
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The 76ers have played like a 64-win team when Joel Embiid and Ersan Ilyasova share the court and a 20-win team otherwise, using data from nbawowy!.

That’s helpful for Philadelphia, which is learning what type of player — a stretch four — works best with its franchise player.

But the Hawks can use more than just a lesson in the idea of Ersan Ilyasova. They can use actual Ersan Ilyasova.

And Atlanta will get him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated:

Atlanta stills sound intent on keeping Paul Millsap, so Ilyasova will likely back him up. Ilyasova should work particularly well with Dwight Howard, whose interior play was a key factor in ushering in this stretch-four era by covering for the lighter power forward next to him.

In the last 21 months, Ilyasova has been traded five times: from the Bucks to the Pistons to the Magic to the Thunder to the 76ers and now to the Hawks. They can probably count on the veteran to settle in quickly as they try to improve their position in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Atlanta is fifth, closer to third than sixth.

Both Ilyasova and Splitter have expiring contracts. The advantage of Splitter, who has missed the Hawks’ last 90 games, is that his full compensation counts toward the floor apparently without Philadelphia actually having to play all of his salary.

Plus, those picks could help the 76ers in a season where they can win something meaningful — like the Hawks have decided this season is for them.

Report: Other NBA executives believe Pacers not seriously shopping Paul George

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers in action during the NBA match between Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets at the O2 Arena on January 12, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Dan Mullan/Getty Images
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The Pacers are reportedly shopping Paul George, trying to line up a trade if they can’t get him help in another deal.

But it’s hard to find anyone who believes Indiana is genuinely looking to trade George before the upcoming trade deadline.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

If the Pacers are serious about trading George, they better convince other teams quickly. That’s the only way to draw out the best offers.

But it makes sense Indiana is only in the exploratory stage.

The Pacers — and only the Pacers — could offer George a designated-veteran-player contract extension (projected to be worth about $209 million over five years) this offseason if he makes an All-NBA team.

That’s probably a longshot. Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James are locks for three of the six forward spots. Anthony DavisJimmy ButlerDraymond Green and Giannis Antetokounmpo should also rank ahead of George. Gordon HaywardPaul MillsapKevin Love are firmly in the mix, too. That’s a lot of ground to make up and other contenders to fend off.

But it’s likely worth it for the Pacers to keep George past the deadline and let him try. The upside is so high.

If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team, Indiana could always trade him at any point before the next trade deadline. He could also qualify as a designated veteran player by making a 2017-18 All-NBA team and re-signing as a free agent in 2018, but by then, it’d be too late for the Pacers to trade him if they don’t have the major financial advantage.

At some point, Indiana could ask George to pledge to stay for his max, whatever that winds up being. That wouldn’t be binding, but his response could be telling.

For now, if I were the Pacers, I’d hope he makes All-NBA this year and dare him to reject the designated-veteran-player extension. If he qualifies and turns that down, that would absolutely be telling.

But I’d also be exploring the trade market now, hoping for an offer that knocks my socks off but more realistically gaining understanding for when dealing George becomes more logical.

Report: Clippers’ Chris Paul cleared, could play against Warriors on Thursday

Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul shoots as Portland Trail Blazers' Al-Farouq Aminu watches during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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Chris Paul tore a ligament in his left thumb last month, and the Clippers announced he’d miss 6-8 weeks.

He could return just over five weeks after injury, when the Clippers face the Warriors on Thursday.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers, via Andrew Han of ESPN:

“He looked great. He went through the whole practice [on Tuesday]. You know, so it was good. Really good,” Rivers said before practice on Wednesday. “He could play tomorrow. I mean, I can’t tell you if he will or not, but he’s been cleared medically. But we just want to make sure that he’s comfortable playing.”

The Clippers have slid to fourth in the West, leading the fifth-place Jazz by just half a game. It’s probably too late to catch the third-place Rockets, who are five games up. But maintaining home-court advantage in the first round is important.

Paul should help.

The Clippers remain dangerous when healthy. They’ve outscored teams by 15.1 points per 100 possessions when Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick share the court. With those four, they score and defend at rates that would lead the league if it weren’t for Golden State’s historic offensive rating.