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.

James Harden, Chris Paul lead Rockets to 13th straight victory

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HOUSTON (AP) — Nursing a sore knee, James Harden said he came close to not playing Saturday night.

When team doctors warned him that it would be painful, but he could play through it, he said, “Let’s go.”

Harden scored 31 points and Chris Paul had 25 and the Rockets beat the Milwaukee Bucks 115-111 for their 13th straight victory.

The winning streak is the Rockets’ longest since a franchise-best 22 straight in 2007-08.

Harden hit a step-back 3-pointer over Malcolm Brogdon and was fouled, giving Houston an 11-point lead with less than six minutes remaining. In the last two minutes, Paul hit back-to-back mid-range jumpers on consecutive possessions to put the game out of reach.

“Mentally, this was a big win for us,” Paul said. “We never let go of the rope. Every time they made a little push, we stayed right there down the stretch. James was out there, basically, on one leg. The mental toughness we showed as a team is what we take from this game.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals for Milwaukee. Khris Middleton had 23 points, and Brogdon added 20. Milwaukee has lost three in a row after winning six of seven.

“Harden made some tough shots and Chris Paul made some big shots down the stretch as well,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “We gave ourselves a chance, but we just came up short.”

The Rockets grinded through frustrations, 15 turnovers and a below-average shooting night. Paul had a technical foul, Harden had a delay of game warning, and the Rockets faced serious adversity for the first time in weeks. Entering Saturday, Houston had dominated teams in its streak, winning all but two games by double figures with an average margin of victory of 16.9 points.

“We just didn’t have our best stuff tonight,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But we found a way. It was one of those typical grind games where you’ve just got to find a way somehow.”

Paul scored 23 of his 25 points in the second half, overcoming a rocky first half where he missed all five shots he attempted and turned the ball over five times.

“I had never coached him in a back-to-back, but I’m thinking he’s kind of dead,” D’Antoni said. “Then, all of a sudden, he comes out in the third quarter and turns into Superman.”

Paul made 7 of 8 shots in the second half, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, also making all eight free throws in the game.

Harden scored 20 points or more for the 29th straight game, matching Houston’s franchise record set by Moses Malone.

Both Harden and Clint Capela (left heel contusion) were game-time decisions after suffering injuries on different collision plays in Friday night’s win over San Antonio. Capela sat out the game, and P.J. Tucker started in his place, getting 10 points and 10 rebounds in 38 minutes.

Behind Tucker, Nene scored a season-high 16 points, largely on thunderous one-handed dunks. The Rockets were outscored by the Bucks 44-40 in the paint and outrebounded 40-38.

Milwaukee and Houston traded blows in the first half, with the Rockets leading by three at the end of the first quarter. They were tied at 55 at the half. The Rockets haven’t trailed at the half since Nov. 25 in a 117-102 win over the Knicks.

The Rockets took an 84-79 lead into the fourth quarter.

At 24-4, the Rockets are tied for their best 28-game start in franchise history, matching the 1993-94 season when they won their first championship.

 

Knicks shut out Carmelo Anthony in 2nd half, beat Thunder 111-96

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NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony‘s return to Madison Square Garden was much like the 6 1/2 years he spent playing for the Knicks.

A video played on the overhead scoreboard as part of a huge welcome from the fans and franchise, followed by a fast start that gave Anthony hope he could have everything he wanted.

Then things fell flat until the finish.

The Knicks shut out their former All-Star in the second half and beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-96 on Saturday night for their fourth straight victory.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling for me, coming back here knowing the goal that I had and what I wanted to accomplish here and falling short in that category,” Anthony said.

Michael Beasley tied his season high with 30 points in place of injured Kristaps Porzingis, and Doug McDermott, acquired with Enes Kanter for Anthony, added 11 of his 13 after halftime to help the Knicks break open the game.

“This game was kind (of) about him and I thought we did a really good job of not letting that distract us and just focus on winning the game,” McDermott said. “And it felt great, especially being a part of the trade (with) Enes.

Anthony scored 12 points in the first half but was 0 for 5 after, perhaps low on energy after the Thunder’s three-overtime victory at Philadelphia a night earlier.

He made a 3-pointer for the Thunder’s first basket of the game after refocusing following a video tribute that caught him off guard, but finished 5 of 18 from the field as the Knicks played with passion and precision they lacked in Anthony’s final years in New York.

“You got to beat the best to be the best,” Beasley said. “He’s one of the best of our era.”

Russell Westbrook had 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Thunder, who were trying to sweep a three-game trip that began with Paul George‘s winning return to Indiana on Wednesday.

But they couldn’t deliver a victory for Anthony back at Madison Square Garden, even with the Knicks playing without leading scorer Porzingis because of a knee injury.

“I think the guys just, they were ready for tonight’s game,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “And we caught them after a triple-overtime game so that probably helped us too, but our guys played hard all night which probably wore them down.”

Anthony received a pair of loud cheers during pregame introductions, before and at the end of a video tribute showing his highlights on the court and his charitable efforts off it that was played after the first four Thunder starters were announced. But the boos became more noticeable once play got underway, and soon they were coming every time he touched the ball.

“That was expected,” Anthony said. “They can’t cheer for me, I’m on another team.”

Later, the cheers were all for the Knicks, who after trading their leading scorer on the eve of training camp are a surprising 16-13 – better than Anthony’s new team (14-15). Anthony was booed one last time as he was removed with 1.4 seconds remaining.

Beasley had a hand in 12 of the Knicks’ final 15 points of the third quarter, scoring nine himself and assisting on Ron Baker‘s 3-pointer. That turned a two-point lead into an 80-73 advantage over the final 3 1/2 minutes of the period.

The Knicks pushed it into double digits in the fourth behind five straight points from McDermott – originally it was six by a 3-pointer was changed to a 2 after review – and he later made it 100-87 with a 3-pointer with 6:02 remaining.

The Thunder played without starting center Steven Adams because of a concussion.

 

Manu Ginobili game-winner caps 13-0 closing run to rally Spurs past Mavericks

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — At 40 years old, Manu Ginobili‘s refusal to slow down in his 16th season with the Spurs has been a source of inspiration to the team’s young core.

The man and the mantra helped propel San Antonio to an improbable victory over Dallas on Saturday night.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 22 points and 14 rebounds and the Spurs scored the final 13 points of the game, rallying for a 98-96 victory over the Mavericks.

Aldridge’s fall-away, 11-foot jumper tied the game at 96 with 23.4 seconds remaining and Ginobili’s driving layup with 3.1 seconds was the game-winning shot.

“He’s our grandpa,” 21-year-old Dejounte Murray said, chuckling afterwards. “He’s a beast, man. You’ve all seen what he’s done for this organization and he’s still around giving his wisdom to all the new guys. To see him coming in every day, I mean there’s not one day I’ve seen Manu not show up at the facility. Being a young guy, I’ve got to be there every day.”

Ginobili’s layup off the left side of the glass gave the Spurs their first lead of the game after trailing by as many as 16 points.

“We did a lot of good things, but the ending is unforgiveable,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.

Maxi Kleber had 21 points and Dirk Nowitzki added 19 for Dallas in the final regular season matchup between the Southwest Division rivals.

Kleber’s 3-pointer gave Dallas a 96-85 lead with 4:11 remaining, but the Spurs held them scoreless the remainder of the game.

The Mavericks drought included a turnover when Wes Matthews was unable to inbound the ball with 23.4 seconds remaining. Mathews threw the ball at Ginobili’s legs to avoid a 5-second violation, but the Spurs gained possession when the ball ricocheted off Matthews just as he stepped inbounds.

“We did everything right to lose,” Nowitzki said. “We missed shots offensively, bad turnover, gave them some offensive rebounds. Letting Ginobili go left down the stretch to lay it in. We literally had to do everything perfect to lose this one and we did.”

Aldridge had his 12th double-double of the season to help offset the absences of starters Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Danny Green.

Coming off a 15-point blowout in Houston on Friday night, San Antonio was able to avoid its third straight loss.

“We played with everybody in Houston and hoped to play a good game in which we could grow and learn from our mistakes while playing against the best team in the NBA right now and I don’t think we got anything out of it,” Ginobili said. “So, if after that poor effort we came here and played badly again and lost, it would’ve been a tough one. We are proud of this win.”

The Spurs missed their first five shots, all short jumpers from Aldridge and Pau Gasol, on their way to shooting 30 percent in the opening quarter. The Mavericks took advantage, charging to a 31-18 lead after the first quarter.

San Antonio’s reserves reversed the team’s fortunes in the third quarter.

Davis Bertans finished with 13 points and Ginobili added 12 off the bench.

 

LeBron James finishes left-handed alley-oop with head behind backboard

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We have reached the point with LeBron James and his legendary career that the incredible almost seems ordinary — he has made our jaws drop so many times it’s hard for him to clear the bar of amazing anymore.

He did Saturday night against Utah.

In transition, LeBron gave up the ball to Jeff Green, who returned the favor with an alley-oop pass. Just not a particularly good one, it was behind James.

So he reaches back with his left hand and throws it down as he ducks his head under the backboard. Then LeBron stops and stares at his left hand, like he can’t believe what he just did.

We can’t either.