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.

Kyrie Irving rubs salt in wound, gets 42nd point with behind-the-back ball fake (VIDEO)

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Kyrie Irving was awesome Tuesday night.

Unless you are a Boston Celtics fan, in which case it was hard to watch him carve up and embarrass your team for a career-best 42 points. He did a lot of that damage after rolling his ankle.

Particularly embarrassing was the final play of the game, when he drove past Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk, then went with the behind-the-back ball fake that burned Jae Crowder and opened up a lane for an uncontested layup.

Check out Irving’s entire night here.

Utah Utes forward Kyle Kuzma reportedly rising up draft boards

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Kyle Kuzma wasn’t sure how things would play out when he announced plans in late March to test the NBA draft. The Utah Utes junior forward was well aware of the doubters and didn’t immediately hire an agent to keep open the option to return for his senior year.

A month later, Kuzma has hired an agent and is rising up the pre-draft rankings after a superb NBA combine and strong individual workouts. He’s considered an early to mid second round pick.

“I just got more confident, I’m not going to lie, throughout the whole process,” Kuzma said Tuesday. “Working out every day with the NBA ball and just imagining yourself down the road. Once I declared with an agent prior to the combine, people’s ears raised up. But I just knew it in my heart it was the right decision for me. Everything’s really falling in line right now. It’s looking good.”

The Flint, Michigan, native had a pre-draft workout with the Utah Jazz on Tuesday and continued to show evaluators an ability to shoot the ball from NBA 3-point range. Kuzma was named first-team All-Pac-12 after a 2016-17 season during which he averaged 16.4 points, 9.3 rebounds. The 6-foot-9, 223-pounder has a versatile game that allows him to handle the ball on the perimeter as a playmaker with good size, but he shot just 32.1 percent from behind the arc last season.

Kuzma turned heads with 20 points and four-for-five shooting on 3-pointers in his lone 5-on-5 scrimmage at the combine.

“I changed my jump shot up a little bit,” Kuzma said. “Being more fluid and more comfortable shooting the ball from the NBA 3. I feel like I’m more comfortable shooting from that 3 than from college 3 right now. A lot of people were surprised, but I really wasn’t. I put a lot of work into my game every single day.”

Kuzma had another quality workout Tuesday, according to Jazz vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin, and continued to shoot the ball well. Perrin said Kuzma was by far the best player at the six-man workout and that he wished he could have brought Kuzma in to face a more talented group.

The versatility of Kuzma’s game is a positive even though he falls into a tweener category – a little slight to be a true power forward and not quite quick enough to be a pure small forward. That may not matter in today’s NBA.

“We’re going more and more toward positionless players,” Perrin said. “You look at Golden State … they don’t have guys that play certain positions. They have the best players on their team playing. … We’ve gone to nobody posting up, basically, to everybody being able to put the ball on the floor and create shots on the perimeter, penetrate and kick to guys wide open in the corner for threes.

“The guys on the floor have to be able to guard their so-called position. And I think we’re looking more and more at that in terms of he can have an advantage on offense, but where is his disadvantage or advantage defensively?”

The Utes were well represented at the workout with forward David Collette joining the group.

The 6-foot-8, 220-pounder hasn’t hired an agent and is expected to return to school. Perrin couldn’t discuss Collette because of that, and he couldn’t talk to the media, but Kuzma said the rising senior showed off a newly refined midrange jump shot. The Utes will rely heavily on Collette as the lone returning starter, who averaged 13.6 points and 5.1 rebounds last season.

Utah will lose its best player to the NBA draft for a third consecutive season as Kuzma follows Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright. The process has kept Kuzma smiling as he met childhood idol Magic Johnson, watched his stock rise and is on the verge of playing basketball for a living.

“I feel like you’ve got to be two feet in with everything you do,” Kuzma said. “I definitely looked at the pros and cons, but my heart was in getting to this level and trying to prove people wrong again like I’ve done my entire life.”

Celtics’ coach knows the difference in this series: LeBron James and Kyrie Irving

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For 24 minutes Tuesday night, Boston showed Game 3 was not a fluke.

“I thought we played as well as we have played these entire playoffs in the first half,” Celtics coach Brad Steven said. “We were really good defensively. Offensively I thought we moved, and cut, and played together.

“Then, for whatever reason, all those things became a little bit more difficult. That’s what great teams do, they make it really hard on you.”

Whatever reason? What was the difference in this game?

Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, would be your two answers,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.

Those two Cleveland All-Stars took over Game 4 Tuesday night for stretches — Irving in the third when he had 21, LeBron in the fourth — and for the game they combined for 76 points on 49 shots.

LeBron and Irving were they reason Cleveland won Game 4 Tuesday night, and they have been the difference in this series — Boston is a good team, but the Cavaliers have the two best players in this series (one could argue Kevin Love makes three) and the Celtics have no answer.

The Cavaliers are a championship team. However, they are not one that is not about the system, not one where their success is about franchise culture.

The Cavaliers are great because they have one of the game’s all-time great players, surrounded by a couple other All-Stars. They thrive by forcing teams to switch mismatches then going at right at them — Irving and LeBron were sixth and seventh in the NBA this season in percentage of isolation plays for them. Cleveland doesn’t run a motion offense like the Golden State team it will see in the finals, the Cavaliers are simple but efficient.

The mindset is straightforward: We have the better players, just try to stop us.

Boston had little success in this series playing that way — when Isaiah Thomas tried to pick apart the athletic Cavaliers defenders off the pick-and-roll both he and the Celtics struggled. Thomas had an offensive rating of 83 points per 100 possessions in this series before he was sidelined with an injury.

Without him, Boston had to rely on a more balanced, egalitarian offense — move the ball, move without the ball, find the open man, and trust him. The Celtics’ improved defense without Thomas was forcing more turnovers, and the Celtics were gang rebounding well. The result was a 123.4 points per 100 offensive rating in Game 3, then a decent 106.7 in Game 4 (despite the rough second half).

It just wasn’t enough.

Because the Cavaliers have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Two of the elite players in the NBA.

And in the NBA, talent wins out.

Charles Barkley tells Shaq he had to ride the coattails of Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley can sometimes get into it on TNT’s programming surrounding NBA games, but Tuesday night after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Boston Celtics in Game 4, 112-99, was something different.

The two got testy — even more so than usual — as Barkley and Shaq traded insults.

Most notably, O’Neal went after the fact that Barkley only once made the NBA Finals, while Chuck told Shaq he had to ride the coattails of Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade to get his rings.

It felt at least partially real, especially if you watch Ernie Johnson’s reaction during the back-and-forth.

Via Twitter:

Game 4 was more interesting, but a 30 minute special where Chuck and Shaq actually do move the furniture and throw down might draw more viewers than these playoffs.