Tony Parker, Tim Duncan

Who can knock off Miami? NBA playoff power rankings

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If you want to hold the Larry O’Brien trophy — the one that goes to the NBA champions each June — you’re going to have to pry it out of Miami’s cold, dead hands.

Good luck. They are the defending champs. They had the best regular season record in the NBA despite coasting to start the season. They have the best player on the planet in LeBron James. They defend. They have strong role players that fit the system.

Miami is the clear favorite to win the title going into the NBA playoffs this weekend.

So who can beat them? Let’s rank the other 15 teams based on their ability to knock off the Heat.

1. Spurs (58 wins, No. 2 seed in West). If you’re talking about the team with the best chance to dethrone the Heat, the Spurs leapfrog the Thunder to the top spot. There are a few reasons for this — the Spurs have the veterans who will not be rattled by the stage, and they have the size to pound the Heat inside. Most importantly, their system — the ball movement and the player movement off the ball — is the best way to diffuse the Heat’s pressure defense.

San Antonio may well not even make it to the finals, however. They are older, a little banged up (Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are not fully healthy) and the Thunder give them all sorts of matchup issues. But if they can get to the Finals it could be interesting.

2. Thunder (60 wins, No. 1 seed in the West). While the holes in their game have been more evident lately, sometimes we overlook this is still a very good basketball team. They defend well and with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook they can score on anybody. Their style of play hasn’t fared well against the Heat — they need better ball movement under pressure — but any team with Westbrook and Durant has a shot.

3. Grizzlies (56 wins, No. 5 seed in the West). Memphis is a dark-horse favorite to come out of the West because they defend well and because they have arguably the best front line in the NBA with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. To beat the Heat you need to defend and pound them inside, two things the Grizzlies can do. The question is in the back court where Mike Conley would struggle against the Heat’s pressure defense for sure. The Heat would be big favorites, but they have a puncher’s chance.

4. Knicks (54 wins, No. 2 seed in the East). The Knicks have had success against the Heat in the regular season, but I’m not a believer in regular season games being predictors of playoff success. The Knicks can score and they would get up points on the Heat, but under pressure will they keep up the ball movement they had during their win streak? And I’m not sold their defense is consistent enough. But they have a puncher’s chance and they will be able to get in the ring with the Heat in the conference finals if they play the way they are capable.

5. Clippers (56 wins, No. 4 seed in West). Chris Paul is the gest point guard in the game and the Clippers have as athletic a front line as there is in the Association with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. The questions for the Clippers — both in the playoffs as a whole and in a hypothetical matchup with the Heat — are the two we’ve had about this team since the start of the season: 1) Will they get enough out of DeAndre Jordan at both ends of the court? 2) How well will they defend? Not well enough, I fear.

6. Pacers (49 wins, No. 3 seed in the East). A couple months ago, when you talked about teams that might be the second best in the East and challenge the Heat you talked about Indiana. Their defense is good enough — with potential Defensive Player of the Year Roy Hibbert on the back line they have the best defense in the NBA. They have the size inside with Roy Hibbert and the length to challenge the Heat. But they don’t score enough, and the question is do they score enough to even get to the conference finals?

7. Nuggets (57 wins, No. 3 seed in West). If they were healthy — with Danilo Gallinari, with Kenneth Faried, with Ty Lawson at 100 percent — they’d be higher on this list. They are a favorite dark horse among pundits because of their unselfish play, but in a matchup with Miami their up-and-down style would get them in trouble.

8. Bulls (45 wins, No. 5 seed in East). They are gritty, they will bang you inside and be physical, they have the kind of size in the paint that bothers the Heat with Joakim Noah. It is possible the Bulls will get a shot at the Heat (if the Bulls can beat the Nets in the first round), but without Derrick Rose they are just not going to create and score enough points to win that series.

9. Nets (49 wins, No 4 seed in East). Deron Williams has looked like his old Utah-level self the past month or two, and Brook Lopez is the best scoring center in the league. But the Nets very average defense might have them in trouble in the first round against the Bulls, let alone against the Heat (who they would see in the second round if they get by Chicago)

10. Celtics (41 wins, No. 7 seed in East). The Celtics are going to be a tough out in the playoffs — they defend very well still when Kevin Garnett is on the court. Paul Pierce knows how to score. Jeff Green scores sometimes. They are a gritty, grinding team that will not go easily but will go. Very likely to the Knicks in the first round.

11. Warriors (45-35, No. 6 seed in West). Hey, you make the playoffs for only the second time in a couple decades, enjoy that. You should also enjoy having Stephen Curry and his sweet stroke on the team, and how this is a young and up-and-coming team. There’s a lot to like. But young up-and-coming teams learn hard lessons come the playoffs.

12. Rockets (45 wins, No. 8 seed in West). Kevin McHale deserves a lot of credit for melding a lot of new parts into a team that really works and plays to its strengths in Houston. James Harden has proved he can be a superstar that carries a team, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik have stepped up into key roles. But their running style plays right into the hands of OKC in the first round, and while it will be fun they will be toast.

13. Lakers (45 wins, No. 7 seed in West). Lakers fans got what they wanted — a matchup with the Spurs. And as the Spurs are banged up the Lakers have a better chance than they would against OKC. But the Lakers are not a serious threat to anyone because their defense just isn’t good enough — the Spurs will expose it in the first round and carve it up (sorry Lakers fans, this will not be the flat Spurs team of last Sunday you get to face). Dwight Howard has stepped up in the paint but Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks will find a lot less space to operate and be comfortable.

14. Hawks (44 wins, No. 6 seed in East). Meet the new Hawks, same as the old Hawks. They have a strong front line with Al Horford and Josh Smith but they have never been a serious threat with that core and this year teams hoped to face them rather than the Bulls. They will not beat the Pacers, let alone the Heat.

15. Bucks (38 wins, No. 8 seed in East). They get Miami in the first round. There are some people in Milwaukee who think the Bucks have some real matchup advantages with the Heat. They also brew a lot of beer in Milwaukee. These two things are related.

Jose Calderon retires from Spanish national team

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 11:  Jose Calderon #8 of Spain moves the ball against Nigeria during the Men's Basketball - Preliminary Round Group B Nigeria vs Spain on Day 6 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 11, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Jose Calderon has won three Olympic medals – silver in 2008 and 2012 and bronze this year.

Just three men’s basketball players have won more:

  • Carmelo Anthony (three golds and a bronze for Team USA)
  • Gennady Volnov (a gold,* two silvers and a bronze for the Soviet Union)
  • Sergey Belov (a gold* and three bronzes for the Soviet Union)

Calderon, who turns 35 next month, won’t catch them.

O. Cauchi of Sportando:

Veteran point guard Jose Calderon has officially announced his retirement from Spanish NT.

Calderon barely played in Rio. Spain is stacked at point guard with Sergio Rodriguez, Ricky Rubio and Sergio Llull.

The Lakers aren’t as deep at the position with D'Angelo Russell and Marcelo Huertas. Calderon might have a bigger impact in Los Angeles – especially if he’s not saving himself for Eurobasket 2017.

Craig Sager, awaiting another bone-marrow transplant, says ‘I continue to live life full of love and full of fun the only way I know how’

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 13:  Honoree Craig Sager accepts the Jimmy V Award for Perserverance onstage during the 2016 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Craig Sager skipped the Rio Olympics to prepare for a bone-marrow transplant.

As he awaits that procedure, the famed sideline reporter provided an update on his outlook.

Sager, via I.J. Rosenberg at AJC.com:

“I have met life’s challenges by climbing the Great Wall of China, riding with the bulls in Pamplona, sailing the Pacific Ocean with Ted Turner, jumping out of airplanes over Kansas, hang gliding off the cliffs of Mexico, bungee jumping atop a tower in San Antonio, and swimming with the sharks in the Caribbean.

“I have run the bases with Hank Aaron after No. 715, thrown out the first pitch at Wrigley Field, graced the cover of ‘Sports Illustrated’, and received the Jimmy V perseverance Award at the ESPY’s. I have covered eight Olympiads, dozens of Super Bowls, 24 Masters, and NBA games too numerous to count.

“I continue to live life full of love and full of fun the only way I know how.”

Fight on, Craig.

Report: Pistons signing Trey Freeman to partially guaranteed contract

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 31:  Trey Freeman #20 of the Old Dominion Monarchs shoots between Reid Travis #22  and Anthony Brown #21 of the Stanford Cardinal during the NIT Championship semifinals at Madison Square Garden on March 31, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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The Pistons will start Reggie Jackson at point guard, and they signed Ish Smith to provide better backup at the position.

The competition for the third point guard spot is heating up.

With Lorenzo Brown and Ray McCallum already signed to unguaranteed deals, Detroit is adding undrafted Old Dominion guard Trey Freeman.

Michael Scotto of Sheridan Hoops:

The Pistons have just 14 players – one shy of the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries. The final spot will very likely go to a point guard.

Brown and McCallum should be favored in the competition, because they’re more NBA-ready. A president/coach, Stan Van Gundy is more prone to covet the player who can step in immediately.

Freeman’s partial guarantee is likely designed to entice him to play in the D-League for a low base salary. The Pistons can waive him in the preseason and then assign his D-League rights to their affiliate, though he’d become an NBA free agent.

Freeman is working to become a better distributor after playing as a go-to scorer in college. A solid mid-range shooter, he must extend his range beyond the arc. It’d also help if he got to the rim more, and it seems he has the bounce to do that.

For an undrafted player, he has nice tools. They’ll probably just need to be refined in the D-League.

But even if that’s the intention, Freeman at least gives himself a chance first of upsetting Brown and McCallum in the race for third point guard.

Watch the New York Knicks top 10 plays of last season

New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) gets a high five from forward Carmelo Anthony (7) during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Charlotte Hornets, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, in New York.  The Knicks won 102-94. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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With 32 wins and missing the playoffs, last season wasn’t exactly what the Knicks hoped for. However, last season also came with hope in the form of Kristaps Porzingis.

And there were highlights. Check out the team’s Top 10 plays, courtesy NBA.com.

It starts with some Derrick Williams moments, and ends with a Jose Calderon game winner, but there are moments from players the fans actually like in between.