Los Angeles Clippers' Paul and Griffin wait for play to resume as the Clippers trail the San Antonio Spurs during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles

NBA post free agency Power Rankings: Who is closing in on Miami?

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This summer saw Dwight Howard find a new home, the Clippers and Pacers add depth, and a few other teams making bold moves to get better (or, in some cases, worse intentionally). So how did all this impact the PBT Power Rankings? Glad you asked. Here is where things stand this summer (the number in parenthesis is the squad’s record last season).

source:  1. Heat (66-16). They are the two-time defending NBA champions and they won 66 games last season, including 27 in a row at one point. Yes, we all saw cracks in the armor in the playoffs, but until someone knocks them off the top of the mountain they get to hold this spot in off-season rankings.

 
source:  2. Thunder (60-22). I think the Westbrook injury lulled people into looking past this team. Did they lose Kevin Martin? Yes. But remember this: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both just 25 — they are still ascending, getting better every season.

 
source:  3. Pacers (49-32). They pushed Miami to seven games then they get Danny Granger back. That means their bench (the weak spot last season) will have Lance Stephenson, C.J. Watson, Luis Scola and Chris Copeland. They should be better and more dangerous.

 
source:  4. Clippers (56-26). They keep Chris Paul and with the additions of J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, this could well be the best offense in the NBA next season. Can Doc Rivers get them to defend? And with that, can DeAndre Jordan step up as defensive anchor? They will go as far as their defense takes them.

 
source:  5. Spurs (58-24). This is probably too low for the Spurs, a team that was just a made free throw or a rebound away from winning the NBA title. They are going to be very good, but can they stay healthy and have things break for them again?

 
source:  6. Bulls (45-37). They get Derrick Rose back, remember the last two seasons they had him healthy they won 62 games and were on a 62 win pace (if the lockout season had been 82 games). They will defend, but can Tom Thibodeau back off the gas at times and bring Luol Deng and Joakim Noah in fully healthy for the playoffs.

 
source:  7. Rockets (45-37). This postseason’s big winners, they landed Dwight Howard and that makes them instant contenders. There are questions, like will Howard play to his pick-and-roll strengths (he fought against that in L.A.) and not just try to be a post up guy. I think this could be a growing together season for the Rockets with 2014-15 being the season they explode.

 
source:  8. Nets (49-33). Another big off-season winner — Mikhail Prokhorov laughs in the face of your puny luxury tax. Still we have big questions: Can Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett stay healthy? Can Deron Williams return to his Utah form? Can Jason Kidd coach?

 
source:  9. Warriors (47-35). Last season’s playoff darlings make a bold move and add Andre Iguodala. They are going to be improved, but how many games they win and how far they go in the playoffs could hinge on how healthy Andrew Bogut is in the middle for them.

 
source:  10. Grizzlies (56-26). This is a team with so much size teams struggle to deal with them, plus they have one of the best defenses in the NBA. But they didn’t address their need for floor-spacing shooters, unless you think Mike Miller is going to stay healthy all season.

 
source:  11. Knicks (54-28). They had the third best offense in the NBA last season (in points per possession) but were 17th in defense. Can the addition of Metta World Peace and a healthy Iman Shumpert improve their defense enough? It feels like the top of the East got better and they stood largely pat.

 
source:  12. Nuggets (57-25). It feels like they took a step back this summer — big changes in the front office and the loss of Andre Iguodala. Still some real talent on the roster, but they need JaVale McGee to take a big step forward if they want to remain top four in a deep West.

 
source:  13. Timberwolves (31-51). Last season should have been a breakout year for them, injuries robbed them of that. This season Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio will lead them to a playoff spot in the West, and they will be fun to watch getting there.

 
source:  14. Lakers (45-37). They still have Kobe Bryant, but he will not be quite the same player. They still have Steve Nash, if he can stay healthy. They still have Pau Gasol, at least until they find a good trading partner. The Lakers could get a lower playoff spot, but this is mostly a placeholder season for the Lakers looking ahead to free agency.

 
source:  15. Mavericks (41-41). A combination of Dirk Nowitzki (finally healthy), Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon might make this a playoff team in the West, but it will be a bottom seed. Still the big goal in Dallas is to bring in another elite player.

 
source:  16. Hawks (44-38). No Josh Smith anymore, but they have Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver in the back court, Elton Brand and Paul Millsap in the front court with Al Horford. I think they remain pretty similar to last season in terms of wins.

 
source:  17. Wizards (29-53). With a healthy John Wall playing like an $80 million guy — meaning his jump shot is falling like it did at the end of last season — to go with a more mature Bradley Beal and a healthy Nene, I think this is a playoff team out East.

 
source:  18. Cavaliers (24-58). Andrew Bynum, with the way the contract was structured, was a good risk. But whether or not they get anything for Drew, with a healthy Kyrie Irving the Cavaliers will be back in the playoffs.

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source:  19. Trail Blazers (33-49). LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum… shouldn’t this team be better than it showed last season? I like the Robin Lopez addition, moving Aldridge to the four, but they need to make big strides in a deep West to make the playoffs.

 
source:  20. Pelicans (27-55). This was an aggressive team this off-season and I think they made great moves adding Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans. This is a young team on the rise, they will look a lot better the second half of the season and they could slip into a bottom playoff spot if things come together.

 
source:  21. Raptors (34-48). With Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and an improved Jonas Valanciunas the Raptors have a shot at the playoffs in the East. But they need to get back to playing defense like they did a couple years ago for Dwane Casey to have a chance.

 
source:
22. Pistons (29-53). They added Josh Smith this offseason, and combined with Andre Drummond (who looked great at Summer League) and Greg Monroe they should have a fantastic front line. But do they have the balance and depth to make the postseason?

 
source:  23. Kings (28-51). They have DeMarcus Cousins plus an interesting backcourt with Greivis Vasquez and Ben McLemore. If Cousins will play consistent defense they become very interesting, but that’s a big “if.”

 
source:  24. Celtics (41-40). They have started the rebuilding process and the most-asked question around them this season will be is Rajon Rondo still with the team after the trade deadline?

 
source:  25. Bucks (38-44). They scraped their way into the postseason, but now with a backcourt of O.J. Mayo and maybe Brandon Jennings (his situation is still up in the air) they take a step back. I like Larry Sanders and John Henson up front, though.

 
source:  26. Bobcats (21-61). Adding Al Jefferson in the paint makes them less bad this coming season, but they are not going to be good. Cody Zeller looked good at Summer League and could be a surprisingly good rookie.

 
source:  27. Jazz (43-39). Trey Burke, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter could be part of a good team in a few years, but this season they will learn some hard lessons. Burke is going to be a lot of people’s call for Rookie of the Year.

 
source:  28. Suns (24-56). They got a nice piece for the future in Eric Bledsoe and they have three first round picks next season. That is how you rebuild. It won’t be pretty this season but I like the direction the team is going long term.

 
source:  29. Magic (20-62). The team with the worst record in the NBA last season will be in the running for it again. Victor Oladipo could have a good rookie year and now they get a whole season of Tobias Harris.

 
source:  30. 76ers (34-48). The Bynum trade misfired, so they are rebuilding from the ground up by shipping out Jrue Holiday and starting over. The Sixers will be back but should have a pick near the top of the draft next season. Which is the new goal.

Isaiah Thomas’ big fourth quarter carries Celtics past Hornets 108-98

Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) raises his arms as he celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer against the Charlotte Hornets during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017. Thomas had 35 points as the Celtics defeated the Hornets 108-98. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
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BOSTON (AP) — Isaiah Thomas scored 17 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, and the surging Boston Celtics beat the Charlotte Hornets 108-98 on Monday night for their ninth victory in 11games.

It was Thomas’ 25th straight game with 20 or more points. He’s been putting up big final quarters of late – scoring 20 or more three times this season. No other NBA player had done it more than once entering Monday.

Al Horford had 22 points, while Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder added 15 apiece for Boston, which has won all three meetings with Charlotte this season.

Kemba Walker scored 24 points and Marvin Williams had 21 for the Hornets, who lost their fifth straight – all on the road.

Thomas scored 13 straight points, pushing Boston ahead 93-83 with his 3-pointer from the left wing with 7 1/2 minutes left.

Boston led 80-71 entering the final period.

TIP-INS

Hornets: Entered averaging the second-fewest turnovers in the league at 12.1 per game. They had 11.

Celtics: G Avery Bradley returned after missing four straight games because of a strained right Achilles. He scored five points on 2-of -9 shooting. … Thomas scored a team-record 29 points in the final quarter of a victory against Miami on Dec. 30 to finish with 52.

INSPIRING WORDS

Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown addressed the crowd before the game on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Without notes, he quoted King in saying: “The day our lives begin to end, the day we become silent about things that matter.”

NICE CATCH

New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount sat courtside behind a basket and made a two-handed grab of a ball flying out of bounds.

SPORTS TRANSITION

It was the nightcap of a hockey/basketball doubleheader, and 6-foot-4 Celtics guard Marcus Smart entered TD Garden wearing a winter jacket and hat. He paused and stood seemingly unnoticed as a group of youngsters and parents – most wearing Boston Bruins colors – walked down a hall to meet some of the hockey players.

Smart smiled when a media member said, “I don’t think anyone noticed you.”

Later, 6-foot-9 Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara headed past folks walking in for the basketball game.

 

Clippers guard Chris Paul leaves game with sprained thumb, more tests coming

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The Clippers have now won seven games in a row, but if they don’t have Chris Paul in the lineup that streak is going to turn around very quickly (remember just a couple of weeks ago when he missed seven games with a hamstring strain?).

Which is why Paul leaving the game with what the team has called a sprained thumb is potentially troubling news. Paul was trying to get over the top of a Joffrey Lauvergne screen when he ran into Russell Westbrook who had pulled up to take a three, Paul’s hand hitting Westbrook’s hip and seemingly getting caught up in his shorts. Paul walked off the court and went straight to the locker room, making it seem worse than the team said it is so far.

From the press release from the Clippers:

X-rays during the game were negative, but further tests still need to be done to determine the extent of the injury, which occurred in the second quarter after Paul jammed his left hand on Russell Westbrook’s right leg.

The Clippers held on without Paul for the comfortable win over the Thunder, 120-98.

The Clippers are the four seed in the West but could fall down that ladder if Paul is out for any stretch of time. Starting Saturday The Clippers have 10-of-11 games on the road — and the one home game is the Warriors. That’s going to be a tough run of games even with Paul.

Kevin Durant scores 21, Stephen Curry 20 to help Warriors cruise past Cavs (VIDEOS)

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Pretty much everything the Warriors did Monday against the Cavaliers worked — transition buckets, pull-up threes, drive-and-dish plays, curls off screens, you name it and the Warriors got enough space to get a shot they wanted. Then they knocked them down. Which is why the Warriors won going away.

Stephen Curry had a big night with 20 points and 11 assists, which you can see highlights of above. It was a big night for Curry’s confidence: In the Cavaliers four-straight wins against the Warriors, Cleveland trapped Curry off picks, were physical, and when Curry tried to make the playground passes that worked against other teams Cavaliers’ help defenders made steals and were off in transition the other way. Monday night Curry took the pressure in stride, used his handles to create space, used his gravity to draw defenders to him, then he whipped smart passes around the floor. Curry had 10 assists and zero turnovers in the first half.

Kevin Durant benefitted from some of those passes and had 21 points on the night, and he chipped in three blocks.

 

Get out of my head: Golden State routs Cleveland in last regular season meeting before Finals

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No regular season game is going to erase the memory of blowing a 3-1 NBA Finals lead.

No January game is an accurate crystal ball into an NBA Finals matchup.

But the Warriors can put to rest the “Cleveland is in their heads” rhetoric and take a little confidence away from an absolute drubbing of the NBA Champions on national television Monday night.

Golden State caught fire midway through the first quarter and led by 15 after one, put up 78 points in the first half to lead by 29 at the break, and it all happened so fast it left Tyronn Lue’s face as the meme of the night.

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From there, the Warriors cruised in (sloppily at times, but cruised) for the 126-91 win.

“It was very important to come out and get off to a good start, but more importantly to hold on to that, to continue to keep our foot on the gas,” Draymond Green, speaking to the blown leads issue in his postgame TNT interview. “We did that the entire night, they had one little stretch there, I think it was the end of the third quarter, but other than that we kept our foot on the gas the entire time.”

Everyone in a Warriors uniform looked sharp. Klay Thompson had 26 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. Kevin Durant had 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting. Stephen Curry had 20 points and 11 assists. Green had a triple-double with 11 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists.

Conversely, for the Cavaliers LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love were a combined 13-of-43 (30.2 percent shooting), with just five assists to 13 turnovers between them. As a team, the Cavaliers shot 35.2 percent overall and 9-of-34 from three (26.5 percent). Love didn’t play in the second half due to lower back soreness.

The Cavaliers looked like the team on the last night of a six-game road trip counting the minutes until they got back home, which is exactly what they were.

Neither side thinks this game portends anything going forward.

“It wasn’t about sending a message,” Green said in his interview. “At the end of the day, that’s the defending champs, we played them guys in two straight Finals, you’re not sending a message with a regular season win.”

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel good for the Warriors (and is cathartic for their fans).

The only real moment of drama in the game was when Green shouldered LeBron to the ground in the second quarter and picked up a Flagrant 1 for his efforts.

Golden State started the game slow, getting good looks but shooting just 1-of-7 from three. Still, it felt like with the looks they were getting the shots would fall at some point, and they did as the Warriors hit six of their next eight from deep. Cleveland tried to match that but found no rhythm, shooting 2-of-12 from three early. With the hot shooting continuing for them, the Warriors stretched the lead up as high as 22, but the Cavaliers had Richard Jefferson come in and muck the game up, LeBron started attacking off the drive, and the Cavaliers cut the lead down to 14.

Then the Warriors got a couple of live-ball turnovers — including Curry stripping LeBron — and converted those to fast-break buckets the other way, then all that was left was Lue looking dazed. The Warriors were moving the ball and not getting sucked into isolation, racking up 26 first half assists. The Warriors also were out and running and had 34 fast break points in the first half — credit Golden State for pushing the tempo, but the Cavaliers transition defense was a horror show. And not in a cool, “Let the Right One In” kind of way, but in the “Cavs fans never want to see that again” kind of way. Dazed Lue is right there with them.

No more meetings between these teams until the Finals we all expect to see. It’s six months of these teams getting better, trying to stay healthy, and gaining confidence going into that series. Cleveland has plenty of confidence. Golden State just got a little more.