LeBron James

PBT NBA Power Rankings: Let the season begin!

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To celebrate a new season, we bring you a new set of NBA Power Rankings from PBT. Let the kvetching about your ranking begin! Just remember that this is an exercise in fun — these are meaningless as the NBA has a playoff system to decide who is best. What sport would rely on journalist’s rankings to help decide a title… oh, forgot. Sorry college football, no offense.

(The number in parenthesis is last year’s record.)

source:  1. Heat (66-16). When you are the two-time defending NBA champions, when you have the best player on the planet, when you won 66 games last season, including 27 in a row at one point, you start the season on top of the rankings. The road to a title still goes through Miami.

 

source:  2. Spurs (58-24). They came within a defensive rebound of winning the NBA title last season and the only real question about them contending again is if Tim Duncan can continue his renaissance? Also, in the preseason Marco Belinelli has looked like another classic good Spurs pickup.

 

source:  3. Bulls (45-37). Derrick Rose looks like his old self and Joakim Noah says he is ready and healthy for the start of the season. The Bulls went 8-0 in the preseason and while you don’t want to read too much into that, understand they are going to win a lot of games this season.

 

source:  4. Clippers (56-26). DeAndre Jordan has been vocal on defense all preseason, barking out commands. If he can keep this up, if takes control of this defense and plays anywhere near his potential the Clippers are serious contenders. They are my pick to come out of the West.

 

source:  5. Pacers (49-32). Their deeper bench with C.J. Watson, Luis Scola and Chris Copeland will help them win more regular season games (as will getting Danny Granger back in a few weeks). Still, this is a team whose style and personnel is better suited for the playoffs than the regular season.

 

source:  6. Thunder (60-22). Without Russell Westbrook out the first month of the season (don’t be shocked if he’s back sooner than predicted) this is still a very good, very dangerous team. Kevin Durant can pick up a lot of scoring slack. That said, even a couple extra losses can really hurt their playoff seeding.

 

source:  7. Rockets (45-37). Dwight Howard has played with a real energy on defense this preseason — he’s looked healthy. I still think it is going to take time for this team to meld; it will take time for Kevin McHale to find the lineups that work best. They are a year away to me.

 

source:  8. Grizzlies (56-26). An unfair amount of criticism/praise is going to fall on new head coach Dave Joerger. The bigger issue from where I sit is they didn’t really address their need for shooting (Mike Miller is not the answer anymore).

 

 

source:  9. Nets (49-33). Deron Williams wasn’t around for most of the preseason but should be back for the games that matter. Still they went 5-2 in the preseason and if they can stay healthy they are going to win a lot of games, I just am not fully on board with them as contenders yet.

 

source:  10. Warriors (47-35). They signed Andrew Bogut to an extension, which means they are making a big bet on his long-term health. I think they will miss Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry coming off the bench this season more than people realize.

 

source:  11. Knicks (54-28). What is the date the entire Knicks nation turns on Andrea Bargnani? I’d give an under/over of Dec. 1. Remember they are without J.R. Smith for the first five games.

 

source:  12. Timberwolves (31-51). With Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio healthy — plus the addition of Kevin Martin — this should be a playoff team in the West (even after the Chase Budinger injury). But their defense could be what holds them back.

 

source:  13. Mavericks (41-41). Can Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki be a playoff pairing? Maybe. Jose Calderon distributing the shots efficiently could be the key.

 

 

source:  14. Nuggets (57-25). They were 2-5 in the preseason. With Andre Iguodala gone, Danilo Gallinari out until December due to his knee injury, this is a team poised to take a big step back.

 

source:  15. Pistons (29-53). They could be a poor man’s Grizzlies — a fantastic front line with Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, but do they have enough outside shooting? Brandon Jennings will be their key but he is out to start the season with a jaw issue.

 

source:  16. Cavaliers (24-58). Kyrie Irving can lift the Cavaliers to the playoffs, but unless their gamble on Andrew Bynum (who is not expected in the opener) pays off he can’t lift them much farther.

 

source:  17. Trail Blazers (33-49). LaMarcus Aldridge promised Portland would get the 7 seed in the West, then went out and led the team to a 5-2 record in the preseason. Maybe this is going to work.

 

source:  18. Pelicans (27-55). Anthony Davis has had a strong preseason — 19.9 points a game on 55.2 percent shooting, he is attacking the rim off the dribble — and the Pelicans were 7-1 in the preseason. This ranking may be too low for them.

 

source:  19. Lakers (45-37). Kobe Bryant hasn’t practiced yet and now it looks like Steve Nash may sit out the second nights of back-to-backs. This could be a tough season in Los Angeles, but look for a good year from Pau Gasol.

 

source:  20. Hawks (44-38). They were 1-6 in the preseason, which is a disturbing sign. If things go poorly in Atlanta Al Horford is going to get a lot of the blame (fair or not). I am pumped about the potential of Dennis Schroeder.

 

source:  21. Wizards (29-53). They want to make the playoffs this year, enough to reach out and trade for Marcin Gortat. One guy who had a good preseason is Bradley Beal, who averaged 20.7 points on 51.9% shooting and 47.2% from three.

 

source:  22. Raptors (34-48). They were 6-1 in the preseason, we’ll see if they can carry some of that over to games that matter. Still think it’s going to be a breakout year for Jonas Valanciunas.

 

source:  23. Kings (28-51). I’m not reading a lot into it, but the Kings were 5-2 in the preseason. We’ll all talk about DeMarcus Cousins, but the Greivis Vasquez and Ben McLemore backcourt could be a lot of fun.

 

source:  24. Bucks (38-44). They are not tanking, but if they want a return trip to the playoffs there is no margin for error. Which is why having Ersan Ilyasova (ankle), Ekpe Udoh (knee) and Carlos Delfino (foot) injured to start the season is not good.

 

source:  25. Bobcats (21-61). I like the Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller front court, they are going to be fun to watch. This team may not be terrible, which is an improvement.

 

source:
26. Celtics (41-40). It’s going to be a long fall and winter in Boston. At least the city can be focused on the Red Sox/Patriots for a while. The Celtics do have nine first round picks in the next five seasons, which is good for a rebuild.

 

source:  27. Magic (20-62). Tobias Harris will not play Tuesday in the season opener. What will be the most interesting part of the Orlando season: Victor Oladipo adjusting to the NBA or the Jameer Nelson/Glen Davis trade watch?

 

source:  28. Jazz (43-39). Trey Burke was my rookie of the year pick until he got injured. Still will be watching to see how the Derrick Favors/Enes Kanter front line works out.

 

source:  29. Suns (24-56). Trading Marcin Gortat for a pick (and the bad neck of Emeka Okafor) tells you where this team is headed.

 

 

source:  30. 76ers (34-48). I think they will win more than 8 or 9 games this season. Not many more, but more. The question is can Brett Brown build the foundation of a winning culture amid all that losing?

Way too early look: Who could make up USA’s 2020 Tokyo Olympic basketball team?

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan and Kyle Lowry #7 of United States stand on the podium after defeating Serbia in the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Let’s start with the obvious: This is an exercise in futility. There is no way to predict accurately what the 2020 USA men’s basketball team headed to the Tokyo Olympics will look like. There will be injuries that sideline guys. There will be contract situations where key guys decide it’s in their best interest to sit out. Plus, there could be a guy just now entering his junior year of high school who we don’t know well yet but in four years will be a clear choice for the team.

Now that we’ve gotten through the tedious disclaimer, let’s have fun:

What will the 2020 USA Basketball team look like?

First, it will have a bit of a business attitude — Gregg Popovich is coaching now. Not that Mike Krzyzewski ran a college party Team USA, far from it, but with Popovich’s demeanor and the scare put into the 2016 team (and some improving world powers, such as Canada), expect the USA to be a little more focused next time around.

For the roster, who from the 2016 gold medal team in Rio returns for more gold? At the top of the list: A 31-year-old Kevin Durant will be back for one more run (and to climb on top of the USA Olympic scoring list). He will be the unquestioned team leader. The alpha. It will be his team.

After that? Young stars who want one more go at it such as Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, and Klay Thompson will seriously consider a return. Maybe Jimmy Butler. Those guys will have a leg up having Olympic experience and a commitment to the program.

After that, some big names that passed on Rio are going to suit up in Japan. There will be far less defection of top talent this time around — the fears around Brazil will be gone, and NBA players wanting to sell more shoes in Asia will be eager to sign up. I expect you will see Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, and maybe James Harden decide they are in for the next round. LeBron James said he felt left out and may consider a return, but he will be 35 years old with 17 NBA seasons on his body by that point, does he want to put his body through an international curtain call? Probably not.

Rounding out the roster, expect a few guys from this year’s USA Select Team — the team the Olympic squad practiced against in Las Vegas at the start of camp — to make the leap up (as Kyrie Irving and others did this year).

Who? That’s the hardest thing to predict, it depends on development. Guys to watch include Victor Olidipo, Justise Winslow, Devin Booker, Brandon Ingram, and Jabari Parker — some of them will be ready to make the leap.

One clue to the 2020 roster: Players that you see in China for the 2019 FIBA World Cup will be more likely to make the 2020 team. (Yes, the World Championships are now the year before the Olympics, welcome to more of FIBA’s wisdom, as is the fact the Cup qualifiers fall during the NBA/Euroleague seasons.) Guys from the select team now that head to China in three years and perform well in that setting will likely have the USA across their chest in Japan.

Whatever team we send will have the most talent in those games. The question is will that be enough?

Check out the Cleveland Cavaliers Top 10 plays from last season

AUBURN HILLS, MI - APRIL 24: Kyrie Irving #2 and LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers prepare for tip off against the Detroit Pistons in game four of the NBA Eastern Conference quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Palace of Auburn Hills on April 24, 2016 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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With athletes such as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on the team, you know the Cleveland Cavaliers Top 10 plays of last season were going to have some special moments.

Yes, the block by LeBron and the stepback three by Irving that sealed the first Cleveland title in 52 years are on top of the list.

But there are some other ridiculous Irving handles and even a Timofey Mozgov dunk in there (a $64 million dunk, apparently).

Watch Spurs’ Dejounte Murray throw off-the-backboard alley-oop to himself in pickup game

Washington guard Dejounte Murray, center, dribbles the ball past Mount St. Mary's center Taylor Danaher (50) as Washington forward Marquese Chriss, right, watches duirng the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Just a suggestion for rookie Dejounte Murray: Don’t do this in front of Gregg Popovich. You may not like his reaction.

That said, the Spurs needed to get more athletic this off-season — landing Pau Gasol certainly didn’t help that cause — so enter first-round pick Murray, who pulled this off in a recent pickup game.

Murray is going to be brought along slowly in a backcourt where Tony Parker and Patty Mills will be splitting time at the point. Murray is more of a combo guard and is going to have to shoot a lot better than he did in college (28.8 percent from three) to get some run. But this is a situation where the Spurs can groom him, bring him along slowly, and see if they have another draft steal.

He’s certainly got the athleticism.

Corey Brewer: “James (Harden) is going to play defense this year”

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 18:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets walks across the court during their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Toyota Center on March 18, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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James Harden‘s defense is not as bad as its reputation.

Well, at least it wasn’t two seasons ago — his near MVP season he was in good enough shape that he could put in a respectable effort on that end and still handle his massive offensive load. There were still some mental lapses, but his focus was better and his improvement lifted the team defense. Last season, he regressed back to youtube “highlight” defense Harden — his conditioning was not where it needed to be, he didn’t expend as much effort on that end, and it showed.

Harden got a massive contract extension this summer, and Dwight Howard is Atlanta’s problem — now Harden has to lead the Rockets. By example. Corey Brewer told ESPN you’re going to see that on defense.

“I think this year he’s going to play better defense, We’re going to let the past be in the past. It’s the future of the Rockets, man. James is going to play defense this year.”

We’re all Missourians on this one: Show me.

Remember that the Rockets will be out and running — Mike D’Antoni is the coach now, and Daryl Morey is going to get the up tempo ball he wants (which Kevin McHale had them doing, but Harden didn’t like him so…). D’Antoni’s teams in Phoenix played better defense than their reputation — points per possession they were middle of the pack — but that has never been his focus.

Will Harden be able to run like he needs to on offense and still defend at a reasonable level?

If he can, it’s a big step toward the Rockets being a dangerous team in the West because if he does it others will follow. Otherwise, every Rockets game will be a shootout, which is entertaining but not going to get a team deep into the playoffs.