PBT NBA Power Rankings: Pacers, Rockets, T-Wolves and Sixers on top

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The first few weeks of the Power Rankings see crazy fluctuations — teams that aren’t really that good start off hot, teams that are good start cold, so teams bounce up and down the rankings like they are on a bungee cord the first few weeks. Eventually things find their level. But this week was one of the hardest I’ve had to do in this ranking.

 
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1. Pacers (3-0, Last Week No. 5). Through three games Paul George is averaging 25.7 points a game on 48.1 percent shooting overall and 43.5 percent from three — all big jumps from last year. He may not sustain that but he looks to be making another leap forward. Also early, but they have the best defense in the NBA so far.

 
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2. Rockets (3-0, LW 7). So far, so good — they have the best point-per-possession differential in the league (+13.8 per 100 possessions). However, the Dwight Howard/Omer Asik pairing has struggled, -1.4 per 48 minutes so far. Expect that combo to go the way of the Dodo soon.

 
source:  3. Timberwolves (3-0, LW 12). Kevin Love is averaging 29.7 points a game (on 50% shooting, plus 14.7 rebounds), but there is a balance to the Wolves offense with six players averaging at least 9 points a game. The defense also has been surprisingly strong so far this season.

 
source:  4. 76ers (3-0, LW 30). No, I don’t think they will be this high up in the rankings for long, however, but they beat the Heat and the Bulls so here they are. They are playing at the fastest pace in the NBA. It’s too early to say Michael Carter-Williams is a Rookie of the Year frontrunner, but he has put himself in that conversation. The award usually goes to a guy with the ball in his hands who puts up numbers — MCW fits that mold.

 
source:  5. Spurs (2-1, LW 2). Just grinding along, doing their thing, even in the first week of the season. Tim Duncan out for a night, they win in Los Angeles anyway. Popovich in-game interviews remain the highlight of any nationally televised Spurs’ game.

 
source:  6. Clippers (2-1, LW 4). Through three games they have the statistically best offense in the NBA (113.3 points per 100 possessions) and the worst defense (108.9). Doc Rivers was hired to fix the second one of those numbers.

 
source:  7. Warriors (2-1, LW 10). You knew their offense was going to put up points because Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s can knock down jumpers from the second they step off the team bus. But their defense has been good, too — Andrew Bogut shut DeMarcus Cousins down over the weekend.

 
source:  8. Thunder (2-1, LW 6). Russell Westbrook was back Sunday after missing just two games, and with him the Thunder offense looked better. Not good yet, but better. This team has some work to do to get where it wants to get.

 
source:  9. Heat (2-2, LW 1). The game against Washington Sunday sums up Miami: They were by far the better team, moving the ball well (86 percent of buckets came on assists), they were up 23… then they took their foot off the gas. Washington went on an 18-5 run and outscored Miami 29-16 in the fourth to make it a 10-point game. Expect the lack of focus to continue.

 
source:  10. Mavericks (2-1, LW 13). Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis are running the pick-and-pop well (each is averaging 23.3 points per game) to lead Dallas to the third best offense in the NBA so far this young season (108.9 points per 100 possessions).

 
source:  11. Trail Blazers (2-1, LW 17). That was a quality win over the Spurs Saturday night, even if Nicolas Batum wasn’t exactly classy at the end. Strong offense to start the season for the Blazers.

 
source:  12. Suns (2-1, LW 29). They have done it with defense — opponents are shooting 43.1 percent overall and 30 percent from three. However their entire season goes, if Jeff Hornacek can build a good defensive foundation it will be a success.

 
source:  13. Nets (1-2, LW 9). That was a quality win over the Heat Friday night and their offense had a beautiful fluidity that night — the ball moved and players moved well off the ball. Then Sunday night against Orlando they did none of that. They settle for too many jump shots, they need to attack. Good test vs. Pacers this week.

 
source:  14. Bulls (1-2, LW 3). Lots of drama in the Windy City — Rose off to a rough start, and the front office is telling Tom Thibodeau how to distribute minutes. However, the biggest concern is that their defense has been average. We wait for them to find their stride, but can they do that against the Pacers this week.

 
source:  15. Knicks (1-2, LW 11). New York played really good defense through their first two games, then Kevin Love and Minnesota showed up and drilled them. Hopefully the defense returns — and speaking of returns J.R. Smith should be back this week.

 
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16. Pistons (2-1, LW 15). Brandon Jennings returned Sunday, and with a very Brandon Jennings line: 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Tough tests this week against Indiana and Oklahoma City.

 
source:  17. Raptors (2-1, LW 22). Great starts from Amir Johnson and Landry Fields this season… not so much for Rudy Gay and his 32.7 percent shooting on the season. If that keeps up the Gay trade rumors will ramp up (even as his trade value goes down).

 
source:  18. Lakers (2-2, LW 19). You get the feeling that first week is what we will see a lot of from the squad — a great win over the Clippers with Xavier Henry stepping up, followed by a mess in Golden State. Close win over Hawks, close loss to Spurs (without Duncan). Expect a season of this roller coaster.

 
source:  19. Grizzlies (1-2, LW 8). Normally a slow start to the season wouldn’t worry us, but the Memphis defense has not been good. Second worst in the NBA so far. That is worrying. They should turn it around, but if this little slump continues too long the road through the playoffs in a deep West just gets that much harder as you slip down the seedings.

 
source:  20. Magic (2-2, LW 27). No Tobias Harris, no Glen Davis and yet the Magic have looked solid. They play good defense and get some spinning dunks out of Victor Oladipo.

 
source:  21. Cavaliers (1-2, LW 16). Andrew Bynum is out there on the court, but there are other issues. Like Anthony Bennett not having scored yet. Charlotte tried to take the ball out of Kyrie Irving’s hands at the end of the game, and it worked. It shouldn’t.

 
source:  22. Pelicans (1-2, LW 18). Anthony Davis told me that the Pelicans took preseason seriously (they were 7-1) but that hasn’t translated to the season so far. However, Davis has looked good averaging 23.7 points and 12.3 rebounds a game

 
source:  23. Hawks (1-2, LW 20). Kyle Korver has started the season on fire but so far the Hawks defense has not, which is why the below .500 record. They need to pick up wins this week against the Kings, Magic and Nuggets.

 
source:  24. Kings (1-2, LW 23). Fantastic opening night crowd, atmosphere and win. However, the losses to the Clippers and Warriors showed how far this team needs to go. Six of their next seven games are at home.

 
source:  25. Bucks (1-2, LW 24). As our man D.J. Foster noted in The Extra Pass, new coach Larry Drew is benching Larry Sanders and John Henson in favor of Zaza Pachulia, and Ersan Ilyasova. That is not how you develop a young team, fireworks could follow.

 
source:  26. Bobcats (1-2, LW 25). Al Jefferson pushed to get back for the first game, shot 6-of-19, then shut it down again. Without him the Bobcats offense is exactly what you think it is.

 
source:  27. Nuggets (0-2, LW 14). Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler are out which hurts the offense, and while Brian Shaw was brought in to play JaVale McGee more the young center is showing why George Karl limited those minutes.

 
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28. Celtics (0-3, LW 26). I don’t know what Gerald Wallace thinks he’s doing by calling this team out publicly, but it’s not helping. Welcome to the NBA, Brad Stevens, isn’t this fun?

 
source:  29. Wizards (0-3, LW 21). Yes John Wall has struggled with his jump shot (9-of-29 outside the paint so far this season), but the bigger concern is the team defense, which has been terrible through three games (108.1 points per 100 possessions) was torched by the Heat Sunday. Is Randy Wittman’s seat getting warm?

 
source:  30. Jazz (0-3, LW 28). They’ve come close to getting wins but coughed the ball up at the end against the Thunder and blew a 16-point lead against the Rockets. Oh, and they didn’t reach an extension deal with Gordon Hayward. Rough week.

Joe Johnson dominates late, Jazz beat Clippers 105-98 to even series 2-2

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Rudy Gobert was back at center, giving the Jazz an emotional boost and someone who can match up with DeAndre Jordan (although Gobert wasn’t moving like his normal self).

Gordon Hayward had to leave the game with food poisoning.

It didn’t matter, the Jazz had Joe Johnson. The veteran forward who knows how to get buckets scored or assisted on 20 straight points for Utah in the fourth, sparking a run that got the Jazz a 105-98 come-from-behind win.

The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 Tuesday.

When people talk about Johnson, the first thing that seems to come up is the oversized contract Atlanta gave him, but they forget this is a seven-time All-Star. He was nicknamed “iso-joe” because of how Mike Woodson’s offense used him heavily in isolation for the Hawks, but that was playing to the strength of his skill set. He can get buckets. Just ask the Clippers, as Johnson finished with 28.

The return of Gobert, a quietly strong game from Derrick Favors, plus maybe something else (like the heavy load last game) seemed to wear on DeAndre Jordan, who was not as sharp as normal in this one. The Clippers again leaned on Chris Paul — 27 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds — and Jamal Crawford who had 25 points off the bench. However, take those two out of the equation and the rest of the Clippers shot just 34.2 percent against that elite Jazz defense. In the fourth quarter, the entire Clippers’ team shot 31.4 percent total.

Utah got good performances from their role players, who stepped up with Hayward out. Rodney Hood had 18 points and some key buckets in the fourth. Then there was Joe Ingles, who defended CP3 for stretches, was a force getting where he wanted on the pick-and-roll leading to 11 assists, plus he had two key threes down the stretch.

The Clippers clearly missed Blake Griffin in some of these matchups, but Los Angeles is going to have to adjust to that in this series because he’s not returning.

This series is even and feels like it may well go seven. The Clippers have two out of the remaining three at home, and they have the best player in the series in Chris Paul. All that may not be enough if the Jazz role players keep stepping up.

Watch Paul George lose JR Smith, put Cavaliers guard on skates with crossover

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Game 4 between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers was hotly-contested in the first half. The Cavaliers led, 58-52, after two quarters.

But one special play came when Indiana’s Paul George put JR Smith on his heels, with the Cavaliers guard reeling back some 10 feet after a pull-back crossover left George alone at the 3-point line.

Via Twitter:

You might say George pushed off with his left hand, but you could also point out that Smith then turned a flop-like head kick into an actual blown defensive assignment.

Cleveland completed the series sweep on Indiana with the win, 106-102.

Kobe Bryant’s new Canvas video is brought to you by the letter O (for Obsession)

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Kobe Bryant’s Canvas series returned to our television screen on Saturday. The Sesame Street-like videos center around finding a place to draw motivation from in order to, as the most recent video says, dominate the will of your opponent.

They’re … weird.

They are also extremely Kobe-ish in that they stay true to the former Los Angeles Lakers great’s internal vision of how to play basketball.

The last one we saw was all about finding a musecage, and using your dark thoughts to propel you to win. This one is all about obsession, and how that emotion separates those who like to win from true competitors.

I’m personally all for these videos. They are maybe a little cheesy, or single-minded, but that’s sort of the point. It accurately reflects Kobe, which is something you don’t often see from retired players trying to transition their brand from player to former player.

Isaiah Thomas scores 33, Celtics beat Bulls 104-95 to tie series

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CHICAGO (AP) Isaiah Thomas scored 33 points, and the Boston Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls 104-95 on Sunday to tie their first-round playoff series at 2-all.

Boston blew a 20-point lead, but Thomas keyed a third-quarter run that put the Celtics back on top after Chicago briefly went ahead.

Gerald Green made four 3-pointers on his way to 18 points, helping the top-seeded Celtics return the favor in Chicago after dropping the first two games at home. Al Horford added 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Game 5 is Wednesday in Boston.

Jimmy Butler carried the Bulls with 33 points and nine assists. Nikola Mirotic and seldom-used Isaiah Canaan each scored 13 points, but Dwyane Wade finished with just 11.

Canaan made his first appearance since April 10, with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg searching for help at point guard with Rajon Rondo missing his second straight game because of a broken right thumb.

The Celtics led by 20 in the second quarter and were still up 10 in the third when Chicago scored 12 straight. The Bulls went ahead 65-63 on Robin Lopez‘s hook shot with 4:35 left in the quarter.

Thomas answered with back-to-back layups and scored 10 points in a 12-0 run that gave the Celtics a 75-65 lead, and they withstood a push by the Bulls early in the fourth.

With Thomas and Green each scoring 16 in the first half, the Celtics carried a 57-46 lead into the break.

Butler led the Bulls with 17 in the half. But the offense struggled in a big way with Rondo unavailable. Jerian Grant started and went to the bench after about five ineffective minutes. Michael Carter-Williams then picked up two quick fouls, forcing the Bulls to go with Canaan in the first quarter.

The Celtics, meanwhile, led 41-21 early in the second quarter. But things started to turn after Canaan stole the ball from Marcus Smart and scored on a layup.

Smart feigned throwing the ball at Butler. The two came nose to nose, resulting in technical fouls for both players, and the Bulls started to shoot their way back into it.

Mirotic hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight in the quarter. Bobby Portis cut it to 52-42 with his basket late in the half, and Butler hit two free throws with 22.6 seconds left to make it 57-46.

RONDO FINED

The NBA fined Rondo for attempting to trip Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder from the bench in Game 3. Crowder jawed at the Bulls’ bench after hitting a jumper and Rondo extended his leg as Crowder walked by.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Thomas was just 1 of 9 on 3-pointers but made 12 of 13 free throws.

Bulls: Butler made 19 of 23 foul shots after failing to get to the line in Game 3. … Canaan was inactive for the first three games.