Indiana Pacers v New Orleans Pelicans

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


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Report: Yi Jianlian has asked for release, will be waived by Lakers

Yi Jianlian, from China, newly acquired by the Los Angeles Lakers, poses in his new jersey during his introduction at the NBA basketball team's headquarters in El Segundo, Calif., Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
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On paper, Chinese center Yi Jianlian made a lot of sense for the Lakers, especially in Luke Walton’s system — he was the only floor spacing big on the roster. Watching Yi at the Olympics, it was easy to imagine it working out for him in the NBA this time around.

In practice, he was struggling to find a consistent role with the team. He had averaged less than 11 minutes a game in the preseason, shooting 35 percent overall and 16.7 percent from three. His defense wasn’t good, and he remains a player who doesn’t exactly have a high motor. With Julius Randle, Larry Nance, Timofey Mozgov, and Tarik Black, Yi wasn’t finding a consistent niche.

So he has asked out of his contract and the Lakers are going to oblige, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

This likely means Thomas Robinson will earn the final Lakers’ roster spot.

Yi has a strong and lucrative international career to return to.

This was a smart gamble by the Lakers — he had about the most team-friendly contract imaginable, and this was not a big financial hit. It’s a little disappointing it didn’t work out, but both sides will move on.

Duncan-less Spurs eager for another run at NBA postseason

San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9), of France, talks with forward Kawhi Leonard during the second half of the team's preseason NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)
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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The San Antonio Spurs responded to their most successful regular season in franchise history with the greatest turnover in Gregg Popovich’s two decades with the team.

Tim Duncan’s retirement played a large role in the reconstruction, but so did losing in six games to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference semifinals.

Duncan is gone along with veterans Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner and late-season additions Andre Miller and Kevin Martin. While San Antonio added another veteran in Pau Gasol, they also brought in a lot of youth and athleticism as they prepared for life without Duncan, the power forward who led the franchise to five NBA titles in 19 seasons.

“Right now we don’t know what we’re going to miss on the floor because we haven’t been through the season yet,” Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard said. “(But) just knowing he’s not here, his personality isn’t here. Jokes that he makes during practice, that’s the things I’m missing right now.”

Duncan will be with the team occasionally as an unofficial assistant coach, but San Antonio is placing the team squarely in Leonard’s hands. The 6-foot-7 forward finished second in MVP balloting after averaging a career-high 21.2 points and 6.8 rebounds last season. He also was named Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.

After spending his first five seasons adding a pull-up jumper and honing his 3-point shooting, Leonard spent this offseason working on something else: “Just becoming a leader. Just making sure I know what’s going on on the floor at every position. Just getting ready to get my mentality of just leading the group this year.”

Leonard’s evolution as a leader should be aided by Gasol. The 17-year veteran won two NBA championships while with the Los Angeles Lakers.

“One thing that makes me feel a little better with (Duncan’s) loss is Pau Gasol,” Popovich said. “He is a very intelligent man and he understands how to play and he’s played for a lot of good people. That’s going to help us in that loss, but having said that, it will take time to get all the new guys to understanding exactly how we play and who goes with whom.”

Gasol averaged 16.5 points and 11.0 rebounds for Chicago last season while earning his sixth All-Star appearance. Duncan averaged 8.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in the final season of a Hall of Fame career.

Gasol’s numbers will likely drop this season, though, as San Antonio will continue to develop around Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.

“It starts with me and L.A. first,” Leonard said. “If we win a championship, it’s going to be up to us to lead the group.”

The duo earned All-Star berths last season while leading San Antonio to a franchise-record 67 victories. But the Spurs dropped four of five games to the Thunder in the West semifinals and San Antonio knew changes were needed. The Spurs drafted 6-foot-5 point guard Dejounte Murray and brought in 2011 second-round pick Davis Bertans at forward along with signing 7-foot center Dewayne Dedmon along with David Lee.

Some other things to know about the Spurs, who open the season Tuesday night at Golden State:


Aldridge struggled to fit into the team’s offense in the first half of last season, but closed strongly to lead the team in rebounding and finish second in scoring. He said he was not bothered by reports San Antonio was willing to trade him.

“(Popovich is) a pretty direct person and this organization is first-class, so if that was the issue, I would have known way before the media knew,” Aldridge said. “So, I wasn’t worried about it at all.”


Point guard Tony Parker suffered a drop in scoring for his third straight season, which is a product of the team’s evolution rather than any decline in his game. The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 11.9 points last season, but he had a career-low 1.8 turnovers per game and shot 49 percent from the field. It was the third time in four seasons that Parker has shot 49 percent or better from the field. He also shot 42 percent on 3-pointers, marking the second straight season he has shot over 40 percent on 3s. Fellow veteran Manu Ginobili said he will not decide if this his last season until after it’s done.


After averaging 7.9 points and shooting 47 percent on 3-pointers in 15 games for Baskonia in the Euroleague last season, Bertans is averaging 5.4 points and shooting 31 percent on 3-pointers in five preseason games for the Spurs. He has astounded his teammates with his leaping ability especially after right ACL surgery twice in the past three years.

“I think in the second ACL they put something special in there,” Bertans said.


Dedmon is expected to be one of the team’s primary frontcourt reserves if he can stay on the court. The 7-footer has struggled with foul trouble in his career, averaging 2.1 fouls in just 13.1 minutes per game. He is averaging 3.2 fouls in five preseason games, including fouling out in 22 minutes in San Antonio’s preseason opener against Phoenix.


Gasol has stepping into Duncan’s spot in numerous ways, not just in the starting lineup. Gasol has taken Duncan’s spot standing next to Parker and Ginobili during the national anthem and is also handling tip-off duties.

Damian Lillard’s goal for season: Win MVP

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) poses for a photograph during NBA basketball media day in Portland, Ore., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)
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When the PBT staff made our predictions for MVP you saw some expected names — LeBron James, James Harden — and a smart pick off some people’s radar in Kawhi Leonard. Russell Westbrook was discussed as someone with a chance.

What about Damian Lillard? You know, the hip-hop star.

Lillard told a Jay Allen of Portland area Fox Sports Radio that’s his goal.

Lillard averaged 25.1 points and 6.8 assists per game last season, he is unquestionably a dynamic offensive force — he has a great pull up jumper and he can get to the rim and finish. Plus, he’s just entertaining to watch.

But MVP? That’s going to take more than numbers.

Portland won 44 games last season. The MVP almost always goes to the best player on a top two or three seed, meaning a team winning around 55 games or more. For Portland to add 10 wins or so and get Lillard noticed in the MVP race is going to be about defense — Portland was bottom 10 last season in defense and they need to be at least middle of the pack this time around. Which comes back to Lillard on some level, he’s often an overmatched defender and he can lose focus on that end. He’s gotten better over the years, but Lillard is going to have to lift up the Blazers defense, not just offense, to get in the MVP discussion.

I’m skeptical (of Lillard’s chances and the Trail Blazers taking a step forward), but we all underestimated Portland last season, too.

LeBron James says he can still win MVP with reduced workload, cites Stephen Curry

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 02:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers with the ball against Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter in Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 2, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The door is open for LeBron James to win a legacy-altering fifth MVP.

But his Cavaliers could also win another championship, leaving Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue planning to limit LeBron’s minutes in preparation of a long playoff run.

LeBron, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN

“No,” James said Saturday when asked if he was concerned that planned rest could affect his MVP case. “Because Steph played 31 minutes a game and he won the MVP.”

“Well, I’ve never set into a season saying I want to win MVP,” he said. “I’ve always thought of the season saying I want to be MVP for my team and it’s resulted in me getting four of them. So I’ve been available, for the most part, every night and I’ve been available on both sides of the floor. I’ve been healthy.

Curry won 2015 MVP while playing 32.7 minutes per game, the fewest by any MVP. He played 34.2 minutes per game last season, third-fewest by an MVP – ahead of just himself and 1978 Bill Walton, who played 33.3 minutes per game.

To contrast, LeBron has set career lows the last two seasons with 36.1 and 35.6 minutes per game. So, LeBron could get a reduced workload and still play more than Curry did.

But Curry, to some degree is an anomaly. He often sat late in games with his Warriors on the right side of blowouts. The Cavs aren’t good enough regularly rest LeBron as much in those situations.

It’s not that voters care directly about minutes. But the less LeBron plays, the lower his per-game averages will be and the less Cleveland will win. Those factors matter significantly.

LeBron can overcome that. He’s darned good, and there could be a push to reward him after the last two Finals have shown he’s still better than Curry when it matters most.

Playing fewer minutes per game won’t eliminate LeBron from the MVP race, not even close. But it will – and should – hurt his case. After all, MVP should reward the player who does the most to help his team win. MVP-caliber players don’t significantly help while sitting on the bench.