Indiana Pacers v Brooklyn Nets

PBT NBA Power Rankings: It’s the Pacers, Spurs then everyone else

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David Stern’s nightmare Finals matchup is on top of the second PBT NBA Power rankings — Indiana and San Antonio. Lots of shifting still going on in the rankings as teams shake themselves out just a couple weeks into the season, but a few patterns are emerging.

source:  1. Pacers (7-0, Last Week No. 1). Yes their defense is the best in the league. Yes Paul George has stepped up. Yes their starting five is outscoring opponents by +28 per 48 minutes. But don’t overlook the growth in Lance Stephenson. He’s averaging 14.4 a game, shooting 50 percent from three and defending well.

 
source:  2. Spurs (6-1, LW 5). They have looked like an old-school Spurs team so far this season — they have the third best defense in the NBA. The offense is ninth best in the NBA, a number bumped up thanks to the explosion against the Knicks “defense” Sunday.

 
source:  3. Thunder (5-1, LW 8). Russell Westbrook is averaging 21 points a game but the rust is still there — shooting 33.8 percent overall and 30.8 percent from three. That will change eventually. But Westbrook could miss a game after shoving Nene Sunday night.

 
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4. Timberwolves (5-2, LW 3). Yes, Kevin Love is putting up historic numbers and the offense is clicking, but the Timberwolves are winning because they have a top-10 NBA defense so far this season (sixth in points allowed per possession). It’s early, but if they maintain that they become a much more dangerous team.

 
source:  5. Warriors (4-3, LW 7). This is the key stat from Golden State so far this season: They have the second best defense in the NBA. The offense is going to put up points with this roster (although they struggled with Stephen Curry out Friday), but if they continue to defend near this level they become more dangerous when the games matter.

 
source:  6. Heat (4-3, LW 9). Great stat from ESPN: Miami is 1-3 in clutch games this season (score within five in final five minutes of the game) after being an NBA-best 32-8 last season. I think that’s a sign of focus and effort, something LeBron James echoed after the Celtics loss saying “We messed around with the game tonight, and that was that.”

 
source:  7. Clippers (4-3, LW 6). On paper the Clippers have an impressive bench — Jamal Crawford, Daren Collison, Matt Barnes when he is healthy again — but the defense from that second unit has been a real issue so far. A front court of Byron Mullens and Ryan Hollins isn’t going to solve that. Tough schedule this week with Minnesota, Oklahoma City and Brooklyn.

 
source:  8. Suns (5-2, LW 12). The fast start is in part due to Eric Bledsoe, but also Jeff Hornacek has them playing the seventh best defense in the NBA (based on points per possession). It’s early, we’ll see what kind of level they can sustain, still this is a good sign for trying to build a foundation going forward.

 
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9. Trail Blazers (4-2, LW 11). They are putting up this nice early record despite a defense 25th in the NBA in points per possession (and some shooting struggles for Damian Lillard). Robin Lopez was supposed to improve Portland’s interior defense but there are communication issues in the system.

 
source:  10. Rockets (4-3, LW 2). A 1-3 week where the Rockets’ perimeter defense was exposed by the Lakers and Clippers. It’s bad. James Harden is part of the issues, and Dwight Howard along the front line can’t clean up all of that mess (when he is position).

 
source:  11. Mavericks (4-3, LW 10). Monta Ellis is a little up and down in Dallas so far (big shock) but it should be noted is playing much more efficient basketball — his 23 points a game are coming on 47.9 percent shooting (up 6.3 percent from last season). The key is he is shooting 48.3 percent from the midrange.

 
source:  12. 76ers (4-3, LW 4). A 1-3 week brings them back to reality. Still, this season is supposed to be about player development and in that case the big outing from Evan Turner over the weekend and the strong play of Michael Carter-Williams are good signs.

 
source:  13. Grizzlies (3-3, LW 19). Memphis got a quality win over Golden State but their defense still is not consistent. And while we’re at it neither is the offense. With Indiana and Toronto on the schedule, we’ll see if they can build off what happened against the Warriors.

 
source:  14. Bulls (2-3, LW 14). Excited to see Derrick Rose go up against Kyrie Irving for the first time ever on Monday night. I will also be excited to see Rose return to form once he gets the rust off — he is shooting 25 percent from the midrange so far this season.

 
source:  15. Pelicans (3-3, LW 22). Through six games they are allowing 110.6 points per 100 possessions and scoring 100.6 per 100. The very definition of a .500 team. Anthony Davis is having a monster year with 21.7 points and 11.6 rebounds a game — he looks like the franchise player the Pelicans hoped he would be.

 
source:  16. Hawks (3-3, LW 23). Paul Millsap looks good so far averaging 20.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists — when he and Al Horford are paired the Hawks look strong. When they are not… well, this is a .500 team.

 
source:  17. Bobcats (3-3, LW 26). We’re just happy that coach Steve Clifford got a couple stents in his arteries and that nothing more serious came of this. He will be back on the court Monday night.

 
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18. Nets (2-4, LW 13). Great note by Grantland’s Zach Lowe on twitter: The Nets are 11 points per 100 possessions worse on defense and 6 per 100 worse on offense when Kevin Garnett is on the court. It’s early, but that’s an interesting and troublesome trend.

 
source:  19. Pistons (2-3, LW 16). On paper the Pistons look like they should be a defensive powerhouse, but through five games they are 23rd in the league at that end of the floor. They play Golden State this week and that offense against the Pistons defense could get ugly.

 
source:  20. Magic (3-4, LW 20). This may be too low a ranking for Orlando, which has the fourth best defense in the NBA this young season. I’m not sold they can sustain that, and trades are certainly coming, but so far Jacque Vaughn has this team buying in.

 
source:  21. Cavaliers (3-4, LW 21). They are undefeated at home and 0-4 on the road — and three of their four games this week are on the road (at Chicago, Minnesota and Washington). Their offense has been one of the worst in the NBA so far, save for a few spurts that has gotten them wins.

 
source:  22. Celtics (3-4, LW 28). They had a 3-1 week, including an improbable win over Miami thanks to a wild Jeff Green corner three.

 

 
source:  23. Knicks (2-4, LW 15). Sunday’s loss was what we could see more of from New York in the coming weeks — with Tyson Chandler out for a month they are going to have to win games by just outscoring teams. Their small ball with Andrea Bargnani is not a recipe for sustained success.

 
source:  24. Raptors (3-4, LW 17). They had a 1-3 week and talk is starting up again about coach Dwane Casey’s job — why he decided to go small and match up Miami after Jonas Valanciunas was destroying them early is confusing. As was not fouling in Charlotte. Things don’t get easier this week with the Rockets, Grizzlies, Bulls and Trail Blazers on the schedule.

 
source:  25. Wizards (2-3, LW 29). There is potential here and we saw it when Nene took over at the end of the game and led a comeback and overtime win over the Nets. The next night they blew a 12-point lead against the Thunder (and Nene got ejected). This is a team learning to win still.

 
source:  26. Lakers (3-5, LW 18). Pau Gasol has struggled to open the season due to a respiratory infection (he says he is getting better) and is shooting 36 percent so far. Now Steve Nash will join Kobe Bryant on the sidelines. There’s not much shot creation for others or defense on this team.

 
source:  27. Bucks (2-3, LW 25). Rough week with Larry Sanders out with a thumb injury following a bar fight he apologized for… not that Larry Drew is playing him enough anyway. The Bucks love the three ball but that is a tough way to make a living in the league.

 
source:  28. Kings (1-5, LW 24). They have dropped five in a row after an exciting opening night win at home. Three of those losses have been at home, as are their next four games. That will not matter without some better defensive lineups.

 
source:  29. Nuggets (1-4, LW 27). Well Josh Kronke, you wanted more minutes for the young guys and changes on your 57-win team. Here you go. JaVale McGee is now out indefinitely and new coach Brian Shaw has struggled to find a front court rotation he likes. Or at least one he doesn’t hate.

 
source:  30. Jazz (0-7, LW 30). Utah is shooting 40.1 percent as a team and 23.6 percent from three, leading to the worst offense in the NBA. The 27th ranked defense isn’t going to bail them out. Coach Tyron Corbin’s seat has to be getting warm.

LaMarcus Aldridge, Manu Ginobili hustling saves lead to Spurs bucket (VIDEO)

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That’s about the most Spurs play ever.

During the third quarter of San Antonio’s win over Washington Friday night, LaMarcus Aldridge saved the ball from going out-of-bounds on the baseline, he threw it out high to Manu Ginobili, who had to leap and save it from going into the backcourt. Two hustle plays. From there the Spurs whipped the ball around the perimeter, and it ended up back to Aldridge on the baseline, where he nailed the 12-foot jumper.

Eventually, the Spurs would get a Kawhi Leonard jumper to give them the victory.

LeBron on Cavs’ three-game losing streak: “We got to get out of the honeymoon stage”

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James wipes his face as he looks down after guard Kyrie Irving missed a shot during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, in Chicago. The Bulls won 111-105. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Associated Press
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For a team that is 13-5 and atop the Eastern Conference standings, the Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t been their intimidating selves consistently this season. There have been flashes during a 13-2 start, but mostly they win on talent, or when they flip the switch for a half, but they haven’t looked like a tested team working on building good habits through the first quarter of the NBA season. They have an elite offense, but their defense is surrendering 105.1 points per 100 possessions, 20th in the league.

It’s been worse the last four games. The Cavaliers had to come from behind to beat the Sixers, then got blown out by the Bucks and Clippers. Friday night, Cleveland lost to Chicago, giving the Cavs a three-game losing streak, and LeBron James had enough. He sent a message to his team through the media (from the Associated Press):

“We got to get out of the honeymoon stage,” James said. “You got to play the game, the right way. We’ve got to battle every night like we ain’t won nothing. Last year is last year. After ring night is over with, now it’s a new season and everybody is gunning for us every night and we have to understand that. The honeymoon stage is over. It’s time to play some real ball and be physical, especially in the trenches. Giving up 78 points (in the paint) is ridiculous. We’ve got to man up. Everybody.”

The Cavaliers would be far from the first team to have a championship hangover, and considering the five-decade title drought in Cleveland before that win we should have expected one of those “I can’t get off the couch, I’m just going to lay here and watch golf all day” kind of hangovers. As Gregg Popovich has said before, its human nature to let up after a big win.

However, the blowout loss at the hands of the Clippers Thursday — the only title contending team the Cavs have faced this season — should be a wake-up call. The fact is the Cavaliers are still playing well enough to beat everyone in the East, but their real tests come in the form of the Warriors/Clippers/Spurs out West. Right now it’s hard to picture the inconsistent defense of the Cavaliers lifting them past any of those teams in four out of seven games.

LeBron has been to six-straight Finals for a reason — he does not let up. And he’s going to have to shake this team out of its malaise to get them back to an elite standing.

It’s also the first week of December. It’s we’re having this same conversation the last week of March about the Cavaliers then it’s okay to start looking for the panic button in Cleveland. For now, trust LeBron to be the leader this team needs. Calling them out was just step one.

 

James Harden scores 20 in Rockets’ runaway win over Denver 128-110

Houston Rockets guard James Harden brings the ball upcourt against the Denver Nuggets in the first half of an NBA basketball game late Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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DENVER (AP) — James Harden scored 20 points and the Houston Rockets led from start to finish in beating the Denver Nuggets 128-110 on Friday night.

Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson had 18 points each and Sam Dekkar added 17 points for Houston, which completed an impressive road back-to-back sweep that began with its 132-127 win over Golden State in double overtime on Thursday.

Wilson Chandler had 24 points to lead the Nuggets, who saw their three-game winning streak against the Rockets come to an end. The Nuggets have lost four of their last five and fell to 3-7 this season at home, the high-altitude venue they once routinely dominated.

Up by 10 points at halftime, the Rockets took a 99-84 lead into the fourth quarter and kept the pressure on the rest of the way as part of a sharpshooting display that included converting 17 of 37 3-point attempts against a listless Nuggets defense. Denver made 9 of 30 from beyond the arc.

The Rockets took a 73-63 halftime lead over the Nuggets, who allowed a season high in points over the first two quarters by an opponent.

Houston led by as many as 15 points in the first half, hitting nine 3 pointers, including four by Anderson, to gain early separation with its highest scoring output over the first two quarters this season.

The lack of defensive urgency by Denver was epitomized by Gordon’s fastbreak layup at the halftime buzzer as he drove the length of the court virtually uncontested in the final 3 seconds of the period.

TIP-INS

Rockets: F Trevor Ariza left the game in the final minutes with a leg injury, apparently after coming down awkwardly while going for a rebound. … Houston has made at least 10 3-pointers in 19 consecutive games, the longest streak of its kind in league history. … Houston’s previous high for first-half points was 71 against the Los Angeles Lakers on Oct. 26. … Houston is 7-2 on the road since beginning the season 2-3.

Nuggets: C Nikola Jokic missed the game because of a sore left wrist. … G Gary Harris remains sidelined with a right foot injury. … G Will Barton returned from an ankle injury that sidelined him for the previous two games.

 

Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade lead Bulls to 111-105 win over Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, front left, talks with Chicago Bulls' Dwyane Wade before an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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CHICAGO (AP) — LeBron James wasn’t holding back.

Cleveland’s superstar had plenty to say after the Cavaliers gave up 78 points in the paint on the way to another loss. The condensed version was this: It’s time to start playing like a championship team again.

Jimmy Butler scored 26 points, Dwyane Wade had 24 and the Chicago Bulls beat James and the slumping Cavaliers 111-105 on Friday night.

Taj Gibson added a season-high 23 points and 11 rebounds for Chicago. Rajon Rondo had 15 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds as the balanced Bulls handed the Cavaliers their third straight loss.

“We got to get out of the honeymoon stage,” James said. “You got to play the game, the right way. We’ve got to battle every night like we ain’t won nothing. Last year is last year. After ring night is over with, now it’s a new season and everybody is gunning for us every night and we have to understand that. The honeymoon stage is over. It’s time to play some real ball and be physical, especially in the trenches. Giving up 78 points (in the paint) is ridiculous. We’ve got to man up. Everybody.”

James manned up to the tune of 27 points and 13 assists, a championship-level performance on a night when he showed up dressed as a World Series champion: He arrived at the arena in a Cubs uniform to honor a World Series bet with buddy Wade.

Kyrie Irving added 20 points and eight assists, but the Cavaliers matched their longest losing streak in a year.

Chicago dominated Cleveland 78-60 in the paint, outrebounded the Cavaliers 49-33 and came out on top despite shooting 3 of 18 on 3-pointers. It was a big turnaround for the Bulls coming off a loss to the Lakers.

“I think we know what we’re capable of if we play basketball the right way and do what we’re supposed to do,” Butler said.

DOWN THE STRETCH

The Bulls used a strong third quarter to turn a one-point halftime deficit into an 88-80 lead. And they withstood several pushes in the fourth to knock off the defending NBA champions.

Kevin Love nailed a 3 to cut the lead to 103-99 with about 4 minutes left, but the Bulls hung on.

Wade drove for a layup to make it 107-101 with 2:39 remaining. Nikola Mirotic then stole the ball from James, leading to a putback basket for Wade.

Mirotic came up with another big play when he blocked a 3 by Irving with 1:11 left to cause a shot-clock violation.

KING CUB

James clearly wasn’t thrilled about having to wear a Chicago Cubs uniform after he rooted hard for his hometown Cleveland Indians in the World Series. But he was a man of his word, honoring the wager he made with Wade, his good friend and former Miami Heat teammate.

James wore a No. 23 Cubs jersey with his last name stitched across the back, a Cubs hat partially covered by a Cubbie-blue hoodie, pinstripe pants and long baseball socks. James’ uniform even had the 2016 World Series champions shoulder patch.

“I actually thought he looked good,” said Wade, who was waiting for James when he arrived at the arena and took a picture of his ex-teammate. “He actually did look like a baseball player.”

The two hugged before tipoff and had some playful moments during the game.

James patted Wade on the backside as they ran down the court together after he hit a tough fadeaway jumper over his pal in the third quarter. Wade returned the favor after burying a 3 in James’ face moments later.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: G/F Mike Dunleavy Jr. missed his second consecutive game because of a concussion.

Bulls: Rondo’s triple-double was his first with the Bulls and the 29th of his career. … Butler has 12 straight games with 20 or more points. … With the Bulls playing four times in five days, coach Fred Hoiberg said Wade won’t travel to Dallas for Saturday’s game. … Hoiberg said F Doug McDermott (concussion) could be cleared for contact shortly and might practice with the D-League’s Windy City Bulls.