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.

Kevin Durant says Nike didn’t influence his free-agency decision

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors poses for NBA team photographer Noah Graham during the Golden State Warriors Media Day at the Warriors Practice Facility on September 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Many different factors went into Kevin Durant‘s decision this summer to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors — basketball fit, location, his friendships with Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, and more. But one thing he wants to make sure you know didn’t influence him is Nike. Durant told reporters this week that the shoe company, which he endorses, didn’t steer him one way or another in free agency, and they didn’t even know his plans beforehand.

It’s a little hard to believe that Nike had zero advance knowledge of Durant’s plans — if not a hard answer, at least a strong indication of which way he was leaning. Durant was one of the most popular players in the league in Oklahoma City, so Nike would have been fine either way. But his presence in Golden State, a much bigger market and the dominant story in the NBA this season, will only help them. It doesn’t hurt, either, that they now have one of their biggest athletes in the same market as Stephen Curry, who had been taking advantage of all the attention on the Warriors to raise Under Armour’s profile. Now, Nike can get some of that spotlight back in the Bay Area.

Barnes, Bogut highlight latest round of changes for Mavs

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 08:  Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors reacts in Game 3 of the 2016 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on June 8, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut are in, Chandler Parsons and Zaza Pachulia are out and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle has a retooled roster for the sixth consecutive time since winning a championship.

“Well, we love it,” Carlisle said at media day this week as someone chuckled. “What’s more exciting than getting seven new guys? New blood. It’s fresh every year.

“Really, that wasn’t meant to be a joke,” he added. “If you view it as a negative, there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to be a negative. I don’t look at it that way.”

The Mavericks have made the playoffs all but one season since the constant turnover started after owner Mark Cuban chose salary cap flexibility over keeping a few key players when a new labor agreement was reached six months after his team won the title in 2011.

But Dallas still hasn’t won a postseason series since beating Miami in six games in those NBA Finals.

Repeated efforts to land big names in free agency failed, which this year led to the additions of Barnes and Bogut from 2015 champion Golden State after the Warriors lured Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City and had to unload both starters to make cap room for the four-time NBA scoring champion.

Barnes headlines the group of newcomers because he’ll be a top option on offense after signing a four-year, $94 million max contract. Over his four seasons with the Warriors, he was always a role player behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

“It’s going to be bigger expectations and I’m going to have a larger role on this team,” Barnes said. “I feel like we have a lot of pieces this year, either coming back off injury, guys who are motivated, have a lot to prove. So hopefully we can all come together and do something special.”

There’s actually some stability in the starting five because point guard Deron Williams is back for a second season with his hometown team.

Nowitzki, going into his 19th season at age 38, says Williams was the best player on the team at times last season, and the Mavericks missed him in their five-game loss to Oklahoma City. He was limited by a sports hernia injury that required offseason surgery.

Parsons signed a max deal with Memphis, and Pachulia went to the Warriors after the trade that landed Dallas the 7-footer Bogut, who should be a much stronger shot-blocking presence than his predecessor.

The changes fit the formula of at least two new starters each season going back to the title year.

“There are similarities to other years,” Carlisle said. “The ability to add Bogut and Barnes was huge for us. We caught some good luck on that.”

The other notable newcomer is Curry’s younger brother, Seth Curry, who is on his fifth team in his fourth season but finally had a more prominent role last season in Sacramento. Former Baylor standout Quincy Acy is in Dallas after bouncing around his first four years.

The Mavericks are deep at guard with holders J.J. Barea and Devin Harris behind Williams and Wes Matthews, in his second season as the shooting guard and now more than a year removed from tearing an Achilles tendon his final season in Portland.

Also returning are athletic young forwards Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell along with 7-2 Tunisian center Salah Mejri, a surprising shot-blocking presence last season as a 30-year-old rookie.

“They’re definitely athletes and we should be able to have a great defensive lineup once I’m out,” said Nowitzki, poking fun at his defensive skills. “I think we have a (backup) lineup out there that could be really, really good, and obviously youth and athleticism is a big part.”

Barnes wanted to be a part of it even though the Mavericks appear further from championship contention than other Western Conference teams.

“I think when you look at what this franchise has done year in, year out, stable on their ship,” Barnes said. “And be able to learn from a guy named Dirk who’s done it year in, year out. He’s pretty much built this place through his work ethic.”

And now Nowitzki is getting used to another new collection of teammates.

Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

Jazz’s Dante Exum says his knee is completely healed from 2015 ACL tear

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 17:  Dante Exum #11 of the Utah Jazz drives to the lane during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on December 17, 2014 in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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After a promising rookie season, Dante Exum missed all of 2015-16 rehabbing a torn left ACL he suffered during an exhibition game with the Australian national team in summer 2015. As the Jazz kick off training camp, Exum says he’s fully recovered after his year off and he’s ready to go.

Via Jody Gennessy of the Deseret News:

“I was just excited to get back out there,” Exum said after the first of two practices Tuesday. “I was feeling good. … I was just ready to come out there, talk when I can and run between every drill.”

Both his attitude and his body were at 100 percent as he returned from a yearlong rehab that followed his September 2015 surgery on his left knee that had been injured in a friendly international game with the Australian team.

With the Jazz’s trade for George Hill over the summer, Exum won’t have to be the starting point guard, which will take some pressure off of him to get back to full strength right away. A torn ACL is something that usually takes time to return from, and having guard depth to ease his workload will help with the transition. If the Jazz get good production out of Exum, it will be a bonus for what looks to be one of the most exciting young teams in the Western Conference.

Improving Hornets G Walker has sights set on All-Star season

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 26:  Kemba Walker #15 of the Charlotte Hornets points to the bench during their game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Time Warner Cable Arena on November 26, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Kemba Walker wants to be an NBA All-Star.

But the Hornets’ steadily improving 6-foot point guard knows he has to get healthy first, which means resting his surgically repaired knee a little longer. Walker was limited to non-contract drills as the Hornets opened training camp on Tuesday at their downtown arena.

“I hate it. … You know how much of a competitor I am. But it’s the smart thing to do at this time (because) I don’t want to have any setbacks,” said Walker, adding that he hopes to be 100 percent for the start of the regular season.

The 26-year-old Walker is coming off the best season of his five-year NBA career, averaging a 20.9 points, 5.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game in 2015-16 while shooting a career-best 42.7 percent from the field.

But the stat that pops out the most is his improved 3-point shooting. Walker made 37.1 percent from beyond the arc last season after making less than 33 percent his first four years in the league.

Walker finished second in the voting for Most Improved Player, battling through knee pain near the end of the season and leading the Hornets to a 48-win season that culminated in a Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Teammate Marvin Williams said Walker could have easily “shut it down” due to a torn meniscus in his left knee, but elected to keep on playing.

Walker has surgery in May to repair the problem.

“I feel like he was (an All-Star) last year,” teammate Marvin Williams said. “And that’s not taking anything away from any of the guys that made it in the East. They are very, very good. The guards are big time. But I feel like Kemba was right there. He was beat up and he continued to fight through it every night. If he is healthy and has a year like he did last year I think he will definitely be there in February.”

It’s that kind of dedication to the team that has made Walker a favorite in the locker room.

Nicolas Batum, the team’s highest-paid player, said he’s made it his personal goal to help get Walker into the All-Star game this season.

“He’s special. He’s really special,” Batum said. “People don’t understand how good he is. He had a breakout season last year. He’s a franchise guard.”

Walker is dramatically more confident in his shooting than this time a year ago when he working with shooting coach Bruce Kreutzer to tweak his mechanics, according to coach Steve Clifford.

There were times Walker contemplated scrapping the changes, but he stuck with it and the results followed. Now he doesn’t even think about the altered shooting motion anymore.

“If you go back to the last 21 games of the year, his 3-point shooting put him in a different place,” Clifford said.

Clifford said with Walker’s improved shooting and range it makes it more difficult for teams to defend him.

“His range takes away the under in the pick-and-roll,” Clifford said. “And he’s such a good pick-and-roll player anyway. I think he is really maturing as a player.”

Perhaps enough to be an All-Star.

“I was pretty close last year,” Walker said. “I’m getting the hang of things in this league and playing really well. I want to continue to play well and win. But in order for me to be an All-Star we have to win. That’s what it is going to take.”

NOTES: Along with Walker, Cody Zeller (shoulder) and Perry Ellis (sports hernia) weren’t able participate in contact drills during practice.