PBT NBA Power Rankings: San Antonio slides into top slot

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Another season, another year of the Spurs just making teams pay with their execution. Portland is flying up the rankings, on the other end Utah continues to anchor the bottom.

 
source:  1. Spurs (9-1, Last Week No. 2). The winners of seven in a row, they move into the top spot as they appear the machine-like Spurs we’ve come to know and love. However, there is one thing of concern out there — Tim Duncan is averaging 12 points a game on 39.4 percent shooting.

 
source:  2. Pacers (9-1, LW 1). The hot start this season — the Bulls ended their undefeated run Saturday night — will be put to the test as 8 of their next 11 games are on the road. Plus, when the calendar turns to Dec. 1 things get very difficult.

 
source:  3. Heat (7-3, LW 6). LeBron James is shooting 62 percent from three this season. Because he wasn’t already a nearly impossible cover. Miami has won three in a row and have a pretty easy week (Atlanta then a home-and-home with Orlando) so if they are focused they could extend that streak. But that’s a big “if” with this team right now.

 
source:  4. Trail Blazers (8-2, LW 9). Winners of six in a row, they are doing it with the third best offense in the NBA — they are hitting their shots and being a force on the offensive glass. But they may be leaning a little too heavily on their starters right now.

 
source:  5. Warriors (7-3, LW 5). There are no statement games in November, but you had to like the way Golden State played Oklahoma City last week — with Andre Iguodala they have a guy who can make life more difficult for Kevin Durant (5-of-13 in that game). Interesting tests this week against Memphis and Portland, but both are at home where Golden State is 5-0.

 
source:  6. Clippers (7-3, LW 7). The defense is showing signs of improvement — in their last five games they have allowed 103.8 points per 100 possessions (its 106.1 on the season). Chris Paul has been a stud with double-digit points and assists in every game — think he likes having shooter

 
source:  7. Thunder (6-3, LW 3). As we said with the GSW, there are no statement games in November, but losses last week to the Clippers and Warriors are a reminder this team has some work to do if it plans on winning the West. They get the Clippers at home this Thursday night, we’ll see if the Clippers size is an issue again.

 
source:  8. Timberwolves (7-4, LW 4). Minnesota’s defense and Kevin Love rightfully are getting a lot of credit early, but Kevin Martin has been key — 24.4 points per game, creates his own shot and is hitting 47.4 percent from three to space the floor. Minny came back to earth a little with a .500 week (2-2) but this is still a great start.

 
source:  9. Rockets (7-4, LW 10). With Greg Smith out for at least this week — which is fortunate, when his sprained knee happened it looked worse — the Rockets need Asik to be a professional, suck it up and play hard off the bench. That helps his trade value, too.

 
source:  10. Bulls (5-3, LW 14). Here is a hopeful sign for Chicago — they are +13.3 points per 100 possessions in their last five games. That’s a good indicator that both the defense is clicking and the offense is starting to figure itself out. Friday night Damian Lillard faces the Derrick Rose for the first time, that should be fun.

 
source:  11. Mavericks (6-4, LW 11). Odds Mark Cuban keeps his mouth shut and doesn’t take a backhanded dig at Dwight Howard before the Rockets come to town Friday? I’d say about 1 in 10.

 
source:  12. Hawks (6-4, LW 16). They got Lou Williams back last week, which should bring some scoring spark to what was already the seventh best offense in the NBA. He and Jeff Teague (averaging 19 and 9 this season) form a good point guard duo.

 
source:  13. Grizzlies (5-5, LW 13). They have won a couple in a row over the Lakers and Kings, looking like a team that got its defense back and was finding a groove. We’ll see. Big tests this week against the Clippers, Warriors and Spurs.

 
source:  14. Suns (5-4, LW 8). They keep playing close games — every one of their games has been within five points in the final five minutes. That’s fun to watch, and while that’s not how you win sustainably it’s better than we expected from them preseason.

 
source:  15. Bobcats (5-5, LW 17). Steve Clifford has them playing solid defense — if they could keep Al Jefferson in the lineup for more than a couple games without an injury they could win a few more. Another team that has issues but is better than expected and can sustain solid play.

 
source:  16. 76ers (5-6, LW 12). They have lost six of eight and are fading back to the pack — except there is nobody in the Atlantic playing well enough to catch them, so they are still in first. The bigger concern being Michael Carter Williams having missed three games with a foot injury.

 
source:  17. Pelicans (4-6, LW 15). Ryan Anderson returned from his toe injury Saturday night and put up a quick 26 points. It’s easy to see why Rockets fans covet him but this outing showed why New Orleans needs him to space the floor, too.

 
source:  18. Lakers (5-7, LW 26). Yes, yes, Kobe Bryant is back practicing with the team. We heard. The more surprising news is that the Lakers defense has been average (17th in NBA in points per possession), which is better than expected.

 
source:  19. Nuggets (4-5, LW 29). After a slow start to the season they went 3-1 last week — coincidence it happened with JaVale McGee sidelined? Tough week ahead with Oklahoma City then a Chicago/Dallas back-to-back.

 
source:  20. Nets (3-6, LW 18). We said before the season injuries would matter a lot to this team, so the fact that Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez were all out against the Clippers Saturday is not a good sign. This team needs time on the court with its stars to figure out some chemistry issues.

 
source:  21. Magic (4-6, LW 20). Arron Afflalo is off to a fast start this season is averaging 21.7 points per game and hitting 50 percent of his threes — which in Orlando means he is trade bait. Tough home-and-home with Miami this week.

 
source:  22. Pistons (3-6, LW 19). After seeing them in person Sunday night, it’s really stunning just how bad the Josh Smith/Andre Drummond/Greg Monroe combo is on defense. Our man DJ Foster broke it down well. As teams go small and space the floor around the league, how long will Detroit go with this big experiment if it doesn’t work?

 
source:  23. Cavaliers (4-7, LW 21). Lots of drama with a team meeting last week and some questions about how sick Dion Waiters really is, the only thing that got them a win was Kyrie Irving going off against Washington. This team feels like it could spiral down from here.

 
source:  24. Celtics (4-7, LW 22). With no Rajon Rondo to stabilize things this is what you get — four losses in a row, then four wins, then three losses. Very inconsistent. Like Jeff Green. They also are giving up a league high 17.3 points a game on opponent second chance points.

 
source:  25. Knicks (3-6, LW 13). Normally you’d say a team that is about to play five of their next six on the road is facing a challenge, but as the Knicks are 1-5 at Madison Square Garden maybe what this squad needs is a road trip. Words can’t express how much they miss Tyson Chandler.

 
source:  26. Raptors (1-3, LW 24). Rudy Gay missed 26 shots in a game last week and is still shooting 38 percent on the season. However, if you’re thinking, “they should trade him” realize they replace him with DeMar DeRozan, who is shooting just 40 percent on the year.

 
source:  27. Wizards (2-7, LW 25). They have lost four in a row and the offense is struggling, which is why Randy Wittman watch is still going on. That said, they have faced one of the toughest schedules in the NBA this season, which doesn’t help.

 
source:  28. Kings (2-7, LW 28). The Kings’ starters have been so bad that Sunday coach Mike Malone benched the lot of them 4:22 into the third quarter and went with his bench the rest of the way against Portland — and it almost worked. Lots of big issues to solve here.

 
source:  29. Bucks (2-7, LW 27). They have lost five in a row, but to be fair Milwaukee has been injury ravaged — four of their five starters are banged up right now, leaving O.J. Mayo to carry the load.

 
source:  30. Jazz (1-10, LW 30). Hey, they got a win last week with a nice comeback against New Orleans. Derrick Favors had 18 rebounds in a game. So there’s that. The Jazz have the worst offense and the 26th ranked defense in the NBA so far this season.

Frustrated Gregg Popovich calls all three referees “f****** blind”

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The Spurs completed an amazing comeback win against the Thunder Friday night, coming from 23 down to knock off the Thunder when Carmelo Anthony‘s game-tying three was just a two because his toe was on the line.

Gregg Popovich was into this one.

So much so that when he didn’t like an out-of-bounds call he made sure all three officials knew exactly how blind he thought they were.

The best part of this is Popovich covering his eyes, just to really emphasize his point.

We’re really going to miss Pop when he steps away to live at a winery full time.

Lakers/Suns have minor skirmish, Lonzo Ball just walks away

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If you’re on the court when your team gets in an NBA “fight” — what the rest of us would call a shoving match where nobody really wants to throw a punch — should you run into the fray and help your teammates?

Friday night, with just more than three minutes to go in Phoenix’s eventual win, the Suns called a timeout, and Tyler Ulis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope got in one of those silly shoving matches. Players from both teams raced into the fray to protect their teammate/break it up.

The Suns’ rookie Josh Jackson picked up a technical for his role racing in and escalating the matter.

Watch the video again, and you’ll see Lakers’ rookie Lonzo Ball just walk away from it all and head to the bench.

That has led to criticism of the rookie from some Lakers’ fans, who see a guy who didn’t rush in to protect his teammates — that’s seen as part of the sports locker room culture. A “band of brothers” or “us against the world” mentality. Ball, frankly, gave a more mature answer than that.

Ball is right, nothing was going to come of this. It was meaningless posturing. Walking away was the mature move.

However, the question is how is this perceived in the Lakers’ locker room? Do the players care that Ball shrugged and walked away? Do they think he needed to race in and try to look tough like everyone else? That can impact his standing on the team — as a guy Magic Johnson brought in to be a leader — more than anything.

Also, with all his shooting woes, is this the first sign of some Lakers fans starting to turn on Lonzo? It’s a little early for that.

Harrison Barnes offers advice for Dennis Smith Jr., Julius Randle

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For a guy in just his sixth NBA season, Harrison Barnes has seen a lot.

He has seen the mountaintop, having won a ring as a role player for the Golden State Warriors. He’s also has felt the devastation of being on a team that historically blew a 3-1 NBA Finals lead. He’s been a high school phenom — unfairly compared to Kobe Bryant — and a high draft pick (No. 7), he understands the pressures that come with all that. He’s played (and plays) with superstar future Hall of Famers. And he’s been the guy pushed aside by a team, despite playing well, to make room for one of those superstar players — the harsh business reality of the NBA.

Barnes is learning something new this season in Dallas — how to deal with losing. He never dealt with it before — not high school, AAU, college at North Carolina — but the Dallas Mavericks are 2-14, and while they struggled last year it was nothing like this.

“It’s been difficult,” Barnes told NBC Sports about the start of the season, “but I’ve definitely seen a lot of highs, seen a lot of lows, I’m just trying to get better and lead my team to some wins.”

With all that experience, Barnes was brought in to be a leader in Dallas, and he’s worked to do that on and off the court. Off the court, he has met with local high school players and donated gear he wears — Shock Doctor basketball mouthguards and McDavid HEX protective arm and leg sleeves — to those programs. 

On the court this year, he’s tried to blend his game with rookie Dennis Smith Jr., who the Mavs see as the future at the point guard spot.

“Playing with Dennis has been great,” Barnes said. “He’s got a lot of tools that will help him be a great guy in the league for a long time. So the transition, in terms of playing together and developing chemistry, hasn’t been hard at all. I think he’s very mature beyond his years, and that makes it easy.”

As a leader, his advice to Smith Jr. has just been to not hold back, trust his instincts.

“My advice is to always be aggressive in your decision making,” Barnes said. “Whether it’s ‘should I pass?’ or ‘should I shoot?’ should I do this or should I do that, whatever it is, be aggressive. Because right now as a team, we’re in a little bit of a rut, we just need energy. Whatever it may be, even if you’re making the wrong play or the wrong decision, do it with conviction so there’s some inertia and the rest of us can feed off it.”

With the young high school players around Dallas his advice is similar — go for what you want on and off the court, give it your all — but he adds with them they need to protect their bodies in an increasingly physical game.

“Today I was able to go to Lincoln High School, meet with the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams, and I was able to donate some Shock Doctor basketball mouthguards and McDavid HEX protective arm and leg sleeves to the young kid, and talk to them about protecting your body when you’re out there,” Barnes said. “The game is becoming more physical and more competitive at a younger age, and the best ability is availability.”

If there’s one guy in the NBA who can relate to Barnes’ path, it might be the Lakers’ Julius Randle.

The fourth-year big has been up and down but has gotten better every season and shown promise with the Lakers, putting up 11.4 points per game on 54.3 percent shooting this season (both career highs, although his jumper still needs work), plus grabbing 6.7 rebounds, but mostly he brings energy and physical, strong defense  in just 20 minutes a game off the bench. He has transformed his body, gotten leaner but stronger, and has done a good job filling a role for Los Angeles as a physical, defensive player in a league going small and getting skinnier

Randle is coming up on the end of his rookie contract next summer and is due a payday, he thought he was part of the franchise’s future, yet he is likely the odd man out in Los Angeles as the Lakers chase big name free agents. Randle’s name is a staple of trade talks (about moving Luol Deng and his contract).

Harrison Barnes can relate. He was swept out of Golden State to make room for that team’s successful run at Kevin Durant.

What would Barnes tell Randle?

“My advice is to focus on what is going to be the best for you,” Barnes said. “Focus on where you can grow as a player, get better, where you would thrive in. Whether or not he ends up in the same place or a different place, just make sure you’re in a situation where you can grow. That’s the most important thing because a lot of things are going to be out of his control, who decides to go where and that type of stuff, but as long as he focuses on getting better with his craft that’s the one thing he can control.”

That’s what Barnes did a couple seasons ago, and he ended up in Dallas with a big contract, a big opportunity, and a chance to be a leader. He’s trying to do that on a team transitioning out of the Dirk Nowitzki era, but it hasn’t been easy.

And it’s come with some harsh new lessons. Like dealing with losing. One Barnes and the Mavericks want to move past as quickly as they can.

Watch LeBron James score 39 to lead comeback win over Clippers

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CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James knows about the narrative bouncing around the NBA that Cleveland can be dethroned in the East.

He’s ignoring it, and slowly changing it.

“You know I could care less what people say,” James said. “I’m so far beyond that. I don’t care what people say.”

Just to make sure everyone understood him, James asked his two sons waiting for him in Cleveland’s locker room to chime in on whether he was concerned about outside voices.

The boys had dad’s back.

James had another of those games that he only seems capable of, scoring 39 points with 14 rebounds in 46 minutes as the Cavaliers continued to improve from a shaky start with their fourth straight win, 118-113 in overtime on Friday night over the skidding Los Angeles Clippers, who dropped their seventh in a row.

Kevin Love scored 25 and drained a pair of 3-pointers in OT, when the Cavs, who didn’t take the lead until the first minute of the extra session, outscored the Clippers 13-8.

Dwyane Wade gave Cleveland a huge spark, scoring 23 points with 11 rebounds in 37 minutes. The Cavs’ win wasn’t eye-pleasing, but it was another step in the right direction for the three-time defending conference champions, who went 3-1 on a just-completed road trip.

On Thursday night, James said he watched Boston beat Golden State to improve to 14-2, a stunning start that has prompted discussion about Cleveland’s vulnerability.

James dismissed any concern about the Celtics’ early burst.

“I’ve got too much to worry about around here right now trying to get our ship going in the right direction,” he said.

The Clippers’ ship is taking on water fast. Los Angeles has lost nine of 10 since a 4-0 start.

Blake Griffin scored 23 and DeAndre Jordan had 20 points and 22 rebounds for Los Angeles, which didn’t give up the lead until the first minute of overtime. The Clippers had chances to put the Cavs away in regulation, but they didn’t execute down the stretch and then had defensive breakdowns in overtime.

“They made some big 3s,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “You have to give them credit. That’s why they’ve been in a lot of Finals.”

The Cavs spent all night chasing the Clippers and caught them at 105-all when Love grabbed an offensive rebound and fed James, who dropped an uncontested 3-pointer with 47 seconds left.

Griffin missed tough shots on consecutive possessions, giving Cleveland one last chance in regulation but James missed an off-balance left-hander just before the horn.

James made a free throw to open OT – he went 1 of 5 at the line – and give Cleveland its first lead. Then, after Love made his two 3s, James sealed the Cavs’ fifth win in six games with a jumper.

“Well defended,” Rivers said. “It’s LeBron James.”