PBT NBA Power Rankings: Injuries start to shape the rankings

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The top of our rankings remain solid this week, but after a bad weekend of injuries there were a few shakeups farther down with more to come.

source:  1. Spurs (12-1, Last Week No. 1). They are the winners of 10 in a row and are doing it with great defense, good offense, not much Tim Duncan (still shooting less than 40 percent this season) and the machine-like efficiency we have all come to know and love. Fun showdown Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.

 
source:  2. Pacers (12-1, LW 2). They hold on to their spot but really didn’t impress against the Knicks, a game they could/should have lost. Things get interesting Sunday when then start on a tough West Coast road swing that includes the Clippers and Trail Blazers back-to-back.

 
source:  3. Heat (10-3, LW 3). Winners of six in a row (and it could be 10 if Jeff Green doesn’t hit a ridiculous three) lad by their defense, which has cranked up the pressure the past five games (not to postseason levels but improved).

 
source:  4. Trail Blazers (12-2, LW 4). Stan Van Gundy is impressed — he told us on the PBT podcast that he really likes the job Terry Stotts is doing in Portland, particularly with their Top 5 offense. He also isn’t sold they can sustain this pace (neither am I) but this is a nice cushion built up against future slumps.

 
source:  5. Thunder (9-3, LW 7). How long before Kendrick Perkins comes off the bench and Steven Adams starts? Of course, we’ve been asking the Perkins question for years. Tough schedule this week with the Spurs, Warriors and Timberwolves.

 
source:  6. Clippers (10-5, LW 6). Great note by Kevin Arnovitz this week over at ESPN: When the Clippers starters are on the floor, they have a top-10 NBA defense. The deeper they go into the bench the worse it gets. You know Doc Rivers is working on that, but come the playoffs he can shorten his rotation and the Clippers look more dangerous.

 
source:  7. Mavericks (9-5, LW 11). Fourth best offense in the NBA so far and Monta Ellis is the key reason — 23.6 points on 49.4 percent shooting, plus 5.6 assists per game. It was his assists to Shawn Marion that got the Mavs the win over the Rockets this week.

 
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8. Rockets (9-5, LW 9). Terrence Jones has shown he deserves to be the starting power forward on this team — he has averaged 15 points on 59 percent shooting as a starter. The Rockets the fourth best point differential in the NBA, +6.2 per 100 possessions. That’s a good sign they are for real.

 
source:  9. Warriors (8-6, LW 5). The Andre Iguodala injury hurts — the Warriors will still be good and win a lot of games without him, but they are not as good. And in a West with 13 teams at .500 or better (as of Sunday night) just losing a couple more games can cost a team several slots in the playoffs.

 
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10. Timberwolves (8-7, LW 8). They have struggled the past week (1-3) and it is their defense that has been the issue. Particularly transition defense. Things don’t get easier this week with the Pacers, Mavericks and Thunder on the docket.

 
source:  11. Hawks (8-6, LW 12). Go ahead and say “these are the same old Hawks” if you want (their defense has improved) but the fact is they are above .500 and a solid team and in the East right now that could mean a top 4 playoff seed.

 
source:  12. Grizzlies (7-6, LW 13). The Marc Gasol injury really hurts them because he is the anchor of their fantastic defense. Like with the Warriors, even if this injury just costs the Grizzlies a few games, that is going to mean a lower playoff seeding and a much tougher road back to the conference finals.

 
source:  13. Bulls (6-6, LW 10). I don’t want to drop them down the rankings too far based just on the Derrick Rose injury and a rough game against a good Clippers team. Tom Thibodeau’s squads have been resilient. I just wonder what this squad will look like after the trade deadline.

 
source:  14. Bobcats (7-7, LW 15). Charlotte is a top 5 NBA defense so far, but Stan Van Gundy had a great line about their offense and the lack of shooters — everything they do looks good until the shot goes up.

 
source:  15. Pelicans (6-6, LW 17). They have won three in a row since Ryan Anderson returned from his toe injury, that is not a coincidence. While a lot of people seem to want to trade him to Houston for Omer Asik, the Pelicans front office is not among them.

 
source:  16. Nuggets (6-6, LW 19). Their wins last week were over good Dallas and Chicago teams, the Nuggets are looking better. However that will be tested with 8-of-9 on the road including an East Coast swing.

 
source:  17. Lakers (7-7, LW 18). In their last six games, since inserting Jordan Hill into the starting lineup, the Lakers have had a Top 5 offense in the NBA. Mike D’Antoni is winning with defense. Lakers are on the road for three games in four nights this week, don’t bet on Kobe coming back during that stretch.

 
source:  18. Suns (6-6, LW 14). Just like for Jerry Seinfeld in “The Opposite” things just even out for Phoenix. First Markieff Morris is hot and Marcus Morris is cold, then when Markieff goes cold Marcus gets hot. “Even Steven.” They have the Heat and Blazers this week, but then a home-and-home with Utah.

 
source:  19. Raptors (6-7, LW 26). That would be your Atlantic Division leading Toronto Raptors, thank you very much. Somebody is going to win this division and get the No. 4 seed, and it could be Toronto.

 
source:  20. Pistons (5-8, LW 22). Still not sold that Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe can play together, but when Smith came off the bench he was a mess (although Kyle Singler got hot). Bit home stand coming up, a chance to pick up a few wins against iffy competition.

 
source:  21. 76ers (6-9, LW 16). Spencer Hawes is playing very well, which makes you think that as we slowly start to crawl toward the trade season what will the Sixers do when teams call about him? They are rebuilding, they will move him at the right price, but much will they want back?

 
source:  22. Wizards (5-8, LW 27). It’s fair to say that as John Wall goes, so goes the Wizards, so when he got hot over the weekend with two 30 point games (both on efficient shooting) they suddenly won. Can he keep it up is the question.

 
source:  23. Celtics (5-10, LW 24). The schedule lightens up for the Celtics, which is the good news. The bad news is Kelly Olynyk will be out a couple weeks with a sprained ankle and when he is out they really miss him.

 
source:  24. Magic (4-9, LW 21). Big Baby Glen Davis was back on court this weekend and looked pretty good — he will provide a nice boost for Orlando. Until they trade him.

 
source:  25. Kings (4-9, LW 28). Sunday night the Lakers threw waves of bodies at DeMarcus Cousins, trying to get the ball out his hands. Cousins had 7 assists because of it but the plan worked, it disrupted the Kings offense. DMC needs some consistent help.

 
source:  26. Knicks (3-9, LW 25). Mike Woodson thinks the Knicks just need to get healthy, and that certainly is part of it. Their defense is a mess without Chandler and the offense isn’t good enough to overcome it. Tough week on the road against the Blazers and Clippers.

 
source:  27. Nets (3-10, LW 20). The Nets actually play their opponents almost even in the first half (-0.4 per game) but get thumped by -5.2 in the third quarter. It’s been an issue all season.

 
source:  28. Cavaliers (4-10, LW 23). They land here in part because they have the third worst point differential per 100 possessions in the league, -8.3. Mostly because their offense is so bad. The only bright spot is Matthew Dellavedova.

 
source:  29. Bucks (2-10, LW 29). Congratulations, you have the worst offense in the NBA so far. Still, a few more healthy bodies and a softer schedule and they maybe can pick up a win or two the next couple weeks.

 
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30. Jazz (1-14, LW 30). This team is worse than I imagined. At least Trey Burke is back even if he’s on a minute restriction.

Jusuf Nurkic’s agent says big man wants to stay in Portland this summer

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Last season, after his trade from frustrated backup big in Denver to new starter in Portland, there was a honeymoon — the Blazers went 14-6, their defense was better, and Nurkic was a big man setting big picks for quick guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

This season the honeymoon is over, things have been up and down, but far from time to say the marriage should end, as he is a free agent next summer. Nurkic is the only real starting center on the roster (even if coach Terry Stotts left him on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Ed Davis a few games back). Nurkic is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and the Blazers’ defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. However, his effort level has been up and down, and his shot is off, with a true shooting percentage of just 49.4, and he is shooting just 56.6 percent in the restricted area.

Nurkic wants to stay in Portland, his agent told Ben Golliver in a story at Sports Illustrated (that story is worth the read for the Nurkic origin story, which is amazing).

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

The two sides talked extension before the season, but Portland understandably wanted to make sure there was more to this relationship than just a honeymoon. It gave Nurkic a chance to drive up his asking price.

Portland and Nurkic likely will find a long-term deal next summer because it just makes sense for both sides. There are not a lot of teams with max free agent money next summer (4-6, I was told by an insider), or a lot of money to spend in general, and both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus would be centers on the market who rank ahead of Nurkic. Portland will offer more than other free agent destinations, if not as much as Nurkic dreamed of, and they will find common ground.

But there is a lot of season to play out before then. The Blazers feel like a team that should be better than its record so far, and Nurkic is part of that untapped potential. If things change, that’s good for Nurkic — and the Blazers.

Celtics look to push win streak to 16 vs. Mavs

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DALLAS (AP) — The Boston Celtics aren’t yet halfway to the NBA record for consecutive victories, a mark the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers still hold, but at 15 in a row, they are in rare territory.

Since 1946-47, there have only been 35 instances of a 15-game win streak or longer. And of all the legendary Celtics teams, this squad already holds the franchise’s fifth-longest win streak. A victory Monday night against the Dallas Mavericks, who are an NBA-worst 3-14 overall and 2-8 at American Airlines Center, would tie the 1964-65 Boston team’s 16-game win streak.

If the Celtics (15-2) get the win, they would climb closer to the 1959-60 team’s 18-game win streak, and then comes the club mark of 19 in a row accomplished by the 2008-09 team.

This version of the Celtics has to be considered the most unexpected to string together so many wins. The team has a slew of new players, starting with guard Kyrie Irving, and Boston lost another prized newcomer, forward Gordon Hayward, in the season opener.

After starting 0-2, Boston hasn’t lost. Yet, it’s not exactly as if the Celtics are steamrolling the league. For the Mavericks, who are coming off snapping the Milwaukee Bucks’ four-game win streak Saturday, the fact that Boston has actually had to rally to get a handful of its wins must be seen as an opportunity to steal a decision.

In fact, four of the Celtics’ victories during the streak have come after Boston trailed by 16 points, including a 110-109 win against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

“Most of us have never been on a winning streak like this,” Irving said following the win over Atlanta. “I don’t know if we even know how to pay attention to all the hoopla that goes on in terms of the excitement of it. I just think that every single game we take it as a challenge.”

Irving has been accepting that challenge with tremendous success after asking to be traded away from Cleveland, where he won one title with LeBron James and lost twice in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors.

He closed out those same Warriors last week, scoring 11 of the last 15 points in the final 4:21. The clutch play has Irving already being talked about as an MVP candidate.

“He’s so good in those moments that you want to give him the appropriate amount of room,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told the Boston Globe about Irving. “Maybe it’s finding a matchup. Maybe it’s creating a two-man game with Al (Horford).”

Irving will be a major test for Mavs rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who has displayed some tremendous flashes while also showing he is a green 19-year-old with one season of college ball under his belt.

Dallas, one of the league’s lowest-scoring offensive teams, is relying heavily on Smith and Harrison Barnes to carry the load. Dirk Nowitzki, 39, has dropped off significantly, averaging just 10.3 points a game, his lowest output since his rookie season in 1998-99.

Unlike the Celtics, Dallas has lost its share of games by being unable to close out games late. On Saturday, the Mavericks won a rare game going away, blitzing the Bucks with a franchise-tying 19 3-pointers. Guard Wesley Matthews said he thinks all the hard work is starting to pay off.

The history-chasing Celtics will put that claim to test.

“We can actually see everything that we’ve been trying to do come together, and hopefully that just carries the momentum into the off day where everybody’s feeling good,” Matthews said after Dallas’ victory. “We’ve got another tough battle Monday against Boston, who is the hottest team in the league right now, but it’s another opportunity for us.”

Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone suspended one game for confronting referee

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Denver coach Mike Malone decided if he was going to get tossed and fined/suspended, he was going to get his money’s worth.

During the second quarter of the Nuggets’ Sunday loss to the Lakers, Malone ran onto the court during play to argue a no-call on a play by Nikola Jokic around the basket. Malone furiously confronted referee Rodney Mott, who swiftly ejected the coach. As he should. Malone was suspended one game for “entering the court, halting play and making contact with a game official,” the league announced. Malone will serve his suspension tonight when the Nuggets face the Kings in Sacramento.

Mott also tossed Jokic when he entered the argument Sunday night, but the NBA rescinded the ejection saying Jokic earned a technical but should not have been thrown out. A lot of good that does the Nuggets now, who had to go more than half the game without their best player and lost (not that he changes the outcome of the game, but a comeback is less likely without him).

 

 

Kevin Garnett: Thon Maker “is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down.”

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Not to get to inside baseball on NBA journalism, but one fundamental truth is player trainers pump up their guys. There usually is some truth in what they say, but it is in their interest to spin the player the best way possible. On and off the record it happens. It’s like asking a political campaign manager about his candidate, you will only get the positive.

Kevin Garnett worked out and helped the Bucks’ Thon Maker this summer.

In just his second season, Thon Maker has been in and out of the starting lineup for the Bucks at center, and he’s struggled this season with a true shooting percentage of 48 getting him 4.5 points a game, and PER of 9.3. (Bucks fans are understandably disappointed, but this is a second-year player, some patience is required).

Garnett had Makers’ back in a Q&A with Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Abrams.

Thon Maker reminds me a lot of myself. He loves the game. He’s a young, exuberant athlete who has a lot of tools—he has touch; he has agility; he has really, good feet. He has a really good shot from three-point all the way up to 19 to 21 feet. He has very good bones, as we say.

Thon is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down. He has the bones. He has the appetite to be able to chase something like that.”

Garnett may have the wrong young-stud Buck with an MVP in his future.

Maker has gotten KG comparisons for years, he’s a very mobile and athletic but thin big who can shoot from the wing… but the physical similarities are not enough. Maker is no KG. Not yet. Maker showed promise against the Raptors last playoffs but has not taken a step forward off that progress this season, looking far more prone to fouling than defending. The effort is there, but the maturity of game has a long way to go to catch up.

Garnett is right that Maker has the tools, and he is just in his second NBA season so patience is required, but there were concerns around the league before the draft if he had the makeup to put it all together and become a quality NBA player. That question is still out there, let’s get past it before we heap on accolades.