PBT NBA Power Rankings: Pacers, Heat and a lot from out West at the top

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The Eastern Conference has two elite teams — Indiana and Miami — and they are on top of the PBT Power Rankings for this week. Then you don’t see another team from the East until No. 12, which speaks to the depth of the West and the drop off after the East elite.

 
source:  1. Pacers (16-1, Last Week No. 2). Statistically the best way to predict playoff success? How many points you outscore your opponents by per 100 possessions. Indiana now leads the NBA in that category at XX. We’ll see how that holds up on their tough West Coast road swing this week, but they won the first game of it against the Clippers.

 
source:  2. Heat (13-3, LW 3). They have won 10 in a row and getting it done with defense — they held three consecutive opponents under 40 percent shooting last week (before the last team you’d expect, the Bobcats, snapped that Sunday shooting 46 percent).

 
source:  3. Trail Blazers (14-3, LW 4). This is currently your No. 1 seed in the West. Count me in the group that doesn’t think Portland can sustain this (not with the 21st ranked defense in the NBA) but this fast start gives them a cushion in a very deep Western Conference.

 
source:  4. Thunder (11-3, LW 5). OCK has won seven in a row and beaten good teams in the process. Don’t let his dramatic game winner fool you, Russell Westbrook is still struggling with his shot (he was 9-of-24 outside that shot in the win). The good news for Thunder fans is he’s struggling to finish in close and that skill will return.

 
source:  5. Spurs (14-3, LW No. 1). Marco Belinelli is the latest in the long line of smart player pickups by the Spurs as they just know how to get players that fit their system. Belinelli leads the NBA in three point percentage at 56.5 percent this season.

 
source:  6. Rockets (13-5, LW 8). Good teams win despite injuries, and the Rockets have done it with Jeremy Lin and James Harden missing time. The Rockets offense is still elite but a better sign for Houston fans is the defense has improved recently.

 
source:  7. Clippers (12-6, LW 6). The J.J. Redick loss will hurt, Willie Green is a big drop off. Despite this Clippers are going to be a top four seed and one of the best teams in the West this season, but their postseason success may hinge on the front office strengthening the bench near the trade deadline.

 
source:  8. Nuggets (9-6, LW 16). Two things are fueling Denver’s hot streak lately. First, Ty Lawson is playing at an elite point guard level, he is just a joy to watch lately. Second, the Nuggets started the season defending the pick-and-roll with aggressive hedging and they were getting burned, now they are switching and it works better for their athletes (not great, but better).

 
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9. Warriors (10-8, LW 9). They’ve struggled since Andre Iguodala went down and Matt Moore of CBSSports.com tweeted the reason: “Warriors pre-Iguodala injury: 97.4 defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions), 4th best. Four games since: 106.2, 20th best.”

 
source:  10. Suns (9-8, LW 18). I’m as stunned as anyone to see them crack the Top 10, but they are outscoring opponents by 6.6 points per 100 possessions. Channing Frye has shaken off the rust and his shooting from three is spacing the floor and sparking the offense.

 
source:  11. Mavericks (10-8, LW 7). They have lost 4-of-5 and looked a little ragged doing it. Blame the six back-to-backs they have already faced if you want (it didn’t help) but they are going to have to suck it up with another one this week (home to Charlotte then on the road at New Orleans).

 
source:  12. Timberwolves (9-10, LW 10). Before you think there is something really wrong with Minnesota, look at the schedule where they have played through a rough stretch. They are outscoring opponents by 2.1 points per 100 possessions, but had some tough losses. That will even out.

 
source:  13. Lakers (9-9, LW 17). They may get Kobe Bryant back as early as Friday night. That’s good for them, but expect a few bumps in the road as they insert a new No. 1 option into an offense that has shared the ball well.

 
source:  14. Pelicans (8-8, LW 15). Anthony Davis breaking his hand is brutal news, both for this team — he is their best player — and because he was going to be a focal point for the All-Star Game in New Orleans this year. Hope he is back soon.

 
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15. Hawks (9-9, LW 11). They are actually getting outscored by their opponents by 1.1 points per 100 possessions. They have lost 4-of-5 and Jeff Teague has struggled with his shot — those two things together are not a coincidence.

 
source:  16. Grizzlies (8-8, LW 12). Odd trend for Memphis — won five in a row on the road, lost four in a row at home. Still just a team trying to tread water until Marc Gasol returns, and it doesn’t help that Zach Randolph has been injured as well.

 
source:  17. Wizards (8-9, LW 22). If good teams find a way to win despite injuries, well, the Wizards have won six of eight despite missing Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza for stretches. The goal is the playoffs and they have bounced back from a slow start to be the five seed as of Monday.

 
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18. Bulls (7-8, LW 13). They went 1-5 on the circus road trip. The Bulls can be a playoff team in the East if they defend the way they are capable, but right now they are not playing like a Tom Thibodeau team on that end.

 
source:  19. Bobcats (8-10, LW 14). There are no moral victories in the NBA, but Charlotte looked pretty good in their loss to Miami Sunday. Charlotte forced the Heat into jump shots (just in the fourth quarter Miami hit them) and their offense wasn’t terrible. That’s way more than we expected to start the season.

 
source:  20. Raptors (6-10, LW 19). They have lost three games in a row but still lead the Atlantic Division. Which really speaks to the Atlantic Division right now. Tough week ahead on a West Coast swing that includes Golden State, Phoenix and the Lakers.

 
source:  21. Magic (6-10, LW 24). Victor Oladipo seems to be finding a groove averaging 14.8 points on 48 percent shooting the past five games. That includes wins over the Hawks and Sixers last week.

 
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22. Pistons (7-10, LW 20). While nobody was looking Rodney Stuckey has been the Pistons’ best backcourt player — he’s averaged 21.6 points a game on 53.9 percent shooting his last five games.

 
source:  23. Celtics (7-12, LW 23). Jordan Crawford has been playing well, as evidenced by his triple-double last week. But can they beat Milwaukee — the Bucks have just three wins this season and two are against Boston. They play again this week.

 
source:  24. Nets (5-12, LW 27). Hey Jason Kidd, if got a clever idea like spilling Coke on the court to get a timeout, save it for games that matter (like late in the season or playoffs). Brooklyn will now be without Paul Pierce for a month, to add to their injury woes.

 
source:  25. 76ers (6-12, LW 21). Michael-Carter Williams remains the brightest hope for the future on this team, but Evan Turner is averaging 21 points a game and is having by far his best season as a pro.

 
source:  26. Cavaliers (5-12, LW 28). There was an Andrew Bynum sighting over the weekend — 20 points, 10 rebounds on Saturday. Is he finding his groove as he gets healthier and in shame, or was this just a fluke? Magic 8 Ball says ask again next week.

 
source:  27. Kings (4-11, LW 25). It will be interesting to see if the new coach and new chance change things for Derrick Williams. — he’s going to get a real shot and play the three is Sacramento. In his Kings debut Friday he had 12 points on 13 shots (inefficient scoring was one of the issues in Minnesota).

 
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28. Jazz (3-15, LW 30). Jeremy Evans, the human pogo stick, is starting to show a little of his much-discussed potential on the court lately, and Trey Burke is back and playing well at the point. Things are not as bleak as a couple weeks ago.

 
source:  29. Knicks (3-13, LW 26). Nine straight losses. Carmelo Anthony is pressing and nobody else is stepping up to help him consistently, but the bigger issue remains the defense. It’s stunning how much Tyson Chandler means to this team (and it’s stunning how management built a team where Tyson Chandler meant so much).

 
source:  30. Bucks (3-13, LW 29). They picked up a win last week over the Celtics thanks to a hot O.J. Mayo (22 points). Two of the Bucks three wins are against the Celtics and they are on the schedule again this week.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.