Houston Rockets v Portland Trail Blazers

PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Stability at the top, trades could shake up bottom

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There is no movement at the top of the standings as the top five teams went 15-1 last week (and that one loss was to another top 5 team). However, get past that five and you get into teams like the Rockets, Suns and others where trades could really change rankings as we move toward the deadline.

source:  1. Trail Blazers (21-4, Last Week No. 1). They keep winning and the offense keeps clicking — on the season they are scoring 110.3 points per 100 possessions (best in the NBA by 2 points) but in their last 10 games that is up to 114.7. (That covers up the 24th ranked defense the last 10 games.)

 
source:  2. Thunder (19-4, LW 2). Reggie Jackson in particular and Jeremy Lamb to a lesser degree have started to play really well off the bench for the Thunder. Depth was always the big question there (well, that and why Kendrick Perkins still starts) and OKC may be finding an answer to the big question.

 
source:  3. Pacers (20-3, LW 3). Don’t read too much into their victory over the Heat last week — there are no statement games in December. That said, watch that game and you see why Roy Hibbert is the key to Indiana beating Miami in a playoff series.

 
source:  4. Spurs (19-4, LW No. 4). San Antonio has gotten off to a fast start this season in spite of a struggling Tim Duncan — but that is starting to change. He is scoring 15.8 points a game on 52 percent shooting and is grabbing 11 rebounds a game in his last 5.

 
source:  5. Heat (17-6, LW 5). They get a rematch against the Pacers at home this Wednesday and we’ll see how focused and intense they are. Dwyane Wade has missed six games and just looks slowed — still good, but slowed.

 
source:  6. Clippers (16-9, LW 9). L.A. went a “meh” 4-3 on an East Coast road swing, although they finished it up by winning three of the last four. The loss to the Nets seemed to sum up their issues: The starting five built up a double-digit lead but once you get into their bench they struggle, then they could never regain their early form.

 
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7. Suns (14-9, LW 11). You can stop calling them a fluke now — winners of five in a row they are a playoff team in the West and not going anywhere. As our own D.J. Foster noted, turns out the Eric Bledsoe/Goran Dragic backcourt works well, thank you very much.

 
source:  8. Rockets (16-9, LW 6). Omer Asik will be traded by Thursday night, the question now is where he lands and what the Rockets get. They are angling for a first-round pick but if they could get a stretch four or defensive help on the perimeter that would be good.

 
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9. Nuggets (14-9, LW 7). Brian Shaw has tried changing the diet and everything else he can think of to get this team to stop stinking it up in the first quarter. Time for a rotation change?

 
source:  10. Warriors (13-12, LW 10). Golden State’s recent dramatic come-from-behind wins covered up a string of games with poor defense, too many turnovers and lackluster effort from key guys. They can’t afford that. How unforgiving is the West? The Warriors are the 9 seed, out of the playoffs (BEFORE SUNDAY) as of right now.

 
source:  11. Mavericks (14-10, LW 8). As we noted earlier today, Brandan Wright is in and Samuel Dalembert is out of the Mavericks’ rotations. Dallas needs to find some rim protection somewhere.

 
source:  12. Timberwolves (12-12, LW 13). Their run through the rough part of the schedule continues this three of their next four on the road, with opponents including Portland and both Los Angeles teams. Right now Kevin Love is carrying them — will voters give him a bump past Blake Griffin into the final West starting front court slot in the All-Star Game?

 
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13. Hawks (12-12, LW 12). After a strong start to the season Jeff Teague has hit a slump — he is averaging 10.4 points a game on 37.3 percent shooting and his assists are down over his last five games. Atlanta needs him if they want to be the three seed in the East.

 
source:  14. Pelicans (11-11, LW 17). Stop assuming the Pelicans are eager to move Ryan Anderson, they are not. First, he makes a very reasonable $17 million total for two more seasons. Second, the Pelicans are +12.2 per 48 minutes when Anderson and Anthony Davis are paired.

 
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15. Lakers (11-12, LW 14). The Lakers are now 1-2 with Kobe Bryant back in the lineup, but the real challenge is the injuries at point guard (Steve Blake, Steve Nash and Jordan Farmar are out, although Farmar is getting close to a return). The injuries force Kobe to play facilitator, and worse yet guard guys like Russell Westbrook. He’s not that defender anymore.

 
source:  16. Pistons (11-14, LW 15). Detroit has beaten the teams you’d expect them to beat (the teams struggling in the East) but struggled against the top three in the East (Atlanta is the third) and the West. This week is a test of that with the good Pacers and Rockets, but also the beatable Bobcats and Celtics.

 
source:  17. Wizards (9-13, LW 16). They get Bradley Beal back on Monday and they could use his scoring. However, that’s not going to help Marcin Gortat get the touches in the paint he says he wants more of.

 
source:  18. Grizzlies (10-13, LW 18). Remember the defensive-powerhouse Grizzlies? In their last five games (four of them losses) they have allowed 113.4 points per 100 possessions, which is the worst in the NBA over the that stretch. That’s more than just missing Marc Gasol.

 
source:  19. Celtics (11-14, LW 19). Rajon Rondo has been cleared to practice but word from around the team is not to expect him until the calendar flips to 2014. The Celtics are somehow still the leaders of the Atlantic and the four seed as of right now.

 
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20. Raptors (9-13, LW 22). Since Rudy Gay left their offensive ball movement has been much improved and the team has looked better. That’s not the plan in Toronto so expect a Kyle Lowry trade sooner rather than later.

 
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21. Nets (8-15, LW 27). Deron Williams is back and suddenly the Nets offense looks vastly improved. Shocking what a good point guard can do. With games against the Sixers (twice) and Washington this week, they could put together a little run.

 
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22. Cavaliers (9-14, LW 22). The have won four of their last six but seem to be looking for ways to get Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving into rotations without the other one. They are not the backcourt of the future.

 
source:  23. Knicks (7-16, LW 23). Kyle Lowry’s penetration and defense would be big boosts to New York’s dream of salvaging this season, but what would you really be sacrificing the future more to get?

 
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24. Bulls (9-13, LW 20). Last season the Chicago front office had prepared for Derrick Rose to miss a large chunk of time, having guys like Nate Robinson on the roster who could score. This season they were not and it shows.

 
source:  25. Kings (7-15, LW 28). Rudy Gay has been efficient his first couple games with the Kings — 10-of-20 with 26 points in the win over Houston Sunday. We’ll see if this continues, but for a couple of tames he has looked good.

 
source:  26. Bobcats (10-14, LW 21). They play hard on defense — even their losses (and there are plenty of them) are hard-fought ones. That’s all you can ask out of Steve Clifford and his staff considering the roster.

 
source:  27. Magic (7-17, LW 25). The good news is Tobias Harris is back in the lineup. Expect to see more and more Orlando players show up in trade rumors — Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis and Arron Afflalo are all available at the right price.

 
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28. Jazz (6-20, LW 29). Trey Burke has been a boost to the Jazz offense — he’s only shooting 38.5 percent and is turning the ball over too much, but that’s to be expected with a rookie point guard. The bottom line is their ball movement and offense are better with him.

 
source:  29. 76ers (7-18, LW 24). These are the Sixers we expected before the season tipped off, it just took a while for them to show up. When Michael Carter-Williams doesn’t play they are almost unwatchable.

 
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30. Bucks (5-19, LW 30). The good news is the Bucks are giving us a lot more Giannis Antetokounmpo lately — if you are going to lose, at least let the exciting rookies learn on the job.

Raptors hold on in overtime, even series with Heat

TORONTO, ON - MAY 03:  Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors hits a half-court buzzer beater to tie Game One and send it into overtime during the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami Heat during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 3, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t pretty, but the Toronto Raptors came away with a win and salvaged a tied series in their first two home games. For the second consecutive game, they went to overtime with the Miami Heat, only this time, it was the Heat that came up cold at the end, and Toronto prevailed, 96-92.

From an efficiency standpoint, Kyle Lowry wasn’t much better than he’s been thus far in the postseason, shooting just 7-for-22 from the field, but he hit two key jumpers in the final minutes of regulation that extended Toronto’s lead, forcing Miami to play from behind and tying the game on threes from Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic.

But it was Jonas Valanciunas who proved most effective late for Toronto. He finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds, and for long stretches, the only reliable offense for the Raptors was dumping the ball in to him. Valanciunas bailed the Raptors out late with a rebound and tip-in to break an 80-80 tie after DeMar DeRozan (who shot a forgettable 9-for-24 on the night) missed two consecutive free throws.

The Heat failed to score in the first three minutes of overtime, and their continued penchant for turning the ball over did them in several times down the stretch as they failed to execute.

A bright spot for Miami was Dragic, who scored 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting despite receiving eight stitches to his lower lip after catching an elbow in the first half.

Splitting the first two home games isn’t ideal for the Raptors, but they had every opportunity to go down 2-0 after controlling most of the first three quarters and managed to prevail. Plus, Lowry’s late-fourth-quarter heroics could be enough to get him going again.

Damian Lillard gets tested by Warriors, looks for rebound

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 03:  Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers stands on the court during their game against the Golden State Warriors in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on May 3, 2016 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.  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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) First it was a chest cold, then it was a fourth-quarter dry spell. The start of Damian Lillard‘s playoff series against the Golden State Warriors has been rough.

And as Lillard goes, often the rest of the Trail Blazers follow.

Portland is down 2-0 in its Western Conference semifinal series against the defending NBA champions. And it certainly won’t get much easier when the series shifts north Saturday – even though presumptive league MVP Stephen Curry is unlikely to return from a knee injury.

But Lillard and his team have a history of stepping up after getting knocked down. In fact, that’s been the theme of their whole season.

“I know the kind of guys I’m running with. Besides that, we’ve answered the call all season long. We’ve been in bad positions time and time again, and we’ve never shied away. We’ve never not answered the call. I don’t see why this time it would be any different,” he said.

Lillard, who averaged 25.1 points and 6.8 assists during the regular season, scored 25 points in the Blazers’ 110-99 loss in Game 2 on Tuesday night, including 17 points in the third quarter. But the Warriors held him scoreless (0-for-3 from the field) in the crucial final period when they came from behind to win, outscoring Portland 34-12. Portland only scored six points over the last 5:21.

With a day off on Wednesday, Lillard let the loss digest.

“After the game I was pretty frustrated by not being able to finish that game. Yesterday I didn’t even want to see a basketball,” he said. “I wasn’t even gonna watch the playoff game until I heard Cleveland was hitting a bunch of 3s. So I wanted to see for myself, but I didn’t even want to have nothing to do with basketball after that game.”

In the series opener, Lillard started cold but eventually scored 30 points in a 118-106 loss. The Oakland native admitted later to battling a cold afterward. On Thursday, he said he was healthy.

Lillard made a playoff splash in 2014 when his buzzer-beating 3-pointer against the Rockets sent the Blazers into the second round for the first time in 14 years.

But he was the lone starter left with the Blazers this season after the departures of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews. Some expected the Blazers to only win about two dozen games.

Lillard tends to rise when he’s the underdog, however. Led by Lillard and backcourt teammate CJ McCollum, a first-year starter, the Blazers overcame a 2-10 stretch in November to wind up the fifth seed in the West.

A two-time All-Star, Lillard was snubbed this year. How did he respond? By dropping 51 points, including nine 3-pointers, in a 137-105 victory over – wait for it – the Golden State Warriors. Lillard shot over Curry at will in that Feb. 19 victory, one of just nine losses for the Warriors in a record-setting 73-win season.

Knowing the Blazers are capable will be key Saturday night.

“We’ll have bounce. We came back after 0-2 against the Clippers (in the opening round) and came with a lot of energy in Game 3. We know how important Game 3 is,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “Having energy, having bounce, at the Moda Center, with our crowd? That’s the least of our concerns.”

Lillard also struggled in the opening two games against the Clippers in the first round. Portland came back to win the next four to win the series, but the Clippers were hurt when their top two scorers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, were knocked out with injuries.

The Warriors also get credit for Lillard’s struggles after making defensive adjustments on both Lillard and McCollum, particularly the play of Festus Ezeli.

“They are so explosive and they run really good stuff, I mean, it’s hard to guard. You have to cover a lot of floor against Portland, and I thought between Festus and Draymond (Green), those guys did a great job of protecting the feed and moving and handling the pick-and-roll on top,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr.

Lillard said the Blazers would learn from it.

“It hurts to go back in the locker room after you play so well for so long and you come back in there with the L. But it is a part of growth,” he said. “The entire season has been growth for us.”

Erik Spoelstra calls Frank Vogel’s firing “disturbing”

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 28:  Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat reacts as he coaches in the first half against the Indiana Pacers during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on May 28, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  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 Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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One thing that’s a constant in the NBA: coaches always stick up for each other. That’s what happened on Thursday, when Pacers president Larry Bird announced that he was letting Frank Vogel go. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who coached against Vogel in three memorable playoff series during the big three era, was unhappy to hear the news of Vogel’s fate and lamented the state of coaching, which has very little job security.

Via Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

“I think it’s really disturbing, actually. I’ve only been a head coach for eight years. So what am I, the second-longest-tenured?” Spoelstra asked, with Casey in his sixth season as Toronto coach and only Gregg Popovich, in his 20th season with the San Antonio Spurs, on the bench longer. “That’s a sad state of where the coaching profession is right now and stability of organizations.”

Spoelstra and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle are the second longest-tenured coaches in the league, behind only Gregg Popovich. Already this offseason, there have been five coaching changes in addition to Vogel’s: Luke Walton replaced Byron Scott with the Lakers, Tom Thibodeau replaced Sam Mitchell with the Timberwolves, Scott Brooks replaced Randy Wittman in Washington, and the Rockets and Kings jobs are still unfilled. The Knicks job could potentially turn over as well, if Phil Jackson opts not to bring back Kurt Rambis.

This is on top of five coaches who were fired during the season: Kevin McHale in Houston, Derek Fisher in New York, Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix, Lionel Hollins in Brooklyn and David Blatt in Cleveland. That’s a third of the league since the 2015-16 season began. Spoelstra is right about the instability, but that’s part of the business.

Photos: Bucks unveil interior of new arena

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 25:  Jabari Parker #12 of the Milwaukee Bucks runs down court during the third quarter against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on February 25, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Milwaukee Bucks are set to open their new arena in time for the start of the 2018-19 season, and now they’ve unveiled the first renderings of the inside of the building. They’re pretty nice.

Here’s the court:

There will also be several public bars out in the concourse:

It’s decidedly more modern than the aging BMO Harris Bradley Center, although that building is one of the most fun atmospheres in the league to watch a game in. Hopefully the new place can recapture that vibe.