PBT NBA Power Rankings: Golden State climbing rankings fast

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The top two teams in the East are the top two teams on PBT’s Power Rankings, but with their current nine-game win streak Golden State has moved in as the top ranked team in the West. If they keep defending like this they are legitimate contenders come playoff time.

 
source:  1. Pacers (27-6, Last Week No. 2). Indiana’s offense has taken a little dip lately, scoring just 98 points per 100 possessions their last five games (down four from their season average and 25th in the NBA in that stretch). But they are still 4-1 in those five thanks to that league-best defense and some scoring off the bench from Danny Granger. They have a rematch with Toronto, the one loss in those five games, on Tuesday.

 
source:  2. Heat (26-8, LW 3). Miami should put together a little run of wins — while they head out on a six-game road trip only one of their next 9 games is against a team over .500 and that is the Hawks, now without Al Horford. Then again, if one elite team is going to take some nights off in there and lose a couple to lesser teams, it’s Miami.

 
source:  3. Warriors (23-13, LW 6). Winners of nine in a row, the last five of those on the road. They are doing it with defense thanks to the return of Andre Iguodala — GSW has the third best defense in the NBA over their last five games. Streak could continue with Bucks, Nets and Celtics on the docket this week.

 
source:  4. Spurs (26-8, LW No. 5). Won four of last five during home-heavy part of schedule and they are doing it with offense — they have an offensive rating of 115.9 points per 100 possessions last five games (107.4 on season) with a true shooting percentage of 59.5 percent.

 
source:  5. Thunder (27-7, LW 1). It took Kevin Durant going off for 48 (23 in fourth quarter) for them to get a their first win this week without Russell Westbrook (beating Minnesota, the next win over Boston came much easier). It’s going to take more Durant and some big Reggie Jackson nights to keep them afloat at top of West until Westbrook’s mid-February return.

 
source:  6. Trail Blazers (26-8, LW 4). They have gone 2-3 in their last five and while they have gotten to the line a little less and not been quite as strong on the boards, the reality is they have lost the kind of close games they have won much of the season. Those kinds of wins tend to even out over time.

 
source:  7. Clippers (23-13, LW 7). Route at hands of Spurs shows what life without Chris Paul could be like — even with relatively soft schedule L.A. is not same without him. This stretch of roughly 20 games with out Paul will cost them in the final NBA standings, making a playoff run that much harder.

 
source:  8. Rockets (22-13, LW 8). Maybe “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” but the up-and-down rockets sure could use some, as the only thing they seem to do consistently is have rough fourth quarters and lose because of them. Houston heads out on a four game road trip starting this week.

 
source:  9. Suns (20-12, LW 9). Teams that give a consistent effort on defense tend to win but even so this could be a tough couple weeks for the Suns — they head out on a five-game road trip without Eric Bledsoe, who has a sprained knee.

 
source:  10. Raptors (16-16, LW 14). It took a good fourth quarter from LeBron to end a five-game Toronto win streak on Sunday. They are now 9-4 since Rudy Gay was traded away — they are your third best team in the East. GM Masai Ujiri also realizes third in this east is fool’s gold this season and will make moves thinking long term.

 
source:  11. Mavericks (19-15, LW 10). Time for some fun with math: It’s likely going to take about 47 wins to make the playoffs in the West, for Dallas to get there they need to go 28-20 the rest of the way. You think they can do that? I’m not sold the Mavs, the current eight seed in the West, can hold off teams like Minnesota and Denver the rest of the season.

 
source:  12. Hawks (18-16, LW 11). They have gone 2-3 without Al Horford but they haven’t played terribly (they almost knocked off Golden State, it took an Andre Iguodala game winner to save the Warriors). In this east the Hawks may be able to hang around close to .500 and still make the playoffs pretty comfortably.

 
source:  13. Timberwolves (16-17, LW 12). Seven times Minnesota has had a .500 record this season, and seven times they have lost the next game. I keep expecting this team to string together a series of wins and I keep being disappointed. But it will happen. Eventually.

 
source:  14. Pelicans (15-17, LW 15). Another team that might put together a run, but it’s not likely with both Jason Smith and now Ryan Anderson out — they need those big guys up front. Does Anthony Davis stand a chance of making the All-Star team with the game in New Orleans?

 
source:  15. Wizards (14-17, LW 13). There are moments you think this could be the third best team in the East — especially when Nene is on the court and active — but those moments are fleeting. They have lost three in a row and now have four of their next five on the road.

 
source:  16. Nuggets (16-17, LW 16). Andre Miller isn’t in the rotation and he is on the trade block — Miller can be strong willed but he’s also a rock-solid veteran on the court. That Brian Shaw isn’t using or getting along with him should raise eyebrows.

 
source:  17. Grizzlies (15-18, LW 20). Playing the same math game we did with Dallas (and assuming you need 47 wins to make the playoffs in the West) Memphis will need to go 32-17 the rest of the way to get in the postseason dance. They have the Spurs, Suns and Thunder at home as three of their next four, those are the kinds of games they need to win.

 
source:  18. Bulls (14-18, LW 22). Chicago is looking like the Bulls we remember without Rose — they have won five of their last seven by just playing grinding defense and finding enough offense from somewhere. Having Luol Deng back helps their offense a lot.

 
source:  19. Lakers (14-20, LW 18). Kendall Marshall is showing he can finally shoot in his latest chance with Lakers. In his first five games this season he shot 58.3 percent from three and finished 7-of-8 in the paint. If he can keep up anything in that ballpark the Lakers got a little steal with him.

 
source:  20. Pistons (14-19, LW 18). Detroit has lost six of its last seven and point guard Brandon Jennings called it an emergency. They are currently the eight seed in the East but Boston will get Rajon Rondo back and Brooklyn is playing better… it’s not an emergency in Detroit but it’s not pretty at all.

 
source:  21. Bobcats (15-20, LW 17). They went 1-4 on a rough West Coast road swing where their previously stout defense gave up at least 103 points in four of the five games (more than 110 in three of those). You know that Steve Clifford is not happy with that.

 
source:  22. Nets (12-21, LW 23). They have won two in a row going small, with Paul Pierce at the four. Whatever works. There’s some real tests to this little run on the schedule this week — Miami, Golden State and Toronto.

 
source:  23. Knicks (11-22, LW 26). They went 2-1 on a road trip through Texas — it might have been 3-0 if J.R. Smith makes a better decision. Not bad at all. In those three games the Knicks got key buckets out of Iman Shumpert, who has emerged lately as a quality offensive option. But please, ignore all that and talk about ridiculous trade rumors.

 
source:  24. Celtics (13-20, LW 21). Brandon Bass told PBT that you can learn more from a tough season than a good one, and he is trying to teach the young players on the team how to be professional through a rough season. Boston has lost seven of eight, that’s a lot of teachable moments for Bass.

 
source:  25. 76ers (12-21, LW 29). Four wins in a row, all on a road swing against the West — they beat the Lakers, Nuggets, Kings and Blazers. With Michael Carter-Williams in the lineup this team is decent (and he’s not going to miss time after that collision in Portland). By the way, look for the Thaddeus Young trade talk to heat up (Phoenix could be destination).

 
source:  26. Kings (10-22, LW 24). This team teases you with wins over Miami and Houston, then turns around and can’t beat the Sixers or Bobcats. Rumor is the Kings are looking to be big players at the trade deadline, kind of an anti-Maloof strategy.

 
source:  27. Jazz (11-25, LW 28). This is a 5-5 team in their last 10 games as they get some good play from Trey Burke, plus Enes Kanter has stepped up his game. If Richard Jefferson isn’t traded for Andrew Bynum to Cleveland he could land somewhere else at the deadline.

 
source:  28. Cavaliers (11-23, LW 25). No matter where Andrew Bynum ends up by the end of this week, we have another question about the Cavaliers: Could Pau Gasol really have lifted them into the playoffs? Even in the East I’m not sold he’s enough on this roster.

 
source:  29. Magic (10-23, LW 27). They head out on a five-game West Coast road swing this week, which could get ugly. Arron Afflalo is upping his trade value, and trade talk is maybe the only kind of interesting Magic talk right now.

 
source:
30. Bucks (7-26, LW 30). Larry Sanders was the guy getting hyped this summer — a new $44 million deal and he was going to be a franchise cornerstone. Now he has missed games after an injury suffered in a bar fight and he is arguing with teammates like Gary Neal. That’s not good. At all.

Already? Giannis Antetokounmpo says Joel Embiid tried to recruit him to Sixers

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The Greek Freak (now trademarked) Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to be a Buck for a while — he has three fully guaranteed years on his contract after this one, taking him until at least the summer of 2021. At that point, Milwaukee almost certainly will be able to offer him the designated player super max contract that will be hard to turn down. The Greek Freak is going to be in Milwaukee for a long time.

That didn’t stop Joel Embiid, who tried to recruit Antetokounmpo to Sixers during All-Star weekend. Via Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“He told me I should trust the process and come play for Philly,” Antetokounmpo said with a chuckle, drawing a laugh. “That was my reaction — I just laughed.”

Of course, if somewhere down the line Antetokounmpo and Embiid team up some tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist will say “they have been planning this since 2018.”

Embiid probably did this tongue in cheek, but he is fearless about this stuff — remember a couple of summers ago he tried to recruit Kevin Durant through social media.

As for Antetokounmpo and the Sixers, nothing to see here, move along.

Rumor: Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert might not offer LeBron James no-trade clause in next contract

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The Cavaliers’ three deadline-day trades appear to have invigorated LeBron James, but a key issue remains as LeBron’s player option approaches: Dan Gilbert still owns the Cavs.

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

“LeBron wants to be in charge of everything, which is what puts him at odds with Dan,” one source said. “Dan wants to be in charge of everything.”

The belief is that Gilbert, having reasserted control after chasing out Griffin, will rebuff James’ request for a no-trade clause, or any other measures that give him leverage. And that will be enough to drive James away.

“Dan Gilbert’s not going to do what it takes to keep him,” the same source predicted. “Not a chance in hell he’s going to give him a no-trade clause, or let him dictate contract terms.”

LeBron’s no-trade clause might have been useful this season. When things got particularly bad in Cleveland, he affirmed he wouldn’t waive it. I doubt the Cavs would have dealt him regardless, but he made it a certainty.

But a no-trade clause was relevant only because LeBron signed a multi-year contract due to salary-cap rules relevant in 2016. With those no longer pertinent, he might go back to the 1+1 deals he first signed in his return to Cleveland. That’d give him an implicit no-trade clause, as those contracts are treated as one-year deals until the option is exercised, and players on one-year contracts who’d have early or full Bird Rights after can veto any trade.

Still, Gilbert taking this stance would matter if LeBron wants to sign long-term. An official no-trade clause would also carry over to LeBron’s next team if he approves a trade or in the second year of a 1+1 if he opts in. The implicit no-trade would not.

That could be enough for LeBron to demand the official no-trade clause – not just for the possibility it’s useful, but to show he can get it. He seems unwilling to give an inch. It’s about respect.

It also might be about stubbornness – both LeBron’s and Gilbert’s. This would be a ridiculous battleground for LeBron’s Cavaliers tenure to end on – just give LeBron whatever contract he wants – but it wouldn’t be the first ridiculous showdown between Gilbert and LeBron.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: I could never see myself playing for Los Angeles

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All-Star Weekend was (at least) an implicit recruiting tool for the Lakers and Clippers. The host teams could show off Los Angeles – the beautiful weather in middle of winter, the nightlife, the glitz and glamour.

LeBron James‘ praise drew the most attention:

I think L.A. is a perfect place to host All-Star Weekend. It’s one of the few cities that we have in our league that can accommodate all of this. And when I mean all of this, you have over 200-plus countries that’s covering the game. You’ve got so many people from all over the world coming to watch our game and just be a part of All-Star Weekend. And we know the traffic. We understand that. But traffic is traffic and — but L.A. can accommodate that. It’s built for stars. It’s built for entertainment. It’s built for cameras and bright lights, and it’s a great place for it.

Of course, we already knew LeBron was partial to Los Angeles. He has a house there.

But not every All-Star raved about the city.

Bucks forward Antetokounmpo, via Matt Velazquez Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“I could never see myself being out there,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s great for two, three days but it’s a little bit — things are going a little bit crazy.

“Of course, because of the All-Star Game, there was a lot of people there. … In Milwaukee — I love Milwaukee — it’s low-key. I can walk down the road, down the streets without anybody bugging me — nobody interrupts my conversation or anything. I love how quiet and calm Milwaukee is.”

The Bucks ought to appreciate this outlook. Antetokounmpo once said he wanted to stay with them forever, and – as rumors swirled about his future in Milwaukee, he tweeted, “I got loyalty inside my DNA.” But he has since explained how important it is for a team to do right by its star player, supporting him with a winning supporting cast.

Maybe Antetokounmpo will eventually leave the Bucks, but it seems unlikely that’d be just to reach a bigger market. Milwaukee can’t change its location. The Bucks can somewhat control whether they put a winner around Antetokounmpo.

Still, other teams will try to poach Antetokounmpo – like Joel Embiid‘s 76ers. Antetokounmpo, via Velazquez:

“He told me I should trust the process and come play for Philly,” Antetokounmpo said with a chuckle, drawing a laugh. “That was my reaction — I just laughed.”

PBT Podcast: What to watch during stretch run of season

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Are the Cleveland Cavaliers for real? And by “real” do you mean best in the East or threat to Warriors?

Who is going to make the playoffs in the West? Is Utah going in? Portland? The Los Angeles Clippers?

Is James Harden going win MVP? Is it Ben Simmons or Donovan Mitchell for Rookie of the Year?

Those are just some of the storylines as the NBA races down the stretch run of the season (most teams have around 25 games left). Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all the things to watch from the end of the season, including if Detroit can climb up into the postseason, and how the top of the East is going to shake out.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.