PBT NBA Power Rankings: At season midway Pacers, Portland on top (not exactly Stern’s dream finals)

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We’re at the midway point in the NBA season and the Indiana Pacers sit on top of the ProBasketballTalk NBA power rankings — we knew they’d be good but they have been better in the regular season than expected. Portland is second, and that is a surprise, but also a team on a win streak. Milwaukee still has the bottom spot locked down.

 
source:  1. Pacers (32-7, Last Week No. 1). Indiana should have three players in the All-Star Game (Paul George will be voted in by the fans, expect Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson to be picked by the coaches as reserves) plus Frank Vogel will coach. Getting hard to play the “nobody respects us” card in Indy.

 
source:  2. Trail Blazers (31-9, LW 5). They have won five in a row, including the last two on the road in San Antonio and Dallas. They have again done it with their offense playing at an elite level, plus now their defense has been average (which is a step up). Terry Stotts could end up as the All-Star coach (job goes to coach of team with the best record in West on Feb. 2 other than Spurs, as Gregg Popovich did it last year).

 
source:  3 Spurs (32-9, LW No. 2). The Spurs are 18-1 against teams under .500 this season but 1-8 against the Blazers, Rockets, Thunder, Clippers and Pacers. It’s hard to judge a veteran team like this during the season, but even Manu Ginobili has had questions about their level of play. The Thunder and Heat are on the docket this week.

 
source:  4. Thunder (31-10, LW 6). Huge comeback win in Houston, then Kevin Durant drops 54 on Golden State — they are 7-5 and playing pretty well without Russell Westbrook. Kevin Durant has scored 30 points or more in seven straight games, which is how it’s going to have to be for now, but the nine assists Sunday was a sign he could get some help from teammates.

 
source:  5. Heat (29-11, LW 4). They went 2-3 on their current road trip (which ends Monday in Atlanta) and maybe the biggest issue is they are shooting just 31 percent from three in those five games. “Space and pace” as an offense only works if you knock down the shots to create space. Also, the defense has slipped in those games — Miami’s defense is based on athleticism and aggressiveness, take their foot off the gas and anyone can get points on them.

 
source:  6. Clippers (28-14, LW 7). They are 5-2 without Chris Paul and while only one win was over a .500 team (the amazing shootout with Dallas) the fact is they are holding their ground with their best player out. So far. They are on their Grammy road trip this week and next.

 
source:  7. Warriors (26-16, LW 3). On PBT Extra CSNBayArea.com’s Warriors insider Monte Poole said to consider the Jordan Crawford trade the first move by Golden State, not the only one. They love their starting five but need depth — Stephen Curry has played more minutes than any other point guard in the league.

 
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8. Rockets (27-15, LW 8). GM Daryl Morey told Sports Illustrated he thinks they have the first two pieces of a championship roster — James Harden and Dwight Howard — but lacks the No. 3 piece. Chandler Parsons is offended.

 
source:  9. Mavericks (24-18, LW 9). They gave up 129 to the Clippers, 107 to the Suns then 127 to Portland last week — Dallas needs to tighten up its defense. On a side note, Mark Cuban tells really good Dirk Nowitzki stories.

 
source:  10. Grizzlies (20-19, LW 16). Winners of five in a row and now with Marc Gasol back in the rotation — and not so coincidentally their defense is impressive again — they look like a team that will grab one of the final playoff spots in the West. Then be a brutally tough out for whoever lands them.

 
source:  11. Suns (23-17, LW 13). They have lost four of six, but it was great to see Channing Frye break out for 30 against Denver on Sunday. Sure, Denver defenders left him alone like he had the Hantavirus, still he hit the shots. This is a guy who missed a season with a serious heart condition, it’s good to see him on the court and playing well.

 
source:  12. Raptors (20-19, LW 10). If the Raptors can’t hold off the Nets or otherwise lose the East, they should look back at Sunday’s loss to the struggling Lakers as a game they gave away. Toronto was up 19 in the first half, 16 in the third quarter, and found a way to lose. That and the loss to Boston were not pretty last week.

 
source:  13. Timberwolves (19-21, LW 12). They have lost six of nine and were reduced to the moral victory of “we played hard at the end of the game” after loss to Toronto. We keep saying “they are better than their record” but at some point Bill Parcells is right — “you are what your record says you are.”

 
source:  14. Nuggets (20-20, LW 14). Look for some changes to the bench rotations as coach Brian Shaw is frustrated with the defense with his subs are in. For example, Phoenix went on a 9-1 run late in the first quarter when Nate Robinson entered the contest (and never surrendered that lead). I’d suggest more Andre Miller, but Shaw burned that bridge.

 
source:  15. Bulls (19-20, LW 15). Jimmy Butler played more than 60 minutes in the Bulls 3OT win over Orlando, and look at their rotations and you see the starters getting heavy minutes again. But if the Bulls want to win, what choice does Tom Thibodeau really have?

 
source:  16. Wizards (19-20, LW 19). Needing wins — because the order of the day is to make the playoffs — and with a stretch of home games to get them, coach Randy Wittman has tightened things up with an 8-man rotation. It’ got them a win over Miami but they can’t keep up these minutes long term (not with the injury history of some guys in that locker room.)

 
source:  17. Nets (16-22, LW 17). Deron Williams returns Monday and it gets interesting — can the small ball lineup with Kevin Garnett quarterbacking the defense and Paul Pierce as an offensive fulcrum continue to work? Winnable games this week if it does (Dallas is the only above .500 team on the schedule).

 
source:  18. Hawks (20-19, LW 11). Only one game last week, in London, but it wasn’t a pretty one as the Nets rolled them. They have lost five of seven and without Al Horford the rest of the season it’s hard to see how that trend changes dramatically.

 
source:  19. Bobcats (17-25, LW 23). This is a team that seemed like it could make a playoff push behind the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who brought their defense back to life. But losing Kemba Walker for a couple weeks with a sprained ankle is a real blow.

 
source:  20. Cavaliers (15-25, LW 24). In the five games since Luol Deng came on board the Cavaliers starters are averaging 118 points per 100 possessions — that is a ridiculously good number (stat via our old friend Matt Moore). Deng makes his home debut for the Cavs Monday against Dallas.

 
source:  21. Pistons (17-23, LW 21). Rasheed Wallace is drilling Andre Drummond before tames on post moves, working on improving him on the block. But right now, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith get far, far more low block touches than Drummond because they are more polished. Still, the big man needs to get fed more.

 
source:  22. Knicks (15-25, LW 18). If the Knicks were going to make a push now would be the time — seven straight home games, only one against a team over .500 (Miami). But can the Knicks really good enough to beat the Nets and Bobcats this week? Not if they don’t start to defend better.

 
source:  23. Lakers (16-25, LW 25). The Lakers are 2-1 on their Grammy trip, they held a team meeting after getting spanked by the Suns and won two straight, including a win in Toronto. Not sure it’s sustainable, but when these Lakers knock down shots they are fun to watch.

 
source:  24. Kings (14-25, LW 22). Friday night when the Pacers come to town the Kings are going to have a “Google Glass” game with some cheerleaders, announcers and during warm-ups players wearing Google Glass, then those images can be broadcast through the arena. Should be interesting.

 
source:  25. Jazz (14-28, LW 27). They remain a .500 team of late, having gone 5-5 in their last 10, and did the last five games without Gordon Hayward. Don’t tell anyone, but right now the Jazz are a good offensive team that can just flat out outscored you.

 
source:  26. Pelicans (15-24, LW 20). For a team that made big moves in the off-season and had dreams of being in the playoff hunt this season, the Pelicans are 7.5 games out of the last playoff spot in the West and 2.5 games ahead of Utah for the worst record in the West.

 
source:  27. 76ers (13-27, LW 26). As expected preseason this is a terrible team, which means the most interesting thing will be he Thaddeus Young trade rumors that are going to increase as we move closer to the Feb. 20 trade deadline.

 
source:  28. Magic (11-30, LW 29). Well, they beat Boston, so the losing streak is over. That’s one positive. Aside that, like the Sixers the most interesting thing the next few weeks is to watch the trade offers role in for Glen Davis and others.

 
source:  29. Celtics (14-28, LW 28). Rajon Rondo is back, and considering the time off he has looked good in his first couple games. That said, the Celtics are 2-14 in their last 16 games and even Rondo cannot stem that kind of tide.

 
source:  30. Bucks (7-33, LW 30). They have yet to win a game in 2014. Just play a lot of John Henson and Larry Sanders together, let them develop chemistry and just take your lumps as you move toward getting some good lottery odds. (Maybe the number of quality bigs at the top of this draft can get Sanders to start playing like his job is in jeopardy.)

Dennis Schroder insists reeling Hawks OK despite seven-game skid

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ATLANTA (AP) — Dennis Schroder insists the Atlanta Hawks will be fine when their three injures starters return.

The point guard also believes the Eastern Conference playoff standings are too tight for the Hawks to wait for Paul Millsap, Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha to return from their injuries.

Schroder said the Hawks must snap their seven-game losing streak with their current limited roster, which will be without the three starters for at least one more game.

“I’m saying now we have to change something,” Schroder said Monday. “We can’t wait until they come back. Maybe it’s too late then.”

The Hawks are in a three-way tie for fifth in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. They are only 2 games ahead of eighth-place Miami, which currently has the final playoff spot, and 2 + ahead of ninth-place Chicago.

The Hawks see they could drop out of the playoff standings if they don’t quickly end the losing streak.

“The NBA isn’t easy,” Schroder said. “You’ve got to win games to make it in the playoffs.”

Coach Mike Budenholzer said Millsap, the four-time All-Star who has missed five straight games with left knee tightness, and the other two injured starters will not play in Tuesday night’s home game against Phoenix.

Bazemore, who has missed four straight games with a right knee bone bruise, said he hopes to return for Wednesday’s game at Philadelphia.

Sefolosha, held out against the Nets with a right groin strain, was seen working on an elliptical machine at the portion of Monday’s practice open to media. There is no timetable on Millsap’s return.

Before the losing streak, which matches the team’s longest of the season, the Hawks were competing with Toronto for the fourth seed in the East and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Home-court advantage is now a distant dream.

Atlanta is tied with Milwaukee and Indiana for fifth following Sunday’s 107-92 loss to New Jersey, which owns the NBA’s worst record.

The latest ugly loss left Atlanta in what Bazemore described as “a dark time.” Even so, he insists the players’ spirit is not broken.

Bazemore pointed to players taking extra shots after practice and said “My teammates are still laughing. … We’re still alive and kicking.”

Budenholzer’s message is for players to avoid trying to do too much to fill the void left by the injured starters.

“I think to some degree we’re all pressing,” Budenholzer said. “Coaches pressing, each guy individually. It comes from actually a good place. They want to win. They want to have success and it’s just remembering that the best way for us to have success is to do it as a group and do it together.”

Budenholzer said rookie Taurean Price, who had 17 points, six rebounds and three steals in his first start against the Nets, likely will remain in the lineup against Phoenix.

Ersan Ilyasova and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined to make only 8 of 30 shots against the Nets. Atlanta’s depleted bench was outscored 46-7 by the Nets’ backups.

Budenholzer said Bazemore is “very close” to playing and could be cleared after “another good day.”

Bazemore said has done “pretty much everything” on the court in testing his knee, including change-of-direction drills.

“I’m starting to feel good,” Bazemore said. “… Things are trending in the right direction.”

Sixers’ Ben Simmons throws down impressive dunk in pregame workout (VIDEO)

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Consider this a look at what might have been this past season. Or a look into what will be next season.

Philadelphia has shut No. 1 pick Ben Simmons down for the season as they wait for the Jones fracture in his foot to heal properly, but he is traveling with the team and working out on its current road trip. Before the game in Indianapolis, Simmons got in a workout on the court.

Then casually threw down a between-the-legs, off the backboard self alley-oop.

What does that mean? Nothing. Other than next season in Philadelphia could be a lot of fun.

Serge Ibaka says he asked Magic to play more small ball with him at center

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The Magic traded Victor Oladipo and the rights to Domantas Sabonis for Serge Ibaka then, after a failed half season in Orlando, flipped an unhappy Ibaka for a lesser shooting guard (Terrence Ross) and a lesser draft pick (the lower of the Raptors’ and Clippers’ first-rounders).

What went wrong in Orlando?

The Magic built a roster overloaded on big men, forcing Ibaka to play power forward nearly exclusively, next to Bismack Biyombo or Nikola Vucevic. It a bad plan that worked predictably poorly.

And Ibaka indicates he knew it would, asking Orlando coach Frank Vogel to play more center.

Ibaka, via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

“At some point, I spoke with Coach about playing small ball,” Ibaka said. “At some point, he agreed with me. But we never did it. We never did it.”

The Magic used Ibaka just 88 minutes with neither Biyombo nor Vucevic on the court, per nbawoy!. Orlando played opponents even in that span — not bad for a team that has been for a team that been outscored by 6.3 points per 100 possessions, better than only the Nets and Lakers, this season.

But reducing minutes of Biyombo and Vucevic would have created its own complications. They wouldn’t have been happy to sit.

One way or another, this roster was going to cause problems. That’s why Orlando general manager Rob Hennigan is on the hot seat.

Report: Becky Hammon rejects offer to become Florida women’s head coach, stays with Spurs

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Becky Hammon, the NBA’s first female full-time coach, faced an intriguing choice: Remain a Spurs assistant or become the head coach of Florida’s women’s basketball team.

She apparently chose the former.

Mike Robinson of Swish Appeal:

Hammon has decided she will not take the coaching position at Florida. Instead, she will remain an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs under Gregg Popovich.

The Florida job would’ve offered a higher salary and full charge of a program.

It also would’ve taken her further from her goal of becoming the NBA’s first female head coach.

Perhaps unfairly, it would have been too easy for NBA teams to forget about Hammon if she returned to women’s basketball. Her road is already difficulty enough. An opportunity for teams to typecast her as only a women’s-basketball coach could’ve debilitated her NBA-coaching prospects

Hammon still faces a long road, but the more time she spends coaching men, the more barriers she erases. Her staying in San Antonio goes a long way toward normalizing the idea of women coaching in the NBA.