PBT NBA Power Rankings: Adam Silver signs the balls, Kevin Durant keeps shooting them

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A look at PBT’s power rankings show basically the only thing that really changed this week was the signature on the Spaulding balls — Adam Silver’s signature is in play. Aside that Durant has the Thunder on top and the Lakers continue fall like the lead balloon they are.

source:  1. Thunder (38-11, Last Week No. 1). Their 10-game win streak was snapped and Kevin Durant’s 12-game streak of 30+ point games came to an end (only because the game was a blowout so he rested the fourth quarter). None of that changes the fact OKC is still playing the best ball of anyone in the association right now. The only question is how do they look once Russell Westbrook is back with the ball in his hands.

source:  2. Pacers (36-10, LW 3). Indiana added Andrew Bynum, who gives it another solid big who can give them 10-15 minutes a night and is an upgrade over Ian Mahinmi — if Bynum is focused. And that’s a big “if.” I don’t see much of a downside here as this locker room is too solid to let Bynum affect it.

source:  3. Heat (33-13, LW 2). Miami’s loss to Oklahoma City was interesting for this reason: When was the last time you saw any team beat Miami by going small? OKC did when Scott Brooks finally went away from using Kendrick Perkins. Of course, OKC is one of only maybe a couple teams with the athletes to go small against Miami and win, this is not going to become a trend. But looking forward to the rematch of these teams in a couple weeks.

source:  4. Warriors (29-198, LW 5). They jump up a spot after beating a tired Clippers team, but Golden State wasn’t impressive beating either Utah or losing to Washington last week. National television game Thursday against the Bulls, then a fun showdown with the Suns Saturday where the Warriors will need to play better than they did last week.

source:  5. Clippers (34-16, LW 4). Our own D.J. Foster wrote about this earlier in the season then Zach Lowe of Grantland covered it last week — if you think Blake Griffin is a one-dimensional dunker with no post game or midrange shot I would say you haven’t watched him play this season. They are on the road Monday night in Denver for the ninth time in 11 games, then they are home though the All-Star break.

source:  6. Grizzlies (26-20, LW 8). Winners of six in a row and 11 of 12 and they are doing it with defense — in their last 10 games they have allowed just 94.4 points per 100 possessions, best in the NBA for that stretch. For comparison, the Pacers are giving up 94.1 per 100 this season — they are playing Pacer-level defense

source:  7. Suns (29-18, LW 10). Their ability to play with relentless pace, and Goran Dragic’s ability to drive into the body of big men and draw the foul and/or get the shot off, seems to be a real kryptonite for the Pacers — the Suns are 2-0 against the best defense in the NBA. Dragic was snubbed for the All-Star Game but may be the leading candidate to be named to replace Kobe Bryant on the roster (new commissioner Adam Silver gets to make that call).

source:  8. Trail Blazers (34-13, LW 6). They are 3-4 in their last seven games and now head out on the road for five of their six games before the All-Star break — this will be a real test of the Blazers and their often struggling defense. The Pacers, Timberwolves and Clippers are among the road teams, and the home game in this stretch is the Thunder.

source:  9. Rockets (32-17, LW 9). James Harden was named an All-Star Game reserve by a vote of the coaches, as expected. With Scott Brooks as the West’s coach for the exhibition game expect him to name his former player Harden as the starter in place of Kobe Bryant.

source:  10. Spurs (34-13, LW No. 7). Injuries are hitting the Spurs hard now — Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green are all out, plus Tony Parker has been playing through a sore hip for weeks. All of that shows on the court when they play good teams.

source:  11. Mavericks (27-21, LW 11). Dallas has fallen out of the playoffs in the West — the Mavs are currently the nine seed in the West, a game back of hard-charging Memphis. Just to be clear, Dallas is on pace to win 46 games this season and miss the playoffs because they are in the West.

source:  12. Raptors (25-22, LW 15). They got a big win over Brooklyn last week, thanks in part to an ill-advised pass from Deron Williams and a smart play by Patrick Patterson in the final seconds. The Raptors now have a 4 game lead over the Nets in the Atlantic. Toronto spends this week on a West coast road swing.

source:  13. Hawks (25-21, LW 16). Paul Millsap is a welcome addition to the All-Star Game, voted in as a reserve by the coaches. To a degree before Al Horford went down and particularly after, Millsap has been the key to making the Hawks frontline work.

source:  14. Wizards (23-23, LW 18). When everyone on the Wizards is healthy this team plays pretty good defense and wins games — they snapped the Thunder’s 10-game streak and have beaten Indiana and Golden State recently. Expect Randy Wittman to keep his job after this season, unless the Wizards fall apart.

source:  15. Bulls (23-23, LW 14). They continue to swing through the West on a road trip while trade rumors swirl around this team — no way they are moving Joakim Noah. Now, if Taj Gibson gets moved it might be a sign they are seriously going after Carmelo Anthony.

source:  16. Nets (20-25, LW 12). Three tough games last week against the Raptors, Thunder and Pacers, and Brooklyn got three losses. That said, the Spurs are the only team on the schedule with a record above. .500 before the All-Star break, so we may see a few more wins strung together.

source:  17. Timberwolves (23-24, LW 17). They finally got over the .500 hump with a win over New Orleans, then promptly dropped their next two (Memphis and Atlanta). As much as I want to like Nikola Pekovic next to Kevin Love, this team needs to get some rim protection inside.

source:  18. Nuggets (22-23, LW 13). Well, at least everyone in Denver is focusing on the Broncos right now. Nate Robinson is down for the season, Ty Lawson is out — Brian Shaw, it’s time to bring Andre Miller back into the rotation.

source:  19. Knicks (19-28, LW 19). They won four in a row once Andrea Bargnani went out and Mike Woodson was forced to go with the small lineup everyone wanted to see from the start anyway. However, the only one of those wins against a decent team was the Bobcats. Then the Heat came to MSG — playing small against Miami never really works (except for OKC).

source:  20. Bobcats (21-28, LW 20). If you want to know who was snubbed from the All-Star Game list of snubs, Al Jefferson should be your leading candidate. He’s averaging 19.6 points and 10.6 rebounds a game this season and put up some huge numbers lately with Kemba Walker out. Jefferson should have been in the conversation.

source:  21. Pelicans (20-26, LW 21). Anthony Davis is in the mix to be named by the league to replace Kobe Bryant on the West’s All-Star roster. The decision facing Adam Silver: Do you replace Kobe with another guard in the deserving Goran Dragic, or do you go with the also deserving big from New Orleans where the game will be played. Tough decisions for those in the big chair.

source:  22. Pistons (19-27, LW 25). Andre Drummond, you have a lot of All-Star Games in your future, don’t worry about not making this one. Greg Monroe, you have a lot of trade rumors in your future, mostly because nobody sane will take on that Josh Smith contract.

source:  23. Jazz (16-31, LW 24). It was great to see Jerry Sloan get a banner and be honored by Utah, something that was incredibly well deserved. Plus it was a nice distraction from the “rookie wall” slump Trey Burke seems to be going through lately (Gordon Hayward has been off his game as well).

source:  24. 76ers (15-33, LW 26). Philly only got one win last week but it was a fun one with Evan Turner’s game-winning shot. Michael Carter-Williams is very poised at the end of games for a rookie.

source:  25. Celtics (16-33, LW 29). Rajon Rondo looked like his old self on Sunday leading Boston to a win over Orlando — even better, his jumper was falling. That could make for an interesting week where he squares off against Carter-Williams and Isaiah Thomas.

source:  26. Cavaliers (16-31, LW 22). Of course Luol Deng publicly denied he told friends Cleveland is a tire fire of an organization. What is he supposed to say? But frankly I’d be a lot more worried about him or anyone else that thought things seem to be headed in the right direction in Cleveland. This team is a mess.

source:  27. Kings (15-32, LW 23). What DeMarcus Cousins means to this team has been shown buy his absence — they are 0-8 without him this season, including losing every game last week. The Kings are far from great with him, but their defense is a disaster without his presence in the paint.

source:  28. Magic (13-36, LW 27). Good to see Nikola Vucevic back on the court this week following his concussion. Orlando has lost 11 straight on the road and that’s not likely to change Monday night in Indiana. But then the Magic stay home through the All-Star break.

source:  29. Lakers (16-31, LW 28). Was the latest news Kobe Bryant is out through the All-Star Game the first in a string of “setbacks” that has him out the rest of the season as the Lakers rack up more lottery Ping-Pong balls? It should be, but this is Kobe and if he can get back on the court you know he will. Pau Gasol is out this week (but not out of the trade rumors) but Steve Nash and Steve Blake could return.

source:  30. Bucks (8-39, LW 30). The Bucks were 1-14 in January. February is only going to be better because it is shorter. All we can hope for is Larry Drew gives John Henson a boatload of minutes.

Like Shaun Livingston, JaVale McGee perfect fit on Warriors

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — JaVale McGee practices 3-pointers from all around the arch, just in case. He sits with assistant coach Jarron Collins and a laptop to study film, long after practice and his shooting workouts are complete.

The 7-footer’s rugged professional path has landed him at seemingly the perfect stop: in the Bay Area with the NBA’s best.

Just don’t call him a journeyman.

“I’ve never considered myself a journeyman in the first place,” McGee said after a practice this weekend. “Whatever y’all want to call me y’all can call me. The number of teams I’ve been on was in like one year. I’ve been with three teams in two years.”

Yet McGee must not look far to find someone else who has learned to thrive as a well-traveled NBA role player. Just a quick glance a couple of lockers down to where Shaun Livingston dresses at Oracle Arena, defying the odds yet again this season as a regular reserve contributing to another Warriors championship chase, is all it takes.

McGee has never made it this far, an NBA Finals first-timer when Golden State hosts defending champion Cleveland in Game 1 on Thursday night. Livingston never should have made it this far, and here he is back to the final round seeking his second title in three seasons – and 10 years after a devastating injury that could have sidelined him for good. Doctors thought they might have to amputate his left leg.

Fourteen teams between them, over 21 combined seasons. Each has found a great groove in Golden State’s rotation, called upon to take pressure off the big stars while maintaining the highest level.

“We just kind of follow suit, but it’s up to everybody to come in and lock in on the details. It’s the playoffs,” Livingston said. “Obviously the stars help, they get all the headlines deservedly so, but the small things, the details, that’s what we lock in at and that’s how we win ballgames.”

McGee has discovered the ideal place to shine as an alley-oop specialist in a pass-happy offense, and even Stephen Curry admits it’s so easy to target the sure-handed big man perhaps the Warriors do so too often at times.

“We almost get in trouble because we try to do it too much even if it’s not there, because he has the ability to catch it really anywhere around the rim, around the backboard,” Curry acknowledged. “You kind of see it developing when he gets a free lane to the rim, and as a passer in that situation literally feel the most confidence that if I just get it anywhere up there, he’ll go get it, and usually he does.”

With great efficiency, too.

In Game 3 against the Spurs, McGee scored a postseason-best 16 points, all in the first half to get Golden State going as Zaza Pachulia sat out with a bruised heel. He made all seven of his shots in Game 2 of a first-round win against Portland, shooting 18 for 23 in all in the four-game sweep of the Trail Blazers.

“That’s my whole thing, I just try to be efficient out there,” McGee said. “I don’t try to do too much. I just try to do what’s necessary for me in the minutes that I’m out there.”

Livingston has unselfishly dealt with a diminished role, a rotation change late in the season that altered when he’s used, and then a hand injury in the first round of the playoffs.

In February 2007 with the Clippers, Livingston tore three major ligaments in his knee – the anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate and medial collateral as well as his lateral meniscus, then required extensive surgery. Though the injury could have ended his career at age 21, he still believed he would play again. First he had to walk again.

“Shaun, that story isn’t really the same now. He’s become a staple of this franchise, he’s helped us win a title, he’s done some great things here,” Draymond Green said. “For JaVale, it’s still fresh, to where I think it’s a great situation for him. He’s finally been put in a position where he can do what he do. He’s finally come to an organization, a first-class organization, that has embraced him for him and not tried to make him something that he’s not. I think that has been pretty special, just seeing his growth over the course of the year, how he’s been able to thrive. … It’s special to see when you take the path that they’ve taken to get to this moment.”

McGee will have to help keep Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson off the boards. His teammates know he’s up to the task.

“It just speaks to his kind of character and perseverance and work ethic and his belief in himself that when he’s out there on the floor he deserves to be out there on the floor, he belongs and can make an impact,” Curry said. “When he showed up here, he understood the opportunity and he’s taken full advantage of it. It’s great to see.”

 

Cool Hand Lue: Cavs coach keeps NBA champs cool amid chaos

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Moments after the Eastern Conference championship banner was raised by the Cavaliers for the third straight time and the obligatory postgame interviews ended, Tyronn Lue slipped quietly away.

Cleveland’s coach ducked into the shadows, his preferred location.

“I don’t like the attention,” he said.

But Lue, once a journeyman point guard who steered the Cavs to an NBA championship last season, has grown more accepting of his frontman role. He’ll again be at center stage this week as Cleveland meets Golden State in the third installment of their title trilogy.

If the unassuming, easygoing Lue had his preference, the teams would duke it out for the Larry O’Brien Trophy on a playground court in a stifling hot gymnasium, with only a handful of onlookers present. A student of the game, he’s old school with a fresh perspective.

Of the many juicy subplots between the Cavs and Warriors, one that frequently goes overlooked is Lue, the former assistant who has blossomed in no time into one of the league’s brightest young head coaches and a playoff savant.

He’s 28-6 in two postseasons with Cleveland. His players credit Lue’s soothing, steady influence – on and off the floor – as nearly as vital to their success as a clutch Kyrie Irving 3-pointer.

“It’s just his level of calmness no matter what’s going on,” LeBron James said following practice. “He always talks about, at the end of the day, he’s already won in life, so whatever else happens after this is extra credit. And I feel the same way. That’s why I relate to him so much. Lose here, or you win a game here, it’s like, `All right, cool. I’ve already done so much more than anybody ever gave me credit of doing or thought I can do, so there’s no reason to get too high or too low.’

“So it’s the even-keel mentality about our coach and it definitely helps us as players when we’re going out into a war.”

Lue has been preparing for the biggest battle of his basketball career this week.

From the moment he returned home from Boston following the Cavs’ win in Game 5 of the conference finals, Lue has immersed himself in the Warriors, a virtual All-Star team featuring two league MVPs (Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry), a dead-eye shooter (Klay Thompson) and a triple-threat performer (Draymond Green).

Lue’s defensive strategy to this point in the playoffs has been to neutralize the opponents’ top player. The Cavs were able to do that with Indiana’s Paul George, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, who aggravated a hip injury in Game 2 and missed the remainder of the series. Cleveland blitzed, double-teamed and did all it could take away the other team’s offensive threat.

Lue was asked if it’s more difficult to identify who that is on Golden State.

“Hell yeah,” he said, his voice rising. “It’s tough.”

There are few weaknesses in these Warriors, the first team to head into the final round 12-0 and winning by an average of 16.3 points per game.

“They have so many weapons,” Lue said, “having four All-Stars and now adding KD to the mix who I’ve always loved as a scorer, just how he scores so easy. They have a lot of options. It’s going to be tough, but we have to lock into what we have to do defensively, and sometimes you can play great defense and it doesn’t work. Steph is making tough shots, Klay is making tough shots and KD is making tough shots. But all you can do is play your defense, stick to your principles and just make it as tough as possible.”

The Cavs know Lue won’t panic.

He stayed cool last spring when Cleveland fought back from a 3-1 deficit to win its first title. Lue made subtle tweaks to his rotation, drew up key inbounds plays, then isolated Irving late in Game 7 on Curry. The Cavs All-Star guard made his now famous go-ahead, step-back 3-pointer.

Pressure intensifies in the postseason, when possessions, turnovers and rebounds are magnified.

As the drama builds, Lue stays composed, setting the tone for his players.

“Throughout the postseason there’s so many different emotions,” James said. “Going high, going low. And if you’re a coach able to just stay even-keeled throughout the whole thing, it relaxes the rest of the group.”

Lue is a stickler for detail, and he won’t cut any corners preparing for another dance with the Warriors. He’ll have the Cavs ready, and they can also count on him to keep them relaxed.

“When you’re prepared and you do the best you can do and you put it out there on the floor, you’ve just got to live with the results,” Lue said. “I’m doing my homework, I’m doing every possible thing to put this team in every situation to win. When you’re doing that, things you go over every day, end-of-game plays and things like that, either they work or they don’t.”

 

Byron Scott: Lakers made me feel ‘betrayed, lied to and deceived’

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Byron Scott lost 77% of his games with the Lakers, alienated their young players and failed to deliver on his big talk about defense.

Yet, Scott said he was blindsided when the Lakers fired him last year.

How did he possibly get the idea he’d return for a third season?

Mark Medina of The Orange County Register:

Scott said he “felt betrayed, lied to and deceived” by former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and former executive Jim Buss. Though he had only two guaranteed years on his four-year contract, Scott contends that Kupchak and Jim Buss previously promised him they would exercise the team option for his third year. Scott also believes the Lakers used him to manage Bryant during his final seasons and farewell tour before making the coach a scapegoat for the franchise’s struggles.

“If I asked him to do certain things, Kobe would do it because of his respect for me,” said Scott, who mentored Bryant during his rookie season in 1996-97. “Basically, you just wanted me there to help you guys get through the next two years, so Kobe doesn’t go crazy on you guys. I would be the one that can handle it. They know me. I’m not going to back down. I’m not going to be intimidated by anybody.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if management said something Scott could have reasonably interpreted as a promise to keep him. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Scott heard what he wanted to hear.

The Jim Buss Lakers didn’t always feature the best lines of communication, and Scott was delusional.

Either way, the Lakers did the right thing in firing Scott. If he were hired to manage Kobe Bryant’s final seasons, Kobe retired. There was no more need for Scott, who neither related well to young players nor implemented a winning scheme – pretty much everything beyond handling Kobe.

The strangest part of Scott’s criticism is how it reflects on Kupchak, who has now been accused of both being too dishonest and too honest.

Tony Parker tells French publication he plans to return in January

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Back on May 5, Tony Parker has surgery to repair a ruptured left quadriceps tendon, an injury some thought could be career ending for the 35-year-old point guard.

He plans to be back and is aiming for January, he told the French publication L’Equipe, as transcribed by EuroHoops.net.

“I will play my best basketball when I return in January”, Parker told L’Equipe….

“The first thing that came in when I got injured, was frustration. I was super good and we had the chance to go until the end and get the title,” Parker said.

“The coach’s plan worked like a clock. I was consistent, playing for twenty to twenty-five minutes per game. My series against Memphis was good and I had a good start in the season,” he added.

Paker’s return in January (if he can meet that timeline) will have him coming off the bench, meaning the Spurs will still need a starting point guard and some depth at the position.

No, that doesn’t mean Chris Paul is coming to San Antonio, that was always a long shot as Adrian Wojnarowski noted. It’s not like the Spurs to kick guys like Parker to the curb (Bill Belichick does not run the franchise) nor do the Spurs gut their roster, and that’s what they’d have to do. Beyond that, Paul is president of the players’ union and one of the things he/the union got in the new CBA was to turn the over-36 rule (which restricted how much LeBron could get on his last deal) to the over-38 rule — meaning the Clippers can give 32-year-old Paul one more five-year max deal. You really think he’s walking away from that?

Hopefully, when Parker returns he can give us all glimpses of his old self.