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

7 Comments

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.

Paul George on Thunder: “This feels like a championship team”

Photo via Twitter
2 Comments

They have an MVP, top-five NBA player. They have another All-NBA player who is a strong wing defender. They now have an aging all-star who still can get buckets with the best of them. There is a strong collection of role players who can help form a solid defense.

On paper, there’s a lot to like with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Paul George realizes that, as he said to Sam Amick of the USA Today.

“This feels like a championship team,” George told USA TODAY Sports. “I’m in a good place. I know Russ (Westbrook) is in a good place. Melo is motivated more than ever…You put us three together, who all have something to prove still, (and) we’re going to be a special team. We have a young group, a lot of talent here, an unbelievable coach (in Billy Donovan), (and) as you see, a front office that’s willing to do whatever it takes to improve the team. It just has all the makeups to be a great organization and a chance to put championships together.”

Championships? Plural? That implies the team would stay together, and sorry Thunder fans, but that is far from a sure thing. First, financially there is no realistic way Oklahoma City can afford to sign Russell Westbrook and Paul George max deals (which they both will get) and keep Anthony if he opts into the final year of his contract for just shy of $28 million.

OKC is a small market team that simply would lose a lot of money to keep the band together, and this ownership group traded James Harden out of fear of a massive luxury tax bill. (They will pay a tax bill of about $24 million for this season if the roster stays as is.)

Also, George’s camp made it very clear during the run-up to his trade he plans to test free agency and has a strong lean to the Lakers next season. He may be more likely to stay in OKC now after the trade, but how much more?

However, George is right, this team does look like a roster that could contend for a title most years — and maybe be in the mix this year. We will put aside the Warriors challenge for a moment (they are still the clear favorites if they stay healthy) and get to the big question for the Thunder:

Will their big three learn to sacrifice, learn to mesh, learn to play together as a team as a championship team does fast enough? The 2008 Celtics did, but that team of veterans has been the exception. It took LeBron’s Miami Heat two seasons to learn how to win, and the same when he came back to Cleveland. OKC doesn’t have two seasons, they have to do it fast. It’s possible, but not easy.

George is right, this is an excellent Oklahoma City team. The Thunder are now right in the middle of that second tier in the West with Houston (another team that has to learn to mesh and sacrifice) and the Spurs. That’s a great place to be.

Is it a place George wants to stay? That question will hang over the Thunder all season.

 

Mark Cuban: Trump has “got to be able to take the blowback” from comments

Associated Press
4 Comments

President Donald Trump used the bully pulpit of his office to, well, bully — he fired shots at the NFL over its concussion protocols and players kneeling during the national anthem. Then he rescinded his invite to the White House to the Warriors after Stephen Curry said he would vote not to go.

Sports stars fired back. LeBron James called Trump a bum, Chris Paul asked if he didn’t have better things to worry about, and the Warriors said as a team they would use their time in Washington this season to “celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion — the values that we embrace as an organization.” Even supporters of the President, such as Patriots owner Robert Craft, rebuked the president for his comments.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told NBC News in an exclusive interview for Meet the Press Trump has to be a big enough man to handle people standing up to him.

“If the president’s going to say something condemning a person, an industry, a sport, then he’s got to be able to take the blowback that’s going to come back,” Cuban told NBC News in an exclusive interview for “Meet the Press.”

“So LeBron [James] and Steph and any athlete, any owner, it’s an open door now, and so they have every right for the same reasons to be able to say whatever’s on their mind,” he said. “Now we’ll be able to see if he can take it.”

Unlike previous presidents of both parties, Trump is not good at letting criticism of him and his administration roll off his back to stay focused on his agenda. It’s more personal with him, and that is something Warriors coach Steve Kerr said is a problem for him, and the nation.

Bottom line, NBA players are not going to back off — their base isn’t going to push back against them for their comments. Most are going to nod their heads in agreement. The NBA fan demographic is not the NFL’s. This storyline is far from over.

Three questions the Indiana Pacers must answer this season

Al Bello/Getty Images for the NBPA
1 Comment

The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 42-40, swept in the first round

I know what you did last summer: Larry Bird resigned then the Pacers traded Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, a horrible deal that got the summer off on the wrong track. Indiana also swapped Jeff Teague, C.J. Miles and Monta Ellis for Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph in order to prevent bottoming out. The Pacers picked T.J. Leaf (No. 18), Ike Anigbogu (No. 47) and Edmond Sumner (No. 52) in the draft.

THREE QUESTIONS THE PACERS MUST ANSWER:

1) Will Indiana escape its unsatisfying track? The Pacers are headed toward winning 30-something games, missing the playoffs and picking in the bottom of the lottery. It’s a miserable place to be.

Be just a little better, and they could make the playoffs in the lowly Eastern Conference. Be just a little worse, and they could land a premier draft pick.

Either direction is preferable to the apparent status quo.

The Pacers clearly don’t want to tank. Hence, their offseason strategy. But if the season goes south quickly, they could embrace losing by trading veterans and/or giving more minutes to young players.

Competing for the playoffs is a little trickier, but Indiana has enough veterans where that could take care of itself. The odds are against it, but this team is capable of sneaking in with the right breaks.

2) Can Victor Oladipo handle the expectations thrust upon him? Oladipo didn’t choose to return to the basketball-crazed state where he starred in college. He didn’t ask to be the Pacers’ main return for Paul George.

But here he is.

Oladipo is a solid player, and at 25, he might still be improving. He’ll have to in order to justify the George trade (and maybe even his four-year, $84 million contract extension that kicks in this season).

No longer playing with Russell Westbrook should help. Oladipo regressed while trying to play a spot-up role next to the Oklahoma City superstar last season. Indiana needs Oladipo to be more aggressive with the ball, a role that better suits him. Whether he’s good enough to handle those responsibilities on a good team is another question entirely, though.

3) Will Myles Turner break out? With George gone, Turner is now the Pacers’ franchise player (ignoring how the team might market Oladipo, who returns after starring with the Hoosiers).

Turner has all the potential to be a modern rim-protecting, 3-point-shooting center. He can get more comfortable beyond the arc. He must fine-tune his defense. But all the future looks bright for the 21-year-old.

He was intriguing as a rookie then even better last year. How steeply Turner continues to ascend will play a major role in whether Indiana exceeds expectations this season – and how its rebuild looks beyond.

Goran Dragic back with Heat after summer title for Slovenia

Associated Press
Leave a comment

MIAMI (AP) — A quick summary of the last few weeks in the life of Miami guard Goran Dragic:

He led Slovenia, his mother’s homeland and the place he calls home, to an improbable gold medal at the European Championships. The title game came against Serbia, his father’s homeland and a place where he still has relatives.

He was the tournament’s MVP. He received one of Slovenia’s highest civilian honors. He was brought to tears by a gift of a jersey from the mother of his idol, the late star Drazen Petrovic.

And through it all, the words of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra echoed in his head – winning a championship is usually more demanding mentally than physically.

“Now I fully understand what he means,” Dragic said.

It’s a lesson Dragic hopes to put to more use starting next week, when he returns to the U.S. and the Heat begin training camp. The only true point guard on Miami’s roster, Dragic is going to be a major key if the Heat are to return to the playoffs and contend in the Eastern Conference. And coming off his MVP showing at EuroBasket, the Heat hope his game keeps elevating.

“He looked sensational,” Spoelstra said of his point guard’s play at EuroBasket. “I’m so happy for him, so proud of that accomplishment, this most unlikely championship. Slovenia is a country of only 2 million. It’s smaller than the city of Miami. And to beat the powerhouses over there, but also to see how passionate Goran was about trying to lead this team to the title.”

Dragic averaged 22.6 points and 5.1 assists in the nine games. His 35 points in the title game was the high for the tournament.

He told Spoelstra in June he was all-in on trying to deliver Slovenia its first gold medal.

“He trained extremely diligently for this,” Spoelstra said. “And he competed and led at such a high level. You could just see the emotions pouring out of him. I talked to him on the phone after they won and he said, `This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”‘

The task that awaits in Miami won’t be easy.

The Heat had a strange season a year ago – starting 11-30, finishing 30-11 and missing the playoffs in a tiebreaker. Dragic averaged a career-best 20.3 points, and emerged as a locker-room leader as the year went along. He also did what he could to persuade Heat free agents like Dion Waiters and James Johnson to stay.

“It’s a lot of new challenges ahead,” Dragic said. “I’m looking forward to come to Miami and to battle for a title in Miami. Nobody gave us a chance, the Slovenian national team. Nobody is going to give us a chance in Miami. But I always believe. Why not?”

An estimated 20,000 people stood in the pouring rain to greet the Slovenian team when it arrived home. The medal ceremony after the championship game became Slovenia’s most-watched television event in the country, at least since ratings started being kept. Dragic was told 94 percent of the nation was watching.

“I’m just proud of him,” Heat President Pat Riley said. “And I’m proud that we have him.”

Before 1991, both Serbia and Slovenia were part of Yugoslavia. Hence, the family ties for Dragic still exist.

“Playing for my national team for the past 12 years, you’re always waiting to achieve something, and as soon as we won the final all the burden from my shoulders fell down,” he said. “I felt so happy. And, of course, on the other side, I have family in Serbia. But I was born in Slovenia … it was not a question that I was going to do everything to bring them a title.”