PBT NBA Power Rankings: Thunder, Heat on top coming up to trade deadline

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Today’s PBT NBA Power Rankings — brought to you by the technology of airplane wi-fi — will talk about the All-Star weekend past and the trade deadline coming up, as there weren’t many other games to speak of.

source:  1. Thunder (43-12, Last Week No. 1). Their addition at the trade deadline is simply getting Russell Westbrook back — he could play Thursday. If they can integrate him and keep the ball movement they have had lately they would be tough to beat in the West.

source:  2. Heat (37-14, LW 3). There had been a lot of talk about the Heat looking to add some depth as they go after a three-peat, but don’t expect it. The fact is the Heat aren’t willing to move the assets everyone else wants.

source:  3. Rockets (36-17, LW 4). Winners of seven in a row, but they have done it all with offense, which isn’t how they can win in the playoffs. I think we’re going to have a trade deadline without Daryl Morey making a move, which is one of the signs of the end times.

source:  4. Pacers (40-12, LW 2). They have lost two of three and in its last 10 games Indiana’s offense has been bottom five in the league. Asked Frank Vogel about that All-Star weekend and he shrugged it off as just the mid-season blahs. He’s right about that.

source:  5. Clippers (37-18, LW 6). There has been buzz that the Clippers would be open to moving Jared Dudley and upgrading at the three, but talks seem quiet. If the Clippers’ defense does not improve and become consistent heading to the playoffs, you can bet Doc Rivers would not be quiet this summer with trades.

source:  6. Spurs (38-15, LW No. 5). While there had been talk the Spurs wanted to upgrade their roster to make it back to the Finals, things have since gone quiet. If course, that’s just how the Spurs operate.

source:  7. Trail Blazers (36-17, LW 7). Lost to the Clippers and Thunder last week. However, in a sign of how things are turning in Portland, several All-Stars reportedly told LaMarcus Aldridge they would love to come play with him and Damian Lillard in Portland.

source:  8. Mavericks (32-22, LW 9). Winners of six of their last seven, their roster is their roster (don’t expect any deadline trades, unless they are minor) but this roster should be good enough to make the playoffs in the West.

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9. Grizzlies (29-23, LW 10). No trades expected and they didn’t have any All-Stars, but they do get Mike Conley back Tuesday and Marc Gasol’s knee injury was minor, so everything looks pretty good in Memphis.

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10. Suns (30-21, LW 8). The Pau Gasol trade with the Lakers still looms (although with Gasol still injured it seems far less likely) and the Suns have been one of the few potential buyers on the market. They have four first round picks in this draft and they don’t really want four rookies like that on the roster next year, so expect a move sooner or later.

source:  11. Warriors (31-22, LW 11). This team needs depth, Harrison Barnes was supposed to help provide it but his development didn’t take off from what we saw in the playoffs last year. Look for them to try and add at the deadline, ideally a backup point guard to help reduce Stephen Curry’s minutes. But they could use depth everywhere.

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12. Raptors (28-24, LW 12). They are not making a move at the deadline unless someone steps up and blows them away with an offer — the Raptors are thinking Atlantic Division crown and playoffs. Kyle Lowry stays. The Nets would like to make a run at Toronto but the Raptors have a much easier schedule from here on out, my money is on them.

source:  13. Bulls (27-25, LW 16). They made their big move shipping out Luol Deng, the Bulls will likely go with this roster the rest of the way. And with the way they are defending and grinding, nobody will want to see them come the playoffs.

source:  14. Nets (24-27, LW 14). The Nets remain in a “win now” mode and think they can make a run to catch the Raptors atop the Atlantic. I’m not sold. But don’t be surprised if they bring in Jarrett Jack or make other moves right at the deadline.

source:  15. Wizards (25-27, LW 13). John Wall put on a show and had the dunk of the night, winning him the Dunk Contest… which should have kept going at that point. The new format for that contest was a failure and you can bet it is gone next year.

source:  16. Hawks (25-26, LW 15). Paul Millsap seemed to just be soaking in the All-Star experience all weekend, as he should have been. Now the Hawks need to get serious, they have had a rough couple weeks and could start falling fast down the Eastern Conference standings if things don’t turn around.

source:  17. Pelicans (23-29, LW 17). New Orleans is a great city for hosting a big party, and at the end of the day that’s what the NBA’s All-Star weekend really is. I had a blast. Anthony Davis seemed to as well and represented the Pelicans well.

source:  18. Timberwolves (25-28, LW 18). How rough a climb will it be for Minnesota to make the playoffs? Right now Golden State is the eight seed out West and on pace for 48 wins this season, Minnesota would need to go 23-6 the rest of the way to make that number.

source:  19. Bobcats (23-30, LW 20). Charlotte is in a fight for a playoff spot with Detroit, New York and Cleveland all coming after them. They have a home-and-home with the Pistons this week which could be huge in that chase.

source:  20. Pistons (22-30, LW 21). They are just half a game back of Charlotte for the final playoff spot in the East (and tied in the loss column), now they have a big home-and-home with the Bobcats this week. The Pistons may well make the playoffs, still not sure that should save Joe Dumars’ job.

source:  21. Nuggets (24-27, LW 19). Denver has faded from the playoff picture in the West as they struggled on the road (especially defensively) but they have a run of home games coming up. If they want back in it they need to get hot now.

source:  22. Knicks (20-32, LW 22). Carmelo Anthony was putting up big numbers for the Eastern Conference while they were losing to the West, but it was his teammates that really sparked the comeback. Still, he is a huge star and if the Knicks are going to make the playoffs it will be because of him, not that supporting cast.

source:  23. Cavaliers (20-33, LW 28). Winners of four in a row and that has them in the playoff hunt, such as it is in the East. Kyrie Irving put on a show to win the All-Star Game MVP, can he carry that over to a team that needs him to be that guy every night?

source:  24. Celtics (19-35, LW 23). Lots of trade buzz about the Celtics being trade deadline sellers, the problem is there are not a lot of buyers. That means the buyers have options and can offer less in return. And with that, we have described Danny Ainge’s problem.

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25. Jazz (19-33, LW 27). Winners of three in a row, they have played some decent ball lately and Trey Burke is looking better. He also looked quick with the ball wining the All-Star Saturday Skills Contest with Damian Lillard.

source:  26. Kings (18-35, LW 24). They didn’t look good on a recent East Coast road trip (save for Jimmer Fredette in New York) as the consistency issues that have plagued this team all season continue. Don’t expect any big deadline deals, they made their move.

source:  27. Magic (16-38, LW 25). They are sellers at the trade deadline — Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis could all be moved. Or, none of them because the limited buyers are lowballing offers. Still, this is a team to watch this week… off the court. On it they are not pretty.

source:  28. Lakers (18-35, LW 26). The Lakers are shopping everyone not named Kobe Bryant but whether Pau Gasol gets moved, or if Jordan Hill ends up in Brooklyn, remains to be seen. Still, they could well make a deal.

source:  29. 76ers (15-39, LW 29). Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young would be on the move in a lot of years, but teams are not willing to send the young players and picks back that Philly GM Sam Hinkie wants. We’ll see if that changes, of if he lowers his asking price.

source:  30. Bucks (9-43, LW 30). There was some Larry Sanders trade buzz, but with him injured that is pretty much DOA. Don’t expect the Bucks to make a deadline move.

Defense found: Bucks overwhelm Celtics for 116-92 win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton scored 23 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo added 19 and the Milwaukee Bucks used a dominating first half to overwhelm the Boston Celtics 116-92 on Friday night, narrowing their deficit in the first-round playoff series to 2-1.

Eric Bledsoe and Jabari Parker each added 17 for the energized Bucks, who held the Celtics without a field goal for nearly an 11-minute stretch of the first half.

Milwaukee found its defense after a disheartening 14-point loss in Game 2, getting contributions from up and down the roster.

Backup center Thon Maker scored 14 points and had five of the Bucks’ 12 blocks. Pesky guard Matthew Dellavedova, a veteran of a championship run with the Cleveland Cavaliers, helped hold young Celtics point guard Terry Rozier to nine points on 2-of-7 shooting.

“The activity, if you take the stat sheet out of it, the activity and the energy that we brought … as you go through the game, that’s what you need, is the energy first,” coach Joe Prunty said.

Al Horford scored 16 for the Celtics, who fell behind by 23 at halftime and got no closer than 76-62 with 3:06 left in the third quarter on Jayson Tatum‘s 3-pointer.

The game was so well in hand that the Bucks closed out the victory even with Antetokounmpo on the bench for much of the fourth quarter with five fouls. Middleton had eight points in the fourth.

Game 4 is Sunday in Milwaukee. The Celtics will need to get off to a much better start if they want to avoid going home for Game 5 with a 2-2 series tie.

“We got into a hole. This is new for our group,” Horford said. “They had it going … and we really didn’t have an answer for them tonight.”

Milwaukee hustled for loose balls and stayed active around the paint, used its length to get deflections and disrupt Boston in the lane.

The 7-foot-1 Maker, in particular, provided a huge boost to help Milwaukee counter what had been a decisive edge off the bench for the Celtics. Maker got extended minutes only because starting center John Henson missed the game with a sore back.

Nearly everything else went Milwaukee’s way, too.

Parker, who voiced displeasure this week after playing just 24 minutes over the first two games, was 7 of 12 from the field and played 30 minutes. Bledsoe, outplayed by Rozier in the first two games, shot 8 of 13.

“Good win, lots of positives tonight. Quick turnaround … so we’ll have to do it again on Sunday,” Prunty said.

 

Wizards show some fight, top Raps 122-103, get series to 2-1

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WASHINGTON (AP) — All of about 2 1/2 minutes into the game, Washington forward Markieff Morris and Toronto’s OG Anunoby needed to be separated after a near-fight that drew in other players.

Early in the third quarter Friday night, Raptors guard Kyle Lowry was called for a flagrant foul when he swiped a hand across Bradley Beal‘s forehead as the Wizards guard went in for a breakaway layup. Later in that period, things really came close to spiraling out of control, but John Wall‘s bodyguard interceded when Washington’s All-Star jawed with Toronto’s Serge Ibaka.

As that scene unfolded on the court, spectators directed “U-S-A! U-S-A!” chants at the opponents from Canada, and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” blared over the arena’s speakers. Amid all the ruckus, Beal and Wall kept their heads and helped the Wizards pull further and further away for a 122-103 victory.

What was once a dull, lopsided series is suddenly quite interesting.

Beal heeded his coach’s plea to “do his job” by scoring 21 of his 28 points in the first half, Wall delivered 28 points and 14 assists, and the eighth-seeded Wizards cut their Eastern Conference first-round playoff deficit to 2-1.

“We’re not going out to try to box every game,” Beal said, before describing Morris as “a bully with a smile.”

Added Beal: “We came out tonight with an edge about ourselves.”

After letting the Raptors grab the first 2-0 series lead in franchise history, the Wizards came home and checked off every box coach Scott Brooks presented. They got Beal more involved after he made only three shots in Game 2; they actually led after the first quarter, 30-29; they produced 19 turnovers that led to 28 points.

“They came out and punched us,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “And we allowed them to.”

He meant that figuratively, of course, but the choice of words sure seemed apt.

The Raptors did appear to take the worse of the physical nature of the game.

DeMar DeRozan, who led Toronto with 23 points, wore a Band-Aid under his right eye afterward. Reserve Pascal Siakam held a bag of ice over a cut on his lip that required three stitches.

“Ain’t nobody fighting out here,” said Lowry, who had 19 points and eight assists. “I mean, it got physical, but ain’t nobody fighting. It’s a heated moment, but that’s the game of basketball.”

Each team boasts a pair of elite, All-Star guards. This time, Washington’s pair came out on top.

The start initially had the look of “Here we go again,” as Toronto moved ahead 27-18. The Raptors, after all, outscored Washington by an average of 11 points in the first period over Games 1 and 2. But this time, Washington responded with a 12-point run capped by Beal’s 3 with under a minute left.

Beal scored 12 in the quarter a day after he, Wall and Brooks met to discuss ways to get Beal more involved in the offense. Entering Friday, Beal was averaging only 14 points in the playoffs, well below his 22.6 average during the regular season.

“We need both our guys to step up,” Brooks said about Beal and Wall. “It was good tonight.”

 

Pacers erase 17-point deficit to take 2-1 lead over Cavs

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 30 points, leading the Indiana Pacers back from a 17-point halftime deficit for a 92-90 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night for a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.

Cleveland was 39-0 during the regular season when leading after three quarters and kept that perfect mark intact with a Game 2 win.

The incredible second-half charge came exactly one year after Indiana blew a 26-point halftime lead in a historic playoff collapse against the Cavs.

This time, the Pacers delivered a devastating blow to the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs – on a night LeBron Jones joined Michael Jordan as the only players in playoff history to record 100 double-doubles. James finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Cleveland from losing its first game this season after leading following the third quarter.

The biggest reason for the collapse: Bogdanovic.

After charging back with striking distance, he completed a four-point play to finally give the Pacers an 81-77 lead with 6:10 left. Bogdanovic followed that with another to make it as seven-point game.

Then James answered with the next seven to tie it.

Bogdanovic came right back with a layup and another 3 before Thaddeus Young scored to give the Pacers a 91-84 cushion with 53 seconds left.

James knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to four, and the Cavs got another 3 from Kevin Love with 7 seconds left to make it 91-90.

Darren Collison made 1 of 2 free throws with 5 seconds left, giving Cleveland one more chance. But J.R. Smith‘s long desperation heave came up short..

Shaq attacks verse in new TV series "Poetry in America"

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shaquille O’Neal called himself “The Big Baryshnikov” and “The Big Socrates” in his days in the NBA. Now he can add “The Big Shakespeare.”

The basketball Hall-of-Famer, TNT TV analyst, commercial pitchman and onetime rapper is putting poetry on his lengthy resume as part of a new public television series.

He brings his best bard to a dramatic reading of a poem in his episode of the 12-part “Poetry in America ,” then discusses it with Elisa New, a Harvard English professor who hosts the show.

“I’ve always been into poetry,” O’Neal said in an interview with The Associated Press in a sunlit conference room overlooking the Los Angeles skyline. “I’ve been writing rhymes all my life.”

“Poetry in America,” distributed by American Public Television and presented by WGBH in Boston, is airing at various times on local public TV stations. Some episodes, including Shaq’s, are already available to stream.

On the show the 46-year-old former All-Star from the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat recites “Fast Break,” a poem by Edward Hirsch from his 1986 book “Wild Gratitude.” It describes some very imperfect players who manage to put together a perfect basketball play.

“A hook shot kisses the rim and hangs there, helplessly, but doesn’t drop,” the poem begins, “and for once our gangly starting center boxes out his man.”

O’Neal, whose 350-pound bulk would never be called “gangly,” still related to the center in the verse, but said he initially missed the poem’s point.

“The first mistake I made was thinking it was about basketball,” he said. “I read it real quick I said `fast break, shovel passes, sure, this is what I do.”‘

He said New, who sat next to O’Neal in the interview and like almost everyone is utterly dwarfed by him, gave him whole new insights that led to a fast friendship.

“When she broke it down intelligently for me, I was very astounded and very amazed,”

The poem is written for a close friend and playing partner of Hirsch’s who had just died. That’s easy to miss if you skip past the dedication at the top, as most readers do.

“It’s fun that only later as you’re reading, you look back at that dedication,” New said. “One line can change everything.”

Suddenly it becomes an examination of transcendent moments and human connections.

“It’s about friendship, it’s about caring, it’s about emotions,” O’Neal said. “I had missed that.”

His latest learning experience took O’Neal’s thoughts back to high school, where he had a 69 percent in English after blowing a test during the basketball playoffs, and needed a 70 to stay eligible for sports.

The teacher allowed him a retest, and suggested a tutor.

“This guy, his name was McDougal, he was a geek, he saved my academic life,” O’Neal said. “Everybody bullied him in school, except me.”

O’Neal said he took the work and “broke it down, made it seem so simple.”

“I retook the test, got an 80, and we won the state championship,” O’Neal said.

“Now,” he said, “I always tell kids I’m a geek.”

The professor had another name for him. “He’s a learner!”

O’Neal partly looked the poet during the interview in a polo shirt and jeans, having traded his basketball sneakers for a pair of slip-on Toms shoes, size 22.

When he wanted them, a company executive told him “it wouldn’t be worth it to make them in my size unless I bought 500 of them,” O’Neal said. “I told him to give me 2,000.”