Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Charles Barkley: Klay Thompson is a better player than Kevin Durant

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You know the NBA season is back when Charles Barkley is just talking out his… er, saying ridiculous things.

On Inside the NBA before the tip off of San Antonio thrashing Golden State, Barkley said then tried to defend the idea that Klay Thompson is a better all-around player than Kevin Durant. It was vintage Barkley — and it’s what makes the barbershop feel of Inside the NBA must-watch television every week.

The flaw in Barkley’s argument is that he tries to use the “two-way player” argument to try and balance out Durant’s and Thompson’s offensive contributions. Is Thompson a better defender than Durant? Yes. Even though people underestimate Durant’s defense a little, I will stipulate Thompson is a better defender. But does that defense make up for how much more offensive versatility and shot creation Durant brings to the table compared to Thompson? No. Again, Thompson is an excellent offensive player and probably the second best shooter in the game, but he does not create shots or force a defense to adjust the way Durant does. KD’s amazing offense tips the scales more than Thompson’s defense. KD is the better overall player.

And The Jet is way too quick to dismiss Kawhi Leonard as maybe the second best player in the league. But Leonard made his case just after these comments.

Watch Jonathan Simmons posterize JaVale McGee

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This was the exclamation point on the Spurs thrashing of the Warriors on opening night.

Jonathan Simmons — who was a beast in the first half and finished the night with 20 points off the bench — was pounding the ball out top, then as the clock wound down blew by rookie Patrick McCaw, got into the lane looking for the two-handed slam. When JaVale McGee slid over to contest Simmons switched to the one-hander and finished over the big man.

That’s the way to start an NBA season.

Three things we learned Tuesday: Kawhi’s Spurs are not to be trifled with

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 25:  Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles the ball up court against the Golden State Warriors during the third quarter in an NBA basketball game at ORACLE Arena on October 25, 2016 Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The NBA season has returned, and we are back with our morning recap of what you need to know from the night before around the NBA — three things we learned. So if you were busy watching the Cubs bats go cold, here is what you missed.

1) The Spurs are Kawhi Leonard’s team — and they are magnificent. Every year we give lip service to the “don’t sleep on the Spurs” idea, and then we get wrapped up talking about some other bright, shiny new object. Like say a move from Oklahoma City to the Bay Area. We do exactly what we said we weren’t going to do.

Then San Antonio reminds us they are fierce competitors and contenders. Tuesday night the Spurs went into Oracle Arena and slapped Kevin Durant and the Warriors around. This was an old-school beatdown. In a game where the Warriors had the winners of the last three MVP awards, Kawhi Leonard was the best player on the court — a career-high 35 points on 21 shots, he got to the line 15 times, and he had five steals. Tim Duncan is gone and this is now Leonard’s team, without question. He was simply unfair, just torturing the Warriors on both ends and leading a physical Spurs team that dominated the glass — the Spurs had 24 second chance points to the Warriors 4.

Leonard didn’t do it alone, LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points and 14 boards, Jonathan Simmons came off the bench for 20 and had a highlight chasedown block on Stephen Curry. But make no mistake, this was Leonard’s team and night.

Games in October are incredibly poor predictors of the outcome of a May playoff series. Both of these teams will evolve over the course of the season, and the Warriors will get things figured out. But we learned on opening night there is no doubt the Spurs are Kawhi’s team — and they are not to be trifled with.

2) Golden State’s defense needs some work. It was easy to see the rough spots in the Warriors offense the team still needs to be smoothed out — the passes to teammates who had already vacated the spot, the threes not being in rhythm (7-of-33 from deep, a number of those looks uncontested), and all those stars playing next to each other rather than with each other. It was to be expected.

However, offense wasn’t the Warriors’ big problem — their defense was atrocious. The Spurs scored at a ridiculous 125.9 points per 100 possessions pace, because literally half of their shot attempts were uncontested (according to the NBA.com player tracking stats). San Antonio had an eFG% of 54.1, and the Spurs grabbed the offensive rebound on 41.2 percent of their shots when they did miss. Leonard had a career-high 35 points, Aldridge 26, and the Spurs time after time got the shot they wanted — and they had 24 fast break points, the Warriors did not get back in transition defense. The Warriors missed Andrew Bogut inside, both as a rim protector and on the glass (this was not Zaza Pachulia’s best night).

The past two years, the Warriors had a top five NBA defense, and that as much as their vaunted shooting was the reason they went to back-to-back Finals. No doubt they made the right move adding Durant to the roster — they are going to figure this all out. This was the first game of 82, and we knew there would be some bumps at the start. But more than the offense, Steve Kerr and his staff need to get the Warriors back to being a defensive force.

3) Damian Lillard’s brilliant offense overcame his defense. Again. Damian Lillard came into this season saying he wanted to be MVP, and on opening night he put up those kinds of numbers — 39 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and he led his team to an opening night win against Utah. Portland did a great job of setting their high picks especially high, then letting Lillard go downhill fast off them right at Rudy Gobert — and Lillard finished around and over the big man all night.

Portland had an eight-point lead at the half and led by double digits for chunks of the second quarter, but in the third Utah took the lead because they exposed Lillard on the other end. Utah started running a George Hill/Joe Johnson pick-and-roll (1/3 action) and when Lillard switched it they got the ball to Johnson and he just overpowered Lillard on his way to 29 points. Johnson shot 6-of-7 in the paint and scored at will all night.

Lillard came back and had 16 of his points in the fourth quarter to help Portland get the win, he was nothing short of brilliant on offense. The Blazers got enough stops to rack up the victory at home. But their small backcourt of Lillard and C.J. McCollum is going to be a defensive challenge all season long.

Opening night bonus note: LeBron James was having fun at the expense of the Knicks’ defense. The Cavaliers cruised to a win over New York, and LeBron James had a triple-double and did whatever he wished. And what he wished was to dunk. A lot.

Watch Jonathan Simmons’ chasedown block on Stephen Curry


Jonathan Simmons did his best LeBron James impression on opening night.

While the Spurs were running the Warriors out of Oracle Arena — a 129-100 Spurs win — Simmons had a fantastic chasedown block on Stephen Curry. It was one of the plays of the game (most of the rest came from Kawhi Leonard).

Simmons had 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting off the bench for the Spurs in the win, which included a poster dunk on JaVale McGee late. Just to put some icing on the win.