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.

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.