Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers

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.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.

James scores 33, Cavaliers reach second straight NBA Finals

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TORONTO — LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It’s the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it’s his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

“I had to bring my game,” he said. “I had to be in attack mode from the beginning.”

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith had 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday’s Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered “Let’s go, Raptors! Let’s go, Raptors!” throughout most of the final three minutes.

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland’s nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

TIP INS

Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. … Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

Reports: P.J. Carlesimo to join Sixers staff as Brett Brown’s lead assistant

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 02:  Head coach P.J. Carlesimo of the Brooklyn Nets watches as his team take on the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Nets defeated the Bulls 95-92. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Last season, when new president Jerry Colangelo started shaking things up in Philadelphia, he brought in Mike D’Antoni to be a lead assistant next to Brett Brown. This led to all kinds of speculation around the league that the Colangelos were trying to bring back the old Suns brain trust (especially when Jerry hired his son Bryan to be GM).

However, D’Antoni jumped ship to be the head coach of the Houston Rockets.

Enter, P.J. Carlesimo.

Carlesimo is a good fit, but that’s not going to quell the rumors that the Colangelos are not comfortable with Brown (despite giving him a contract extension). The Sixers need to give Brown a legitimate shot — he’s been like a contestant on Chopped the past few seasons, given a ridiculous basket of ingredients and told to turn Mango, octopus and graham crackers into a four-star meal. He’s gotten them to play defense (at times) and started to build a culture. He has earned the chance to show what he can do with a better lineup.

Which is what the Sixers will have next season.

Nuggets’ Jusuf Nurkic likes idea of two-bigs lineup with Nikola Jokic

DENVER, CO - APRIL 5:  Jusuf Nurkic #23 of the Denver Nuggets controls the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Pepsi Center on April 5, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Thunder defeated the Nuggets 124-102. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Late last season, Nuggets coach Mike Malone tried something out of the box the way the NBA is trending — playing two young bigs together. Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic, the latter of whom finished in third in the Rookie of the Year voting. Small ball may be in vogue, but going big has worked pretty well these playoffs for Oklahoma City with Steven Adams and Enes Kanter (and Serge Ibaka).

It didn’t work all that well for Denver — in just 92 minutes together the Nuggets were outscored by 7.1 points per 100 possessions, mostly because the offense was terrible.

But Nurkic wants to try it again next season, he told the Nuggets’ official Web site.

“I’m happy about the big lineup [with Nikola]. “Basketball has kind of changed. The NBA has gone smaller because of [the] Golden State [Warriors]. In the [Western Conference] semi-finals, look at [Oklahoma City’s Steven] Adams, [Enes] Kanter, and [Serge] Ibaka. They played all those guys and they see the difference. Me and Nikola have great communication because we played in the same league, we played against each other.”

He’s referring to their time in the Serbian league where the two played before going to the NBA.

While it could only be used situationally, expect Malone to experiment with this lineup more. There are some serious defensive questions (neither is exactly fleet of foot), and there could be spacing issues. But if the league moves one way, the smart teams and coaches think about counters.