Miami Heat v New York Knicks

PBT NBA Power Rankings: Miami putting its foot down on the gas

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The PBT power rankings have returned with not a lot of change from last week — Miami, Indiana, San Antonio and Oklahoma City are the top four (in whatever order you wish) then there is a gap to the Clippers, Rockets and teams trying to knock on that door. Meanwhile the Sixers look like they really might go 0-36 to end the season.


 
source:  1. Heat (42-14, Last Week No. 1). Miami is 9-1 in its last 10 games and, just as it did last season, is starting to find its focus and a groove as the playoffs near. They are just 2.5 games back of Indiana in race for top in the East, and LeBron is back in the conversation with Kevin Durant for MVP. But they really could have used Caron Butler (or Danny Granger).

 
source:  2. Pacers (46-13, LW 2). Evan Turner is still trying to find his groove — he shot 8-of-14 vs. Boston then 2-of-9 vs. Utah. He needs to find it fast. Last week’s soft schedule is gone as this week it is the Warriors, plus on the road to face the Bobcats, Rockets and Mavericks.

 
source:  3. Spurs (43-16, LW No. 4). San Antonio is starting to get healthy — Sunday night even Tony Parker was back and he looked surprisingly sharp in the win over Dallas. Interesting showdown this week vs. Miami, but with a lot of home games the next couple weeks look for them to make a run at OKC and the best record in the West.

 
source:  4. Thunder (45-15, LW 3).. After a couple rough games as he tried to shake the rust off, Russell Westbrook shot 11-of-13 on Sunday. That’s good, the Thunder are going to need a lot of offense with Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha now out until about the start of the playoffs. Steven Adams and Perry Jones are now starters in OKC.

 
source:  5. Clippers (41-20, LW 6). The addition of Danny Granger drew a lot of attention this week, and while he’s an upgrade over Antwan Jamison he is not a massive upgrade over Jared Dudley (Dudley has shot better from every spot on the court this season). Glen Davis is the real buyout season steal — he is a massive upgrade over Ryan Hollins and will get as many minutes as he can handle. Is that enough of an upgrade to have the Clips in the Spurs/Thunder class?

 
source:  6. Rockets (40-19, LW 5). In their last five games the Rockets have lost to the Warriors and Clippers, beaten the Suns. On the schedule this week is Miami, Indiana and Portland (and at Orlando, where Howard remains infamous). Next week it’s the Thunder. Bulls and Heat again. We’re about to see just how good Houston really is right now.

 
source:  7. Trail Blazers (41-18, LW 7). Winners of five in a row without LaMarcus Aldridge — that is big, I don’t care if the schedule was pretty soft in that stretch. This is how they hold on to a top 4 seed. The streak could reach 7 hosting the Lakers and Hawks, but then it’s a tough Texas road swing.

 
source:  8. Grizzlies (33-25, LW 8).  So maybe Dave Joerger can coach just fine once you give him a healthy roster with a few more offensive options. Memphis is hot and just 1.5 games back of the eighth-seed Suns, but they are going to have to win on a heavy road schedule the rest of the way to fully close that gap, including three games this week.

 
source:  9. Bulls (33-26, LW 12). Key to the Bulls hot play recently is that Joakim Noah is giving them offense — he had a triple-double Sunday and the Bulls have broken 100 in four straight games. They have won 9-of-10 but have big tests vs. Memphis, Miami this week.

 
source:  10. Warriors (36-24, LW 10). They are 2-2 so far on a six-game road trip with the Pacers and Celtics remaining on the docket. So 3-3 looks possible. I thought Steve Blake was a great deadline move by the Warriors but he’s been pretty meh so far, still trying to find his way in their systems.

 
source:  11. Mavericks (36-25, LW 11). Vince Carter has gone retro with a fun little scoring run of late — at least 15 in each of the last five games — but the loss to the Spurs on Sunday was a reminder that as constructed this is a third tier team in the West. Very likely they are a one-and-done playoff matchup, and if the Grizzlies are the eight seed teams would much rather face Dallas.

 
source:  12. Suns (35-24, LW 9). This is a tough week on the schedule — Clippers, Thunder and Warriors — but after that they have a softer schedule than the Grizzlies who are chasing them (Memphis spends a lot more time on the road). The Suns might steal one this week with Goran Dragic back and sparking their offense again.

 
source:  13. Wizards (31-28, LW 15). Winners of six in a row including dramatic triple-overtime win over Raptors — doing it recently without Nene is even more impressive. The John Wall/Marcin Gortat pairing had some rough patches to start, but they have looked pretty good recently.

 
source:  14. Raptors (33-26, LW 13). DeMar DeRozan has scored 30 points or more in three straight games and averaged better than 26 points a game in February. What was impressive Sunday when he did it against Golden State was DeRozan was getting his shots within the flow of the offense. The ball is not sticking, there isn’t too much isolation. That bodes well for the future.

source:  15. Timberwolves (29-29, LW 17). They got Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin back on Saturday, which will certainly aid their dreams of a late playoff push. Problem is that to catch the pace the 8-seed Suns are on Minnesota will have to go about 19-5 the rest of the way. That’s asking a lot.

 
source:  16. Nets (28-29, LW 14). If they want to climb up to a top four seed and have home court in the first round they need to make up four games on Toronto or Chicago — which means beating the Bulls Monday night would be big.

 
source:  17. Bobcats (27-32, LW 16). Rough stretch for Charlotte with the Spurs and Thunder last week then the Heat and Pacers to open this week. They let Ben Gordon go but because he wouldn’t take a low-enough buyout to make them happy they waived him March 2, a day too late for him to land on a playoff roster this season. Agents notice that kind of thing and it doesn’t help the Bobcats come free agency.

 
source:  18. Cavaliers (24-37, LW 21). They have 3.5 games to make up on the struggling Hawks to climb into the final playoff spot in the East — Kyrie Irving clearly wants it as he got his first ever triple-double last week (against the Jazz). The Hawks have the easier schedule remaining so the Cavs need wins like this week against the Bobcats and Knicks.

 
source:  19. Hawks (26-32, LW 18). They are 1-9 in their last 10 games and are barely holding on to the final playoff spot in the East. Things don’t get easier this week on a West Coast road swing with the Trail Blazers, Warriors and Clippers on the docket. The Hawks really miss Paul Millsap and his return in the coming week or two would be a huge boost.

 
source:  20. Pistons (23-36, LW 20). No, it does’t took like Isiah Thomas is coming in to be GM of the Pistons, which is good news for fans of the franchise but bad news for us bloggers (Thomas would be a headline machine). The Pistons are just hard to watch because their defense is so bad. So very bad.

 
source:  21. Lakers (20-39, LW 25). The Lakers beat the Kings last week, making them not the worst team in the West. Much to the disappointment of a fan base now fully in tank mode (for a year). As we might have expected, MarShon Brooks fits pretty well in the free-wheeling Mike D’Antoni offense.

 
source:  22. Nuggets (25-33, LW 22). They are 2-10 in their last dozen games, and both wins were against the Bucks. Ouch. Ty Lawson being out just left this team rudderless on the court and there is nothing Brian Shaw can do about it.

 
source:  23. Kings (20-39, LW 24). DeMarcus Cousins got suspended one game last week for punching Patrick Beverley in the stomach, plus he picked up another technical (his 15th this season) and is one away from an automatic suspension. If Cousins wants to know why he doesn’t make Team USA this summer for the World Championships, moments like this are it.

 
source:  24. Jazz (21-38, LW 28). Maybe they caught Indiana on an off-night, but the Jazz picked up a moral victory against the Pacers last week. Of course, it was another loss in the standings. Trey Burke has had his ups and downs this season, but he’d still be third on my ROY ballot right now.

 
source:  25. Pelicans (23-36, LW 19). Losers of seven in a row but that could change this week with a soft schedule (Kings, Lakers, Bucks). Jrue Holiday is now out for the season as well as injuries have just decimated what could have been an interesting team.

 
source:  26. Knicks (21-38, LW 23). Carmelo Anthony is frustrated, but how much money is he willing to leave on the table to go to a contender? If the Bulls amnesty Carlos Boozer and dump Taj Gibson’s salary they will be able to offer ‘Melo within a couple million of what the Knicks can, but if I were Chicago I’d keep Gibson and try to get ‘Melo to take closer to $14 million (depending on other moves, but like $8 million less than the Knicks). See how bad he really wants to win.

 
source:  27. Magic (19-43, LW 26). Victor Oladipo has not looked good of late, but Tobias Harris is healthy and had 31 on Sunday, reminding us that he was a real steal a year ago and will be part of the future being built down there. Oladipo will too, but he needs seasoning.

 
source:  28. Celtics (20-40, LW 27). Rajon Rondo’s birthday AWOL wasn’t really that big a deal. That said he has looked pretty good when playing of late and that is likely going to spark a lot more Rondo trade talk this July.

 
source:  29. Bucks (11-47, LW 29). They didn’t just beat Philly last Monday, they destroyed them. Dominated them. Which really says more about the Sixers than anything, but the Bucks played the Pacers better than you would think last week and this week the schedule is soft enough we could see another win.

 
source:  30. 76ers (15-45, LW 30). Coach Brett Brown said he isn’t sure his team can win another game this season — they lost to the Bucks and Magic last week. I’m not sure I can watch another Sixers game this season, it’s that ugly.

Revived in crunch time, LeBron James pushes Cavaliers past Hawks in Game 1

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) reacts against the Atlanta Hawks in the first half in Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Monday, May 2, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
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LeBron James  hadn’t scored in more than 10 minutes, and it was getting late in the fourth quarter. The Hawks had gone on 11-0 and 10-0 runs since his last points. And Paul Millsap forced LeBron to lose control of the ball as he went up for a left-handed layup.

A moment of truth for the Cavaliers?

LeBron pushed the ball through the hoop with his right hand while being fouled.

If you didn’t get the message, he flexed and slapped his right bicep once he landed.

It wasn’t always smooth, but Cleveland overpowered Atlanta 104-93 in Game 1 of their second-round series Monday. The Cavaliers have won seven straight overall against the Hawks, including a sweep in last year’s Eastern Conference finals, and LeBron is now 9-0 against Atlanta in the playoffs.

“Obviously, you could tell that they went through a longer series than us,” said LeBron, whose Cavs swept the Pistons eight days ago. The Hawks beat the Celtics in six four days later.

Home Game 1 winners have won the series 85% of the time, and Atlanta will have its work cut out to become an exception.

LeBron’s offensive passiveness during Atlanta’s comeback was unwelcome, but when needed, he delivered. His 3-point play highlighted a 17-2 run that would’ve ended the game if not for a garbage-time 3-pointer by the Hawks. LeBron (25 points, nine assists, seven rebounds, five steals and a block) also stole the ball from red-hot Dennis Schröder on consecutive late possessions. This was two-way excellence when it counted, the type of production that has taken LeBron to five straight Finals.

The Cavaliers had such a big lead (18) to blow because they were hot from beyond the arc (15-for-31, 48%). When they missed, Tristan Thompson (seven offensive rebounds) got them extra opportunities.

Kevin Love (17 points and 11 rebounds) threw his body around enough to get a double-double despite shooting 4-for-17. Kyrie Irving (21 points on 8-of-18 shooting and eight assists) forced too many bad shots, but he made some tough ones and kept the ball moving.

At times, it seemed Irving was going one-on-one with Schröder (27 points on 5-of-10 3-point shooting and six assists). As impressive as Schröder was from beyond the arc and attacking the rim, Kent Bazemore (16 points, 12 rebounds and four assists) was his only reliable scoring sidekick.

After allowing 30 points in the first quarter, Atlanta cranked up it defense to the frenetic level showed against Boston. Millsap (17 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, four blocks and two steals), Al Horford (10 points, six rebounds, three blocks and two steals) and Bazemore (two steals) led the effort.

And Cleveland surrendered open 3s when the Hawks moved the ball, which they usually did. If they make more of those open looks, it’s easy to see them winning.

But can they win four of the next six games?

As long as LeBron plays for the Cavs, that’s a monumental challenge.

Larry Bird on Frank Vogel’s future with Pacers: “I don’t know what’s going to happen”

MIAMI, FL - MAY 24:  Team President Larry Bird of the Indiana Pacers looks on against the Miami Heat during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on May 24, 2014 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Larry Bird wanted the Pacers to play smaller and faster this season. The Pacers started the season doing that, but they weren’t defending consistently and not winning enough (dropping 7-of-11 through one stretch in December), so coach Frank Vogel started to play bigger and slower. It worked well enough for the Pacers to make the playoffs and go seven games deep in the first round against the Raptors.

Team president Larry Bird isn’t happy — he doesn’t like that Vogel changed the team’s style. For that reason, it’s unclear if Vogel — whose contract is up — will be back with the Pacers next season. Here is what Bird told Greg Doyle of the Indianapolis Star.

Indiana Pacers President Larry Bird said Monday he hasn’t decided whether to bring back coach Frank Vogel for a seventh season, telling IndyStar: “It’s no secret — I want us to score more points…

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Bird said….

“Frank’s a great guy. He’s going to be fine no matter what happens. If he’s back, he’ll be fine here. If he’s not, he’s not. We’ll see.”

If Vogel were allowed to walk away, a host of other teams would line up to pay him. Houston would be an interesting fit (although that franchise reportedly has its sights set on Jeff Van Gundy).

Here’s the question Bird and team owner Herb Simon need to answer: If not Vogel, who do you have that’s better? Think about the coaches still on the market, who is better than Vogel?

Vogel gets his teams to defend like few other coaches in the league (the Pacers were third in the league in defensive rating this season with a largely overhauled roster), and that is the foundation of any winning team. Force an “offensive coordinator” assistant on Vogel if you want, but to give up one of the better young coaches in the NBA would be a mistake by the Pacers.

And if you want to play smaller and faster, get — and in the case of Solomon Hill try to keep — players who fit that style. Right now the Pacers roster is not constructed to be great that way.

Hornets future unclear with 4 starters becoming free agents

MIAMI, FL - MAY 01: Kemba Walker #15 of the Charlotte Hornets takes the floor during Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on May 1, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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 Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – The Charlotte Hornets have a major decision ahead of them this offseason – keep the core group from a team that tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference or revamp the roster by adding new pieces.

With four starters set to become free agents and only seven players under contract next season, the Hornets have the flexibility to make major changes if they so choose.

Coach Steve Clifford said Monday he’d prefer to coach the same group again, but acknowledged it might be difficult to re-sign everyone given the NBA salary cap.

Much of the Hornets future could be predicated on what happens with unrestricted free agent Nicolas Batum, whom Clifford acknowledged will be the team’s No. 1 priority in free agency. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points along with 6.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game for the Hornets during the regular season, although his production was limited in the postseason due to a foot injury. The Hornets lost in seven games to the Miami Heat on Sunday.

Batum could command a max contract this offseason due to the increase in the NBA salary cap. And while it is debatable if he’s worth that much, Clifford knows he’s a valuable cog in the starting lineup.

When asked if he wants to return next year, Batum said, “Why not?,” saying this past season was one of the most enjoyable of his eight-year NBA career. He liked the freedom Clifford gave him and the idea of being one of first two options on offense.

“I want to talk to (the Hornets) first, for sure,” Batum said of free agency. “July 1 will be a crazy day, but will Charlotte be my first call? Yes.”

However, Batum indicated he only wants to return if the Hornets make an effort to bring back the nucleus of this year’s team.

He said the chemistry of this year’s Hornets team was outstanding, on and off the court.

Along with Batum, three others starters – Courtney Lee, Marvin Williams and Al Jefferson – are also unrestricted free agents. Backup Jeremy Lin is almost certainly going to opt out of the final year of his contract given he has outperformed the $2 million salary he’s set to make in 2016-17.

“If you asked me would I be interested in coming back, there’s no question in my mind – it’s a resounding yes,” Lin said. “I would be very interested in coming back.”

Lee, Williams and Jefferson also indicated their desire to return to the Hornets as well, but it remains unclear if general manager Rich Cho can – or even wants to – bring everyone back for another run at the playoffs or if he’ll look in a different direction to upgrade.

Cho is expected to meet with the media later this week.

“I feel like any time, especially in pro sports, when you keep a group of guys together for three or four years, whatever the case may be, you can do some really good things,” Williams said.

A look at what the Hornets face this offseason:

BIGGEST NEED: Rebounding. The Hornets rebounded well in the regular season, but Clifford said the team’s struggles on the glass in Games 6 and 7 against the Heat was a big reason it was ousted from the playoffs.

GOOD NEWS: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who missed all but seven games due to shoulder injuries, is expected back next season. The former No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft is considered the team’s top defensive player.

BAD NEWS: By virtue of making the playoffs, the Hornets don’t have a lottery pick and may not have a chance to find the dominant offensive player that Clifford so desperately covets in the draft.

TOUGH ENDING: Kemba Walker said while losing to Miami in Game 7 was disappointing, the season is “one to be proud of.” Walked add, “At one point we were 17-20 and then we finished the season with 48 wins. I don’t think anybody expected that. Nobody even thought we would make the playoffs, so for us to force a Game 7 against a really good team like Miami.”

ZELLER AT CENTER: The Hornets plan to stick with Cody Zeller at center next season – instead of power forward – but Clifford said he still wants the 7-footer to work on his outside shot.

Doc Rivers says he doesn’t plan to break up Clippers’ core

Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers leans on the scorer's table during the second half in Game 5 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers, Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Trail Blazers won 108-98. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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Once again the Clippers had an impressive 53-win season where they were sixth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating — something done without Blake Griffin for large stretches of it — but it ended early in the playoffs. This time the reason was a legitimate one — Chris Paul and Griffin were lost to injuries — but the results are the same.

Is it time for a major overhaul in Los Angeles?

Not if you ask coach/GM Doc Rivers. Here is what he said on Monday, via Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times and Dan Woike of the Orange County Register.

Those free agents Rivers likes are key bench guys: Jamal Crawford, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jeff Green. In the summer of 2017, Rivers and everyone else on the planet expects Paul and Griffin to opt out.

While the Clippers are good there is one big problem — Golden State is better and not going anywhere. They loom over the West like Everest. And that’s not to mention the Spurs will continue to be good and, depending on what happens with their key free agent, Oklahoma City is a very good team. The top of the West is stacked, and it’s hard to see the Clippers climbing out of it as currently constructed. They are in a loop where they are good but not good enough.

Changing that is not simple.

There are plenty of rumors that the Clippers will seriously listen to offers for Griffin this summer, and that they laid the groundwork for it at the deadline. But with Griffin showing some age and wanting a long max contract a year from now, how much are teams going to give up to get him if they could lose him in free agency? And will those teams want to keep him at that price in 2017? While the Clippers may be open to a deal they are a win-now team that can’t just get prospects and picks back for him, they need to get better now. That deal may not be available.

The Clippers most likely will come back with their core next season and make one more run at it, just because better options will not present themselves.

But the Clippers will be out there looking for a blockbuster.