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.

Pistons-Kings game delayed for smoke over court (video)

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DeMarcus Cousins, in his eternal battle with referees (and everyone else), retroactively won every argument he’s ever had when he had to alert the officials in last night’s Pistons-Kings game to the large cloud of smoke coming toward the court. It was only then that the refs stopped play.

But the best reaction to the mistimed fog machine was Sacramento coach Dave Joerger:

LeBron James tweets: I’m not mad at Cavaliers GM David Griffin

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers rallies his teammates in the huddle during player introductions prior to the game Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena on December 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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After tearing into the Cavaliers’ roster construction last night, LeBron James said he’d tweet even more thoughts.

LeBron delivered, softening the point everyone amplified (that he wants roster improvements) and emphasizing the point that got overlooked (that he’s on board with Cleveland general manager David Griffin):

I’m guessing LeBron saw how his comments went over and wanted to quiet the storm he created. What he said sounds so much more resentful. These tweets read as much more constructive.

But the underlying point remains: LeBron is unsatisfied with the roster.

He won’t be a free agent until 2018, but remember, dissatisfaction with the Heat’s roster contributed to him bolting Miami.

Wizards wearing all black to Celtics game for a figurative funeral

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The Celtics and Wizards have a little rivalry brewing:

The latest chapter comes for tonight’s game, with the Wizards – imitating a commonly used fashion for closeout playoff games – wearing all black to the arena.

Kelly Oubre Jr.:

We’re wearing all black to the game. So you know where we’re going with that.

Round three. Let’s get it.

Wall (as Beal yells encouragement in the background):

All black everything. A funeral.

A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

When Jae Crowder was asked about the Wizards all-black gear, his initial response…“That’s cute!”

Isaiah Thomas, via Blakely:

“This is definitely not Game 7 or the playoffs,” said Isaiah Thomas. “But if they want to take it that serious, they can.”

Gotta agree with the Celtics here. This is an absurd level of motivational showmanship for a January game.

But I also love it! These petty feuds are fantastic and spice up a long regular season.

My favorite part of the Wizards’ funeral motif: Even if they “bury” Boston tonight, these teams meet again in March.

‘It’s eating me alive:’ DeMarcus Cousins again leading Kings’ longshot playoff push

Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins, right, drives against Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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When the Kings drafted DeMarcus Cousins, he named his rookie goals: “Get to the playoffs, go for the championship.” But the NBA humbled the young player, as Sacramento went just 24-58 and missed the postseason for the fifth straight year. Cousins emerged for his second season resolute on a more-modest goal: “Playoffs. We’ve got to make the playoffs this year. It’s not even a goal. It’s basically in our contract, I believe. So, we’ve got to make the playoffs this year.”

Five seasons later, Cousins is still chasing that elusive postseason trip.

“It’s eating me alive,” Cousins said. “Every loss or every time another team wins in battling for the eighth spot, it’s eating me alive. Our only goal is to be in the playoffs this season.”

A depressing chase for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, where every team in the race is at least seven games under .500, has opened the door for the 17-27 Kings. They’re 1.5 games and three teams out of playoff position – a more daunting challenge than often realized. Not only must they play better, they must hope a couple teams ahead of them don’t also heat up. 538 gives Sacramento just a 5% chance of reaching the postseason, and ESPN is even more pessimistic at 3.8%.

Beginning his career with seven straight lottery trips would be another crushing blow to Cousins, who has built a credible case as the NBA’s best center. Greg Monroe is the only current player with more win shares who hasn’t reached the playoffs:

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Nobody nears Cousins besides Monroe, and the next-closest player, Jazz center Rudy Gobert, likely makes the playoffs this year. Monroe leads in win shares, because he entered the league more polished than Cousins and built a head start (and because this stat probably inflates’ Monroe’s contributions relative to Cousins’.) Monroe has never neared Cousins’ peak, and Monroe is now a backup for the Bucks. The only thing second-team about Cousins is his two All-NBA appearances.

Kevin Love is the only other player since the NBA-ABA merger to make multiple All-NBA teams before his first playoff season. He, of course, left the Timberwolves for the Cavaliers to escape lists like these.

On the other hand, there have been indications from both sides Cousins will soon sign a veteran-designated-player contract extension projected to be worth more than $219 million over five years. Staying in Sacramento and playing for owner Vivek Ranadive seems like the surest bet to keep Cousins’ postseason drought active.

Cousins already ranks in the top 25 all-time in win shares before a player’s first playoff season (which doesn’t count this season, because playoff teams aren’t yet determined):

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Cousins has 5.2 win shares this season and counting. Missing the playoffs again would launch him into the top 10 of this dubious list – and he could keep climbing.

Not only do the Kings face daunting odds to reach the postseason this year, it’s difficult to project them into the playoffs for the foreseeable future. Years of roster mismanagement have taken a toll.

Since drafting Cousins, Sacramento has held top-10 picks every year. Those have netted on draft night: Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, Willie Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere and Bogdan Bogdanovic – who’ve combined for a measly 2.2 win shares this season. And most of those win shares come from Stauskas and Robinson, who no longer play for the Kings.

In fact, Stauskas was sent out in a disastrous trade that gives the 76ers swap rights on Sacramento’s 2017 first-rounder* and Sacramento’s unprotected 2019 first-rounder.

*The Kings’ first-round pick must fall in the top 10 to be swap-eligible. Otherwise, it goes to the Bulls, the result of another botched trade.

Sacramento has also recently struck out on major free agents and then settled for Arron Afflalo, Kosta Koufos, Anthony Tolliver, Garrett Temple, Matt Barnes and Ty Lawson. That adds up to one mediocre supporting cast.

Meanwhile, Cousins is better than ever. He has taken a larger offensive burden, including as a distributor and suddenly dangerous 3-point shooter, while cutting down his turnover rate. Defenders are often overmatched, and they foul him more than anyone in the league. And while Cousins’ defense comes and goes, it can be quite impressive while he’s locked in.

The result is a team that plays at a 41-win pace with Cousins on the floor and a 17-win pace when he sits, continuing a disparity seen over the last few years. Hera are the Kings win paces over 82 games with Cousins on (purple) and off (black):

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Obviously, teams generally play better with their stars and starters on the court, and Cousins is a star who usually shares the court with other starters. But this gap is particularly egregious, and Cousins’ fellow starters have underwhelmed.

So, more and more falls on Cousins’ shoulders.

Playing for his sixth head coach and third general manager in seven seasons, Cousins sets the tone for the Kings, for better or worse. He plays with a unique rage, sneering resentfully at anyone who gets in his way on the court – like players trying to defend him or referees, gasp, calling a foul on him. He leads the league with 12 technical fouls and is on pace to get (at least) 16 and an automatic suspension, which he also triggered last year.

His highs are incredibly high and his lows are unnecessarily low.

That moodiness has frustrated coaches and teammates, but it also sometimes works himself and his teammates into a productive frenzy. Sacramento usually plays passionately, which is both to its credit and a sign of a talent scarcity considering the team still loses so frequently.

“I’m still confident,” Cousins said, “and I still believe we’re going to make that push for the playoffs.”

For the last few years, Cousins has looked unstoppable while the Kings have been quite easily stoppable. He’s trying to drag the franchise up with him, but optimism and desire might not be enough. At a certain point we must ask: What more can Cousins do?