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.

Sprained ankle has LeBron James questionable for opener vs. Celtics

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — LeBron James‘ playing status for Tuesday’s season opener against Boston remains unclear.

James has been slowed by a sprained left ankle for more than two weeks and it’s still not known whether he’ll be on the floor when the Cavaliers take on the Celtics and Kyrie Irving, who asked to be traded by Cleveland this summer.

Following Monday’s practice, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said “I really don’t know” when asked if James will play.

James took part in some post-practice shooting drills with teammates. He did not speak with the media as the Cavaliers prepared for their opener, a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals.

James has never missed an opener in his NBA career, and teammate J.R. Smith doesn’t expect him to miss this one.

“Oh, he’s going to go,” Smith said. “He’s going to go, trust me that. I don’t care what he’s got to do, he’s going to play.”

 

Report: Richard Jefferson signing with Nuggets

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Update: The Nuggets will waive Jameer Nelson, according to Wojnarowski:

It looks like Denver will ride with the younger Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay at point guard — a risky proposition. Nelson stabilized the position in the event Murray or Mudiay weren’t ready for bigger roles. The Nuggets aren’t hedging their bets now, which puts plenty of pressure on Murray and Mudiay.

Murray should be fine eventually. Mudiay’s promise is far less certain. But this is a team trying to reach the playoffs now, and it might have to ride out growing pains from its point guards without Nelson as a safety net.

 

Richard Jefferson became a late entrant into free agency when the Cavaliers traded him and the Hawks waived him.

But the forward is landing on his feet.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Jefferson could help the Nuggets, who look primed to end a four-season playoff drought. They were set to squeeze backup small-forward minutes behind Wilson Chandler out of the undersized Will Barton and oversized Juan Hernangomez. Jefferson is far more comfortable at the position.

He’s 37 and doesn’t offer long-term upside, but he’s a savvy defender and still pretty athletic. He picks his spots well enough offensively to help on that end, too.

But Denver also has a deep roster that already had 15 players on standard contracts. There’s not an obvious cut to make room for Jefferson, though the Nuggets clearly have something planned.

Sixers to keep Joel Embiid’s minutes in teens to start season, he’s not happy

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Joel Embiid wants to get on the court, he wants to unleash himself on the NBA this season. After three seasons of being bottled up — even in the 31 games he has played there was a minutes restriction — Embiid wants to impose his will on the league.

He’s going to have to do that in less than 20 minutes a night, at least to start the season.

Sixers coach Brett Brown says to start the season there will be a tight minutes limit on Embiid, who averaged less than 15 minutes in two preseason games after finally being cleared to play. Embiid does not like that. Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia has the quotes.

“I don’t really know if there’s a solid number,” Brett Brown said Monday after practice. “I can tell if you were to choose a number, it’s somewhere in the teens.”

“I didn’t know about that, but that’s very disappointing,” Embiid said Monday of the minutes restriction. “I feel great and hopefully that changes based on today’s practice and tomorrow’s practice.”

The Sixers being cautious with Embiid is about as surprising as the last Transformers movie sucking.

That said, if any particular game is close going into the fourth quarter don’t be shocked if Embiid breaks his minutes limit — this is a team that wants to start winning, and that means keeping their best players on the court longer. If Saturday night against the Raptors Brett Brown thinks giving Embiid 22-23 minutes helps get them the win, he will. The goal will be to get him up to the high 20s by the end of the season.

The real test for these Sixers will not be how the offense fairs with Embiid sitting — they have guys that can create and knock down shots if needed, such as Ben Simmons or J.J. Redick – instead it’s how well they can defend with him resting.

Report: Spurs signing LaMarcus Aldridge to two-year, $50 million contract extension

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From troubled to extended, LaMarcus Aldridge‘s Spurs tenure has changed directions in a hurry.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Piecing this together, Aldridge is exercising a $22,347,015 player option for 2018-19. That means his extension is worth $50 million over two years will carry him through age 35. All in all, Aldridge is now under contract for four more seasons.

Aldridge is a borderline All-Star, and he raises San Antonio’s floor. His back-to-the-bask mid-range games remains reliable, and he’s a willing defender. Him signing this deal should end pining for greener pastures, but it certainly won’t force him into diligent acceptance of his role forever. Players can become discontent whenever they please.

This extension significantly limits the Spurs flexibility the next two summers and maybe even in 2020, depending on Aldridge’s guarantee in the second year of his extension. They seem fine with that, perhaps believing they already have enough to topple the Warriors if Kawhi Leonard is healthy.

With Aldridge, Pau Gasol and Patty Mills all under contract for the few years around Leonard, San Antonio should remain stably good. But will these deals for aging veterans limit the Spurs’ ceiling? That’s the risk for an organization that has built its identity on championships and already has a young, in-his-prime superstar who has proven capable of being the best player on a title team.