PBT Power Rankings: Tell me again how the Spurs are too old….

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With a number of top teams stumbling — Oklahoma City, Miami, Indiana — it is the Spurs who have gotten healthy and looked good going 6-0 since the end of the rodeo trip. The West now dominates the top of the rankings, the Sixers are looking to set records at the bottom.

source:  1. Spurs (46-16, Last week No. 3). They get fully healthy and have rattled off six wins in a row since the end of the rodeo road tip, including a signature win over Miami. In their last five games San Antonio’s offense is 4 points per 100 possessions better than their season average, their defense 2 points per 100 better. Bottom line, they look like the contender Spurs again and the only question is whether they can continue to defend this well.

source:  2. Clippers (44-20, LW 5). Which team has the highest net efficiency rating (differential between points scored and points allowed per 100 possessions)? The Clippers and Thunder are tied at +7.7 per 100. That stat is also a very good indicator of who wins in the playoffs, although the Clippers inflated that number with some blowouts. They have won seven in a row, but the differential number suggests they are at least knocking on that door of contender status.

source:  3. Rockets (44-19, LW 6). We said the Rockets would get tested this week. Well, they beat the Heat, Pacers and Trail Blazers. That’s pretty much acing your test. More to come with the Thunder, Bulls and Heat on the road this week, but the fact is Houston has looked like a legit contender the past week. James Harden averaged 30.3 ppg in those three big wins last week. He’s pretty good.

source:  4. Heat (43-17, LW No. 1). LeBron James had tough shooting nights against the Spurs and Bulls, and that has a lot less to do with what jersey he was wearing and a lot more to do with Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard being in his jersey. He got some help from Wade but Heat need more help, and more LeBron attacking and not settling for jumpers.

source:  5. Thunder (46-17, LW 4).. Two losses this week to the Lakers and Suns, two teams that try to beat you with their guard play and tempo. It’s not an accident both of those Thunder losses came with Thabo Sefalosha sidelined, they need him back and they need generally improved perimeter defense. Good test Tuesday against a hot Rockets team.

source:  6. Pacers (46-17, LW 2). Why the slump? In their last 5 games they have allowed 111.6 points per 100 possessions — 16 more than their season average. This team does not have the offense to cover its defense taking a night off. Despite slump they officially clinched a playoff berth last week.

source:  7. Bulls (35-28, LW 9). Bulls fans want Joakim Noah to get some MVP votes, and while he’s not getting one of the top two spots on the ballot, his play leading the Bulls this season has to merit consideration for the fourth or fifth slot on the ballot. The Bulls showed against the Heat Sunday why nobody wants to play them in the postseason.

source:  8. Warriors (40-24, LW 10). Of the four teams fighting for one of the final playoff spots in the West they are in the best position — the softest schedule and the most home games. When their jumpers fall they can beat anyone, as they did with the Pacers (10-of-20 from three), when they don’t they can fall to anyone.

source:  9. Grizzlies (36-26, LW 8).  As we broke down last week, it really comes down to the Grizzlies needing to get past the Suns in the West — and they have, the two teams are tied now with 20 games to go. To get the playoff spot Memphis needs some big wins on the road — after Portland Tuesday 4-of-5 and 10-of-14 are away from the good barbecue or Memphis.

source:  10. Mavericks (37-26, LW 11). They are just one game ahead of the Grizzlies and Suns, which is why that wins over Portland and Indiana mattered (and the loss to Denver hurt). They have a heavy home schedule the rest of the way, which bodes well for them making the playoffs.

source:  11. Suns (36-26, LW 12). They lost to the Clippers and Warriors but picked up a big win over the Thunder. They are tied with Memphis and have a tough schedule ahead — 3-of-4 on the road this week including at the Clippers — and they need to find a way to get wins because the Grizzlies are hot.

source:  12. Trail Blazers (42-20, LW 7). The road losses to Dallas and Houston were tough last week, but you can explain those… that loss at home to the Lakers? Not a good sign. Tough road stretch this week at the Grizzlies and Spurs.

source:  13. Wizards (33-29, LW 13). Don’t look now, but the Wizards have played good defense since the All-Star Break. Combine that with nights of hot shooting — hello Trevor Ariza — and a soft schedule and you get wins. More interesting tests this week against the Heat and Nets.

source:  14. Raptors (34-26, LW 14). While we talk about how well the Wizards, Nets and Bulls are playing they are all looking up at a Raptors team that is 8-2 in their last 10 and has the easiest schedule the rest of the way out. Hard to see the Nets making up four games and taking the Atlantic from them, but the Bulls are one game back for the three seed. Nets, Grizzlies and Suns on the docket this week, which should be a good test.

source:  15. Nets (31-30, LW 16). Kevin Garnett is barely playing right now — the Nets are down to two of the six All-Stars they had before the season — yet they keep on winning. If they have any dreams of an Atlantic Division crown they need to beat Toronto this week, then a couple big games against Heat and Wizards on the road will be tests.

source:  16 . Timberwolves (31-31, LW 15). When the Timberwolves get their starting five on the court — Ricky Rubio, Corey Brewer, Kevin Martin, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic — they are +11.7 per 48 minutes. Get into their bench and it’s a mess. That’s not good enough to make the playoffs in the West, and Minnesota is all but mathematically out of that race.

source:  17. Bobcats (29-34, LW 17). They probably can’t do it, but the goal in Charlotte has to be to make up the three games on the Nets and get out of the seven seed in the first round to avoid Miami/Indiana. That said, the way Charlotte defends they will make one of the big two work for the first round playoff win.

source:  18. Nuggets (27-35, LW 22). Ty Lawson is back and not so coincidentally the Nuggets are playing much better ball — they are playing at a much faster pace and are scoring 18 points per 100 possessions better. Basically they are an offensive team that tries to outscore you and just might, which makes them fun to watch if nothing else.

source:  19. Kings (22-40, LW 23). After their last game coach Mike Malone ripped his team for “selfish play” and DeMarcus Cousins (28 and 20 in that contest) agreed. This is a team of guys mostly playing for their next contract and it’s not is Sacramento. Still, on any give night this team is very dangerous.

source:  20. Knicks (24-40, LW 26). Winners of three in a row… no, the playoffs are not happening (they are not making up the 3.5 games back they are now). Phil Jackson, that looks like it’s happening and for all the potential pitfalls if he can just provide the franchise some direction it helps. Until Dolan jumps in to “help” again.

source:  21. Lakers (22-42, LW 21). Let me echo what @jonesonNBA was saying on twitter after the Lakers beat the Thunder Sunday — go ahead and slam Mike D’Antoni if you want, but look around the league at how much his coaching system has influenced other teams. If you don’t think you can win a title that way, I suggest you go back and watch the Heat again.

source:  22. Pelicans (26-37, LW 25). Anthony Davis just continues to put up monster numbers — 32 and 17 against the Nuggets. You know what we media types actually root for? Teams to be good in cities where we like to visit and spend time. Along those lines I am looking forward to the Pelicans taking big leaps forward in the coming years.

source:  23. Cavaliers (24-40, LW 18). Losers of four in a row and now the schedule gets tough — Phoenix, Golden State and the Clippers start a run of 10 against the NBA’s top 10. This stretch always made a late playoff push by the Cavaliers unlikely. Sorry Dan, it was the truth before the Luol Deng trade.

source:  24. Hawks (26-35, LW 19). Losers of six in a row, if the Pistons weren’t terrible the Hawks would be out of the playoffs by now. Yet the worst news of the week was the end of Kyle Korver’s streak of games with a made three, dead at an NBA record 127.

source:  25. Pistons (24-39, LW 20). They have lost three in a row and just looked terrible doing it. NBA Irony of the week: Brandon Jennings says the rest of the Pistons do not hold themselves accountable.

source:  26. Jazz (22-41, LW 24). They would have gone winless on a just-completed six game road trip through the East, but they lucked out with the final game of the trip in Philly. Trey Burke continues to learn hard lessons about adjusting to life in the NBA, but that’s what this season is for in Salt Lake City.

source:  27. Celtics (21-41, LW 28). Spoiler alert — Boston knocked off Brooklyn and Detroit last week, not exactly helping the playoff hopes for those teams (Nets of moving up, Pistons of just making it). This week the Pacers, Knicks and Suns are up on the Celtics spoiler list.

source:  28. Magic (19-45, LW 27). Their offense is playing decently, which is a surprise since pretty much everyone you can name and a few guys you can’t are out.

source:  29. Bucks (12-50, LW 29). All the losing is clearly wearing on the Bucks, as Ersan Ilyasova and O.J. Mayo were suspended last week for throwing punches in games. At least they are showing a little fight.

source:  30. 76ers (15-47, LW 30). They have winnable games against the Knicks and Kings to start the week, then after that things get difficult. Lose those to and an NBA record 27 consecutive losses is a real possibility.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.