Manu Ginobili, Derrick Favors

NBA Power Rankings: Spurs, Clippers are your clear top two

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The Spurs and Clippers are both on double-digit winning streaks and that vaults both to the top of the PBT weekly NBA power rankings. At the bottom sit the Sixers and their 20-game losing streak — should that impact Michael Carter-Williams’ candidacy for Rookie of the Year? I don’t think it should.
source:  1. Spurs (50-16, Last week No. 1). Winners of 10 in a row and that gives them the best record in the NBA and 50 wins on the season (for 15 straight years, which is just insane). Heading into Sunday night they had the fourth best offense in the NBA in their last 10 games (110.2 points per 100 possessions) and third best defense (98.9 per 100). And you know they can sustain it.
source:  2. Clippers (48-20, LW 2). Going into the season we said “if they can defend they are contenders.” Over their last 15 games they have the second best defense in the NBA (99.7 allowed per 100 last 15; 98 in last 10 games). They are contenders. Danny Granger, given less rigid role by Doc Rivers, is thriving. Winners of 11 in a row with a soft schedule ahead.
source:  3. Pacers (49-17, LW 6). Winners of three in a row but they haven’t looked impressive beating Boston, Philadelphia and Detroit. Better tests this week with the Knicks, Bulls and Grizzlies on tap. Indiana still not playing the same lockdown defense they did earlier in the season, but that they can get back.
source:  4. Heat (45-19, LW No. 4). Miami’s execution at the end of the win over Houston was a reminder that they still have another gear they can get to. Dwyane Wade’s maintenance plan is working — when he has played he has shot a career best 55 percent (59.4 true shooting percentage). When he has played he has been fantastic and was again Sunday.
source:  5. Thunder (48-18, LW 5).. OKC has stumbled because their defense — in particular their perimeter defense — has slumped. They really miss Thabo Sefalosha and Caron Butler is just not much of a defender anymore. This is something to watch when the playoff match ups come into focus.
source:  6. Bulls (37-29, LW 7). They are just half a game back of Toronto for the three seed and after the next 11 days (Pacers twice, Thunder, Blazers) the schedule gets pretty soft for them. Real chance they make it.
source:  7. Rockets (44-21, LW 3). Rough week with losses on the road to the Heat, Thunder and Bulls, but this season the schedule lightens up (Jazz, Timberwolves, Cavaliers) and Houston has done a good job this season of beating the teams they are supposed to. I wonder if the Rockets will move to upgrade the point guard position this offseason.
source:  8. Grizzlies (39-27, LW 9).  They have a slim one-game lead over Phoenix for the final playoff spot in the West and face some challenges this week with both the Heat and Pacers on the docket. Mike Conley is in my Top 10 of current NBA players who I want the ball in their hands in the final seconds with the game on the line.
source:  9. Warriors (42-26, LW 8). This team is a roller coaster — they have an ugly home loss to the Cavaliers then an inspiring 18-point comeback against the Trail Blazers. Roller coaster is a nice way of saying they are inconsistent, which could come back to haunt them in the playoffs.
source:  10. Mavericks (40-27, LW 10). Dallas is just 1.5 games ahead of the Suns (and falling out of the playoffs) but they just crushed Oklahoma City on Sunday and now their next eight games are at home (where they are 21-10). This is where they solidify that playoff spot.
source:  11. Suns (38-28, LW 11). They have been playing .500 ball the last 10 games, do that in the West and you fall. They are now one game back of Dallas for last playoff spots. Their schedule is relatively soft until start of April, they need to stockpile wins now.
source:  12. Trail Blazers (43-24, LW 12). Stat that should worry Portland fans: They have lost their last 12 games against teams that would make the playoffs in the West (hat tip to Ben Golliver of Blazers Edge). Soft schedule this week (Bucks, Wizards, Bobcats) they need to pick up some wins.
source:  13. Wizards (35-31, LW 13). If they get Nene back healthy I still think the Wizards could be the third best team in the East come the playoffs — but they have gone an impressive 8-3 without him. Beat the Nets last week and looked good, then not so much in loss to Bobcats. Andre Miller is providing a real boost off the bench.
source:  14. Raptors (37-28, LW 14). Their lead over Chicago for the three seed is down to half a game, they need some wins.They beat the Grizzlies last week in a quality win, but lost to the Nets and Suns. Their defense continues to look pretty good… at least until the Suns came to town and dropped 121 on them.
source:  15. Nets (33-31, LW 15). Big wins against Raptors and Heat not only solidify their playoff spot but keep dream of Atlantic Division crown alive (they are 3.5 games back of Toronto with 18 games to play, that’s going to be hard to make up without a Raptors collapse). Should be fun Goran Dragic/Deron Williams showdown Monday night.
source:  16. Bobcats (33-34, LW 17). Winners of four in a row and eight in a row at home. Looking back at the All Star Game selections I think Al Jefferson was the biggest snub — he’s averaging 26.6 points per game this month.

source:  17 . Timberwolves (33-32, LW 15). They are playing fairly well of late, it’s just too late to make a playoff run. I don’t envy Flip Saunders this summer, trying to decide if Kevin Love has one foot out the door or if there is a chance of keeping him if the team turns it around (and if so, how to get a rim protector on the roster).
source:  18. Knicks (27-40, LW 20). Doesn’t matter that he was hired after it started, Phil Jackson is going to get credit for the Knicks six game winning streak. Playoffs remain a longshot, they have 3.5 games to make up on Hawks with 15 to play, the Knicks have 9 on the road and 10 against teams over .500 (Hawks have 7 on road, 9 vs. +.500).
source:  19. Hawks (29-35, LW 24). They have won three in a row with the Knicks suddenly closing some ground. The question is were these wins a mirage or has Atlanta stopped the collapse. Games this week against Charlotte, Toronto (home and home) and Pelicans are the kinds of games where they need to get wins to hold off the Knicks.
source:  20. Nuggets (29-37, LW 18). This team is just being carried by the strong play of Ty Lawson and the hustle of Kenneth Faried. After that, the Nuggets need to do some roster evaluation.This is the team most likely to snap the Clippers 11-game winning streak for a while — Denver gets them at home in the mile high air on the second night of a Clips back-to-back.
source:  21. Cavaliers (26-41, LW 23). They may have lost Kyrie Irving for the season (as of this writing we still don’t know extent of his bicep injury) which would remove any reason to really watch the Cavs. Cleveland picked up two really nice wins last week also, beating Golden State and Phoenix, but this week is brutal (Heat, Thunder, Rockets, Knicks).
source:  22. Kings (23-44, LW 19). DeMarcus Cousins got the night off Sunday and predictably the Kings lost. On the bright side Kings fans, the NCAA Tournament is fun to scout and in May there should be demolition downtown to make way for the new arena.
source:  23. Pistons (25-41, LW 25). Saturday night’s neck injury to Andre Drummond was frightening. I’d rest him the rest of the way. And a few other guys too. Remember if the Pistons pick this year is Top 8 they keep it, 9 or beyond and it goes to the Bobcats (Detroit currently would have the 8 pick).
source:  24. Pelicans (27-39, LW 22). Anthony Davis went off for 40 and 21 Sunday night Anthony Davis is 21 years old and still figuring the game out. Next season if this team can keep Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday healthy they should be a playoff team.
source:  25. Lakers (22-44, LW 21). The shadow of Phil Jackson no longer hangs over this franchise, which is a blessing and a curse to current management. Kobe Bryant is demanding an immediate turnaround but unless someone wants to gift wrap them a trade that is not going to happen, it’s going to take a while. Kobe is what the Lakers sell fans while rebuilding.
source:  26. Celtics (22-45, LW 27). Kris Humphries hit a ridiculous shot to send the game against the Pelicans to overtime, and don’t tell anyone but Humphries has played pretty well of late. If a team gets him at $4 million a year this summer and brings him off the bench for 15-20 minutes a night he can be a solid role player.
source:  27. Jazz (22-45, LW 26). I had picked Trey Burke to win the Rookie of the Year award in my preseason predictions, then he got injured. He has had a rough go since returning, but in this class he’d still be third on my ROY ballot.
source:  28. Magic (19-48, LW 28). With the Sixers epic losing streak a lot of people are pointing toward Victor Oladipo for Rookie of the Year. As if the Magic are playing well. In his last 10 games Oladipo is averaging 14.9 points a game with a true shooting percentage of 53 and a usage rage of 23.1 (percent of possessions he uses when on the court). In his last 10 Michael Carter-Williams is averaging 14.9 points a game with a true shooting percentage of 46.2 and he is taking on more of the Sixers offense (25.1 usage rate). Not sure I blame MCW for the fact the players around him are worse than the ones around Oladipo.
source:  29. Bucks (13-54, LW 29). Brandon Knight has played pretty well of late — he has averaged 19.9 points a game in his last 15 and has guided the Bucks offense to play better than expected. He’s not the answer long term at point but he could be a good reserve (and was a better fit here than Brandon Jennings at his price).
source:  30. 76ers (15-51, LW 30). The losing streak is up to 20 and the next realistic shot they have at a win is against Detroit at home (when the streak will be 26 and tied with the longest in NBA history). The idea of them finishing the season on a 36-game losing streak is not unrealistic.

Craig Sager and his flashy suits return to All-Star weekend

Craig Sager
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TORONTO (AP) — The All-Star game in New York was a little less colorful last year.

Craig Sager, the TNT sideline reporter known for wearing flashy suits, missed the NBA’s annual midseason gala for the first time since he started doing them in 1988. Another bout with the leukemia he’s been battling for the last few years resurfaced, and Sager was forced to sit out while undergoing more treatments.

Sager considers the All-Star festivities the most important weekend of the season for him, and so it pained him to have to watch on television while receiving his treatments.

“It was hard for me not to be there, but I had to address my health,” Sager said. “To be able to get that in remission and be able to go through this year, it’s going to be extra special for me. I’ve really been looking forward to this a long time.”

That’s right. Sager is back for All-Star weekend in Toronto this year.

He spent the week leading up to it in Houston receiving his monthly treatment, which included a blood transfusion, to make sure he was healthy enough for the trip. Once he arrived in Canada, he was easy to spot.

“I just saw him,” Spurs coach and longtime foil Gregg Popovich said after the Western Conference team practiced on Saturday. “His suit spoke to me. It blinded me for a second.”

It’s been an emotional run for Sager, the longtime fixture at NBA games. He has needed two bone marrow transplants and still has to make those treks to Houston once a month. He has returned to the sideline for games this season and is feeling so well that he was scheduled to do both the Saturday night activities that include the 3-point shootout and the dunk contest as well as the game on Sunday.

“I feel great. Got my weight back. Got my strength back,” Sager said. “I’m back to playing golf.”

Two of his youngest children – daughter Riley and son Ryan – will be with him on the court this weekend serving as a ball boy and ball girl.

And of course, Sager will do a round with Popovich on television during a quarter break on Sunday. The two have turned the sideline interview into a passion play,

“He’s been an iconic figure in the NBA. He does a great job,” Popovich said. “His sense of humor is obvious. we have a lot of fun going back and forth with that. To have him back where he belongs, obviously we’re happy for him and his health. But for the league it’s great too, because he’s a fixture that everybody enjoys.”

Sager called the support he has received from Commissioner Adam Silver, coaches, players and fans “humbling” and said he was looking forward to coming back to his favorite event of the season.

“It’s been very uplifting, very therapeutic,” Sager said. “Very supportive on their part. That really has been very helpful to me, my treatment and my drive to get back.”

Kevin Hart, Draymond Green get in All-Star Saturday three-point shootout

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TORONTO — This is going to come up in the Golden State locker room.

Right before Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry put on a three-point shooting exhibition, actor/comedian/self-promotor Kevin Hart came out and challenged Draymond Green to a shooting contest. Green was ready to go. They did the three-point shooting contest, and Green put up a total of 12 (which would have been dead last in the actual three-point contest, for the record).

Then Hart stepped up — and tied him with 12 points.

Steve Kerr, if you’re ever looking for a lineup to go REALLY small….

Other All-Stars pay tribute to Kobe Bryant’s legacy

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TORONTO — This is Kobe Bryant‘s weekend.

In what will be his final All-Star Game, he has been an absolute rock star in Toronto — huge ovations, huge crowds (of fans and media), and cameras trained on him everywhere he goes. The weekend has been a celebration of one of the game’s all-time greats and a storied career.

Over the course of the weekend, nearly every other All-Star has been asked about Kobe and the impact he’s had both on the game and on the players, personally. For many of them, this is personal, the younger NBA players grew up idolizing him. Here are a sampling of their responses.

James Harden (Houston Rockets):
“He’s been my idol growing up, my basketball idol. Like I said, just watching him play meant everything to me. So this is his last year, and he’s going to retire, and there’s going to be no more Kobe Bryant playing basketball, it’s kind of sad. It’s kind of sad about that, but at some point he had to go.”

Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors):
“He’s the Michael Jordan of our era. He’s the most competitive player we’ve played against, and the thing he’s done throughout his career and the things he’s done to change the game, to motivate the players is unbelievable.”

Chris Bosh (Miami Heat):
“Kobe, this is his weekend. I know he probably would never say that or admit that, but, yeah, he’s one of the iconic players of this — greatest iconic players this league has ever had. He’s had such an imprint on our childhood. I know he had an imprint on my childhood. And then I was in that mix where I was a kid, and then I was trying to figure it out in the NBA, and next thing you know you’re competing against him. So, it’s been crazy.”

DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors):
“I grew up watching the Lakers. I grew up watching him his whole career and getting a chance to have a relationship with him and kind of, you know, patterned my game after him so to speak, so definitely speaks volumes.”

Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder):
“Me growing up in Los Angeles and being able to see Kobe, obviously he’s one of the greatest players to play the game. It was a true honor to be able to learn from him. It’s a great experience to be able to learn different things from him, not just on the floor but off the floor as well and very different experiences.”

Tyrone Lue (Coach, Cleveland Cavaliers):
“When I first got there (playing for the Lakers) he was still young. He was Kobe, but he hadn’t been a starter yet. And that third year of his career, that was my first year, Rick Fox went down, and he stepped in and took a starting role. But just seeing the film he watched all the time, the players he was talking about, the Oscar Robertsons, Michael Jordans, the Magics, he knew from day one who he wanted to be like. He knew that to be the best, you had to work hard. That’s what he did every single day. Not one day did I see him take off.”

Paul George (Indiana Pacers):
“He was just fearless. He’s a champion. To get to where you want to get to, you have to put the work in. His work ethic is one thing that he has. That’s the reason why he’s so great.”

Paul Millsap (Atlanta Hawks):
“The only thing I can remember is him always beating us when I was at Utah in the playoffs. We always had to try to overcome the Lakers and Kobe Bryant and just could never do it.”

John Wall (Washington Wizards):
“Basically, the Michael Jordan of our era is what I see with all of his dedication to the game, his competitive drive. He’s one of those guys that always wants the ball in a tough situation. No matter the circumstances, he believes in himself, no matter what.”

Aaron Gordon (Orlando Magic):
“I watched Kobe growing up and watched him in the All-Star Game. The impact he’s had on my basketball game and in my life and so many other people, it’s really big. It’s astronomical. That’s Kobe. That’s the man.”

Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors):
“He’s meant so much to the game. Growing up in the era that I did, Kobe was that guy. So to play in an All-Star Game with him, I mean, that’s special. I grew up a Kobe fan, so it’s something that’s really special.”

C.J. McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers):
“He’s had a huge impact (on me). Obviously for us, he was the Michael Jordan of our era, a guy we watched. He emulated Michael. He had a lot of the same fadeaways, sticking out his tongue, winning championships. Just a sense of self to understand exactly what it takes to be successful. So for us, he was a guy I looked up to. His work ethic, his understanding and he knew how to bounce back from losses and shooting air balls in the playoffs as a rookie to hitting game winners.”

Watch it again: Epic dunk contest duel between Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon

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TORONTO — I am always hesitant to say a player/team/situation is one of the best of ever because the history of the NBA is filled with greats. We tend to overstate how good something current can be.  That said…

That was one of the best dunk contests ever.

Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon put on a show for the ages. Gordon had the best dunks of the night (in my opinion), but LaVine is consistently amazing, every dunk he does is flat out ridiculous.

Officially, LaVine won. In reality, we all won. Enjoy watching it one more time.