PBT Power Rankings: Spurs running away at top, but a new team in cellar

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The Sixers win! The Sixers win! That was enough to move them out of the bottom spot of the PBT Power rankings for a week… which since they are not getting relegated is about the only excitement at the bottom of the table. At the top it is San Antonio then everybody else right now.

 
source:  1. Spurs (57-16, Last week No. 1). Winners of 17 in a row (the longest streak in the league this season), but expect it to end this week with this gauntlet of games — at Pacers, Warriors, at Thunder, Grizzlies. This run has boosted Manu Ginobili’s Sixth Man of the Year candidacy and he is the frontrunner now, and Gregg Popovich should be in the Coach of the Year discussion as well.

 
source:  2. Clippers (52-22, LW 2). Earlier this season the Clippers proved they could win without Chris Paul when Blake Griffin stepped up, Saturday night against the Rockets the Clippers showed they can win without Griffin when CP3 steps up. Doc Rivers will not be in the top couple slots but he has earned consideration for being on the lower slots of the Coach of the Year ballot, particularly with his handling of DeAndre Jordan.

 
source:  3. Thunder (54-19, LW 3).. Kevin Durant has scored 25 or more points in 38 straight games. Let that sink in. That’s nearly half a season. Start your “M-V-P” chants. The Thunder are three back of the Spurs and will not catch them for the best record, lots of road games ahead including at the Rockets and at the Suns this week (after showdown with San Antonio).

 
source:  4. Rockets (49-23, LW 4). No Dwight Howard or Patrick Beverly this week and they take on three playoff teams (Brooklyn, Toronto and Oklahoma City), so expect some losses. The Beverly injury is one to watch — they will need his perimeter defense come the playoffs, particularly since they will likely face a jump shooting team in Portland or Golden State in the first round.

 
source:  5. Heat (50-22, LW No. 6). The loss to Indiana was another game where it was LeBron James against the world, not a lot of help coming his way. There has been a lot of that in Miami this season — remember when we thought Michael Beasley would be a good fit there and he was playing well? He’s out of the rotation now. Shane Battier needs to find his shot soon.

 
source:  6. Pacers (52-21, LW 5). Yes, they beat Miami and are now ranked below them — did you watch the next two games? David West expressed frustration at how this team got up for Miami them turned around two nights later and sleepwalked against Washington. He speaks for all of us. Their ugly loss to Cleveland on Sunday makes it four of five games where they didn’t score more than 80 points, the offense is a real mess.

 
source:  7. Trail Blazers (47-27, LW 13). LaMarcus Aldridge returns and the Blazers win three in a row, including beating the Bulls and Grizzlies — beating Memphis was the first time in 13 tries the Trail Blazers beat another team from the West’s top nine. The Blazers are not going to catch Houston for the four seed (four games in the loss column too much to make up) but playing back to form them become a tough first round matchup.

 
source:  8. Warriors (45-28, LW 9). A lot of talk about Mark Jackson’s job security this week, and the fact ownership there is impatient will put pressure on any coach and GM with that team. However, Stephen Curry loves Jackson and that is a great guy for the coach to have in his corner.

 
source:  9. Grizzlies (43-29, LW 8).  Their defense went AWOL against the Trail Blazers Sunday and it better return — of the three teams battling for final playoff slots in the West the Grizzlies have the easiest schedule. That said, they need road wins like the games they have this week in Denver (second night of a back-to-back at altitude is tough) and at Minnesota). They don’t have much margin for error.

 
source:  10. Suns (44-30, LW 10). They were in the soft part of the schedule and needed to rack up wins — and they did winning six in a row (before Sunday’s ugly loss to the Lakers). Starting Wednesday it gets serious — Clippers, Trail Blazers, Thunder and Spurs are four of the next five. Two of their last three are against the Mavericks and Grizzlies, and it could come down to that.

 
source:  11. Mavericks (44-30, LW 12). They had an eight game home stand where they needed to make a push to solidify their playoff position and instead they have gone 4-3 (with Golden State the remaining game). Starting Thursday they are on the road for four, but only the Clippers are above .500. Every game for Dallas is a playoff game from here on out.

 
source:  12. Bulls (41-32, LW 7). It’s taking career nights from guys like D.J. Augustin, but the Bulls are still finding enough offense to win games. The good news is they are just one game back of the Raptors for the three seed and they play only one team over .500 from here on out (get the three seed, get the struggling Pacers in the second round and… who knows?).

 
source:  13. Raptors (42-31, LW 15). They are bound for the playoffs for the first time since 2008, having secured a spot this week. Now the goal is to win the Atlantic Division for only the second time ever — they have a 2.5 game lead over the Nets, which should be enough to hold on north of the border.

 
source:  14. Nets (39-33, LW 11). Kevin Garnett could return to the lineup this coming weekend, which would be huge for Brooklyn. They need him as their defense has started to really show its holes without him there to quarterback that end of the floor.

 
source:  15. Wizards (38-35, LW 18). Back-to-back wins over the Hawks and Pistons were a big boost, they leave the Bobcats three games back — the Wizards to not want to be the 7 seed and get the Heat or Pacers in the first round. A win Monday over Charlotte would pretty much lock them into the top six.

source:  16 . Timberwolves (36-36, LW 20). Lots of talk this past week about Kevin Love bolting town in 2015 and how the Timberwolves are not ready to trade him yet. Talk that will depress Wolves fans as not many people around the league think he sticks around long. On the bright side, rookie Gorgui Dieng has found a groove lately and has played well.

 
source:  17. Knicks (31-43, LW 16). The playoff dream remains alive (and Phil Jackson will still get the credit for it). Atlanta is trying to help out (having lost six in a row) but the Knicks have lost four of five and remain two games back. This week the lineup is Jazz, Nets, Wizards and Heat and the Knicks need at least two, better yet three wins this week to make up some ground.

 
source:  18. Bobcats (35-38, LW 19). If they want to avoid Miami or Indiana in the first round (and they do) they need to sweep the two games remaining against Washington, the first of which is Monday night. In his last 15 games Al Jefferson is averaging 25.1 points a game on 56.3 percent shooting, plus is pulling down 10.6 rebounds a night.

 
source:  19. Cavaliers (30-45, LW 22). Winners of four of five (they are now 4-4 without Kyrie Irving) and they could get Irving back this week. The slump of he Hawks keeps their faint playoff hopes alive but it will be tough to make up 2.5 games at this point, even on Atlanta.

 
source:  20. Pelicans (32-41, LW 21). If you’re looking for a team that could play spoiler down the stretch watch New Orleans — their last six games are against potential West playoff teams. Hopefully they will have Anthony Davis back by then, he is day-to-day with an ankle issue.

 
source:  21. Hawks (31-41, LW 14). Atlanta has lost six in a row and keep hope of a playoff spot alive in New York. The Hawks have a much easier schedule than the Knicks down the stretch (only four games left against teams over .500) but that will not matter without some wins. To get their wins they are going to have to play better defense, that is the side of the ball where they are really struggling.

 
source:  22. Nuggets (32-41, LW 17). Losers of three in a row and that eliminated them from the playoffs, which is quite a fall for a team that won 57 games last season. On the bright side Kenneth Faried averaged 19.3 points a game and 9.9 rebounds a game during March. Not bad at all.

 
source:  23. Kings (25-48, LW 23). The Kings let Royce White go after his two 10-day contracts as they continue to look for players and combinations that can be part of their rotation in the future. Ray McCallum has played well in a limited window, but can they really keep him and Isaiah Thomas around? They have played the two together, the ultimate definition of going small.

 
source:  24. Lakers (25-48, LW 27). They are savoring their role as playoff spoilers, even if with each win they worsen their lottery odds. Mike D’Antoni is on the hot seat, mostly because his style of play fits poorly with what an aging Kobe Bryant does well anymore. And the Lakers will be selling Kobe to the fans the next couple of years.

 
source:  25. Magic (21-53, LW 28). While nobody was looking, Orlando played some pretty good ball last week, beating the Bobcats and Trail Blazers, and almost beating the Raptors. Nikola Vucevic looked good in those games and should be a bigger part of the plans in Orlando going forward.

 
source:  26. Celtics (23-50, LW 25). Jerryd Bayless is a guy who looks like he could stick around in Boston going forward, playing well of late. Boston can try to play playoff spoiler this week and make things hard on the Bulls and Wizards, but they will have to do it on the road.

 
source:  27. 76ers (16-57, LW 30). Break up the Sixers! They only tied the NBA streak for most consecutive losses, but they avoided making it all their own with a win over the Pistons (and to be fair, the Sixers played pretty well in the couple of games leading up to that).

 
source:  28. Pistons (26-47, LW 29). They keep playing their big front line together big minutes — Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond — and it continues not to work. At this point you have to wonder if the order to do that comes from above the coach, or if it is creative tanking to hold on the top 8 draft pick they have (if it is 9 or higher it goes to Charlotte). Either way it’s not pretty, as you could see when they got blown out by the Sixers.

 
source:  29. Jazz (23-51, LW 26). How bad is Utah playing? They got blown out by the Pistons by 20 points — the same Pistons that lost to the Sixers. This has not dampened enthusiasm around league front office’s for Gordon Hayward — if the Jazz will not pay him big another team will.

 
source:  30. Bucks (14-59, LW 29). They did pick up a win last week but it looks like they will end the season with the NBA’s worst record and lottery odds of 25 percent to get the top spot in the NBA Draft.

Celtics GM Danny Ainge: “Who doesn’t want Isaiah Thomas on their team?”

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Isaiah Thomas is the best and most popular Celtics player, leading his team to the No. 1 seed in the East and the Eastern Conference Finals — both significant steps forward for an up-and-coming team.

Yet, from the moment the Warriors landed the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, the talk about Thomas has been about his future with the Celtics: If/when they draft Markelle Fultz, will the Celtics want to pay Thomas max or near max money next summer? Do they want to be locked into four or five years with an undersized guard who will start that contract at age 29? Do they extend him this summer at a likely better price? Trade him?

Celtics GM Danny Ainge doesn’t understand all the talk. He certainly didn’t sound like someone looking to trade Thomas this summer speaking to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

“All I’m saying is those are things I have to worry about that even I don’t like to think about. And I know that those are going to be difficult decisions at some point. But we want to keep Isaiah.

“All I know is that he’s had an amazing year, and who doesn’t want Isaiah Thomas on their team? Like, you’ve got to be kidding me…

“Why do the fans need to worry about how much money he makes?” he said. “I can understand if Isaiah and his wife and his agent are worried about that, but I don’t understand why that’s a conversation that needs to be had in the media.”

Two things I want to unpack from all that. First, that’s a “get off my lawn” take from Ainge that completely misses the mark with where sports fandom online has shifted. It’s not that he’s wrong at the core of his argument — we all should appreciate the season Thomas just had, Celtics’ fans in particular. Thomas is a joy to watch play and one of the good guys in the league on top of it. Name anyone in the NBA who has gotten more out of his natural abilities than Thomas — the man has put in the work to rise way past expectations. He needs to be appreciated and lauded for that.

But here’s the thing: Fans more than ever like to play GM, and they now have the tools to understand the tough financial decisions that fall on Ainge and others in his shoes. Let me explain it this way: The NBA Finals start June 1, but as a website, the NBC NBA page will draw way more traffic around the NBA Draft at the end of the month, then free agency in July will blow that away. Always does. Player movement — including both rumors of trades and talk of free agents and moves teams should make — is a much bigger draw than the games themselves. That’s not just the NBA, it’s true of the NFL and MLB and NHL and the Barclays’ English Premiere League and on down the line.

Second, Ainge may not like the speculation, but the questions are valid — he and the Celtics have some hard decisions coming up. At the core of them is the question of patience: Push their assets into the middle of the table now, get a couple of players ready to win next season, and make a run at LeBron James and the Cavaliers, or be patient and build to be better than Cleveland in three years (then sustain that for five or more years beyond that)? Ainge has been on the patient side of that equation from the start, and likely will be again — don’t expect him to trade that No. 1 pick or do anything but bring Thomas back. He can be a decision for the summer of 2018.

Then again, he has shopped Thomas before. Ainge is as good or better than any GM in the league of keeping his cards close to his vest, he’s impossible to read.

That said, the smart money is on him being patient. There’s no need to trade Thomas now, that’s the kind of rash overreaction that got the Knicks where they are over the last decade plus. Ainge can wait things out.

 

Adding Durant and thinking dynasty, it’s championship or bust for Warriors’ legacy

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The Golden State Warriors have been the best team in the NBA for three seasons now. That’s not my opinion, that’s LeBron James‘ — here is what he said after advancing to his seventh straight NBA Finals.

“That’s been the best team in our league the last three years, and they added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year, so that makes it even more difficult.”

Adding Durant did make them more difficult to beat, but it also added to the Warriors’ burden — after a 67-win season and a historic 12-0 sweep into the Finals, the series that their season will be judged on is the one still to be played. They may as well be 0-0 because the second they added Durant it was championship or bust in terms of how they want to be seen.

Win and a pattern of dominance over years starts to come into focus, they will have a couple rings and beaten LeBron — who will go down as one of the all-time greats in his own right — to get them. Lose and this season will be viewed as another failure.

The Warriors want us to look back on them in 10-15 years and see a dynasty. They talked quietly about it last season during their chase for 73 wins — they saw that as a part of their resume as one of the greatest teams of all time. That’s part of the reason for the push last year. They, like LeBron, are chasing the ghosts of greatness at this point, and the Warriors had a Jordan record in their sights.

Regular season marks are nice, but in the NBA the great teams’ legacies are built around championships. Plural. If you’re going to go down as one of the dominant teams of an era — like the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, or Jordan’s Bulls, or the Celtics and Lakers of the ’80s, etc. — there needs to multiple rings on fingers. The Warriors have one, but their historic season unraveled last year when a combination of LeBron’s utter dominance, Draymond Green‘s suspension, Andrew Bogut’s injury (that one was underrated as an issue) all came together to snatch victory from their hands (and help cement LeBron’sa legacy).

The Warriors need the 2017 title for their legacy.

Not just the team, but the legacies of Warriors players will be impacted by this series. Injured or worn down or just in a shooting slump (or, most likely, a combination of the three), Stephen Curry struggled defensively and was outplayed by LeBron last Finals when the Warriors needed him. Curry has been fantastic through these playoffs, but like the team he will be judged as much or more for the games to come than the ones already played. Fair or not.  Can Green keep his head about him when LeBron pushes his buttons? Durant is back on the Finals stage, will he rise to that moment?

The championship or bust mentality is too often the prism through which fans — and media — view sports. It’s unfortunate because it clouds the joy of the game itself, the growth of players, of guys doing the unexpected and rising to heights we did not expect from them. Isaiah Thomas‘ brilliant season in Boston is not diminished because it didn’t end in a ring, to use one easy example. But there are hundreds more like that around the league. Championship or bust blinds people to the little things that can make the game joyous.

However, the Warriors have put themselves in a different place. They are chasing legends. They have the wins and the statistics to make a case, more importantly, they also have a style of play being copied (even by college teams) and is changing how the game is played. That is a hallmark greatness.

Now they need the rings to go with it. They need more than one, but it starts with this year’s title — it is championship or bust for them. Fair or not. If the Warriors want to be mentioned in the pantheon of all-time greats, it will take the 2017 title to be part of it.

Underdog Cavs insist they have plenty of bite for Finals

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — They are defending champions and decided underdogs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, however, say they aren’t using any snubs to get ready for the NBA Finals.

Set for a third straight championship matchup against Golden State, the Cavs are ignoring the Las Vegas odds makers and others who don’t think they have a shot at beating Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant & Co.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t feel his team needs the underdog label for inspiration, saying being in the NBA Finals is “enough motivation alone.”

Kevin Love was reminded that Warriors forward Draymond Green said earlier this season that he wants to “destroy and annihilate” the Cavs in the Finals. Says Love said: “He wanted us, and he has us starting next Thursday.”

 

Check out Kawhi Leonard’s highlights from this past season (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook and James Harden were putting up the bigger numbers, they were drawing more attention. And while MVP is a regular season award, nobody has boosted their MVP credentials more in the postseason than Kawhi Leonard.

He had a really impressive regular season, too. Since we’re on a long break between games, enjoy the highlights of Leonard’s season. He may enter next season as the MVP favorite.