Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan

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.

NBA’s new Larry Bird highlight video will blow your mind

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Larry Bird’s birthday was yesterday, and we celebrated with a couple highlight videos.

Then, the NBA released this video today – and it’s to good not to share.

It’s one thing to know Bird’s numbers. It’s another to see how spectacular of a scorer, passer and trash-talker he was.

Carmelo Anthony doesn’t want to talk about Phil Jackson’s ball-hogging critique (video)

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Phil Jackson bothered Carmelo Anthony with his use of the word “posse” last month.

How is the Knicks president agitating the Knicks’ biggest star this month?

Publicly criticizing Anthony’s playing style.

Jackson on CBS Sports Network’s We Need To Talk, via James Herbert of CBSSports.com:

“He can play that role that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant played,” Jackson said. “That’s a perfect spot for him, to be in that isolated position on the weak side. Because it’s an overload offense and there’s a weak-side man that always has an advantage if the ball is swung.

Carmelo, a lot of times, wants to hold the ball longer than — we have a rule, if you hold a pass two seconds, you benefit the defense. So he has a little bit of a tendency to hold the ball for three, four, five seconds, then everybody comes to a stop. That is one of the things we work with. But he has adjusted to it, he knows what it can do and he’s willing to see its success.”

Ian Begley of ESPN:

Anthony, who is normally affable with the media, maintained a smile but began to walk away from reporters when asked about Jackson’s comments before stopping and continuing with questions. He then responded to a query about the timing of the Knicks president’s remarks and whether they were productive.

“I don’t even know what was said, to be honest with you. I just don’t even want to talk about that, what he’s talking about exactly. I want to stay away from that at this point,” Anthony said. “My focus is my teammates and winning. We’ve been playing great basketball, and that’s the only thing I’m focused on. Whatever Phil said, he said it. I have nothing to say about that.”

Maybe Anthony was ruffled for a different reason. New York had just got beaten and embarrassed by the Cavaliers, after all. But it sure seems Jackson’s comments played a part.

Jackson should have known about Anthony before re-signing him to a huge contract two years ago. This is Anthony’s style and long has been. He’s a scorer who sometimes limits ball movement (to far better effect than most ball-stoppers).

As Jackson noted, Anthony has somewhat changed under the Knicks’ triangle offense. Anthony is even deferring more often to Kristaps Porzingis.

Could Anthony go further? Of course.

I’m just not sure public criticism is the way to increase Anthony’s progress.

Jackson has motivated players through the media for years, and sometimes it works. But given Jackson’s previous lack of direct communication with Anthony, this probably wasn’t the ideal method to use here.

Anthony deserves a team president who does more than hold triangle seminars, entertain coaching only home games and critique Anthony in the media.

Jimmy Butler’s ascent continues into superstardom

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31:  Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls signals to his teammates against the Brooklyn Nets during the first half at Barclays Center on October 31, 2016 in New York City. 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.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Jimmy Butler was in Milwaukee and hundreds of miles from his home of Tomball, Texas. He was trying to fit in with his new Marquette teammates, most of whom he had never met before. He had to change his playing style as he transitioned up a level.

And then it snowed.

“Unbelievable to me,” Butler said. “I don’t know if I was happy or pissed off that it was snowing. I had never seen snow before. I was incredibly cold.

“That was the biggest culture shock of everything. It was hard. But we got through it. We always do.”

He always does.

The Bulls wing called going from junior college to the Big East the most difficult step in his basketball journey. What he’s doing this year, it’s not easy. But Butler has overcome numerous other challenges.

A rough childhood, getting overlooked in recruiting, rising from junior college to top-shelf college basketball, climbing draft boards as a relatively unheralded prospect, carving out a role in the NBA, working his way into stardom.

Now, Butler – the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2015 – is pushing himself into the NBA’s elite. He’s averaging 26.0 points, 6.7 rebounds an 4.1 assists per game. He ranks third in real plus-minus, sixth in PER and fourth in win shares.

MVP? Another MIP?

Butler dismisses the “individual s—” with a grimace, but he’s taking to his elevated stature.

“I figured, ‘Why can’t I be up there with the best of them?'” Butler said. “And I continue to think that way.”

Butler didn’t always carry such confidence, and he doesn’t have to think far back to remember the days he lacked it. Jerel McNeal, Wesley Mathews, Lazar Hayward, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder overshadowed him at Marquette. Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer once dwarfed his presence on the Bulls.

“I wasn’t always a really good player,” Butler said. “I just worked harder than everybody. I just played harder than everybody.”

Butler developed his skills. He gained fame and fortune.

He just never lost his work ethic.

As he continue to practice and study, he learned how far that could take him. Butler has made the last two All-Star games and last three All-Defensive second teams. Now, he’s recognizing his own potential.

“Your confidence comes from your work,” Butler said.

That confidence is spreading.

Say whatever you want about how he has handled his rise into stardom, Butler continues to rise. He deserves more credit for his jump from star to superstar, maybe one of the most difficult leaps in sports. But his continued evolution has warped expectations.

Bulls teammate Dwyane Wade first noticed Butler at Marquette, their shared alma mater. Could Wade envision then Butler turning into an NBA player?

“That was hard to see,” Wade said.

What about once Butler got into the league? Did his star potential show?

“No, didn’t see that,” Wade said.

Then Butler’s leap to superstardom surely must have also caught Wade off guard, right?

“I won’t say surprise,” Wade said. “He’s playing with the talent he has.

“He’s not doing nothing overcomplicated. He’s not crossing people, making them fall. He’s not jumping over tall people. He’s playing his game. He’s getting to the basket, hitting the mid-range pullup, doing things like that.”

Unfortunately for Butler’s MVP chances, he’s doing it in a year so many other players are posting unworldly numbers. His combination of 26.0 points, 6.7 rebounds an 4.1 assists per game have been matched over a full season just 56 times in the NBA’s 70-year history. Do that in the right year – especially with Butler’s efficiency: shooting 47.2% from the field, 35.1% on 3-pointers and 88.9% on free throws – and Butler walks away with MVP.

But this season, four players – Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Butler – are on pace to hit that combination scoring/rebounding/passing combination, which would be a record. To win MVP, Butler must fend off those other three and Chris Paul and Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James and…

Still, Butler has a more realistic chance of making history given his humble entry into the NBA. The No. 30 pick in the 2011 draft, he could o become the highest finisher in MVP voting in his lifetime who was drafted so low. The current bar is seventh in MVP voting, done by both No. 35 pick Draymond Green and undrafted Ben Wallace.

Butler could also break records with his sustained improvement.

Several Most Improved Players – Ryan Anderson, Kevin Love, Monta Ellis,* Bobby Simmons, Zach Randolph, Gilbert Arenas, Jermaine O’Neal, Tracy McGrady and Rony Seikaly – received votes for the award after winning it. But none seriously contended for a repeat. The closest was 1990 winner Seikaly, who finished 12th in 1997 – with a single vote.

*Ellis received is the only player to receive MIP votes in multiple seasons after winning it. He won the award in 2007 and then made his way onto the ballot in 2008 and 2010.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has emerged as a strong frontrunner for 2017 Most Improved player, but Butler belongs in the mix.

To cherry-pick one measure among the many that showcases Butler’s improvement, his PER has risen from 21.3 each of the last two season to 27.8 this year. Only Terry Rozier and Giannis Antetokounmpo have made bigger jumps from their previous career-high PER to a new career high this season (minimum: 200 minutes each season):

image

Butler’s ascension has invited greater leadership responsibilities, an area that drew immense scrutiny last season.

Chicago traded Rose and watched Noah walk over the summer. Newcomers Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo declared the Bulls to be Butler’s team.

The pressure was on, and Butler appears to be delivering.

Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg, who drew public criticism from Butler last year, called him a “great leader.” Butler again asked Hoiberg to coach him harder before this season, and his teammates have noticed.

“Is he hard on himself? Is he hard on guys when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to? Yes. He’s supposed to be hard on them,” Wade said. “But I think he’s as advertised.”

That’s because Butler continues to show his genuineness.

“He has a little different personality,” Wade said. “You come in, and everybody talk about it. He’s in the locker room singing country music and all these songs that most people ain’t used to listening to.”

That’s Butler from Tomball, Texas.

He’s now on an effectively max contract, in commercials and headed toward an even higher level of stardom on the court.

Yet, he remains relentless in his approach.

“I’m about right now,” Butler said. “Every single day, what can I do right now to get better for tomorrow – and that’s not even promised. What can I do right now to finish out the day right?”

Did Draymond Green hit Blake Griffin in the nuts? (video)

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Stephen Curry nutmegged DeAndre Jordan in the Warriors’ win over the Clippers last night.

Did Draymond Green do something similar to Blake Griffin – except with his hand rather than the ball and connecting rather than going between Griffin’s legs?

At first glance, that swipe at the ball didn’t look so sinister.

But then you watch Griffin’s reaction.

And you read about Griffin’s response. Dan Woike of The Orange County Register:

And you consider Green’s reputation.

Really, that’s why we’re addressing this. With another player, it probably gets glossed over. But Green long ago lost the benefit of the doubt.

Whatever happened on that play, Green frustrated Griffin all night. Green had 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting with five rebounds, four assists and two steals and helped hold Griffin to 12 points on 5-of-20 shooting with seven turnovers and four fouls.

Griffin had this nice dunk over Green, featuring some hands to the face:

Otherwise, Griffin was left with a loss and Green’s parting shot.