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.

51Q: Did the Hornets lose too much in free agency to continue on upward track?

CHARLOTTE, NC - APRIL 25:  Teammates Courtney Lee #1 and Jeremy Lin #7 of the Charlotte Hornets react after a play against the Miami Heat during game four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 25, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season.

The Hornets improved from 33 wins in 2014-15 to 48 in 2015-16, a 15-win jump no other team topped. Their 48-34 record was their best since reemerging as the Bobcats in 2004. They won their first three playoff games in this era.

The key?

Buying low on players heading into unrestricted free agency and reaping the rewards before their contracts expired.

Charlotte traded for Nicolas Batum and Courtney Lee on ending deals and signed Jeremy Lin to a contract that allowed him to re-test the market again a year later. Those three joined Marvin Williams and Al Jefferson among Hornets with expiring contracts.

Management and fans can decide whether Charlotte’s fine, though unspectacular, season justified the risk. But the Hornets predictably paid a price this summer.

On the bright side, considering free agency was always going to treat them poorly, they took as small a beating as possible.

Charlotte somehow convinced Batum to re-sign for less than the max and Williams to re-sign through his early Bird Rights. So, though they lost Lin (Nets), Lee (Knicks) and Jefferson (Pacers), the Hornets still had money left to limit their net losses. They signed Ramon Sessions to replace Lin and Roy Hibbert to replace Jefferson. (In a far less inspiring move, they also replaced Lee by trading their first-round pick for Marco Belinelli.)

But the biggest “addition” will come from within: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who missed nearly all of last season due to injury.

Kidd-Gilchrist is an ace defender whose motor keeps him helpful offensively. He’s a jumper and good health away from stardom, though both have escaped him throughout his career. At just 23, he could still tap into a higher level.

Otherwise, internal improvement could be limited. Frank Kaminsky (23), Cody Zeller (23) and Walker (26) aren’t finished products, but they’re all relatively polished, with their actual production closing on their ceilings fast.

With the new acquisitions, it’s less about improvement and more about limiting lost production. Sessions will attack the rim a little better than Lin, but Session’s lackluster outside shooting will hinder his ability to share the court with Walker – a role that served Lin, and Charlotte, well last season. Hibbert is a defensive upgrade over Jefferson, maybe even a big one depending on Hibbert’s mindset. But the Hornets go from strong to zero in the offensive post. Belinelli, on the wrong side of 30, is trying to rebound from an awful season with the Kings.

Beyond their individual production, it also can’t be understated how well Lin and Lee jelled with their Charlotte teammates. Jefferson, even though his fit devolved during his tenure, still set an example by trying to make it work.

The Hornets were a feel-good team last season, but they built their success on a shaky foundation. When the storms came, they kept their house in as much order as possible, but there was only so much they could do at that point.

They didn’t experience the disaster of losing Batum. They kept another top free agent in Williams. Yes, Lin, Lee and Jefferson got away, but it’s not the end of the world – especially if Kidd-Gilchrist fulfills his potential.

After relying on players with expiring contracts last year, Charlotte is dependent on a new questionable source of production this year: Kidd-Gilchrist. Will he perform as well as those pending free agents did? The Hornets’ opportunity is greater this time around. Locked up for three more years, Kidd-Gilchrist could be a path to sustained success rather than the fleeting version experienced last season.

But first, Kidd-Gilchrist must provide immediate production to keep the good vibes going after the Hornets downgraded elsewhere. They’re putting a lot on his shoulders.

Tyronn Lue hid Cavaliers’ cash in Warriors-arena ceiling after Game 5, returned some of it after Game 7 win – but LeBron says he didn’t get repaid

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Head coach Tyronn Lue of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts during the first half in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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There’s always money in the banana stand ceiling of an NBA arena where Doc Rivers or one of his coaching disciples is trying to prove a point.

As Rivers did in Los Angeles with the 2010 Celtics, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue – a Rivers assistant in Boston and with the Clippers – collected cash from his team as a motivational tactic during the NBA Finals.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

After the Cavs’ 112-97 win at Golden State in Game 5, coach Tyronn Lue entered his jovial locker room and asked for $100 from everyone.

Not just from LeBron James, or Kyrie Irving, or Kevin Love — you know, the players who print money. But everyone in the room, from owner Dan Gilbert (also not poor) down to Cavs’ public relations staffers and equipment managers.

Lue took the wad of cash — senior vice president of communications Tad Carper says it was $4,500 — and hid it in the ceiling of the coaches’ dressing room in the corner of the Oracle Arena visitor’s locker room.

“They were like, ‘Where is the money going?'” Lue said Tuesday, following the Cavs’ first practice as defending champs. “I’m like, ‘It’s going to me and I’m going to wrap it up and put it in the ceiling in the coaches locker room and we’re going to come back, get our money and get our trophy for Game 7.'”

Of course, Cleveland overcame its 3-1 deficit and everyone got their money back. Right?

Vardon:

Lue was assessed a $25,000 fine after Game 4 for ripping the officials, and he said some of what he collected after Game 5 went to pay his fine.

“I’m still looking for my money. I didn’t get mine back,” James said.

This is why so many Cavaliers employees deserves a championship ring. Even modestly paid staffers had to front their own money so the coach could prove a point.

This is the perfect example of winning curing all ills. This will be seen as a fun story, but what if Cleveland lost Game 7 – or even Game 6 and never returned to California?

Player or other employee, I’d quickly grow tired of a coach whose motivational tactic is taking my money. He can’t think of anything better?

Even as is – whether Lue was joking or not, whether LeBron is legitimately upset or not – the players association shouldn’t take kindly to a coach taking money from a player to pay the coach’s fine,

Bryan Colangelo: Nerlens Noel’s center comments ‘understandable,’ but he’s too young to dictate terms

CAMDEN, NJ - SEPTEMBER 26: Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on during media day on September 26, 2016 in Camden, New Jersey. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Nerlens Noel called the 76ers’ center situation – with himself, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid – “just silly” and said, “It doesn’t make any sense.” Then, he doubled down at media day.

How is management taking the public criticism?

76ers general manager Bryan Colangelo, via Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News:

“It’s not disappointing. I think it’s understandable. I think Nerlens did a pretty good job sizing up what we have. There is a lot of depth and a lot of talent at that position. I want to correct one aspect of it, though. He left out someone who has made great strides and improved significantly over the summer through hard work and his performance in the Summer League, but Richaun Holmes has really emerged as another player we’re excited about in terms of what, potentially, he is going to bring to this team.”

Colangelo, via Derek Bodner of Philadelphia magazine:

“These are all young players not in a position necessarily to dictate circumstances other than through hard work and effort,” Colangelo continued

In other words: Nerlens, you don’t have leverage.

Colangelo is mostly right. Noel is under contract this season, and if he doesn’t sign a contract extension by Oct. 31, he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer. Philadelphia has major control over his future, no matter how much he gripes.

As coach Brett Brown said, Noel’s best path to getting paid – by the 76ers or another team – is playing hard and playing to his strengths. He’ll have to earn minutes in a field that, as Colangelo noted, also includes Richaun Holmes. Colangelo is challenging Noel right back.

Colangelo is also correct that Noel’s complaints are understandable. Noel never asked to be put on a team that cared more about asset accumulation than winning, but he’s paying the price. Because the 76ers have so many centers, they’re unlikely to extend his contract now. That stinks for Noel.

Colangelo certainly has a higher tolerance for roster criticism, because his predecessor, Sam Hinkie, acquired all four centers. That’s Colangelo’s problem now, and he’s seeking a trade. But most understand the pros and cons of what he inherited.

Neither Noel nor Colangelo seems happy about Philadelphia’s center situation. They also seem unhappy with how the other is addressing it – though that could flip on a dime if Colangelo finds a trade and/or Noel provides inspired play.

Justise Winslow wants his own team one day, developing into role with Heat

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 30: Justise Winslow #20 of the Miami Heat drives down court during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on October 30, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)  *** Local Caption *** Justise Winslow
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Justise Winslow‘s position with the Miami Heat has finally been clarified.

He’s their small forward.

That is, unless he’s playing power forward.

Or shooting guard. Or defending the opposition’s point guard. Or playing at center, as he did at times out of necessity in last season’s Eastern Conference semifinal series against Toronto.

In Heat vernacular, the second-year player out of Duke is a Swiss Army knife, a jack-of-all-trades whose role is fast increasing. Not only will Winslow be called upon to play multiple positions, he’s also being asked to take more of a leadership role now for a team that – without Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – is rebuilding on the fly this season.

“That’s what I want,” Winslow said Wednesday. “That’s what I’ve been working for my whole life, to make it to the NBA – not only that, but to be a star and have my own team one day. This is the next step in me progressing and getting there, expanding my role and growing as a leader. And I accept whatever the coaching staff throws at me.”

Winslow was one of the last players to leave the court after Wednesday’s morning practice, a full-contact session that had players diving on floors and crashing into one another throughout. And after it was over, Winslow spent a good half-hour working on his shot.

The oldest Heat player is taking notice of the extra work the youngest Heat player is doing.

“He’s going to play a little bit of everything,” said 36-year-old Heat forward Udonis Haslem. “Just be Justise Winslow. Be that Swiss Army knife we need. One night it might be 10 rebounds. Another night it might be seven assists. Another night it might be 15 to 20 points. Just be Justise Winslow. He has the ability to do all those things and he has a high-enough basketball IQ where he knows when he needs to be aggressive, make plays and do other things.”

Winslow, who would be going into his junior year at Duke if he wasn’t in the NBA right now, isn’t just Miami’s youngest player – he holds that distinction by a lot.

He’s 20; next on the Heat age lists are 23-year-olds Briante Weber, Stefan Jankovic and Josh Richardson.

“He was quiet,” Haslem said. “But he fit in right away.”

Winslow was the fifth-youngest player to get time in the NBA last season, older than only Tyus Jones, Stanley Johnson, Rashad Vaughn and Devin Booker. And more than half of the 60 players to get taken in this year’s draft are older than Winslow as well.

“He doesn’t have to listen to anybody else’s expectations,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “There’s so many things out there about who he needs to be or what position he needs to play, how many more points a game he has to score this year. He’s going to get more minutes, more responsibilities. I want him to embrace that in a healthy way and not try to live up to anything coming from the outside.”

That doesn’t mean there aren’t things Winslow wants to emulate.

Wade’s departure over the summer hit Winslow hard. They bonded quickly, forged by Wade realizing that Winslow was willing to learn anything and everything he could from the three-time NBA champion wanted to teach. Winslow would spend time chatting up Bosh about nuances of the big-man game; their lockers were side-by-side last season.

And this summer, Winslow was part of the group invited by USA Basketball the U.S. Olympic team and help them prepare for what became a gold medal at the Rio Games.

“Seeing all those guys come together and not really care about stats before the gold medal, that’s the kind of mindset we have to have as a team,” Winslow said.