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.

Heat’s Josh McRoberts says he broke foot in Game 6 vs. Raptors, remains out

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: A portrait of Josh McRoberts #4 of the Miami Heat on September 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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To call Josh McRoberts‘ time in Miami injury plagued might be the understatement of the decade.

Now with Chris Bosh out, the Heat could really use McRoberts at the four, but “shockingly” he is not healthy. Wednesday he finally admitted the reason he has been limited in training camp with foot issues.

McRoberts run of bad luck continues. And foot injuries — when your job involves running up and down a hardwood floor — are something that has to be taken seriously and allowed to fully heal, lest they become chronic. I’m not sure the Heat can bet on a lot out of McRoberts this season.

With no Bosh and McRoberts, expect Derrick Williams, Udonis Haslem, and maybe Luke Babbitt will get some run there. Coach Erik Spoelstra also likely will have some small lineups where Justise Winslow will play the four.

51Q: Will Larry Bird’s renovation of the Pacers pay off?

Larry Bird, Paul George
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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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.

There are two types of basketball analysts: Those who believe the Pacers improved by swapping George Hill for Jeff Teague and those who believe Indiana got worse in the trade.

Teague uses his superior quickness in the pick-and-roll to score and assist more. Hill defends better, commits fewer turnovers and shoots more efficiently.

I prefer Hill. Larry Bird opted for Teague.

I can’t wait to see who’s right.

Though I’m inclined to value Hill’s less-flashy contributions – and like his lead-guard skills if he were called upon for that role – I’m also not arrogant enough to believe I certainly know better than Bird. An all-time great who has excelled as a player, coach and executive deserves some benefit of the doubt.

Bird is leveraging it now.

Seemingly unsatisfied with the team that reached consecutive conference finals in 2013 and 2014, Bird has now fully torn down the roster to build a more dynamic offense around Paul George. The Pacers president has long talked about the change, and we’ll learn this season whether his vision will bear fruit.

In addition to trading Hill for Teague, Bird let Lance Stephenson leave in free agency, deemphasized and traded Roy Hibbert, offended David West into leaving and fired Frank Vogel. In came Monta Ellis, Rodney Stuckey, Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, Teague and Nate McMillian.

And Bird hasn’t stopped after jettisoning everyone who regularly started with George in those conference-finals runs. Indiana will miss Ian Mahinmi‘s defense – maybe more than Al Jefferson works as a change-of-pace in the low post. But Bird is fully embracing the course of trading defense for offense.

Debate how he addressed it, but the team’s identity was clear. In the last four years, the Pacers stunk offensively and thrived defensively. Their rank in points per possession:

  • Offense: 20th, 23rd, 23rd, 25th
  • Defense: 1st, 1st, 7th, 3rd

The beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I see an excellent defense propping up an offense that could have been better. Bird saw a struggling offense and couldn’t look past it.

Indiana now has a deep squad of players who can break down opponents off the dribble. They will have matchup advantages – if they pass well enough to find the player in favorable position. The ball will move plenty between the hardwood and the dribbler’s hands. Between players? That’s a major question mark.

It’s one of numerous hitches in Bird’s plan.

He tried to fast-track the offense last year by moving George from small forward to power forward. Despite Bird’s demands, George resisted. The plan was largely scrapped early in the season.

McMillian was also a curious choice given Bird’s stated goals. McMillian’s Trail Blazers and SuperSonics teams usually played slow. Still, perhaps the coach can adapt his scheme to fit his players (and appease his boss). Bird chose McMillian for a reason, after all.

Bird chose it all.

This is the team he long desired – for better or worse.

Lakers GM Kupchak tries to brush off Jim Buss’ timeline discussion

Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak speaks to reporters at team headquarters in El Segundo, Calif., Friday, April 15, 2016. With Kobe Bryant's $25 million salary, ravenous shot selection and dominant personality gone from the basketball team after 20 years, Kupchak says he will meet with head coach Byron Scott and owner Jim Buss in a few days to discuss their options for the Lakers, which finished with the NBA's second-worst record at 17-65 in Bryant's farewell season. (AP Photo/Greg Beacham)
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Consider this a little preview: On Thursday the ProBasketballTalk podcast returns, opening with a discussion of the Lakers and the Pacific division with Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. We talk about the young core — D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, etc. — and how Luke Walton fits with them. How this is a team that if handled properly could develop into something of quality in a couple of years as these players come along. Patience is key.

But then we got to what Medina called the “elephant in the room”: Jim Buss’ timeline for returning to contending. He’s the head of basketball operations and vowed to at least make the second round of the playoffs at least by this season. Which is not happening. Will Buss be patient? Is he grounded in today’s NBA reality? Will the woman with the hammer, Jeanie Buss, hold him to that timeline? Does she have the backing of the other Buss children to push him out? (Reportedly she does.) It has Shakespearian drama potential.

Laker GM Mitch Kupchak was asked about that Tuesday and wanted no part of the question. Via Medina at the Daily News.

“I’m not in a position to debate the stuff you talked about,” Kupchak said on Tuesday at UC Santa Barbara. “I’m not sure what was said with certainty. From my point of view, we’ve created a team that has a lot of young talent that can grow into really good NBA players that can leave an imprint on this league. I think we’ve surrounded them with older veterans to help us win games. I’m excited about our coaching staff….

“Wins and losses, I couldn’t pick a number,” Kupchak said. “I could guess. But I would not guess in front of you. That’s not something I would do. That’s something I would stare at for the rest of the year.”

The Lakers should win more than the 17 of last year, maybe climb into the upper 20s, with 30 wins being the goal. That would signify a good season. But what matters is development, and if the Lakers are better at the end of the season, if their young players are on the right track, then that is success for this season.

Everyone around the Lakers understands that.

But is that enough to save Jim Buss’ job? That’s a different question.

New challenges face Portland guard CJ McCollum in Year four

Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum poses for a photograph during NBA basketball media day in Portland, Ore., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) CJ McCollum became a starter for the Trail Blazers last season, broke out as the NBA’s Most Improved Player then signed a big contract over the summer.

Driving him all along the way was third-year pressure.

“Because I knew that was a make-or-break year for me. I know that going into year three I hadn’t played particularly well. I’d had flashes, but I just didn’t sustain a level of consistency for a season.

“In our league you get three years, you get traded, you get put in a box and they say `This is what you are,”‘ McCollum said when the team convened this week for training camp.

The 25-year-old guard became a star in the Blazers’ backcourt with Damian Lillard last season after four of the team’s starters left in the offseason.

With one of the youngest rosters in the league, the Blazers were considered a team that was rebuilding.

But they surpassed expectations, finishing 44-38 and earning the fifth seed in the Western Conference and advancing to the second round of the playoffs.

At one point last season, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle referred to Lillard and McCollum as “a younger version of those Golden State guys.”

McCollum averaged 20.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists during the regular season. He had 197 3-pointers, fourth most for the Blazers in one season. He scored in double figures in 79 games.

He raised his scoring average by more than 14 points over the previous season and the dramatic turnaround earned him the Most Improved Player award.

That improvement was the most since Tony Campbell from an average of 6.2 points to 23.2 points with Minnesota between the ’88-89 and `89-90 seasons.

McCollum averaged 20.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists in the postseason last season.

But at times he was nervous that he was just an injury away from seeing all the hard work fizzle away.

“It was nerve-wracking for me because if you get hurt so many times you fear it. You’re like, `Oh, this could be it,”‘ he said. “So for me to get through a season healthy and to play well, it was comforting.”

McCollum, the 10th overall pick in the 2013 draft out of Lehigh, missed the first 34 games of his rookie season with a foot injury.

The next season he was a reserve, but he started to turn heads down the stretch and into the playoffs after starter Wesley Matthews was knocked out with a ruptured Achilles. His postseason included a 33-point game against Memphis.

This summer the Blazers solidified their backcourt for years to come by signing McCollum to a four-year contract worth $106 million. It will keep him in Portland through the 2020-21 season.

While McCollum says he feels “less pressure” this season, he’s still looking to grow. The Blazers signed free agent Evan Turner in the offseason to help shore up the Blazers’ depth at guard.

“As a younger player you just play and react,” McCollum said. “As an older player you start to get more experience and you start to `think’ the game. I think once I put those two things together I can be a special player.”