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PBT NBA Power Rankings: Spurs finish season on top

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It’s the final power rankings of the season from ProBasketballTalk and the Spurs are going to finish the season on the top. Since Tony Parker got back healthy the Spurs have been a force, but the No. 2 Thunder present real matchup problems for San Antonio come the playoffs. Of course, the Thunder’s road to any potential showdown is brutal. Heck, the whole Western Conference playoffs will be brutal.

 
source:  1. Spurs (62-18, Last week No. 1). You simply have to marvel at this franchise — 17 straight playoff trips and 16 years of at least 50 wins (excluding the 50-game lockout season of ’98-99). Coming into this season we wondered if the painful loss in the finals would hold them back. We wondered if Father Time would overtake the core guys. No and no. This team is once again a legitimate title contender.

 
source:  2. Thunder (58-22, LW 4).. They are No. 2 on this list but I still think they come out of the West into the Finals — their length on defense allows them to recover and contest more shots than anyone and it bothers the Spurs. However, to get to the Spurs they will have to face Memphis or Dallas (and Memphis wants OKC over San Antonio) then likely the Clippers. Thats a hard road.

 
source:  3. Clippers (56-24, LW 2). This looks like a team finally defending, a team finally on the cusp of contending, but they will draw a brutal first round matchup with Golden State. Beat them and you likely land OKC in the second round. Ouch. The three Clipper perimeter players recently battling injury — J.R. Redick, Jamal Crawford and Danny Granger — all need to be back and playing well for the Clippers to have a chance to advance beyond that.

 
source:  4. Heat (54-26, LW No. 3). When focused for a big game, say against Indiana, they bring their defense back to life and look like a contender. But against everyone else they still look like they are going through the motions. That said, there is no team from the East playing well enough right now to beat them in a seven game series. (Indiana is the only one that can, sorry Brooklyn not happening.)

 
source:  5. Rockets (53-27, LW 5). Interesting first round showdown with Portland looming, both teams put up a lot of points on the other when they faced off this season. Patrick Beverley will be key for a Rockets team that will need to harass and slow down Damian Lillard. On the flip side, James Harden should have a strong series against Portland’s inconsistent defense.

 
source:  6. Trail Blazers (53-28, LW 7). Portland is 8-1 since LaMarcus Aldridge returned and the big win at home over Golden State Sunday (maybe the most entertaining game of the season) shows they will not go quietly in the first round. However, their defense is going to have to be improved and consistent to slow down the Rockets offense.

 
source:  7. Bulls (47-33, LW 9). Sunday’s surprising loss to the Knicks lets Toronto control its own destiny for the third seed, which could mean a first round matchup against Brooklyn for Chicago. That would be brutal. The Bulls beat the Nets last year in the playoffs but the Nets have added Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and some other talent since then. The Bulls run since the All-Star break — without Derrick Rose or Luol Deng — has been one of the most amazing parts of the NBA season.

 
source:  8. Warriors (49-31, LW 6). With soft closeouts against Minnesota and Denver it’s likely the Warriors finish with at least 50 wins — the last time they did that was 1994, when Don Nelson coached them, Latrell Sprewell led the team in scoring and Chris Webber was a rookie. Bad news is they likely land the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs and that is a bad draw for a Warriors team that has struggled to beat the Clippers in Los Angeles.

 
source:  9. Mavericks (49-32, LW 11). They are in the playoffs after Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki owned the second half Saturday and the Mavs beat the Suns. However their seeding is still up in the air. Those two guys will put up points in the playoffs, but will Dallas defend well enough to win more than one game in the postseason?

 
source:  10. Grizzlies (47-32, LW 12).  They still need to beat either Phoenix Monday or Dallas Wednesday to secure a playoff spot. They very likely will, then will be a physical, tough out for whoever draws them in the first round.

 
source:  11. Pacers (54-26, LW 13). We saw a flash of this team potentially returning to form Sunday at home beating the Thunder. Indy also won at home a few weeks ago against the Heat — that’s why home court matters. But this team is 20-20 on the road this season and they will not last long in the playoffs without some key road wins. Fortunately, they likely draw the Hawks in the first round, which is like a nice tuneup round, a sparring match to get ready for the main events.

 
source:  12. Suns (47-33, LW 8). The reason Jeff Hornacek is Coach of the Year in my book is the amazing development of players under him – Goran Dragic and Gerald Green could get votes for most improved player, Markieff Morris will get some votes for Sixth Man of the Year (and deservedly so). The Suns need to beat the Grizzlies Monday night then hope Dallas beats Memphis on Wednesday to get into the playoffs. It’s a longshot, but I’m saying there’s a chance.

 
source:  13. Raptors (47-33, LW 10). They control their own playoff destiny — beat the Bucks Monday and the Knicks Wednesday and the Raptors are the three seed, likely getting Washington in the first round. Which means they could make the second round of the playoffs, a huge accomplishment for this franchise. This team is solid on both ends of the floor and look for Kyle Lowry to have a monster playoffs (just have a feeling).

 
source:  14. Nets (43-36, LW 14). Maybe the most interesting and hardest to read team entering the playoffs. They have had stretches of strong play but have been a little sloppy of late, they have veterans with playoff experience but ones Father Time is starting to win the race with. If they land Chicago in the first round that is brutal.

 
source:  15. Bobcats (41-39, LW 16). That this team made the leap it did this year and made the playoffs is a credit to three men: Coach Steve Clifford for getting this group to play good team defense; GM Rich Cho for maybe the move of the summer picking up the next guy on the lat; finally Al Jefferson for a season that will land him on an All-NBA team.

 
source:  16. Wizards (42-38, LW 15). You want a sleeper playoff team in the East? With Nene on the court the Wizards have a very good defense — allowing 99 points per 100 possessions — and their offense plays with more confidence. They will not be an easy out, and if they land Toronto in the first round the Wizards have to feel they have a real shot at advancing.

source:  17 . Timberwolves (40-39, LW 18). Hey, look over here at Gorgui Dieng and how well the rookie is playing with Nicola Pekovic out — don’t look over there at another year without the playoffs. Minnesota’s point differential of +2.9 is better than the Bulls, Suns, Grizzlies and Mavericks, but Minny could not win close games and it cost them.

 
source:  18. Hawks (37-43, LW 17). That they held on to playoff spot without Al Horford for much of the season is a testament to what GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer are starting to build there. Still a long way to go and the best they can do in the first round is win one game, but it’s something to build on.

 
source:  19. Nuggets (36-44, LW 22). Kenneth Faried really started to show off the development of his game the second half of the season — just in time to talk contract extension (he is eligible this summer). He and Ty Lawson played well down the stretch (when Lawson was healthy). Next season if they can stay healthy and get Danilo Gallinari back things get interesting.

 
source:  20. Knicks (35-45, LW 19). Carmelo Anthony made a valiant effort this season, and I expect he will not be going anywhere this summer. But Phil Jackson has a mandate to make changes yet almost no flexibility — nobody sane is taking on Andrea Bargnani’s deal — which will make this a very interesting summer in New York.

 
source:  21. Cavaliers (32-49, LW 20). They will offer Kyrie Irving a max extension this summer and he will sign it and stick around — the only question is does he ask for an opt-out after three seasons. Two other big questions for the Cavs this summer: Who gets the GM job and how much does said GM offer Luol Deng to stick around?

 
source:  22. Kings (28-53, LW 21). Ownership is committed to DeMarcus Cousins as a building block, but what about Rudy Gay? Gay has a $19.3 million million option for next season he may pick up, but hinted he may opt out for a longer deal and some security. If he does opt out, how much and how long a deal would the Kings offer Gay?

 
source:  23. Pelicans (32-48, LW 23). This is the team I most expect to make a leap next season — Anthony Davis is exploding and if they can keep Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and the rest healthy this is a playoff team. However their lottery pick this year goes to Philly (top 5 protected).

 
source:  24. Pistons (29-51, LW 25). Joe Dumars is out as GM after his Josh Smith/Brandon Jennings gamble failed. It will be interesting to see which way owner Tom Gores goes with finding a replacement — spend money on a name or bring in one of the up-and-coming generation if front office people? Whoever takes over has to pick a coach and clean up a real mess of an ill-fitting roster.

 
source:  25. Magic (23-56 LW 24). The youth movement continues in Orlando this summer — they will have their own pick, at least top six, plus the higher of the Knicks or Nuggets picks (Denver gets the other one). They have a few nice young players like Victor Oladipo but it’s going to take years to develop all these players into something.

 
source:  26. Celtics (25-55, LW 29). Maybe he was never fully healthy, but the Celtics did not get better once Rajon Rondo returned to the team. That leads to the “keep him or trade him?” question Danny Ainge has been on the fence about for years. This summer could be the time he really does pull the trigger on a Rondo trade.

 
source:  27. Lakers (25-55, LW 26). Can you imagine the uproar and the calls of a fix if the Lakers win the NBA Draft lottery? It would blow the frozen envelope theory out of the top spot in NBA lottery conspiracies. Fair or not. By the way, the Lakers last Top 5 pick? James Worthy. That worked out fairly well.

 
source:  28. Jazz (24-56, LW 28). What kind of money teams are going to offer restricted free agent Gordon Hayward this summer will be one of the best subplots of the off-season. Hayward has a lot of fans in NBA front offices but he’s really a No. 2/3 guy on a good team, how much are you willing to overpay to poach a guy like that out of Utah?

 
source:  29. 76ers (17-63, LW 27). What they learned this season is that Michael Carter-Williams is a keeper, someone who can be a starter/rotation guy on a good team. Now they get to add two lottery picks to that (the Sixers have the Pelicans’ pick, unless it is in the top five). If you’re going to tank for draft picks, you had better nail those picks, Sam Hinkie.

 
source:  30. Bucks (14-63, LW 30). They didn’t plan to tank, it just worked out that way. The more interesting move this summer is the apparently impending sale of the team — who is buying and how much are they willing to put into a new arena to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee?

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 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)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 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)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.