PBT’s Weekly NBA Power Rankings: No. 1 vs. No. 2 this week… and No. 3.

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There are some real tests for the top-ranked Hawks this week against the No. 2 Grizzlies and the No. 3 Warriors. Down on the bottom of the scale, while the Timberwolves remain there the return of Ricky Rubio this week should hang that soon.

 
source:  1. Hawks (40-8, Last Week No. 1). There’s a lot of buzz around Friday night’s Hawks showdown with the Warriors, a potential Finals matchup of the two best teams from the first half of the season. But the entire week is tough for Atlanta — New Orleans and Washington Monday then Wednesday, then Memphis looms on Sunday. If Hawks winning streak reaches 20 on Monday, only fifth NBA team to do that.

 
source:  2. Grizzlies (35-12, LW 4). They are 10-2 in their last dozen games, which is not so coincidentally when Zach Randolph returned and started putting up his usual double-doubles nightly. I’ve got a feeling this is the team that snaps the Hawks winning streak, Memphis has been playing great defense during their streak.

 
source:  3. Warriors (37-8, LW 2). They lost to the Bulls and Jazz last week, but that’s just a blip. Still, David Lee at the five for stretches and more Leandro Barbosa are not my favorite things to see. Did we mention the big showdown with Atlanta on Friday night?I kno

 
source:  4. Clippers (33-15, LW 5). They had their six game win streak snapped in New Orleans, then responded on Saturday with maybe best game of season vs. Spurs. They Clippers have done it all with offense, scoring 113.9 points per 100 possessions in last eight games, best in NBA in that stretch. Defense 17th in league in that same time frame.

 
source:  5. Spurs (30-18, LW 3). An ugly home loss to the Clippers was another sign that the bench play of the Spurs is not what it was during their run last season, with Boris Diaw not looking the same and Manu Ginobili in a slump. That would be an issue if it continues into the playoffs.

 
source:  6. Rockets (33-15, LW 6). The Rockets are 6.7 points per 100 possessions better when Dwight Howard is on the court and now they will be without him for weeks with a knee injury. They are currently the five seed in the West (although they would have home court over four seed Portland) but this is the kind of thing that could see them slide down the seedings and make the playoffs that much tougher.

 
source:  7. Cavaliers (29-20 LW 11). They have won 10 games in a row, thanks in part to Kyrie Irving just going off when LeBron James was out. Still, they watched Andrew Wiggins drop 33 on them last week and you have to think the GMs of this team — LeBron and David Griffin — have to have a knot in their stomach about the long-term impact of the Kevin Love trade.

 
source:  8. Mavericks (32-17, LW 7). Rajon Rondo is out for at least a week with a orbital bone fracture in his face. When he is on the court the Dallas defense improves by 5.5 points per 100 possessions, the problem is the offense dips by 6.7 per 100. They need Rondo to find an offensive groove with this team by the playoffs.

 
source:  9. Suns (28-21, LW 10). A lot of people predicted the Suns would set during a tough run of eight games they are in the midst of, however they are 3-3 so far and are almost through the tough patch (only Memphis and Portland remain). They have a two game lead on the Pelicans and a four game lead over Oklahoma City for the final playoff spot and will be tough to catch.

 
source:  10. Trail Blazers (32-16. Last Week No. 8). Damian Lillard did get screwed out of not being an All-Star, but he didn’t unleash that anger on the Hawks last weekend. Will he in a tough stretch of games this week that include the Suns, Mavericks and Rockets?

 
source:  11. Raptors (33-15, LW 13). Is it possible to win six games in a row and not look great doing it? The Raptors have their wins but didn’t blow our doors off beating the Wizards or Nets. In their last 10 games the Raptors have the fifth best offense in the NBA but still the 21st ranked defense. That end of the court is still an issue.

 
source:  12. Bulls (30-19, LW 9). They are bucking for the title of most inconsistent team in the NBA — they beat the Warriors then turn around and fall to the Lakers. Even within games their play is erratic. I keep saying in radio interviews on paper the Bulls are the best team in the East but if they can’t put the pieces together it’s moot (and Tom Thibodeau may take the fall for that).

 
source:  13 Wizards (31-17, LW 12). Another team that, like the Bulls, looks good on paper and tantalizes you with stretches of impressive play, followed by just some terrible losses. They have a good measuring stick game Wednesday vs. Atlanta, but the question is can they sustain it after that?

 
source:  14. Pelicans (25-22, LW 14). Coach Monty Williams’ seat is getting warm in New Orleans and it’s largely due to the fact a team with Anthony Davis and Omer Asik on the back line is still 23rd in the NBA in defense. That end of the court is why the Pelicans are so up and down. (This offseason, the Big Easy would be an interesting landing spot for Tom Thibodeau if he’s out in Chicago.)

 
source:  15. Thunder (23-24, LW 15). Fans may not have hit the panic button yet in OKC but they sure have at least figured out where it is. The one good thing in OKC favor is a heavy home schedule the rest of the way but four games is going to be a lot to make up on a Phoenix team that will not roll over, the Thunder need to string together a healthy winning streak fast.

 
source:  16. Bucks (25-22, LW 18). They picked up a quality win over Portland last week and we’re going to get to see a lot of Giannis Antetokounmpo All-Star weekend — things continue to look up for the Bucks. Clipper fans are likely watching this Jared Dudley play and say “where was this guy when we had him?”

 
source:  17. Hornets (20-27, LW 16). It’s impressive that the Hornets have gone 4-1 without Kemba Walker so far, giving hope that they can hold on to the eight seed in the East until the star point guard returns. The Bobcats offense has taken the expected dive without walker but they are defending well again and that can keep them in the playoffs.

 
source:  18. Heat (21-26, LW 17). In his last five games Heat fan favorite Hassan Whiteside has averaged 15.2 points shooting 61.8 percent plus pulling down 12.8 rebounds. More than the numbers, when he is on the court the Heat are just more active and energetic on defense with deflections and blocked shots. .

 
source:  19. Jazz (17-30, LW 20). They beat the Warriors on Friday with maybe their best game of the season, showing both the potential and development of this team. Can they replicate that in a tough stretch this eek against Portland, Memphis and Phoenix?

 
source:  20. Pistons (18-30, LW 19). . Pistons fans got to boo Josh Smith and watch him struggle and his Rockets lose. That was cathartic. But then this same Pistons team got manhandled by the Sixers last week, so everything is not right yet. Just less bad.

 
source:  21. Nets (18-28, LW 21). They have dropped four in a row and 12 of their last 14 games, they have slid out of the playoffs, and the talk is now should they buy out Kevin Garnett and let him play for a contender. The front office is more focused on moving players like Brook Lopez or Joe Johnson to clean up the books before a sale of the team than than they are Garnett’s future.

 
source:  22. Nuggets (19-29, LW 22). JaVale McGee is back on the court and that ups the entertainment value of the league right away. This is another team where the most interesting story the next few weeks will be if Wilson Chandler gets traded, not anything they do on the court.

 
source:  23. Celtics (16-30, LW 23). If I were going to bet on one team to make another deal before the trade deadline, Boston would be at the top of the list. They keep playing Tayshaun Prince minutes and that has to be to showcase him, not because they want to make a run at the eight see, right?

 
source:  24. Pacers (17-32, LW 22). The Pacers are just four games out of the playoffs, so in theory they could make a run at it, but they just lack the offense to get it done.

 
source:  25. Kings (17-29, LW 25). DeMarcus Cousins deserved to be an All-Star and was a great selection to fill in for Kobe Bryant on the roster. He’s the first Kings All-Star in more than a decade, when Peja Stojakovic and Brad Miller were on the squad together in 2004.

 
source:  26. Knicks (10-38, LW 27). The Knicks are playing better of late because their defense has been less bad (I don’t know that I’d say good) and Carmelo Anthony is doing things like putting up 31 points on the Lakers. What happens after the All-Star Game when ‘Melo shuts it down? That could get ugly.

 
source:  27. Magic (15-35, LW 26). No coach is on a hotter seat than Jacque Vaughn, who in his first year looked like he could get this team to play defense but has not any more. If they make a coaching change in season, it may come after they get back this week from a road trip that finishes against the Thunder and Spurs.

 
source:  28. 76ers (10-38, LW 29). If you’re into moral victories, the Sixers had one against the Hawks last week. Michael Carter-Williams had another triple double and, while I’m not sold he’s a star, should be a solid rotation guard in the league for a while.

 
source:  29. Lakers (13-34, LW 28). No Kobe Bryant or Nick Young and they played hard and found a way to beat the Bulls last week to end their losing streak. Still, the most interesting thing about this team the rest of the way is how Jordan Clarkson develops.

source:  30. Timberwolves (8-39, LW 30). Don’t expect them to stay on the bottom long, not with Ricky Rubio close to returning to the lineup (possibly Monday), along with Kevin Martin and Nicola Pekovic. Those three take Minnesota out of the pushover category and will get them a few wins, along with Andrew Wiggins’ improved play.

Jusuf Nurkic’s agent says big man wants to stay in Portland this summer

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Last season, after his trade from frustrated backup big in Denver to new starter in Portland, there was a honeymoon — the Blazers went 14-6, their defense was better, and Nurkic was a big man setting big picks for quick guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

This season the honeymoon is over, things have been up and down, but far from time to say the marriage should end, as he is a free agent next summer. Nurkic is the only real starting center on the roster (even if coach Terry Stotts left him on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Ed Davis a few games back). Nurkic is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and the Blazers’ defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. However, his effort level has been up and down, and his shot is off, with a true shooting percentage of just 49.4, and he is shooting just 56.6 percent in the restricted area.

Nurkic wants to stay in Portland, his agent told Ben Golliver in a story at Sports Illustrated (that story is worth the read for the Nurkic origin story, which is amazing).

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

The two sides talked extension before the season, but Portland understandably wanted to make sure there was more to this relationship than just a honeymoon. It gave Nurkic a chance to drive up his asking price.

Portland and Nurkic likely will find a long-term deal next summer because it just makes sense for both sides. There are not a lot of teams with max free agent money next summer (4-6, I was told by an insider), or a lot of money to spend in general, and both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus would be centers on the market who rank ahead of Nurkic. Portland will offer more than other free agent destinations, if not as much as Nurkic dreamed of, and they will find common ground.

But there is a lot of season to play out before then. The Blazers feel like a team that should be better than its record so far, and Nurkic is part of that untapped potential. If things change, that’s good for Nurkic — and the Blazers.

Celtics look to push win streak to 16 vs. Mavs

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DALLAS (AP) — The Boston Celtics aren’t yet halfway to the NBA record for consecutive victories, a mark the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers still hold, but at 15 in a row, they are in rare territory.

Since 1946-47, there have only been 35 instances of a 15-game win streak or longer. And of all the legendary Celtics teams, this squad already holds the franchise’s fifth-longest win streak. A victory Monday night against the Dallas Mavericks, who are an NBA-worst 3-14 overall and 2-8 at American Airlines Center, would tie the 1964-65 Boston team’s 16-game win streak.

If the Celtics (15-2) get the win, they would climb closer to the 1959-60 team’s 18-game win streak, and then comes the club mark of 19 in a row accomplished by the 2008-09 team.

This version of the Celtics has to be considered the most unexpected to string together so many wins. The team has a slew of new players, starting with guard Kyrie Irving, and Boston lost another prized newcomer, forward Gordon Hayward, in the season opener.

After starting 0-2, Boston hasn’t lost. Yet, it’s not exactly as if the Celtics are steamrolling the league. For the Mavericks, who are coming off snapping the Milwaukee Bucks’ four-game win streak Saturday, the fact that Boston has actually had to rally to get a handful of its wins must be seen as an opportunity to steal a decision.

In fact, four of the Celtics’ victories during the streak have come after Boston trailed by 16 points, including a 110-109 win against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

“Most of us have never been on a winning streak like this,” Irving said following the win over Atlanta. “I don’t know if we even know how to pay attention to all the hoopla that goes on in terms of the excitement of it. I just think that every single game we take it as a challenge.”

Irving has been accepting that challenge with tremendous success after asking to be traded away from Cleveland, where he won one title with LeBron James and lost twice in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors.

He closed out those same Warriors last week, scoring 11 of the last 15 points in the final 4:21. The clutch play has Irving already being talked about as an MVP candidate.

“He’s so good in those moments that you want to give him the appropriate amount of room,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told the Boston Globe about Irving. “Maybe it’s finding a matchup. Maybe it’s creating a two-man game with Al (Horford).”

Irving will be a major test for Mavs rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who has displayed some tremendous flashes while also showing he is a green 19-year-old with one season of college ball under his belt.

Dallas, one of the league’s lowest-scoring offensive teams, is relying heavily on Smith and Harrison Barnes to carry the load. Dirk Nowitzki, 39, has dropped off significantly, averaging just 10.3 points a game, his lowest output since his rookie season in 1998-99.

Unlike the Celtics, Dallas has lost its share of games by being unable to close out games late. On Saturday, the Mavericks won a rare game going away, blitzing the Bucks with a franchise-tying 19 3-pointers. Guard Wesley Matthews said he thinks all the hard work is starting to pay off.

The history-chasing Celtics will put that claim to test.

“We can actually see everything that we’ve been trying to do come together, and hopefully that just carries the momentum into the off day where everybody’s feeling good,” Matthews said after Dallas’ victory. “We’ve got another tough battle Monday against Boston, who is the hottest team in the league right now, but it’s another opportunity for us.”

Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone suspended one game for confronting referee

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Denver coach Mike Malone decided if he was going to get tossed and fined/suspended, he was going to get his money’s worth.

During the second quarter of the Nuggets’ Sunday loss to the Lakers, Malone ran onto the court during play to argue a no-call on a play by Nikola Jokic around the basket. Malone furiously confronted referee Rodney Mott, who swiftly ejected the coach. As he should. Malone was suspended one game for “entering the court, halting play and making contact with a game official,” the league announced. Malone will serve his suspension tonight when the Nuggets face the Kings in Sacramento.

Mott also tossed Jokic when he entered the argument Sunday night, but the NBA rescinded the ejection saying Jokic earned a technical but should not have been thrown out. A lot of good that does the Nuggets now, who had to go more than half the game without their best player and lost (not that he changes the outcome of the game, but a comeback is less likely without him).

 

 

Kevin Garnett: Thon Maker “is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down.”

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Not to get to inside baseball on NBA journalism, but one fundamental truth is player trainers pump up their guys. There usually is some truth in what they say, but it is in their interest to spin the player the best way possible. On and off the record it happens. It’s like asking a political campaign manager about his candidate, you will only get the positive.

Kevin Garnett worked out and helped the Bucks’ Thon Maker this summer.

In just his second season, Thon Maker has been in and out of the starting lineup for the Bucks at center, and he’s struggled this season with a true shooting percentage of 48 getting him 4.5 points a game, and PER of 9.3. (Bucks fans are understandably disappointed, but this is a second-year player, some patience is required).

Garnett had Makers’ back in a Q&A with Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Abrams.

Thon Maker reminds me a lot of myself. He loves the game. He’s a young, exuberant athlete who has a lot of tools—he has touch; he has agility; he has really, good feet. He has a really good shot from three-point all the way up to 19 to 21 feet. He has very good bones, as we say.

Thon is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down. He has the bones. He has the appetite to be able to chase something like that.”

Garnett may have the wrong young-stud Buck with an MVP in his future.

Maker has gotten KG comparisons for years, he’s a very mobile and athletic but thin big who can shoot from the wing… but the physical similarities are not enough. Maker is no KG. Not yet. Maker showed promise against the Raptors last playoffs but has not taken a step forward off that progress this season, looking far more prone to fouling than defending. The effort is there, but the maturity of game has a long way to go to catch up.

Garnett is right that Maker has the tools, and he is just in his second NBA season so patience is required, but there were concerns around the league before the draft if he had the makeup to put it all together and become a quality NBA player. That question is still out there, let’s get past it before we heap on accolades.