PBT Power Rankings: Boston, Indiana making late surge up the rankings

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Another showdown this week between the Hawks and Warriors, a potential Finals preview for sure. Although the Cavaliers and about six teams in the West will have their say about that. The Lakers return to the bottom of the rankings after they couldn’t beat the Knicks.

 
source:  1. Warriors (52-13, Last Week No. 1). They have won eight in a row at home and their next five are at Oracle, including an interesting rematch against the Hawks Wednesday night. Don’t expect to see David Lee in that game, he’s had three DNP-CDs in the last six games.

 
source:  2. Hawks (51-14, LW 2). They became the first team in the NBA to lock down a playoff spot, and with a 10-game lead on the Cavs they will be the No. 1 seed. So how much did Mike Budenholzer learn from Popovich about resting players down the stretch? He did it Sunday against the Lakers and got a win, although Kyle Korver played and broke his nose (he may miss a game or two).

 
source:  3. Cavaliers (43-25 LW 3). This is what having stars like Kyrie Irving and LeBron James on your team can bring — the Spurs were the better team last Wednesday and it didn’t matter because Kyrie was on fire and dropped 57. LeBron’s tweaked knee Sunday was a scary moment (the Cavs are 2-9 without LeBron this season).

 
source:  4. Trail Blazers (44-20. LW 6). They are just one game back of being the two seed in the West and they face off against the Grizzlies Saturday. The Blazers are 6-1 in March with their stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard playing maybe their best ball of the season. Someone forgot to tell them they were going to fall apart after Wesley Matthews was injured.

 
source:  5. Spurs (41-24, LW 7). No Manu Ginobili for at least a week with a sprained ankle. I don’ read much into the loss to the Cavs on Wednesday — the Spurs were the better team, just nobody could stop Kyrie Irving for a night. That happens. The Spurs are 1-5 in overtime games this season, which is more fluke than cause for concerns.

 
source:  6. Grizzlies (45-20, LW 4). They are 7-6 since the All-Star break with their offense not impressing anybody. They rested all their key guys Thursday in Washington then looked better Saturday in a win over the Bucks, we’ll see if they can build on that and right the ship.

 
source:  7. Rockets (44-22, LW 4). The Rockets are 14-8 without Dwight Howard and have stumbled some lately, but picked up a gritty win on the road against the Clippers. Harden is still putting up near MVP-level numbers but you have to wonder if he’s slipped behind Russell Westbrook in that race (in my book he never caught Stephen Curry).

 
source:  8. Clippers (42-25, LW 8). The return of Blake Griffin brings needed scoring and options to the offense, the key is to keep DeAndre Jordan playing at a high level as he has been. Griffin’s also brought back that get-under-the-opponents skin nature of Los Angeles, not to mention the need to lobby referees on every call. The good news for the Clippers is their schedule is one of the softest in the NBA the rest of the way.

 
source:  9. Thunder (37-29, LW 9). It’s going to be another week or so before Kevin Durant returns, and now Serge Ibaka is going to miss some time for knee surgery. That hasn’t mattered with the masked-man Westbrook pushing this teams to wins. Also combination of Enes Kanter and Steven Adams up front has worked pretty well (32 points and 29 boards combined against the quality Bulls front line Sunday), but they will be tested without Ibaka.

 
source:  10. Mavericks (42-25, LW 10). We’ve discussed Dallas’ challenges with top teams in the West, but they looked very good routing the Clippers last Friday. Can they build on that with the Thunder and Grizzlies on the schedule this week? And while they had some struggles, they are not sliding 5.5 games behind the Pelicans before the season ends.

 
source:  11. Pelicans (36-30, LW 11). Anthony Davis’ Sunday line is legendary: 36 points, 14 rebounds, nine blocks, and seven assists. According to Basketball-Reference.com, no other player in the last 30 seasons has posted a line with at least those numbers. But the Pelicans lost in double OT to Denver, they have too many of those nights to make the playoffs.

 
source:  12. Pacers (30-34, LW 13). Best team in the NBA since the All-Star break but they have some real tests coming up the next couple weeks (this week it’s the Raptors, Bulls, Cavaliers and Nets). Get through these two weeks in the playoff mix and they are not coming out of it.

 
source:  13. Jazz (29-36, LW 17). The best team in the West since the All-Star break, but unlike the Pacers out East that’s not good enough to get you in the playoff mix in the West. They seem to be finding themselves on the court, but the shift in ownership with Greg Miller stepping down raises questions about one of the most stable franchises in the league.

 
source:  14. Bulls (40-28, LW 12). They have lost five of six, and the one win came because Aaron Brooks went off on the Sixers. There have been a few problems with their defense this season, but one of the biggest has become rebounding — the opponent’s possession isn’t over until you secure the ball. The Hornets and Thunder gave the Bulls all sorts of problems there.

 
source:  15. Celtics (29-36, LW 19). They have won four in a row and, in a sign we normally see from good teams, they are doing it with key guys injured (Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas). That this team is in the playoff hunt should get Brad Stevens some Coach of the Year votes.

 
source:  16. Wizards (38-28, LW 21). The Wizards beat the Grizzlies because Memphis chose that game to rest every player you can name. John Wall shouldn’t be offended, just take the win. You needed it. The Wizards have won three in a row but things get tough with Portland then a West Coast road swing.

 
source:  17. Bucks (34-32, LW 14). Jason Kidd and the Bucks wanted Michael Carter-Williams and his wonky shot, and traded Brandon Knight to get him. Well, since the trade deadline, they’re 4-9 with the 29th rated offense (using points per possession) in the league. Yes, they have been better offensively with MCW on the court, but not good enough at all.

 
<source:  18. Suns (35-33, LW 16). You knew after their trade deadline moves they were likely to fall out of the playoff mix and they have in any way that really matters. Tough stretch of the schedule against quality teams coming up, which will officially doom any playoff hopes.

 
source:  19. Raptors (39-27, LW 20). They have stumbled losing 8-of-10 because of a weak defense, but they may be able to hang on to the three seed the rest of the way thanks to DeMar DeRozan’s recent offensive explosion, and the fact their schedule is pretty soft the rest of the way out.

 
source:  20. Hornets (29-35, LW 15). Kemba Walker is understandably rusty. Al Jefferson is banged up. They have the toughest remaining schedule of any of the teams battling for one of the final couple playoff spots in the East — it’s going to be hard to hold off Boston unless they get healthy and get some steady offense.

 
source:  21. Heat (29-36, LW 18). Miami is only half a game out of the East’s final playoff spot, but the schedule this week is brutal: Cleveland, Portland, improved Denver, then a four-game roadie that includes the Thunder and Hawks. They need the Hassan Whiteside of a couple weeks ago back not the one losing his temper and not playing as focused.

 
source:  22. Nets (26-38, LW 22). For a team loaded with veterans they seem to be collapsing like a house of cards down the stretch. And not the good Netflix House of Cards (great show), I mean an actual one. They need some wins against the teams they are battling for a playoff space, starting with the Pacers Saturday night.

 
source:  23. Nuggets (26-41, LW 27). They are 6-2 under Melvin Hunt, who has at the very least earned a serious interview as the guy to replace Brian Shaw. Denver management may want to do something crazy and ask their core players — Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried — what they think of Hunt vs. other potential candidates.

 
source:  24. Kings (22-42, LW 24). No Rudy Gay for a bit as he rests his knee. The Kings are a lot more fun to watch and offensively dangerous under George Karl, but they have become a defensive mess. You don’t win games that way. The Kings are proof.

 
source:  25. Pistons (23-43, LW 23). They have lost 10 games in a row and the team’s shooting has been abysmal. It has made the big question remaining in Detroint: Can you see Reggie Jackson as the future point guard for this franchise? What are you willing to offer him this off-season? He hasn’t played like a guy deserving the big cash lately.

source:  26. Timberwolves (14-51, LW 25). No Kevin Garnett due to knee soreness the last four (all losses), which takes some of the luster off his little return. Actually the luster is off of everything: Andrew Wiggin’s shooting, Ricky Rubio’s ankles, anything resembling defense.

 
source:  27. Magic (21-47, LW 26). No doubt they are bad, but you see some hope with solid future rotation players like Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic (actually Vucevic could be a potential All-Star). Just hang in Magic fans and hope management hires the right coach.

 
source:  28. 76ers (15-50, LW 28). Thomas Robinson has played pretty well and looked like a potential future rotation player. Same with Robert Covington. And Nerlens Noel. And remember they could have three first round picks in this draft. They might be able to build something if management lets it

 
source:  29. Knicks (13-53, LW 30). Alexey Shved is not your savior New York, he is a mirage of entertainment. Which at this this point in the season you take. After listening to Phil Jackson the past couple weeks, if Knicks fans are worried about the future you can’t blame them.

 
source:  30. Lakers (17-47, LW 29). At their current pace (fourth worst record in the NBA) they have basically a 4-in-5 chance of retaining their top-five draft pick this season (if it is sixth or later it reverts to the Sixers). Most Lakers fans are rooting for Minnesota or Philadelphia to get hot enough they pass the Lakers and improve those odds.

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.