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.

Report: NBA’s minor league won’t allow potentially eligible college players

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USC’s De’Anthony Melton, Louisville’s Brian Bowen and Auburn’s Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy haven’t played this season due to the FBI’s probe into college basketball. Mitchell Robinson left Western Kentucky before his freshmen season started to train for the NBA draft.

But they’re all potentially eligible to play college basketball again someday.

So, they can’t play in the NBA’s minor league.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

That ineligibility stems from a rule that prevents players who were enrolled in college during an academic calendar year from being offered a contract in the same season, unless they have been ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA with no opportunity of being reinstated (as was the case with P.J. Hairston in 2013).

“We’re not looking to compete with college basketball for their players,” a G League source said. “The NBA, specifically NBA lawyers, are concerned about the optics of NCAA players being disgruntled with minutes or coaching decisions and leaving college with the hopes of joining the G League. This is a blanket rule unfortunately that applies to all players. Like all of our rules, we are open to revisiting them if needed, but at the moment any player that was enrolled in a college this season is ineligible to play in our League.”

NBA executives and scouts are griping because they can’t evaluate these prospects in games. I don’t care about that.

This is an affront to capitalism. The basis of our economy should be competition, and the NBA is handing the NCAA – a cartel – a monopoly in this level of basketball. And it’s the workers (players) who lose.

So what if a freshman is disgruntled with his minutes and wants to turn pro during the season? He can’t join the NBA due to the age minimum. Why shouldn’t he be allowed to at least enter the NBA’s minor league, for which he’s old enough? We should trust him to manage his future, not protect the almighty college coach from facing consequences to his rotation.

I don’t know whether or not the NBA and NCAA colluded, but the NBA’s stance is the exact one it would take if it colluded. The NBA has worked to improve the quality of play in its minor league by increasing salary to compete against foreign leagues for players. It’s strange to just willingly take a backseat to college basketball when there’s a great opportunity to compete for top talent.

The players could legally challenge the policy, but they’ll be eligible for the NBA draft in June, and there’s risk in upsetting a potential future employer. And would anything be decided quickly enough in court to matter for the challenging player?

Players like Melton, Bowen, Wiley, Purifoy and Robinson aren’t allowed to let the market set their compensation as college basketball players, because NCAA schools have colluded to cap wages. Those players aren’t allowed to seek employment in the comparable American professional league, because that league doesn’t want to compete with the NBA.

It’s a travesty for capitalism and these workers.

LeBron James has tepid response when asked about Tyronn Lue’s job safety

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LeBron James was no fan of David Blatt, so he was let go around the All-Star break with the Cavaliers a couple of years ago when the team had the best record in the East.

Now the Cavaliers have fallen to third in the East and have lost 8-of-11, were blown out by the Thunder on national television on Saturday, have one of the worst defenses in the NBA, and have a brutal stretch of games against good teams ahead.

Is Tyronn Lue’s job in danger? That question has been asked around Cleveland, and when LeBron was asked about it after the OKC loss his response was tepid (via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com)

Is a coaching change really the answer? I’m not Lue’s biggest fan as a coach, I think Cleveland’s offense has too much isolation and can get simplistic, but he’s got an older team that lost Kyrie Irving (and replaced him with Isaiah Thomas, who just returned to the rotation a couple of weeks ago and is still getting his legs under him).

Maybe that wakes the team up, but the more likely change is a trade or two at the deadline. If Cleveland isn’t willing to put the Brooklyn pick in the mix (reportedly they will only do that for an elite superstar) it’s hard to see them getting a player that really makes a difference. However, get one who wakes the team up out of its malaise and plays a little defense, and the Cavaliers become more likely to out of the East.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks in Cleveland.

Thunder drop 148 points on defenseless Cavaliers, win in rout

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If you wondered why Cleveland is so active in the trade market as the deadline nears — and why they are hunting out guys who can play defense — all you had to do was watch the Thunder dismantle the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon on national television, 148-124.

The Thunder went into Quicken Loans Arena and list of offensive accolades is long (and ugly if you’re a Cleveland fan):

• Oklahoma City dropped 148 points.

• Oklahoma City shot 58 percent overall.

• Oklahoma City shot 46.7 percent from three.

• Oklahoma City got 44 percent of its shots within four feet of the rim.

• Oklahoma City’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George combined for 88 points.

• Westbrook had 23 points and 20 assists.

• Paul George had 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

Steven Adams had 25 points and 10 rebounds.

• Westbrook, George, Adams, and Anthony combined for 113 points on 66 shots.

To be fair, this was also about the Thunder playing one of their most complete offensive games of the season. They moved the ball beautifully, there wasn’t the “your turn/my turn” issues from earlier this season.

For a team still unsure of its identity and looking for validation, this game provided it.

It also provided another glimpse into the troubles in Cleveland.

Last season the Cavaliers counted on an exceptional offense to cover up for a defense that was decent when they cared and horrific when they didn’t, but when it got time in the playoffs Cleveland was able to flip the switch (it just wasn’t enough in the Finals). LeBron James has another gear and was able to lift his teammates up with it.

This season, they don’t seem to know where the switch is. The good defensive habits they had built over time seem lost and forgotten, as they run out a litany of minus defenders in their regular rotation.

Cleveland looks like a team that needs help at the trade deadline to ensure it gets out of the East. The question becomes will they throw in the Brooklyn pick to do it? And even if they did, would DeAndre Jordan really solve their issues right now?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo out a couple of games to manage sore knee

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It’s not discussed much, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chronically sore knee that has been an issue since last summer. It’s not debilitating, it doesn’t require surgery, but it’s something Antetokounmpo and the Bucks need to actively manage.

Hence, Antetokounmpo is sitting out the next couple of games. From Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Bucks all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Monday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns as the team actively manages the health of Antetokounmpo’s sore right knee….

Antetokounmpo’s injury, which is not considered to be tendinitis, is regarded as something that is always going to bother him to some extent, according to a league source. There will be days where the discomfort is higher and some when it’s lower, and the team’s goal is to manage that on a daily basis to keep the injury from becoming severe or significant — something it is not considered to be at this point.

Antetokounmpo is going to get eight days of rest this way, which is the smart long-term move for the Bucks.

The challenge is the Bucks may be sixth in the East as you read this, but they are just one game up on the nine seed Pistons. They need to get wins without Antetokounmpo, which is hard because they have been outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they could be without him a lot longer if Antetokounmpo’s knee isn’t managed now.