San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, left, talks with forward Tim Duncan (21) during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015, in San Antonio. San Antonio won 95-70. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Associated Press

PBT Power Rankings: Spurs take top spot away from Warriors

10 Comments

For the first time this season, the Golden State Warriors are not in the top spot in our power rankings, that spot belongs to the San Antonio Spurs. The top five teams have separated themselves from the pack. There also is a new team at the bottom of the rankings — your Phoenix Suns.

 
source: 1. Spurs (36-6, LW 2). They have an 11 game winning streak — that makes six seasons in a row with at least a 10-game winning streak, an NBA record. The Spurs have a better point differential than the Warriors for the season, and in the last 10 games the Spurs are beating opponents by 18.1 points per 100 possessions, which is 8.6 more than Golden State.

 
source: 2. Warriors (37-4, last week No. 1). Andrew Bogut said the Warriors have had some slippage in recent weeks and that has caught up to them with a couple losses in the last seven days. That’s been true on the defensive end, where they have been pedestrian for a couple weeks. But also this is just the NBA balancing out — the Warriors have the point differential of a 33-8 team (according to Basketball-Reference.com), they had some losses coming.

 
source: 3. Cavaliers (28-10, LW 3). They went 2-1 on s swing through Texas, the only loss being to San Antonio (where their bench was exposed as an issue). Monday they host Golden State in another good benchmark game for where the Cavs stand in relation to the top contenders. Heavy stretch of home games ahead for the Cavs.

 
source: 4. Clippers (26-14, LW 4). The Clippers could get Blake Griffin back at the end of this week or early next week (if you go by his timetable). Their win streak ended at 10, not coincidentally when DeAndre Jordan was out and their defense slipped vs. Sacramento. On Thursday the Clippers head out on a tough five-game road trip, which starts against the Cavaliers in Cleveland.

 
source: 5. Thunder (30-12 LW 5). Note to Kevin Durant: Oklahoma City is not mentioned in the same breath with Golden State or San Antonio because you haven’t played as well as them this season. For the full season the Thunder are third in net rating behind those West powers, and in the last 10 games the Cavaliers and Clippers have been better. However, on a recent PBT Podcast Spurs writer Jabari Young said he thought the Thunder were a bigger threat to the Spurs than the Warriors.

 
source: 6. Raptors (25-15, LW 7). They won their one game last week, beating the Magic in London, but their starting lineup continues to be an issue with DeMarre Carroll out (their offensive spacing and efficiency is just not the same). They need to find an offensive groove with the Celtics, Heat and Clippers coming up this week.

 
source: 7. Hawks (24-17, LW 9).With the trade deadline approaching and teams looking for a point guard, expect to hear rumors about teams calling the Hawks to discuss Dennis Schröder. But it’s going to take some quality assets to get Atlanta to move him. Rough loss to the Bucks last week as Atlanta got pushed around on the front line for a night.

 
source: 8. Bulls (23-16, LW 6). I don’t believe Chicago is going to miss Joakim Noah as much as much as some pundits think — they are 8-2 without him this season, and the Bulls are 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he sits (the defense is worse without him but the offense improves). With the emergence of Bobby Portis the Bulls have the depth up front, although in certain matchups they could have used Noah’s rim protection. Lots of road games ahead for Chicago.

 
source: 9. Grizzlies (23-19, LW 12). Coach Dave Joerger said Marc Gasol is tired and will likely get some rest coming up, although that is difficult with Mike Conley still out with a sore Achilles. Memphis has gone 4-2 in the six games Conley has missed, but their not really impressing in that stretch.

 
source: 10. Pistons (22-18, LW 13). Quality win against the Warriors, showing off an impressive defense against that high-powered attack. But this team is still up-and-down, losing to the Grizzlies last week, and a lot of that has to do with a lack of depth that bites them many nights.

 
source: 11. Mavericks (23-19, LW 8). They went 1-3 last week but the losses were to the Cavaliers, Thunder, and Spurs, not going to ding them too much for that. Still, the offense has struggled of late. Long Live Zaza Pachouli for the All-Star Team!

 
source: 12. Celtics (22-19, LW 14). After a slow start to the new year the Celtics have won three in a row, including an impressive comeback against the Pacers (aided by Indiana’s carelessness with the rock). This winning streak has them back as the eighth seed in the East and they will be in a fight the rest of the way to maintain that playoff position.

 
source: 13. Rockets (22-20, LW 15). They have won six of seven, using a more efficient but slower paced offense. They also have done it against teams they should beat (although the OT win against the Pacers and beating Memphis were good wins). Good measuring stick on Martin Luther King day against the Clippers on the road.

 
source: 14. Pacers (22-19, LW 10). Three losses in a row, including a tough one to Boston, but it was fun to see Myles Turner back and putting up numbers Sunday — 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting. On the road against the West this week, not expecting a win in Golden State but they need games like in Phoenix and Sacramento.

 
source: 15. Heat (23-18, LW 11). Three losses last week, but all in the road to the Warriors, Clippers, and Thunder. That happens. They got a win against Chicago and have the Wizards and Raptors on the road this week, those are the kinds of games the Heat need to win to solidify their playoff standing (they are just two games up on nine-seed Orlando).

 
source: 16. Magic (20-19, LW 16). Lost their only game of last week, to Toronto in London, but on the bright side they came from 16 down to force overtime in that one. They are just 1-6 since the ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

source: 17. Wizards (19-20, LW 17). With Bradley Beal back and the offense clicking, the Wizards have started to move into striking distance of a playoff spot in the East (just two games out), which is why the last-second loss to Boston hurt.

 
source: 18. Knicks (20-22, LW 18). Carmelo Anthony had to sit out two games and the Knicks lost both (including to Brooklyn), so it’s good news he is back on Monday against Philadelphia. Heavy stretch of home games and the Knicks are 11-8 on the season at Madison Square Garden, this is a chance to climb back into the playoff chase in the East.

 
source: 19. Kings (17-23, LW 20). They are 5-3 since Jan. 1, which is enough to push them to within one game of Utah for the final playoff spot in the West — wins against the Jazz and Clippers last week helped that cause. As I said on the PBT Podcast that dropped Monday talking All-Stars, I would have DeMarcus Cousins in for sure as a West reserve. He’s earned it.

 
source: 20. Jazz (18-22, LW 19). Utah has held onto its playoff spot but things are getting tight — Sacramento is just one game back, and Portland 1.5. They could use Derrick Favors back in the lineup, he was playing at an All-Star level but this recent injury and time off likely ends the hope the coaches would vote him onto the roster as a reserve.

 
source: 21. Bucks (18-25, LW 25). Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo have played better in recent weeks, but that hasn’t saved a Bucks defense that has been surprisingly bad this season. On the road all week in Miami, Houston and New Orleans.

 
source: 22. Trail Blazers (18-25, LW 21). Damian Lillard has played well but in a deep West guard rotation he could be on the outside looking in once the fans and coaches have voted. I’m not sure he can make the roster over Klay Thompson or James Harden, and that’s what it may take (unless the coaches leave Blake Griffin off and add another guard).

 
source: 23. Nuggets (16-25, LW 24). They are in the middle of an eight-game homestead and are 3-1 so far, although the arrivals of the Thunder, Grizzlies, and Pistons will make this a challenging week no matter where the games are played.

 
source: 24. Hornets (18-22, LW 22). They are 1-9 in their last 10 games, they are playing terrible defense and Al Jefferson is still out hurting on the offensive end. After such a promising start to the season Charlotte has slid 3.5 games out of the playoffs in the East and I’m not sure they can make up that ground.

 
source: 25. Pelicans (13-26, LW 23). Despite the team struggles, Anthony Davis should be a lock to be voted in an All-Star by the coaches (he’s averaging 22.8 points and 10.6 boards a game. The Pelicans picked up an exciting win with the Jrue Holiday alley-ooo game winner to Davis, and they now have won two in a row. For this team this season, that’s something to build on.

 
source: 26. Timberwolves (12-29,LW 26). The nine-game losing streak ended thanks to the soft landing that is the Phoenix Suns right now. If you haven’t read coach Sam Mitchel’s two-part Q&A with the Minnesota Post, go do it right now.

 
source: 27. Nets (11-30, LW 27). Owner Mikhail Prokhorov sounds like a guy thinking short term fixes can turn this franchise around sooner rather than doing it via a slower rebuild. If so, if the new GM can’t convince him otherwise, I will pity Nets fans. On the court, their new starting five of Donald Sloan, Wayne Ellington, Joe Johnson, Thaddeus Young, and Brook Lopez has played fairly well together.

 
source: 28. 76ers (5-37, LW 30). How did it take so long for the Sixers to retire Dolph Schayes’ No. 4? He’s a top 50 NBA player all time. Better late than never, I guess. On the court, the Sixers are a respectable 4-7 since Ish Smith joined the team and became their point guard and have a better net rating in their last 10 than even teams like Porland and Orlando.

 
source: 29. Lakers (9-34, LW 29). All we want is Kobe Bryant to be healthy enough to play and walk off the court under his own power in his final game this April, so seeing him come out of games at the half then come back the next night is concerning. Good on Kobe for bowing out of Olympic consideration, even without him on the roster it’s going to be tough to fit all the good young players in that 12 (guys like Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and Draymond Green are already on the bubble).

 
source: 30. Suns (13-29, LW 28). They are 1-9 in their last 10 and have been outscored by 16.5 points per 100 possessions in those games. This is ugly. The Suns have two first-round picks this June, but remember they traded the Lakers’ top-three protected pick to Philly in a move that had heads scratching around the league at the time.

Report: Raptors to begin contract extension talks with coach Dwane Casey

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors looks on from the sideline in the first quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers 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 Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
2 Comments

Entering the season, Dwane Casey’s seat was a little warm. He was not hired by the GM now in charge, and last season the Raptors had taken a step back, especially defensively.

After Toronto just ended the greatest season in franchise history — 56 wins and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals — Casey’s job is safe. In fact, the Raptors want to make sure he sticks around a while longer, reports Marc Stein at ESPN.

The Raptors and coach Dwane Casey are expected to soon begin talks on a contract extension, league sources said Friday night after Toronto’s season ended with a 113-87 loss to the Cavaliers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Casey has one season left on his current contract at the Raptors’ option for $4 million next season.

Both sides want to get a deal done, which usually means things happen quickly.

This is a smart move by the Raptors, clearly Casey connects with this team and knows how to get the most out of them, and he adapted well in the playoffs looking for rosters and lineups that worked. He’s the right coach for this team.

Pelicans’ rookie guard Bryce Dejean-Jones has died at age 23

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 04:  Bryce Dejean-Jones #31 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives to the basket during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Smoothie King Center on February 4, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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 Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
5 Comments

This is a sad and stunning development.

Bryce Dejean-Jones, the rookie guard of the New Orleans Pelicans, has died, the Dallas, Texas, County Coroner has confirmed to NBC Sports. Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune broke the news.

Dejean-Jones was just 23.

“It is with deep sadness that the Pelicans Organization acknowledges the sudden passing of Bryce Dejean-Jones,” the Pelicans’ organization said in a statement. “We are devastated at the loss of this young man’s life who had such a promising future ahead of him. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bryce’s family during this difficult time.”

The coroner’s office would not give a cause of death, but Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports had the tragic detail.

The account of him being shot has been confirmed by multiple sources, including the Dallas Police Department, which released an incident report to the Dallas Morning News. Here is that report:

“On May 28, 2016, at approximately 3:20 a.m., Dallas officers responded to the 2500 block of Bennett Avenue regarding a shooting. Upon arrival officers found one individual had been shot. The resident of the apartment reported that an individual had kicked open the front door and entered his apartment. The resident, who was asleep in the bedroom, heard the individual enter and retrieved a handgun. He stated he called out to the individual, but was not answered. As the individual kicked the bedroom door, the resident fired his gun. The individual left the apartment and collapsed in the breezeway. The individual was transported to a local hospital where he died from his injuries. This offense is documented on case number 127685-2016 and Dallas Police Homicide is conducting an investigation.”

As someone who spent years as a crime and police reporter, let’s just say come at these initial police reports of incidents — and what people tell the police — with a critical eye.

Understandably, players who knew Dejean-Jones are greiving.

Dejean-Jones was undrafted out of Iowa State, he was picked up on a 10-day contract by New Orleans this season, but the rash of injuries the Pelicans suffered pushed him into a starting role for 11 games. He averaged 5.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game, and to his credit did shoot 37.5 percent from three. On Feb. 19 he took a hard fall and fractured his wrist, which eventually required surgery and ended his season. He was a guy known for attitude problems at the start of his college career at USC the UNLV, but had seemed to mature and his game had as well. He looked like someone who could stick as a reserve guard in the NBA.

Our thoughts go out to his family and friends.

LeBron James first player to reach six straight finals in 50 years

james
Getty Images
8 Comments

It speaks to an incredible level of talent — talent that was honed in countless hours in the gym.

It speaks to an amazing durability.

It speaks to leadership.

LeBron James has a long resume of accomplishments — two titles, four MVPs, and he hasn’t missed an All-Star Game or an All-NBA team for a decade — but he reached one of his more impressive milestones in leading the Cavaliers past the Raptors to the NBA Finals on Friday night.

LeBron has reached six straight NBA Finals.

He’s the first player to do so in 50 years.

The last guys to do this were Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Bob Cousy and other members of the 1950s-60s Celtics dynasty. Nobody since has done it — not Magic, Bird, Jordan, Wilt or the rest.

Yes, it helps cement LeBron’s legacy as one of the all-time greats, but more than that it’s something we need to step back and appreciate. These were all LeBron-led teams — he has been the leader on and off the court, setting the tone. That requires incredible talent and skill on the court, plus knowing how to make those guys better not just drag them along on your coat tails. It also takes incredible physical durability. It’s an amazing accomplishment.

“There’s only one LeBron James,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after his team was eliminated by James and company. “He makes a difference on whatever team he plays on.”

I can feel the typing in the comment section already: “But he’s 2-4 in the Finals, Jordan was 6-0” or “But he’s done it in a weak East” or “He keeps just jumping teams to where he has the most help.” It’s all just sad. Because LeBron James is the first NBA superstar of the social media age he faces a volume of criticism that past stars did not. It’s not that LeBron hasn’t brought some criticism on himself, but there is a need to tear him down that the mythologized Jordan never dealt with. We savored Jordan at the time; LeBron has never gotten that. Jordan took 13 NBA teams to the playoffs, six made the Finals; LeBron has taken 11 and seven are in the Finals. The thing is, it’s difficult to compare across eras in the NBA:

All of this is not to say LeBron’s record is better than Jordan’s, you and your buddies can debate that while sitting on bar stools until last call, but LeBron has been on an epic run through the peak of his career the likes we haven’t seen in a long time. If you’re a fan of the game, you should appreciate that, not try to tear it down (as if Jordan’s legacy somehow needs protecting).

What LeBron has done is a stunning accomplishment. If you’re in the same sentence with the legendary Russell Celtics teams, you’re doing something right.

Warriors/Thunder Game 6: Four things to watch as Oklahoma City tries to close out series

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Stephen Curry #30 and Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors react in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Getty Images
9 Comments

For the Thunder, it is a chance for validation and an opportunity to get the ring Kevin Durant (and Russell Westbrook, and the rest of them) crave. For the Warriors, it is their biggest test of the last two seasons. Game 6 is Saturday night in Oklahoma City, here are four things to watch.

1) Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson need to play better for the Thunder. After a couple of series where Waiters suddenly has been reborn as a quality NBA player who is the third playmaker the Thunder need, and after Andre Roberson dropped a career playoff high of 17 points the game before, both were MIA in Game 5. Roberson was 2-of-5 shooting and had as many points as fouls (six). Waiters didn’t hit a shot all night. This was tied to the Thunder returning to the bad habits of too much Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant taking on the world and OKC not enough ball movement in the halfcourt. The Scott Brooks Thunder of the past few seasons showed up in Game 5, if the Thunder fall back to those bad habits again, they will lose again.

I expect the Thunder to treat this like their Game 7 and play much better. They will have a real sense of urgency; their defense will again be energized. The question becomes can the Warriors match it?

2) Can Andrew Bogut keep the Thunder from scoring in the paint?
In Game 5, the Thunder were 8-of-18 shooting in the restricted area, and 7-of-19 in the rest of the paint. That’s not going to get it done. A lot of that was the impact Bogut had in the paint — plus he got help, the Warriors switched pick-and-rolls more, they packed the paint more and took away driving lanes. It all worked, in part because Bogut and Draymond Green played with much better energy than in previous games. Steve Kerr said he didn’t play Bogut as many minutes in the first four games due to foul trouble, he has to trust the veteran to play through fouls in this game. The Warriors have simply been better with him on the court this series and they need close to 30 minutes from him this game.

Tied to Bogut’s play…

3) Golden State defense needs to show up on the road. As noted above, the Warriors went back to a more traditional defense in Game 5 — they started guarding Roberson (rather than having a big “guard” and ignore him to protect the paint), they switched, they stayed home in the paint, and they just trusted each other and played their system better. It was a marked improvement. However, they did it at home — now they need to do it on the road, where Green, in particular, has been more prone to mistakes and frustration.

One key here worth emphasizing is the Warriors got back to switching most pick-and-rolls — that’s what they did all season, that’s part of why the “death lineup” is so successful defensively, yet in this series they increasingly went away from it (in part because of how they guarded Roberson). Switching is part of who the Warriors are, and while it will create some mismatches teams don’t want to stray too far from their core identity.

4) Stephen Curry needs to be MVP level Curry. Draymond Green needs to be his All-NBA self.
I’m not saying the same thing about Durant and Westbrook because I have no doubt they will show up with urgency in their games Saturday night. However, Curry and Draymond have been shadows of themselves in the two previous games in Oklahoma City, and if that happens again only one team is flying back to the Bay Area postgame.

Curry finished his drives a little better in Game 5, and at moments he blew by bigs switched onto him off of picks, something we have seen far less of this series than during the season. Green played well defensively in Game 5, he hit the boards hard, but he made some head-scratching offensive decisions. If the Warriors are going to force a Game 7, those two guys have to be elite in this game. The Warriors best players must lead. It’s that simple.