Associated Press

PBT Power Rankings: Spurs take top spot away from Warriors

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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.

Lakers/Suns have minor skirmish, Lonzo Ball just walks away

Associated Press
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If you’re on the court when your team gets in an NBA “fight” — what the rest of us would call a shoving match where nobody really wants to throw a punch — should you run into the fray and help your teammates?

Friday night, with just more than three minutes to go in Phoenix’s eventual win, the Suns called a timeout, and Tyler Ulis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope got in one of those silly shoving matches. Players from both teams raced into the fray to protect their teammate/break it up.

The Suns’ rookie Josh Jackson picked up a technical for his role racing in and escalating the matter.

Watch the video again, and you’ll see Lakers’ rookie Lonzo Ball just walk away from it all and head to the bench.

That has led to criticism of the rookie from some Lakers’ fans, who see a guy who didn’t rush in to protect his teammates — that’s seen as part of the sports locker room culture. A “band of brothers” or “us against the world” mentality. Ball, frankly, gave a more mature answer than that.

Ball is right, nothing was going to come of this. It was meaningless posturing. Walking away was the mature move.

However, the question is how is this perceived in the Lakers’ locker room? Do the players care that Ball shrugged and walked away? Do they think he needed to race in and try to look tough like everyone else? That can impact his standing on the team — as a guy Magic Johnson brought in to be a leader — more than anything.

Also, with all his shooting woes, is this the first sign of some Lakers fans starting to turn on Lonzo? It’s a little early for that.

Harrison Barnes offers advice for Dennis Smith Jr., Julius Randle

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For a guy in just his sixth NBA season, Harrison Barnes has seen a lot.

He has seen the mountaintop, having won a ring as a role player for the Golden State Warriors. He’s also has felt the devastation of being on a team that historically blew a 3-1 NBA Finals lead. He’s been a high school phenom — unfairly compared to Kobe Bryant — and a high draft pick (No. 7), he understands the pressures that come with all that. He’s played (and plays) with superstar future Hall of Famers. And he’s been the guy pushed aside by a team, despite playing well, to make room for one of those superstar players — the harsh business reality of the NBA.

Barnes is learning something new this season in Dallas — how to deal with losing. He never dealt with it before — not high school, AAU, college at North Carolina — but the Dallas Mavericks are 2-14, and while they struggled last year it was nothing like this.

“It’s been difficult,” Barnes told NBC Sports about the start of the season, “but I’ve definitely seen a lot of highs, seen a lot of lows, I’m just trying to get better and lead my team to some wins.”

With all that experience, Barnes was brought in to be a leader in Dallas, and he’s worked to do that on and off the court. Off the court, he has met with local high school players and donated gear he wears — Shock Doctor basketball mouthguards and McDavid HEX protective arm and leg sleeves — to those programs. 

On the court this year, he’s tried to blend his game with rookie Dennis Smith Jr., who the Mavs see as the future at the point guard spot.

“Playing with Dennis has been great,” Barnes said. “He’s got a lot of tools that will help him be a great guy in the league for a long time. So the transition, in terms of playing together and developing chemistry, hasn’t been hard at all. I think he’s very mature beyond his years, and that makes it easy.”

As a leader, his advice to Smith Jr. has just been to not hold back, trust his instincts.

“My advice is to always be aggressive in your decision making,” Barnes said. “Whether it’s ‘should I pass?’ or ‘should I shoot?’ should I do this or should I do that, whatever it is, be aggressive. Because right now as a team, we’re in a little bit of a rut, we just need energy. Whatever it may be, even if you’re making the wrong play or the wrong decision, do it with conviction so there’s some inertia and the rest of us can feed off it.”

With the young high school players around Dallas his advice is similar — go for what you want on and off the court, give it your all — but he adds with them they need to protect their bodies in an increasingly physical game.

“Today I was able to go to Lincoln High School, meet with the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams, and I was able to donate some Shock Doctor basketball mouthguards and McDavid HEX protective arm and leg sleeves to the young kid, and talk to them about protecting your body when you’re out there,” Barnes said. “The game is becoming more physical and more competitive at a younger age, and the best ability is availability.”

If there’s one guy in the NBA who can relate to Barnes’ path, it might be the Lakers’ Julius Randle.

The fourth-year big has been up and down but has gotten better every season and shown promise with the Lakers, putting up 11.4 points per game on 54.3 percent shooting this season (both career highs, although his jumper still needs work), plus grabbing 6.7 rebounds, but mostly he brings energy and physical, strong defense  in just 20 minutes a game off the bench. He has transformed his body, gotten leaner but stronger, and has done a good job filling a role for Los Angeles as a physical, defensive player in a league going small and getting skinnier

Randle is coming up on the end of his rookie contract next summer and is due a payday, he thought he was part of the franchise’s future, yet he is likely the odd man out in Los Angeles as the Lakers chase big name free agents. Randle’s name is a staple of trade talks (about moving Luol Deng and his contract).

Harrison Barnes can relate. He was swept out of Golden State to make room for that team’s successful run at Kevin Durant.

What would Barnes tell Randle?

“My advice is to focus on what is going to be the best for you,” Barnes said. “Focus on where you can grow as a player, get better, where you would thrive in. Whether or not he ends up in the same place or a different place, just make sure you’re in a situation where you can grow. That’s the most important thing because a lot of things are going to be out of his control, who decides to go where and that type of stuff, but as long as he focuses on getting better with his craft that’s the one thing he can control.”

That’s what Barnes did a couple seasons ago, and he ended up in Dallas with a big contract, a big opportunity, and a chance to be a leader. He’s trying to do that on a team transitioning out of the Dirk Nowitzki era, but it hasn’t been easy.

And it’s come with some harsh new lessons. Like dealing with losing. One Barnes and the Mavericks want to move past as quickly as they can.

Watch LeBron James score 39 to lead comeback win over Clippers

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CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James knows about the narrative bouncing around the NBA that Cleveland can be dethroned in the East.

He’s ignoring it, and slowly changing it.

“You know I could care less what people say,” James said. “I’m so far beyond that. I don’t care what people say.”

Just to make sure everyone understood him, James asked his two sons waiting for him in Cleveland’s locker room to chime in on whether he was concerned about outside voices.

The boys had dad’s back.

James had another of those games that he only seems capable of, scoring 39 points with 14 rebounds in 46 minutes as the Cavaliers continued to improve from a shaky start with their fourth straight win, 118-113 in overtime on Friday night over the skidding Los Angeles Clippers, who dropped their seventh in a row.

Kevin Love scored 25 and drained a pair of 3-pointers in OT, when the Cavs, who didn’t take the lead until the first minute of the extra session, outscored the Clippers 13-8.

Dwyane Wade gave Cleveland a huge spark, scoring 23 points with 11 rebounds in 37 minutes. The Cavs’ win wasn’t eye-pleasing, but it was another step in the right direction for the three-time defending conference champions, who went 3-1 on a just-completed road trip.

On Thursday night, James said he watched Boston beat Golden State to improve to 14-2, a stunning start that has prompted discussion about Cleveland’s vulnerability.

James dismissed any concern about the Celtics’ early burst.

“I’ve got too much to worry about around here right now trying to get our ship going in the right direction,” he said.

The Clippers’ ship is taking on water fast. Los Angeles has lost nine of 10 since a 4-0 start.

Blake Griffin scored 23 and DeAndre Jordan had 20 points and 22 rebounds for Los Angeles, which didn’t give up the lead until the first minute of overtime. The Clippers had chances to put the Cavs away in regulation, but they didn’t execute down the stretch and then had defensive breakdowns in overtime.

“They made some big 3s,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “You have to give them credit. That’s why they’ve been in a lot of Finals.”

The Cavs spent all night chasing the Clippers and caught them at 105-all when Love grabbed an offensive rebound and fed James, who dropped an uncontested 3-pointer with 47 seconds left.

Griffin missed tough shots on consecutive possessions, giving Cleveland one last chance in regulation but James missed an off-balance left-hander just before the horn.

James made a free throw to open OT – he went 1 of 5 at the line – and give Cleveland its first lead. Then, after Love made his two 3s, James sealed the Cavs’ fifth win in six games with a jumper.

“Well defended,” Rivers said. “It’s LeBron James.”

 

Anthony Davis leaves game with concussion, likely to miss time

Associated Press
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Anthony Davis has had a couple concussions during his NBA career, one of the several ailments that have kept him off the court for stretches the past few seasons.

Now Davis has suffered his third concussion since being in the league. Davis left the Pelicans’ game against the Nuggets in the third quarter after getting a concussion when trying to guard Nikola Jokic. There is no timetable for his return, he will enter the league’s concussion protocol and need to be cleared by a league neurologist before he can return to the court. After the game New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry didn’t have any details.

The play itself looked fairly innocent — there was no intent by Jokic.

Davis spent a couple of minutes on the ground after the play, his hands over his face, before going to the locker room.

Davis is averaging 25.6 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game this season.