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)
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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.

US romps over Argentina in first Olympic exhibition

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 22:  Paul George #13 of the United States passes the ball up the court against Argentina during a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at T-Mobile Arena on July 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The United States won 111-74.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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LAS VEGAS (AP) New team. Same old result.

Full of new star power – and dominant on the inside – the U.S. men’s basketball team opened its bid for a third straight Olympic gold medal Friday night with a 111-74 exhibition romp over Argentina.

A game that was over almost before it began showed the U.S. has to improve its shooting and conditioning. It also showed that there is plenty of talent among a group of players that seem to want to play well for each other and their country despite the absence of Olympic stalwarts Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

“There’s a willingness from these guys to work on anything we need and to work hard,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “These are very good guys.”

A U.S. team that hasn’t lost a game in 10 years had little trouble with Argentina, which some consider a medal contender in Rio. Paul George scored 14 first-half points, Kevin Durant added 12, and the U.S. blew open the game early before an appreciative crowd on the Las Vegas Strip.

Even with Bryant retired and James taking this Olympics off, there was no real talent drop off on a team heavily favored to win gold once again. The depth of the U.S. showed as coach Mike Krzyzewski rotated players in and out, searching for the right combinations on a team with 10 new players from 2012.

“Nothing is for sure,” Durant said. “We want to get this gold and right now we have a job to do. We have to prepare the right way.”

Count the Argentines among those who were impressed at the first real game for the Olympic team.

“Obviously, they have the best talent and the best size in the world,” Argentina’s Luis Scola said. “That’s a big difference in their favor.”

The game was the first of five exhibitions the U.S. will play before traveling to Rio to defend the gold medal. The U.S. team has spent the last week practicing in Las Vegas in preparation for the tour and the games.

There weren’t any opening night jitters, though the U.S. shot only 45 percent and missed all but 14 of 41 3-pointers. With DeMarcus Cousins pulling down 15 rebounds in just 16 minutes, the U.S. dominated inside, outrebounding Argentina 53-30.

“The big thing is getting in shape and they are not there where they will be,” Krzyzewski said. “But we really have an inside presence on the boards.”

For Durant the game was a chance to play with a pair of his new Golden State teammates, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. It was also a chance for Durant and Carmelo Anthony – the only two players from the 2012 team – to demonstrate that this will be their team in Rio.

Both players cheered from the bench as the minutes were spread around, jumping up to clap for teammates. Every U.S. player got quality time, with Green’s 12 minutes the least played by any American.

“We’re going to have fun and we’re going to enjoy ourselves,” Anthony said. “If it’s not fun it’s not worth it. We’re going to enjoy ourselves but at the same time we’re going to be focused in trying to get that gold medal.”

Durant finished as the game’s high scorer with 23 points, while George had 18 and Carmelo Anthony 17. Andres Nocioni had 15 for Argentina, while Manu Ginobili added 11 for Argentina, which lost to the U.S. in the semifinals of the 2012 Olympics.

Though at times little defense was played, there was plenty of offense to keep the crowd at the new T-Mobile Arena happy. The teams combined to put up 70 3-point attempts, 41 of them from the U.S.

Oddsmakers had made the U.S. a prohibitive 29.5-point favorite in what at times looked a lot like an NBA All-Star game. But while the U.S. team is loaded with 12 NBA players, the Argentines had only three on their roster and the talent difference showed.

While the team is full of new players, the gold medal run will be the last for Krzyzewski, the national coach for the last decade. His teams have lost only one game during his reign, which will end after the Olympics with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich taking over.

Kevin Durant gets first taste of playing with Warriors teammates in USA exhibition

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 22:  Kevin Durant #5 of the United States drives against Facundo Campazzo #7 of Argentina during a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at T-Mobile Arena on July 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The United States won 111-74.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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LAS VEGAS — It wasn’t the highest of stakes, but after a heavily hyped announcement and all the fallout that resulted from it, Kevin Durant has now played organized basketball with some of his new Golden State Warriors teammates.

In a 111-74 blowout win over Argentina in an exhibition game at Las Vegas’ brand-new T-Mobile Arena, Durant shared the court with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, who will make up three-fifths of the most formidable starting lineup in the NBA. Durant looked plenty comfortable, leading all scorers with 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting and making four three-pointers. Thompson and Green came off the bench, but the three Warriors shared the court in the second quarter.

Not that Durant was really thinking about it.

“I was just lost in the game,” he said afterwards. “I didn’t really notice, I was lost in the game and trying to play the right way. We worry about what Coach K wants us to do. I’m sure they felt the same way. We didn’t talk about it.”

Green concurred.

“It was great,” he said of playing with Durant for the first time. “You don’t really pay attention to the fact that we’re teammates [in the NBA]. We’re all teammates. We’re all going for the same goal.”

To be sure, these exhibition games — and even the real games in Rio next month — are nothing like what the Warriors will experience playing together when the regular season kicks off in the fall. The Olympics feature the top talent from all over the world, but the disparity in talent between the USA’s group and any other country is so staggering that most of the games are likely going to turn out like this one.

Green didn’t want to compare this experience with something like the NBA Finals.

“It’s a little different,” Green said. “Because when you’re in the Finals, No. 1 you play a team seven times, No. 2 you already know the guys. We know [Manu] Ginobili, [Andres] Nocioni, [Luis] Scola. We’ve played against those guys a bunch of times, but not at a level where you know everything they do. When you’re in the Finals, I know everything Kyrie does. It’s just a matter of, can you stop it or not? Just because you know he’s gonna do it doesn’t mean you can stop it. Here, it’s a little different because of these guys we’ve never played before.”

Next week, Durant will play his first game at his new home when the USA faces off with China on Tuesday in Oakland. They’re all looking forward to it, especially Green.

“Definitely looking forward to getting back home,” Green said. “I think it will be something special, especially with the KD announcement. Him coming in there for the first time with a USA jersey. It’ll be pretty unique.”

The last time Durant played at Oracle Arena, the circumstances were very different. Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder took an unexpected 3-1 lead over the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals before dropping three straight games, leading to a Warriors trip to the Finals and, ultimately, Durant’s exit from Oklahoma City.

This time around, Durant will have the fans at Oracle on his side. Not that he needs any preparation.

Said Green, with a smile: “He knows all about Oracle.”

NBA, New Orleans ‘deep in negotiations’ for 2017 All-Star game

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 16:  Western Conference Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors moves the ball across mid court during 2014 NBA All-Star game against the Eastern Conference at the Smoothie King Center on February 16, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The East defeated the West 163-155.  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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK — As the NBA looks for a new home for the 2017 All-Star Game, cities are lining up with open arms to welcome LeBron James, Stephen Curry and the hundred million or so dollars the festivities would bring to the local economy.

New Orleans is the favorite, a person close to the situation told The Associated Press. The person said the league and city are “deep in negotiations” to stage the game there for a third time. The person spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because the details of the discussions have not been publicly announced.

The league moved the game out of Charlotte on Thursday because of its objections to a North Carolina law that limits anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people. The league also said it hoped to announce a new location for next February’s events shortly and will reschedule the 2019 game for Charlotte if there is a resolution to the matter.

Even before the announcement, the league had heard from cities that were available and interested in taking over the weekend – which has grown into more like a week.

Besides having open dates in arenas, cities would need to have necessary hotel space. Officials from several have expressed interest, including Boston and Atlanta.

But New Orleans, with its good February weather and endless entertainment options, is the “heavy favorite,” the person told AP.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has said in a statement it would be an “honor” to have the game return to New Orleans.

“Louisiana is rich in diversity of heritage, culture, cuisine and people, and we believe the NBA could not select a better place for everyone to come and enjoy this spectacular sporting event,” he said.

Besides multiple Super Bowls and college football bowl games, New Orleans hosted the 2008 and 2014 NBA All-Star Games. The city is easily walkable and has moderate temperatures that time of year, a bonus after frigid temperatures the last two years in New York and Toronto.

The NBA announced plans for the 2008 game just nine months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005. The weekend brought about $100 million into the city to aid its recovery, and now New Orleans could benefit again because of Charlotte’s loss.

The National Basketball Players Association said Friday it supported the league’s decision to move the game that would have been in Curry’s hometown.

“North Carolina is home to a sizable number of current and former NBPA members. They and our entire membership looked forward to participating in the All-Star week activities in the Charlotte community,” the union said in a statement. “However, the enactment of legislation that challenges the right of all Americans from discrimination threatened the ability of every attendee to enjoy the All-Star festivities.”

Northern cities were excluded for years due to owners’ preferences for warm weather. But with the league being open to those locations under Commissioner Adam Silver, cities such as Cleveland, Portland and Boston have shown interest in hosting an All-Star Game.

Orlando held the 2012 game, boasts loads of hotel and entertainment options, and could be a fitting choice for the LGBT community after a gunman killed 49 patrons at a gay nightclub in the city last month.

But with the league hoping to announce a new destination in the coming weeks, New Orleans is “well on its way” to being selected, the official said.

“It would be an honor to have this event return to New Orleans, and we look forward to sharing our hospitality with basketball fans from around the country,” Edwards said. “My office will support and assist Tom Benson and the New Orleans Pelicans in any way possible to help bring the NBA All-Stars back.”

Hornets president: NBA assured Charlotte 2019 All-Star game if North Carolina law changes

Michael Jordan
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When pulling the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte, the NBA said it hoped to hold the 2019 event there. (2018 is already scheduled for Los Angeles.)

It seems the 2019 plans are more concrete than just hoping.

Katherine Peralta and Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:

Hornets President Fred Whitfield told the Observer the NBA has no plans to put 2019 – the next available All-Star Weekend – out to general bid.

“We’ve been assured if the HB2 situation is resolved, we’ll be hosting” All-Star Weekend, Whitfield said.

I wonder whether this was before or after the league office read Hornets minority owner Felix Sabates’ email.

Even beyond Sabates — no small thorn — there’s no guaranteed North Carolina’s anti-gay law is satisfactorily modified. The state’s lawmakers have dug in their heels.

But no matter what’s happening now, 2019 is a long way off. It seems the NBA will — once again — give Charlotte as much time as possible to be a suitable location for the All-Star game.