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Week 7 NBA Power Rankings: A team in the East ahead of Cleveland? For now.

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For the first time this season, a team in the East has climbed above the Cleveland Cavaliers in the rankings — but it may be short-lived with Toronto taking on Cleveland on Monday night. The top of the West still dominates the top of the rankings.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (17-3, Last Week No. 1). The Warriors are running. They are third in the league in pace (103 possessions a game, per NBA.com) and 16.7 percent of their possessions are in transition, where they score at a 123.1 points per 100 possessions pace (best in the NBA). Bottom line, they get 23 points a possession from transition, and if you give that team easy buckets on the break it’s almost impossible to beat them. Golden State heads out on a five-game road trip Wednesday that includes the Clippers, Jazz, and Grizzlies.

Spurs small icon 2. Spurs (16-4, LW 3). Does it shock anyone the Spurs are the best catch-and-shoot team in the NBA? They don’t shoot the most (that’s Brooklyn, actually), but about one-third of their shots come this way and they get a league-best 118 points per 100 possessions off them. They move the ball, and they have shooters, it’s a system that works. Winners of 11 of their last 12, the Spurs start the week with three games on the road (including in Milwaukee and Chicago) before coming home to take on the Nets.

Clippers small icon 3. Clippers (16-6, LW 4). Thursday’s win in Cleveland was the kind of game Los Angeles lost in recent years — three losses in a row coming in, they didn’t point fingers but regrouped and blew out the defending champs. It looked like the Clippers had matured and taken a step forward, then they came home and had a sloppy loss with lots of complaining to the officials in a loss to Indiana. Which Clipper team do we get when the Warriors come to town Wednesday?

Raptors small icon 4. Raptors (14-6, LW 8). The Raptors are the hottest team in basketball. In their last six games, they have outscored their opponents by 138 points, playing well on both ends. Toronto’s defense the last couple weeks has been elite. But, they have beaten depleted teams, which still counts in the win column but has us hesitant to put them ahead of Cleveland. We did it anyway, but Monday is the real test when the Raptors take on the Cavs.

Cavaliers small icon 5. Cavaliers (13-5, LW 2). Losers of three in a row, and they still are playing with a championship hangover, as evidenced by their 20th-ranked defense. However, the offense is still humming. We’ll see if they bounce back Monday vs. Toronto. Great note via Brian Windhorst of ESPN: This season LeBron James is averaging the fewest shots (17.2) and most assists (9.3) per game of his NBA career. That speaks to the talent around him having learned how to play with him, and Kyrie Irving coming into his own.

Rockets small icon 6. Rockets (13-7, LW 7). The win over Golden State on the road Thursday in the best game of the season was impressive, but so was going to Denver the next night and getting a victory at altitude when tired. The Rockets are now 7-2 since the return of Patrick Beverley, but that has mostly been about the second unit as their defense has remained bottom five in that time. Celtics and Thunder on the schedule this week, providing good tests.

Celtics small icon 7. Celtics (12-8, LW 9). Good teams pad their record against the soft parts of their schedule and that’s what the Celtics have done the past couple of weeks. Al Horford’s return certainly helped, but Boston’s last six wins are against teams below .500. Better tests this week vs. the Rockets, suddenly-hot Magic, Raptors, and Thunder, as the Celtics head into a road-heavy part of their schedule.

Jazz small icon 8. Jazz (12-9, LW 11). This team just cannot stay healthy — George Hill is missing time with a sprained toe — but they keep on finding a way to win, and of late that’s been as much about a good offense as a lock-down defense. They head into a home-heavy stretch of the schedule where Utah should be able to pick up some wins and solidify its spot in the standings.

Thunder small icon 9. Thunder (13-8, LW 13). Russell Westbrook has 10 triple-doubles this season and the Thunder are 8-2 when he has one, they are 5-6 when he does not. OKC has a Top 10 defense, but they need him to carry the offense if they are going to win. Set the DVRs for Friday night when the Thunder takes on Houston: Westbrook vs. Harden is going to be entertaining.

Bulls small icon 10. Bulls (11-8, LW 5). They have suspended Rajon Rondo for one game due to “conduct detrimental to the team” — he got into an argument with an assistant coach during the loss to Dallas last week — and he will sit out Monday against Portland.They picked up a quality win against the Cavaliers last week, but surrounded it with bad losses to the Mavericks and Lakers. Blazers, Pistons, and Spurs will not make it easy this week.

Grizzlies small icon 11. Grizzlies (13-8, LW 6). The Grizzlies were -30 in total points for the week but managed to go 2-2, which is kind of what they need to do for the next month or so to keep their heads above water until Mike Conley’s return. The games this week against Portland, Philly, and New Orleans are also the kinds of games where they might be able to steal wins.

Bucks small icon 12. Bucks (10-8, LW 19). They have won four in a row (who cares if half of that was a home-and-home with Brooklyn). Giannis Antetokounmpo outdueled LeBron James last week and just has the ability to get the the rim and finish — he leads the NBA averaging 14 points in the paint a game — is breathtaking. It almost makes up for the lack of a jumper that should limit him more than it does. Going to be tough to keep the win streak going opening the week against the Spurs and Trail Blazers.

Knicks small icon 13. Knicks (11-9 LW 17). While I am loath to use the term “vintage” with Derrick Rose there is this: He is getting to the rim for 38.4% of his shots, his highest percentage since his rookie season. Combine that with the exciting change of pace and dynamic energy that Brandon Jennings brings off the bench and the Knicks have found a working point guard combo. Now they just have to figure out what to do with Joakim Noah. Good measuring stick game against the Cavaliers this week.

Pistons small icon 14. Pistons (11-11, LW 18). Reggie Jackson is back in the lineup and while that didn’t get them a win Sunday it will help them down the line. They won three-of-four on a recent road trip, a good sign with four of their next six still away from The Palace. They face Chicago, Charlotte, and Minnesota this week, the kinds of week where playoff teams find a way to get a couple of wins.

Hornets small icon 15. Hornets (11-9, LW 12). With Frank Kaminsky starting in place of the injured Marvin Williams the Charlotte offense has stumbled, and because of that they lost two-of-three last week in what were winnable games. That needs to change with games against Dallas, Detroit, and Orlando to start the week before the Hornets head out on a five-game road trip that starts in Cleveland.

Blazers small icon 16. Trail Blazers (11-10, LW 17). They get Al-Farouq Aminu back Monday after a 13-game absence, which will be a boost to their defense. They are going to need it — they head out on the road for eight of their next nine (they are 4-6 on the road so far this season). That road trip starts in Chicago, then heads to Milwaukee, followed by a back-to-back in Memphis.

Pacers small icon 17. Pacers (10-10, LW 16). Paul George and Cj.J. Miles are back healthy and in the rotation for the Pacers, which couldn’t have come at a better time. The Pacers also have gotten better bench play of late as Rodney Stuckey has started to thrive in that role. The Pacers just seem to have the Clippers’ number, and a quality win Sunday has them splitting the first two games of a five-game swing through the West.

Lakers small icon 18. Lakers (10-12, LW 14). Julius Randle has been a revelation on a lot of levels this season, but he has work to do. Like defending at the rim — he has a defensive field goal percentage of 60%, which is worst in the NBA for players with at least 70 attempts. The Knicks come to Los Angeles Sunday, hopefully this doesn’t lead to another stupid round of “Phil Jackson to the Lakers” talk — even if Jackson does opt-out in New York the Lakers are on the right track and better off without him.

Hawks small icon 19. Hawks (10-11 LW 10). Losers of six in a row and 9-of-10, I’m not sure I dropped them far enough in these rankings. They are banged up (no Paul Millsap the last three games), but this is more than that, it’s an entire offense coming undone. Early in the season the Hawks looked like a Mike Budenholzer/Spursian team the way they moved the ball, but that has fallen off and we see more isolation and far more contested looks. The players say they recognize the problem, but will they fix it?

Magic small icon 20. Magic (9-12 LW 26). Before the season we said the Magic should be a defensive powerhouse — they have finally figured that out and over the last 10 games have the best defense in the NBA. The offense is still a work in progress, but it’s improving, and the Magic picked up some quality wins against the Spurs and Pistons recently. Is Orlando going to be a playoff team? We get some measuring stick games against Boston and Charlotte this week.

Heat small icon 21. Heat (7-13, LW 22). Goran Dragic leads the NBA in drives per game at 15.5, but he only ends up with about 7 points per game on them as he passes out of nearly half those drives (he gets an assist on 15 percent of the drives). Overall, it’s just not very efficient. Still tough to judge how good this team would be healthy, but they should get Derrick Williams back in the rotation this week.

Pelicans small icon 22. Pelicans (7-14, LW 21). If you’re looking for the best player on a bad team this season, may I submit Anthony Davis, who leads the NBA in scoring (31.8 per game), blocks per game (2.8), and PER (31.9). The Pelicans dropped four-of-five against a tough stretch of the schedule, but there are winnable games this week with Memphis, Philadelphia, and Phoenix — if they want to get back in the playoff hunt in the West they need to rack up some wins.

Kings small icon 23. Kings (7-13, LW 24). I’m not sure what happened in the nightclub in New York over the weekend with Matt Barnes, but I do know it’s not the kind of distraction the Kings need if they have playoff dreams. As James Ham told us in our Kings-centric podcast last week, Sacramento remains convinced they can make a run into the postseason this year — and no, they are not thinking about trading DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings need wins, they are 1-3 on a current road trip that ends in Dallas, but four of their next five are on the road (where the Kings are 3-8 this season).

Wizards small icon 24. Wizards (6-12, LW 25). Bradley Beal is finding his shooting groove — in his last five games he is averaging 24.8 points per game, hitting 48.8 percent from three, and the Wizards are +4.8 points per 48 minutes when he is on the court. That’s not been enough, as a poor Washington defense tends to get them in trouble, particularly late in games when they cannot get a stop. The Wizards need wins this week against the Nets, Magic, Nuggets, and Bucks.

timberwolves small icon 25. Timberwolves (6-14, LW 20). The Timberwolves early-season struggles (particularly on defense) have been exacerbated by the schedule — 11 straight games against teams over .500. They are 1-4 so far in this stretch and this week get the Spurs, the red-hot Raptors, Pistons, and Warriors. Maybe the comeback win against Charlotte was the kind of win this team needs, but it’s going to be hard to build confidence in this stretch.

Nuggets small icon 26. Nuggets (7-13, LW 23). Jamal Murray is looking special, and Wilson Chandler is playing in a way that should boost his trade value as the deadline nears, but the Nuggets are just not finding an offensive groove. They lost the first game of a six-game road trip in Utah, but have some winnable ones coming up in Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Washington.

Suns small icon 27. Suns (6-14, LW 28). With the Suns’ guard-driven lineup, it shouldn’t be a surprise no team has the pick-and-roll ball handler use more possessions a game than the Suns (28.2 a contest, via Synergy sports). They have an eFG% of 43.5 percent on those, which isn’t great but is more middle of the pac in the league. The Suns tried starting a three-guard lineup of Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker and Brandon Knight but have abandoned that plan and Knight is coming off the bench again.

Mavericks small icon 28. Mavericks (4-15, LW 29). Dirk Nowitzki is going to be out “a while” as the Mavs are rightfully cautious with the 38-year-old’s Achilles. Dallas has dug too deep a hole to get back in the playoff chase, but with six of their next eight at home and plenty of winnable games in there, they hope to make their record look more respectable.

Nets small icon 29. Nets (5-14, LW 30). It’s a strange thing to say, but as Sean Kilpatrick goes so go the Nets. When he is on the Nets can pick up wins, he dropped 38 on the Clippers and Brooklyn picked up an OT victory. Can he replicate that against Washington or Denver this week? They’ll need it as the Nets still have a bottom 5 defense to overcome nightly.

Sixers small icon 30. 76ers (4-16, LW 27). When Joel Embiid is on the court the 76ers allow just 98.8 points per 100 possessions on defense (which would be best in the NBA this season) and are only outscored by 1.4 points per 100 possessions. However, when he sits the Sixers give up 110.6 per 100 (worst in the NBA) and are outscored by 14.6 per 100. Boosting his minutes limit to 28 a night will help a little, but the Sixers need to find who else on that roster is a keeper. And get Ben Simmons back this season, hopefully.

Three questions the Denver Nuggets must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season:
40-42, missed the playoffs.

I know what you did last summer: Denver snatched up Paul Millsap on a 3-year, $90 million deal. They also re-signed Mason Plumlee to a 3-year deal worth $41 million. In June they swapped out Donovan Mitchell for Trey Lyles. Drafted Tyler Lydon, Monte Morris, and Vlatko Cancar.

THREE QUESTIONS THE NUGGETS MUST ANSWER:

1) Who is going to pass, and when, and how much? After adding Paul Millsap and re-signing Mason Plumlee, the Nuggets have a plethora of passing big men to choose from. We all know that Nikola Jokic is the future of the center position in Denver, so that gives you at least three big men to choose from in the offense. However, as we’ve seen on teams with great passing players before, it’s possible to get into the habit of over sharing the ball at the detriment of simply putting it in the hoop.

Plumlee is probably going to be in a major backup role on this team if everyone stays healthy, so that could simplify things a bit. Still, you have the potential here of things getting a little overworked when it gets into the hands of the big men, so making sure they understand when to stick to the sheet and when to play jazz will be important. We’re all excited to see Millsap and Jokic play together but it might take a few weeks against live competition to sort out the passing lanes.

2) Will there be any semblance of defense? Denver finished just 29th last season in defensive efficiency rating. Kenneth Faried is still somewhat of an issue on that end, and despite what some statistics suggest, Plumlee is not a good defender. Jokic and Millsap should help that out a little bit, but much of this team remains the same from last year.

The question will be in the continued development of the young players, particularly Jamal Murray, Emmanuel Mudiay, and whatever you can squeeze out of Will Barton on the defensive end of the floor. For as “sneaky” as this team is going to be when it comes to the playoff race this season, I still believe that defense will be an issue. Think of the Portland Trail Blazers teams of the last few years and how much they have had to be a stellar offense of team if only because their defense has been abysmal. The Nuggets might slot right into that archetype this season if they aren’t careful.

3) What are they doing with Kenneth Faried? There has been a lot of chatter around the league wondering if very Faried is ever going to get traded. The question, of course, is whether he has any value with his cap hit and whether that is still a smart thing for the Nuggets to do.

Faried had a statistical down season last year, if only slightly, but in his move to a bench role he was effective as an offensive weapon. Certainly, if he remains in that role next season he will be a wrecking ball against some of the backup lineups that get trotted out in the NBA. However, he does have the third-highest salary on the team and it is a question whether he will ever fully develop into a more complete player as he heads into his seventh season.

The question of what to do with Faried isn’t just about the trade market. It’s also about, if he stays, what kind of role he has and what work he has to do on a team that needs to strengthen its defense if it wants to be in the playoff race.

PBT Podcast: Warriors, Lakers, Pacific preview with Mark Medina

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The Golden State Warriors are a juggernaut, the Mt. Everest the rest of the NBA is trying to climb this season.

Nobody is on that level yet, but the Lakers look like a team with a good foundation — and the ability to draw free agents — who could challenge the Warriors in a couple of years. That is, if Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram can live up to the hype.

Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News — a Warriors beat writer who used to cover the Lakers — joins me to discuss those two teams and their coming season, as well as the Clippers, Suns, and Kings.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Michael Beasley: “I’m literally just Carmelo on the left side of the floor”

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Michael Beasley recently signed a one-year contract with the New York Knicks for the veteran minimum. Hopefully, this is just the start of an interesting year with the Knicks. I think you know what I mean.

Speaking to reporters this week, Beasley had lots to say about his potential new role with New York, his interplay with Carmelo Anthony, and his new weight loss.

Specifically, Beasley spoke of how long he had known Anthony and how much he had mimicked his game off of the star on the left side of the floor, saying, “If you watch my game, really watch my game, my jab series, all that, I’m literally just Carmelo on the left side of the floor.”

Since Kevin Durant has apparently set the offseason tone for athletes being frank with reporters, Beasley did say that he was not as great on help side defense as he could’ve been in recent years. However, he said that he wasn’t as bad as people made about to be, and it appears he is going to try to make that something to focus on this season.

Beasley has also lost about 20 pounds — it appears he has cut out sugar and red meats — but the most interesting thing he said to ESPN’s Ian Begley was about his offensive production.

Via ESPN:

“I’ve came in and out of this league. Every year my per-36 [minute average] has been top of the league. And still everybody looks at me as a bust. I just want an opportunity to play more than 15 minutes. And you know if I play more than 15 minutes I’m going to score more than 15 points. And if I can do that for 82 games, that’s an All-Star level. I don’t know. I’m just talking. I just want an opportunity to play basketball. I just want the respect I deserve. Not for what I can do in the future but what I’ve done in the past. And I just want a fair opportunity, a fair chance, a fair shot to play basketball.”

It’s not immediately clear what kind of fair shake Beasley wants here. True, he played less than 30 games in two of his last three seasons in the NBA. However, that was preceded by six seasons of at least 47 games a year. We do know who he is at this point in time, and there is a large swath of game tape and statistics that can be analyzed to prove it.

It is also interesting that Beasley brought up his per-36 numbers. It’s true that Beasley has been an okay scorer when looking at those numbers out of context. But per-36 numbers are not a direct correlary to how effective a player is on the floor. Indeed, even when he was playing starter-level minutes, Beasley’s best numerical seasons are spread all over the place when you take a look at his per-36 production.

Meanwhile, Beasley has had only one season out of nine where he had a positive value over a replacement player. That was his sophmore season with the Miami Heat at 0.2. Five of those seasons he’s taken a larger percentage of his shots from 16 feet to just inside the 3-point line than he has from 0-3 feet. He’s a career 39% shooter on those long jumpers, and 63.5% from that close-in range.

Would it be great if Michael Beasley somehow turned into a strong driving, hard rebounding, diving and passing pick and roll man? Yes. That is exactly what this Knicks team — and any team, frankly — could use.

For now, it appears it’s more likely we end up with the Beasley who says he is a carbon copy of Carmelo — long 2s and all.

Goran Dragic holds back tears after Drazen Petrovic’s mother gives Slovenian star his jersey

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It’s been a big week for Slovenian star Goran Dragic.

First, he led the Slovenian national team to the 2017 Eurobasket championship over Serbia, winning the gold medal.

Then, the Miami Heat point guard announced that he would be retiring from the Slovenian national team. Shortly thereafter, we learned that something special had taken place between Dragic and the mother of former NBA player Drazen Petrović.

Specifically, Biserka Petrović sent over her son’s New Jersey Nets kit as a gift for Dragic.

Via Sportando and SiolNET:

“It is one of the most beautiful gifts I’ve ever received in my life” Dragic told Siol. “He was my idol. We all know what he did for Yugoslavia and the basketball world. It was a great honor for me to wear the jersey no.3” Dragic added.

Petrović, who played for the Nets and the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA, died in a car accident in Germany in June of 1993. He is considered a sports hero in the successor states that make up the former Yugoslavia, including Slovenia.

You can watch Dragic receiving the jersey and his reaction in the video above. The video does not have English subtitles, but you can clearly see the emotion in his eyes and it’s pretty powerful.