Week 8 NBA Power Rankings: Clippers slide, Rockets climb, Warriors still reign

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The Clippers have slipped all the way to sixth as hot teams in Toronto and Houston leapfrog the stumbling team in Los Angeles (well, I guess they both are stumbling in that city). Brooklyn slid to the bottom of the rankings, but they get Jeremy Lin back this week, that should help them move back up.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (21-4, Last Week No. 1). The Warriors starting five — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Zaza Pachulia — outscore opponents by 14.6 points per 100 possessions, and assist each other on 81.3 percent of their made shots. The “death lineup” (I prefer “death star lineup” now, but whatever) is averaging just over 5 minutes a game on the court, but is outscoring opponents by 26.4 points per 100 possessions.

Cavaliers small icon 2. Cavaliers (17-5, LW 5). We know the Cavaliers starting five is good, and Tyrone Lue has leaned on them for 281 minutes this season (16.5 minutes a game, when they’ve all played). The next most used lineup has just 46 minutes — Lue is still searching for other combinations and rotations he likes. Despite that the Cavs have won four in a row, beating the Raptors and other teams from the East. Interesting home-and-home with the suddenly hot Grizzlies this week.

Spurs small icon 3. Spurs (19-5, LW 2). After a slow start to the season on the defensive end, the Spurs have started to look like the Spurs on that and and now have a top-10 defense, although the numbers are odd — for example, they still struggle some with a pick-and-roll ball handler who can score. It helps to have Kawhi Leonard on that end… and on offense. The Spurs won 3-of-4 on the road and 5-of-6 overall recently, with a soft schedule this week.

Raptors small icon 4. Raptors (16-7, LW 4). Which team is in a virtual tie for best offense in the NBA with that star-laden team in the Bay Area? Yes, the Raptors, who are scoring at 114.2 points per 100 possessions. They do it an old-school way, with a lot of midrange jumpers and more isolation, but it has worked for them. Toronto settled into it’s place in the Eastern pecking order last week: They still can’t beat Cleveland, but they can beat the third best team in the East, Boston, and everyone else.

Rockets small icon 5. Rockets (17-7, LW 6). Winners of six in a row, including some quality wins over Boston and Westbrook’s OKC. In their last 10 games, the Houston defense is 18th in the NBA — middle of the pack on that end will get this team a lot of wins because their offense is so good. The defense and bench play improved dramatically since the return of Patrick Beverley. Soft schedule this week could see the win streak extend into double digits, but it likely will not see the return of Donatas Motiejunas to the court.

Clippers small icon 6. Clippers (16-7, LW 3). They are 5-5 in their last 10, and the issue (as it always seems to be) is depth. No lineup in the league has played more minutes this season than the Clippers starters — Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have loved 411 minutes together (almost 20 a game) and are +18.6 points per 100 possessions. The second most used lineup by Doc Rivers is the all bench lineup at 143 minutes (and it’s +6.6 per 100).

Grizzlies small icon 7. Grizzlies (17-8, LW 11). Winners of six in a row, that started out with four sub .500 teams but the last two were over Portland and Golden State. The Grizzlies are surviving without Mike Conley thanks to their defense, now the best in the NBA. Statistically, this season the Grizzlies should be a .500 team (+0.2 points per 100 possessions) but they are 12-0 in games within three points in the final minutes. That will start to even out at some point, but maybe not enough to keep them out of the playoffs. Marc Gasol had his first triple-double of the season, and he continues to dish out assists at a record pace.

Thunder small icon 8. Thunder (15-9, LW 9). Russell Westbrook’s triple-double streak may have ended at seven, but he still dropped 37 points and lifted the Thunder to a win Sunday. OKC is 9-3 when Westbrook has a triple-double, 6-6 when he doesn’t, so it matters, but so does the improved defense the Thunder are playing the past few weeks. The defense keeps them close, Westbrook puts them over the top. More interesting tests on the road in defenseless Portland and against the elite defense of Utah this week.

Jazz small icon 9. Jazz (15-10, LW 8). The best statistical sign of a contender? A top-10 offense and defense. That’s Utah, which is ranked seventh in offense and fifth in defense in the league. The Jazz are doing what good teams do: Racking up wins when the schedule is favorable. Utah could really use George Hill back in the lineup, he has missed six in a row due to a left toe injury (he has missed 14 games total this season). The Jazz could especially use him against the Thunder and Grizzlies this week.

Hornets small icon 10. Hornets (14-10, LW 15). Kemba Walker deserves to be an All-Star this season. He is averaging 23.3 points per game, shooting 41.8 percent from three (and a career-high true shooting percentage of 58.8), plus a career-high PER of 23.8 — all while taking on a heavier load on offense (29.7 percent usage rate). Guys who take on more don’t get more efficient, but Walker has. The Hornets are 8.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court, and that’s because their offense drops off a cliff when Walker sits. Charlotte will get tested with all their games on the road this week.

Celtics small icon 11. Celtics (13-11, LW 7). Avery Bradley is having a career best year in points (17.9 per game), rebounds (7.5), assists (2.5), three-point shooting percentage (42.7 percent), and PER (16.1). No, that does not mean he’s an All-Star this season Celtics fans, but he’s been a key part of the team’s success. The Celtics have lost 3-of-4 against a tough stretch of the Eastern Conference, and things don’t lighten up now — four of their next five are on the road, and they face the Spurs and Hornets this week.

Bulls small icon 12. Bulls (13-10, LW 10). Tuesday night, Tom Thibodeau brings his Minnesota Timberwolves team in, and the fans are going to give him a rousing reception (which should eat at the stomaches of the Chicago front office). The Bulls gave the Spurs their first road loss of the season last week — Chicago seems to play to the level of it’s competition most nights — and this week have an interesting home-and-home with Milwaukee.

Knicks small icon 13. Knicks (14-10 LW 13). The Knicks have won 6-of-7, and four in a row on the road, despite Phil Jackson finding a way to create unnecessary drama around the team with his comments about Carmelo Anthony. Why? “Trusting, just trusting one another, believing in what we are doing. Believing in our schemes, defensively and offensively,” Anthony said after beating the Lakers Sunday night. The Knicks remain on their West Coast swing this week.

Pistons small icon 14. Pistons (13-13, LW 14). Reggie Jackson is still finding his groove since his return from knee and thumb issues, and is shooting just 35.4 percent. That will start to turn at some point. The good news is Ish Smith moving to the bench has been huge for the second unit. Detroit is up-and-down — and that was a huge down Sunday losing to a Sixers team without Joel Embiid — but they have winnable games against some of the league’s most disappointing teams this week: Dallas, Washington, and Indiana. And KCP should be back in the lineup.

Bucks small icon 15. Bucks (11-11, LW 12). When you see how much this team misses Khris Middleton is when it is time to close-out games — the Bucks blew a 20-point lead to Atlanta and had an ugly loss to the Wizards last week. All their games lately seem to be close, but they can’t get the stops and efficient offense at the same time. It’s not easier this week with Toronto then a home-and-home with Chicago on the schedule.

Pacers small icon 16. Pacers (12-12, LW 17). No team seems more up and down in the league than Indiana, which beat the Clippers and came from 20 down to knock off the Trail Blazers recently, but then lost to Dallas. The team turns to Paul George in the clutch, and that has worked well enough (he led the comeback against Portland). Still, it’s still surprising how much the team’s defense has fallen off since last season. Indiana is fighting for a playoff spot and games this week like Charlotte and Detroit (both on the road) are the kinds of wins they need.

Hawks small icon 17. Hawks (12-12 LW 19). Their seven-game losing streak came to an end with wins against Miami and Milwaukee, thanks to big games from Dwight Howard against the Heat and Dennis Schroder against the Bucks. They did that without Kent Bazemore, but that will be tough this week going against Orlando, Toronto, and Charlotte. That will test if the Hawks are really right again.

Blazers small icon 18. Trail Blazers (12-13, LW 16). Memphis did Thursday what was the playoff book on Portland: Blitz Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and force someone else to beat you. This is precisely why the Blazers spent money on Evan Turner this summer, to be the third playmaker, but against the Grizzlies the rest of the team shot 24 percent in the loss. Portland has dropped three straight on the road and face the Clippers, Thunder, and Warriors this week.

Magic small icon 19. Magic (10-15 LW 20). Another of the league’s up-and-down teams, they win three straight on the road only to drop their next three. Frank Vogel has Elfrid Payton and Nikola Vucevic coming off the bench now, something Scott Skiles would like to have done last season but wasn’t allowed (the Magic didn’t have Bismarck Biyombo to plug in up front last season, to be fair). Not an easy week with the Hawks, Clippers, and Raptors all on the schedule.

Wizards small icon 20. Wizards (9-13, LW 24). Washington’ starting five — John Wall, Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris, Otto Porter, and Marcin Gortat — are +7.7 points per 100 possessions, but once you mix in the bench things fall apart quickly. John Wall dropped 52 on Orlando last week, but the Wizards lost — they work better with some balance in the offense. Like against the Bucks later in the week. Washington has won four of five, but it’s a tough week ahead with the Hornets, Pistons and Clippers scheduled.

Nuggets small icon 21. Nuggets (9-15, LW 26). The Nuggets are 2-3 on a six-game road trip that wraps up Monday night in Dallas. Mike Malone has to keep working to develop Emmanuel Mudiay, but he has struggled of late at the point (leading to more Jameer Nelson minutes, he’s a stabilizing influence on the court right now). Jamal Murray continues to show promise, but in games like the ones against Utah, Washington, and Orlando he’s also looked like a rookie (3-of-15 shooting in those games). A couple interesting tests for the Nuggets this week, the high-flying offense of Portland, then Saturday watch the young and talented Nuggets front line deal with Kristaps Porzingis up front when the Knicks visit (oh, they have that Carmelo Anthony guy, too, he played in Denver a little, if you remember).

Kings small icon 22. Kings (8-15, LW 23). The playoff dreams are fading in Sacramento as the team has dropped 5-of-6 games (and the team has played poorly down the stretch in the close games in that group). The worse they do the more the DeMarcus Cousins trade speculation will ramp up, but the Kings still seem to show no interest in making a move before the February trade deadline (well, not for Cousins, Omri Casspi is another story). Ben McLemore is starting again, but he’s just not panned out in Sacramento. Kings spend most of the week on the road in Houston, Memphis, and Dallas.

Pelicans small icon 23. Pelicans (8-16, LW 22). They had lost 7-of-8 before going to overtime to beat the Suns on Sunday night (where at the end Alvin Gentry went very small, Davis and four guards basically). Anthony Davis remains a guy on the fringes of the MVP discussion with his play, but this team is still him against the world — they need scoring depth badly. Tough week ahead with the Warriors, Rockets, and Spurs all on the schedule.

Lakers small icon 24. Lakers (10-16, LW 18). The Lakers defense isn’t intimidating anyone — Derrick Rose went right at the heart of it Sunday night then postgame talked about all the space he found in the paint. Luke Walton said this: “We have to get off to better starts as far as our physicality on the defensive end, and then throughout the game we have to cut down on the mistakes.” The Lakers head out on a six-game road trip starting Monday.

Heat small icon 25. Heat (7-17, LW 21). Losers of five in a row, but at least they come home for six games after a tough stretch of the schedule. If this team can find a way to start defending — something that has fallen off a cliff since Justise Winslow’s injury — they can win some games on this homestand and maybe make a push back up toward the playoffs in the East. But the hole they dug may well be too deep (and the Heat may just not be that good).

timberwolves small icon 26. Timberwolves (6-18, LW 25). They played the Warriors tough Sunday for three quarters, but then Golden State — playing their fourth game in five nights — showed far more energy in the fourth quarter and pulled away for the win. Minnesota’s defense remains a disaster, and Tom Thibodeau can’t seem to get through to these young players. Thibodeau takes his new team to his old stoping grounds in Chicago this week (where the fans still love him, but won’t recognize this defense).

Suns small icon 27. Suns (7-17, LW 27). They lost a 15-point lead to the Pelicans on Sunday, but that will happens with a team playing at the fastest pace in the league but with the 25th ranked defense. The opposition gets a lot of opportunities. This week the Knicks, Thunder, and Spurs will get those chances.

Sixers small icon 28. 76ers (6-18, LW 30). The Sixers have won two in a row, both on the road in New Orleans and Detroit. Nerlens Noel is back, he got 10 minutes off the bench in Detroit and scored eight points (but got no rebounds). Expect the Sixers to give him more and more run going forward as they showcase him for a potential trade. Winnable games at home this week for Philly against the Lakers and Nets.

Mavericks small icon 29. Mavericks (5-18, LW 28). Dallas’ defense was already a bottom-10 mess, and then Andrew Bogut went down injured on Monday. In the next three games, the Dallas defense got 12 points per 100 possessions worse. At least Rick Carlisle is still being creative, selling the idea that calling timeouts he didn’t have was a strategic move (just with a price). Still no timetable on the return of Dirk Nowitzki.

Nets small icon 30. Nets (6-16, LW 29). Jeremy Lin is expected to make his return this week, after missing 17 games with an injured ankle. The Nets have gone 4-13 without their offensive spark plug and they desperately need his return. Smart gamble by GM Sean Marks trying to land Donatas Motiejunas, who knows if it would have worked out (Houston matched the offer) but with the Nets limited resources to rebuild that’s the kind of roll of the dice he needs to take.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.

Detroit’s Van Gundy honored for cooperation with media, fans

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.

No surprise: It’s Cavs-Warriors in the NBA Finals, again

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OAKLAND (AP) — Here they go again.

For the third straight year, it’s Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals. The 2016 champions versus the 2015 champions . The first “threematch” – rematch of a rematch – in league history. It’s the matchup most expected, the matchup most predicted, and probably the matchup the Cavaliers and Warriors wanted as well.

Let the hype, and the waiting, begin: Game 1 isn’t until June 1.

“I’ve been very blessed the last few years to be a part of this league and play on the big stage,” said Cleveland star LeBron James, who has now reached the Finals for the eighth time – including each of the last seven years. “But we’re going to enjoy this for a couple more days before we have to lock in on that juggernaut out west.”

The Cavaliers and Warriors split their two meetings this season, both winning at home. Cleveland won by one on Christmas Day, Golden State prevailed by 35 on Jan. 16.

Golden State led the league with 67 wins this season and is a staggering 27-1 in its last 28 games – including a perfect 12-0 in the Western Conference playoffs, the first time a team has gone this deep into an NBA postseason without losing. Cleveland, which seemed sleepy at times in the regular season, went 12-1 in the Eastern Conference playoffs that ended with a win over Boston on Thursday night.

“Playing in this league, you can’t take anything for granted,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “Thirty teams suit up every year trying to get to this point, and only two teams do. So you have to appreciate it. … We need to understand the privilege that we have and the opportunity that we have to play in the Finals again, to have the opportunity to win a championship.”

Already, the back-and-forth is underway.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was quoted earlier this week saying he thought Boston’s offense was “harder to defend” than Golden State’s. Countered Golden State acting coach Mike Brown, when asked about it Thursday: “That’s his opinion. It’s cute.”

And there will be reminders of the Halloween party that James threw for the Cavaliers last fall, with “3-1 Lead” – a nod to what the Warriors lost in last year’s Finals – prominently displayed on the drum set.

Much more of that sort of that will likely follow over the next week, filling time before Golden State plays host to Game 1. But there’s also a clear respect level between the clubs as well.

“The best team in our league the last three years,” James said of the Warriors. “And they’ve added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year. So it makes it even more difficult. They’re going to challenge us a lot, offensively, defensively, mentally, physically. We have to be ready for the challenge.”

For James, the Finals are an annual rite.

For Durant, this trip ends a five-year wait.

Durant’s only other time in the Finals was 2012 when he was with Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost to Miami in five games, a series that made James a champion for the first time.

At the very moment where the clock ran out in that series, the person James was embracing was Durant – telling the then-Thunder star, his offseason workout partner at the time, how proud of him he was.

“Hopefully,” James said that night, “I don’t continue to have to run into him.”

They’ll collide again, starting next week.

Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder for Golden State as a free agent last summer meant the Warriors went from mere overwhelming favorites to win the West again to super-duper-overwhelming favorites to win the West again. They got a big scare in late February when Durant had a left knee injury, but he’s back and the Warriors have rolled since.

“It’s a little different, definitely. I can’t lie,” Durant said, when comparing the 2012 Finals trip to this one. “I went when I was 23 years old, and it felt like the Western Conference Finals was almost like the championship. Just getting to that point, you know how hard it is and how much work you put in to start the season. So it’s a little different now, obviously. We have a bigger goal in mind.”

The storylines are many. Can James win his fourth ring? Can Durant win his first? Will the Warriors be haunted by letting last season’s 3-1 lead slip away? Will they become the first team in NBA history to go undefeated in a postseason? How will Golden State guard Kyrie Irving? How will Cleveland try to contain Curry?

There’s also the irony that Brown, the first coach who took James to an NBA Finals in 2007 – Cleveland was swept by San Antonio – will now coach against him, likely in the same leading role he’s had for Golden State since head coach Steve Kerr was forced to take a break because of continued problems with his surgically repaired back.

“I don’t care who you’re playing, to make it to the NBA Finals, to win your conference finals, it’s a big task,” Brown said.

The biggest task awaits.

Isaiah Thomas wants Celtics to sign free agents, reportedly they are not looking to trade him (yet)

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The Boston Celtics made a huge leap forward this season: They got the No. 1 seed in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. For a team on the rise, that’s impressive.

However, as soon as they landed the No. 1 pick in this draft, a big question started to bubble up:

What is the future of Isaiah Thomas with this team? Which is a strange thing to say about a guy who averaged 28.9 points per game and was All-NBA this season, but here we are.

First, the Celtics are not looking to trade IT this summer as some have suggested, reports Sean Deveny of the Sporting News.

That starts with All-Star Isaiah Thomas, whose name has lately been the subject of trade speculation. But league sources indicate that any talk of dealing Thomas is strictly speculation at this point — the Celtics have had no such discussions. Not yet, at least.

The challenge for the Celtics seems to be this: If they draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 (as is expected by everyone around the league), then what is the future for Thomas? Do you want to pay Thomas max money just as he turns 29 when you have a stud young point guard coming up behind him?

That led to talk of extending Thomas this summer with the team’s cap space (which assumes they do not sign Gordon Hayward). Except Thomas would rather the money be spent on free agents than himself, as he told Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

“We need the best possible player that’s gonna help us win, and I’m with that,” said Thomas. “Anything Danny and this organization need me to do to help bring even more talent to this city, I’m all for that. I want to win a championship and being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more.

“I’m all help if they need it. I’ll be around.”

Nothing is certain in the NBA, but here is the most likely outcome of the Isaiah Thomas situation: They keep him, they draft Markelle Fultz, they do not extend Thomas (whether they land Hayward or not), and they see how it all fits together for a season. Then they make a decision on Thomas in the summer of 2018. The bottom line is he may well have more value to the Celtics than another team, and while he’s certainly getting a raise from the $6.3 million, he will make next season he may fall short of the max, and in a zone where the Celtics are willing to keep him.

In pure basketball terms, the Celtics may be hesitant to spend on Thomas, but he is also the most popular player on the team by a mile. Letting him go is not that simple.

There are a lot of questions to be answered between now and next summer when it comes to IT.