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Week 9 NBA Power Rankings: Houston rocketing up rankings

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We’re sorry about the lazy wordplay in the headline. I blame the stress of the holidays for not coming up with something better. Houston has flown all the way up to third in the rankings, Utah has climbed to seventh, while the Sixers stay out of the bottom thanks to Brooklyn.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (24-4, Last Week No. 1). Finally, on Christmas we get the Warriors vs. Cavaliers rematch, but this time around the Warriors have JaVale McGee. Oh, and Kevin Durant (though McGee has played pretty well this season). Stephen Curry said it this week, what Durant has brought to Golden State is another level of versatility. Durant slid into Harrison Barnes’ slot in the “death lineup” and they are outscoring teams by 25.6 points per 100 possessions. When Durant and Curry are on the floor together, the Warriors outscore opponents by 16.4 per 100. Also for Warriors this week, interesting game vs. Utah on Tuesday.

Spurs small icon 2. Spurs (22-5, LW 3). As you would expect from the Spurs organization, the retirement of Tim Duncan’s jersey was classy, emotional and just flat out on point. That Sunday win over the Pelicans was first of five games in seven days for the Spurs, including games on the road against the Rockets, Clippers, then the Trail Blazers on the second night of a back-to-back. Rough stretch, guys will get rested. Of course, the Spurs have Christmas Day plans, taking on the Chicago Bulls in the second of the ABC games.

Rockets small icon 3. Rockets (21-7, LW 5). The real key to the Rockets 10-game winning streak? They are allowing 98.4 points per 100 possessions on defense, second best in the NBA in that stretch (Memphis). They are up to 14th in the NBA in defense overall this season — that’s better than Cleveland — and have played well on that end since the return of Patrick Beverley. People are still asking if the Rockets are for real, there’s a good test of that Tuesday night when the Spurs come to town.

Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (19-6, LW 2). Despite the uproar over Tyronn Lue resting LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love all in one game in Memphis last week, the fact is Lue is keeping a tight rotation most nights and leaning on his stars. LeBron has played the second most minutes of anyone in the NBA in December. Lue needs to trust his bench more — and those guys need to earn that trust. Of course, big showdown against the Warriors on Christmas where Lue should lean on those stars.

Raptors small icon 5. Raptors (19-8, LW 4). Toronto has the best net rating in the NBA over the last 10 games, and the best offense in the NBA this season (yes, better than Golden State). Key to that is Kyle Lowry with the bench lineup continues to just destroy teams — Lowry with Cory Joseph, Lucas Nogueira, Patrick Patterson, and Terrence Ross are +30.3 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents this season (better than the Warriors “death lineup” in nearly as many minutes). Patterson with the starters also has been impressive for the Raptors.

Clippers small icon 6. Clippers (20-8, LW 6). After a 14-2 start that saw them playing better than any team in the NBA, the Clippers have gone 6-6 — and now will be without Blake Griffin for a few weeks due to knee surgery. The Clippers starters with Griffin are the second most used lineup in the NBA and are +16.2 per 100 possessions, when they go to the bench the Clippers struggle. Los Angeles is about to go to the bench a lot. The Clippers “travel” to the Lakers on Christmas — I like that idea, a matchup where both teams get to spend the days with their families before the game, no travel.

Jazz small icon 7. Jazz (18-10, LW 9). Winners of five in a row and eight-of-nine, all while they still can’t get healthy (no George Hill, yet). They still just keep winning games, with the second-best defense in the NBA this season and a top-10 offense. While everybody is talking about the Warriors vs. Cavaliers on Christmas, the Jazz take on the Warriors Tuesday in a very interesting test (same with the Toronto vs. Utah game Friday).

Grizzlies small icon 8. Grizzlies (18-11, LW 7). The Grizzlies got Mike Conley back last Friday, sooner than expected, but the rust is still there as he shot 5-of-23 in two games. The Jazz went an impressive 7-2 while Conley was out. To me, that moves the Grizzlies into the “yes, they are going to make the playoffs for sure” column. Thank Marc Gasol for that. How good is he playing? Here is what Utah coach Quin Snyder said: “Marc Gasol has been the best player in the NBA the last 10 games.”

Thunder small icon 9. Thunder (16-11, LW 8). The Thunder stumbled last week on offense with Victor Oladipo out, although things looked better when Anthony Morrow slid into the starting lineup and provided some shooting. Something else that should help is the return of Cameron Payne in the next couple weeks, improving the backup point guard situation. Russell Westbrook gets a star turn on Christmas day, and should put up strong numbers against a struggling (to be kind) Minnesota defense.

Celtics small icon 10. Celtics (15-12, LW 11). Think the Celtics didn’t miss Isaiah Thomas? They lost three of four when he was out recently, and won both games since he returned. Granted, the toughness of the schedule played into that, but the Celtics are not the same without Thomas in the lineup. What should please Celtics fans more is the team’s improved defensive play the past couple of weeks. The Celtics tip-off the Christmas Day games against the Knicks

Hornets small icon 11. Hornets (15-13, LW 10). They had lost four in a row until picking up a victory against Atlanta Saturday, and the key factor in that remains the bench play. When Kemba Walker is on the floor, the offense is a force. When he sits, and when Steve Clifford leans on the bench, the team struggles at both ends of the floor. Interesting game against the stumbling Bulls on Friday.

Bucks small icon 12. Bucks (13-12, LW 15). Giannis Antetokounmpo is the only player in the NBA to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. The guy just does everything (except be consistent on jumpers), and they have surrounded him with enough shooting — including from Jabari Parker — to make it all work. They have a tough home-and-home with Cleveland this week.

Pacers small icon 13. Pacers (14-14, LW 16). They enter a softer part of the schedule for the next couple of weeks — this is when good teams, playoff teams, pad their win totals. The Pacers have seemed to play up-and-dwon to the competition. The new CBA “designated player” rule makes things interesting the next couple of years for certain players such as Paul George — if he makes the All-NBA team he’s in line for a potentially much larger raise. He’s one of the early test cases, if he qualifies.

Wizards small icon 14. Wizards (12-14, LW 20). The Wizards have won five-of-six and they got on this hot streak because of their the offense – they are 6.6 points per 100 possessions better in the last six games (the defense has remained basically flat just 0.4 points per 100 possessions better). Also, the bench has been playing much improved (they had nowhere to go but up). The Wizards have been shooting very well from the midrange, we’ll see if they can sustain that.

Pistons small icon 15. Pistons (14-15, LW 14). They have been stumbling on the offensive end, which Stan Van Gundy said has stated to impact their defense. That led to some ugly losses (Sixers, Wizards, Pacers) and sparked a team meeting to talk it out. We’ll see if that helps, but better play from Reggie Jackson (trying to get right after a return from injury and is shooting 39 percent. Rough week to try and get things right, they start against Chicago but then get the Grizzlies and Warriors.

Knicks small icon 16. Knicks (14-13 LW 13). They have lost three in a row, and it’s not a coincidence that Derrick Rose missing most of the last six games has something to do with that. Brandon Jennings is a fun spark plug off the bench, but not a great fit with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. Madison Square Garden hosts the tip off of the Christmas Day games, as the Celtics come to town. The Knicks also have Indiana and Orlando in town this week, the kinds of games they need to win to remain a playoff team.

Blazers small icon 17. Trail Blazers (13-16, LW 18). They have dropped 6-of-7 and are now 8-4 at home but 5-12 on the road for the season. The defense remains dead last in the NBA, but in the last 10 games they remain sixth in the NBA in offense, keeping them afloat. However, they have nights where there is a lot of pounding the ball and watching. Also, this season the Trail Blazers have been outscored by 186 points when Evan Turner is on the court.

Bulls small icon 18. Bulls (13-13, LW 12). Losers of three in a row and that includes blowing a 21-point lead to the Timberwolves. Chicago’s offense has gone into the tank. They have an ABC, prime time, Christmas Day game against the lock-down defense of the Spurs. Watch during the game how the Bulls try to neutralize Kawhi Leonard by having whoever he is guarding the half court (usually Jimmy Butler) act as a decoy on the weak side, not involved in anything, and the rest of the Bulls will attack 4-on-4 against the remaining Spurs.

Magic small icon 19. Magic (12-17 LW 19). The defense we expected to see from the Magic this season just is not there — they are 19th in the NBA in defensive net rating, and over the last few weeks they have been much worse. What has saved them is a surprisingly good offense led by Aaron Gordon and Serge Ibaka. The new starting lineup — no Elfrid Payton or Nikola Vucevic — is 5-2.

Hawks small icon 20. Hawks (13-14 LW 17). The Hawks had an impressive win over the Raptors on the road, but also fell to both the Magic and Hornets last week. Nothing is consistent about this team, well except that their defense is no longer elite. They started the season 9-2, have gone 4-12 since, and it feels like they are more the latter team than the former.

Nuggets small icon 21. Nuggets (11-16, LW 21). Mike Malone is still searching for a front-line rotation that works, and has gone to the “start Nikola Jokic and play Jusuf Nurkic far less” lineup and that has won the team two games in a row. For as bad a start as they had to the season, the Nuggets are just a game back of Portland for the final playoff spot in the West, and if they can put together a run it gets interesting.

Kings small icon 22. Kings (10-17, LW 22). The new CBA is going to make things interesting for DeMarcus Cousins. If the Kings hold on to him past the trade deadline — as most close to the team expect — they can this summer offer Cousins the Designated Player extension, meaning a five-year, $207 million (give or take) deal beyond his current one. If he leaves as a free agent in 2018, he will make roughly $60 million less guaranteed. Will Cousins turn that kind of money down? He will be the first big test case for that rule.

Heat small icon 23. Heat (9-19, LW 25). They just got Justice Winslow back, which should help spark the team, particularly defensively. Miami is playing hard for coach Eric Spoelstra, and Hassan Whiteside has earned that massive contract from last summer, but this team just finds ways to lose close games. With this team looking out of the playoff chase, will they move Goran Dragic, Luke Babbitt, or Dion Waiters at the trade deadline?

Pelicans small icon 24. Pelicans (9-20, LW 23). In the desperate search for silver linings outside Anthony Davis, Buddy Heild had a 21-point game last week and showed off how scouts thought that jumper would. Also good news, Tyreke Evans is back on the floor for New Orleans, that should help. Also, Tim razor has been dishing the ball well and looking like a solid NBA player.

Suns small icon 25. Suns (8-19, LW 27). What player has the worst raw +/- numbers in the NBA this season. Brandon Knight, and it’s not close at -224. (While +/- has its flaws as a stat, if you have that number there are issues.)Eric Bledsoe is trying to do it all on his own — three 30-point games — but the team defense stinks (24th in the NBA) and the offense can’t make up for it.

Lakers small icon 26. Lakers (11-19, LW 24). The team snapped an eight-game losing streak in Philly Friday, but over the past 10 games this has been the worst team in the NBA. The problem isn’t the offense or defense — it’s both. Injuries played a role in the slide, but this young team hasn’t figured out how to fight through fatigue or win on the road. Christmas Day they get to host the Clippers.

timberwolves small icon 27. Timberwolves (7-19, LW 26). This team shows flashes that give you hope — such as the 21-point come-from-behind win in Chicago last week. Then they turn around and blow a 12-point lead with two minutes left and fall to the Rockets on Sunday. Is Tom Thibodeau able to reach the young core players of the Timberwolves, or are they tuning him out already?

Sixers small icon 28. 76ers (7-20, LW 28). Going into the season, Brett Brown told us he wanted to try out different big man combinations to see what fits and what doesn’t. Last year we learned Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel is a poor paring (Noel is now glued to the bench). This year learning that Joel Embiid and Okafor don’t work well together, they get killed on defense. Is Dario Saric the long-term answer at the four?

Mavericks small icon 29. Mavericks (7-20, LW 29). Dirk Nowitzki says he wants to be back by the end of the month, but nobody is sure if that will happen. No Andrew Bogut for a while either. If you’re looking for a bright spot (outside the play of Harrison Barnes), we’re sorry about this: The Mavericks are about to play six-of-seven games on the road, where they are 1-12 so far this season.

Nets small icon 30. Nets (7-19, LW 30). Jeremy Lin is back on the court, which makes this team far more entertaining to watch but not much better — they lost to the Sixers last week (they did get a win over a tired, traveling Lakers team). More bad news, the schedule this week is the Raptors, Warriors, and Cavaliers. Ouch.

Already a question, Celtics’ depth issues tested by Hayward injury

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Tonight’s game story was probably always going to be about the Boston Celtics’ wing depth. It still is, I guess, but it reads a lot different now that Gordon Hayward is likely out for the season with a fractured tibia and dislocated left ankle.

Hayward, the biggest free agent prize this offseason, signed with the Celtics over the summer as the team moved in a new direction with Kylie Irving. In doing so, the Celtics leveraged a bit of their wing depth by sending Jae Crowder to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons.

Tuesday’s opening ceremony was supposed to give us a better idea of how the Celtic’ depth would fare against the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart are slated to be a big part of the Boston playoff hopes this year. So too is Marcus Morris once he returns from a knee injury. Of course, that was when we were sure that Hayward would be anchoring the small forward position.

Now, Hayward is out for an undetermined period of time after suffering a catastrophic injury on that fateful alley-oop attempt against LeBron James. With Hayward went Boston’s hopes of a win as the opening matchup of the series went to the Cavaliers, 102–90, albeit with a bit of late excitement as a Irving took the potential game-tying shot as time expired with James guarding him.

Via Twitter:

So here we are, where we originally anticipated to start but with one less star player accounted for. While the Celtics mounted an impressive third quarter comeback, we still don’t have answers to our questions on the Boston depth chart.

It’s true that we saw some impressive play on Tuesday from the guys that were expected to complement Hayward on the way. Brown led the team with 25 points on 11-of-23 shooting in 40 minutes. Likewise, Smart showed some flashes of defensive brilliance even as he went 0-of-4 from 3-point range. Tatum, always expected to contribute the least in his first season, scored 14 points while grabbing 10 rebounds, an impressive double-double in his opening NBA game.

But this still doesn’t account for the fact that the Celtics were outplayed on the wing. The combination of Crowder and JR Smith for Cleveland proved to be too much for Boston to handle when put on the same floor with James. That is to say nothing of Kevin Love‘s performance, which undoubtedly benefited from the defensive rotational differences for the Celtics with Hayward out.

The Cavaliers outflanked Boston on Tuesday despite starting guards Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade combining for 22 points on 24 shots. Crowder himself shot just 3-of-10 from the field, although his contributions elsewhere were obvious. The Cavaliers were able to punch out Boston even as they suffered from subpar performances from major players. No doubt with more time together both sides will solidify, but now without Hayward the young players on the Celtics will have to do much more.

It will be easier for the likes of Crowder, Wade, and Rose to mold around the best player in the NBA than it is for Boston to find a rotation that gets them into the playoffs. And while one game in October won’t tell the story of the season, we had to get a hint of what the Celtics’ young players would look like against top competition. We still got that, and if there is an upside here for Celtics fans it’s that the development of those young players appears to have sparked a flame that should grow all season.

Make no bones about it, the Celtics still have some good players that should be able to shield the younger ones — especially Tatum — from having to shoulder too much of the load. That’s the kind of thing that can stunt the growth of a player. But that doesn’t mean that Celtics fans can’t be disappointed. It was always going to be a stretch to topple the Cavaliers and LeBron in the East, and without Hayward it will be impossible.

From Kyrie Irving to Jae Crowder, no love lost between Celtics and Cavs

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The first night of the NBA is here. Now you can stop pretending that you are going to win your NFL fantasy league and pay attention to something important.

Tuesday night’s opening matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics was of course one of intrigue for many reasons. The teams have new rosters after a trade involving Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas, and Jae Crowder, just to name a few.

The NBA likes to open its seasons with matchups like this, and the crowd at The Q in Cleveland did not disappoint when they saw Irving once more.

There did not appear to be bad blood on the court between LeBron James and Irving, and the two exchanged a friendly fist bump as is customary before the tip.

Via Instagram:

Of course, Cavaliers fans did not hold back once the Celtics won the tip off and Kyrie handled the ball for the first time.

There was also myriad technical fouls, including one on Irving after a timeout and one on Al Horford for clapping at Crowder. The latter gave us this gem:

Is an absolute bummer that the Celtics will be without Gordon Hayward as he recovers from a broken left ankle. But, at least there will be some bad blood remaining between these teams to entertain us over the course of the regular season.

NBA rallies for Gordon Hayward on social media after broken tibia, ankle injury

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Everyone has been waiting for the start of the NBA season, but nobody wanted it to start this way.

During Tuesday’s opening game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward suffered a horrific injury after cutting back door.

Hayward suffered a broken tibia and dislocated left ankle according to the team. Meanwhile, if you want to see video of the injury, you can do so here.

Of course, everyone was waiting in anticipation for Tuesday, including players and not hooping. There was immediate reaction by other NBA players on social media wishing Hayward a speedy recovery.

Via Twitter:

Gordon Hayward breaks tibia, dislocates ankle against Cavs in first game with Celtics

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The Boston Celtics season has taken a turn for the worse.

During Tuesday’s opening game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, new Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward broke his tibia and dislocated his left ankle after landing following a leaping back cut to the basket.

It became immediately apparent to those in the arena, and the broadcast angle of the left leg injury was not pretty.

Just be warned here, the resulting photo and media is pretty disgusting. I let out a big yell when I saw it live, so it’s not for the faint of heart.

Via TNT:

Hayward stayed in the locker rooms at The Q until halftime, where presumably his teammates had some words of kindness for him. He was then taken away from the arena and will reportedly head back to Boston instead of seeking treatment at a hospital in Ohio.

This is just the most awful way to start the NBA season, for all of us. Get well soon, Gordon.