NBA Power Rankings week 14: Golden State is setting the bar high for everyone else

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The Warriors have solidified their place at the top of these rankings, but from about 10-20 I feel like any team could get hot and make a leap — or get cold and fall fast. Also, Brooklyn is the Bizarro Warriors, having solidified their spot on the bottom of these rankings.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (38-6, Last Week No. 1). This was supposed to be a rough week, a test of the Golden State’s toughness — then they went out and beat the Cavaliers by 35, the Thunder by 21, and Rockets by 17. Golden State now has the top rated offense AND defense in the NBA for the season. And as much as they aren’t trying, they are on pace to win 70 games. So yes, they have set the bar to clear this season, again. Five of their next seven games are on the road.

 
Spurs small icon 2. Spurs (34-9, LW 2). The loss of Pau Gasol for a couple months (give or take) is a setback, but this team just keeps on rolling — see the win over the Cavaliers. Is it time we started mentioning this team as a real contender? I still have questions about their athleticism and if that haunts them in a seven-game series against elite teams, but the Spurs just know how to win, and they are going to be there deep into the playoffs. If we get a Spurs/Cavaliers NBA Finals, their Sunday night overtime thriller showed that would be plenty entertaining.

 
Rockets small icon 3. Rockets (34-13, LW 3). They have dropped four of their last seven, and while you can understand losses to Golden State and a split with Memphis, losses like Miami sting. More alarming is that in their last seven games that vaunted offense has dropped out of the top 10 in the league (11th for that stretch). It should help that Clint Capela is back from injury and Ryan Anderson should be as well this week. They are on a four-game road swing through the East this week, including the Celtics and Sixers.

 
Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (30-12, LW 4). They got crushed by the Warriors — in a game they clearly didn’t take all that seriously — and fell to the Spurs on Saturday, meaning they have lost 4-of-6. That said, they have a 2.5 game cushion in the East and LeBron-led teams always seem to have these mini-slumps during the season, then they flip the switch back to “on.” Look for the Cavaliers to get right this week with games against Pelicans, Kings and Nets.

Jazz small icon 5. Jazz (29-16, LW 8). Utah has not had an All-Star representative since 2011, but that should change this week when at least one of (if not both) Gordon Hayward or Rudy Gobert get picked (Gobert having a 25/25 game recently has to help his cause). Utah has won six in a row — and that includes beating Cleveland. As the Clippers fall down the standings due to injury, the Jazz will be the four seed, and their goal should be to hold on to that spot and have home court in the first round.

 
Hawks small icon 6. Hawks (26-18 LW 11). They are 9-2 in January and are just half a game back of the Celtics for the three seed, which is why in these rankings they have made the leap — they may be the hottest team in the East. Will that be enough to get Paul Millsap an All-Star nod? He deserves it with his play and numbers, but he’s certainly on the bubble in the East with so many good guards and Joel Embiid playing well. As an aside, nobody seems to think Millsap is really off the trade market, but also nobody thinks anyone will put together an offer that will really tempt the Hawks.

 
Raptors small icon 7. Raptors (28-15, LW 6). They have lost three games in a row (and 8-of-14, if you go back), and now they will be without DeMar DeRozan for at least the first two games of this week. No Patrick Patterson is certainly part of that, they are already thin at the four, but more so they miss the Kyle Lowry’s shooting (he has shot 35.6% overall and 25.9% from three in those games), plus they have struggled to contain penetration on drives. Despite his recent struggles, Lowry should be selected as an All-Star reserve by the coaches.

 
Celtics small icon 8. Celtics (26-17, LW 7). He’s not going to be a starter like he arguably should have been, but Isaiah Thomas will be picked by the coaches and play in the All-Star Game next month. Thomas averaged 38.3 points a game last week — but the Celtics still lost to the Knicks and Trail Blazers. They miss Avery Bradley. That is why they haven’t moved past the Raptors on these rankings… yet. Not that anyone in Boston will notice or care too much about anything Celtics until after the Super Bowl.

 
Clippers small icon 9. Clippers (29-16, LW 5). Chris Paul needed surgery on his right hand and will be out until March, which is a huge blow as they are +15.9 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court (and have been outscored when he is off it, although there is a lot of noise in those numbers). On the bright side, Blake Griffin should return to the lineup this week or next. Still, the goal for the Clippers needs to be not to fall too far then climb back up to the four or five seed in the final month of the season — and stay healthy for the playoffs.

 
Wizards small icon 10. Wizards (23-20, LW 12). Is Sidney Lowe their best defender? Maybe he could have boxed out Marcus Morris last week, but either way remember that this team stumbled out of the gate (3-9) and have been good ever since. The Wizards have been particularly strong against the other middle-of-the-pack teams in the East and they need to continue that with the Hornets, Celtics, and Hawks on the schedule this week. The Wizards could use Bradley Beal to break out of his mini-slump.

 
Thunder small icon 11. Thunder (25-19, LW 9). Russell Westbrook seemed less concerned that he wasn’t an All-Star Game starter than the NBA Twitterers was, but we all know he’s just going to use that as more motivation (I’d bet on him to win the ASG MVP now). The Thunder are 1-3 on their current road trip and 4-6 through a tough stretch in January (that doesn’t let up until the end of the month, with tough games on the road in Utah and Cleveland this week).

 
Grizzlies small icon 12. Grizzlies (26-20, LW 10). Another team with a couple guys on the All-Star Game bubble: You can make a strong case for both Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. My guess is only one of them makes it in (along with one member of the Jazz, for balance). Of more immediate concern in Memphis is this team has lost 3-of-4 and the defense has been unimpressive in that stretch. Gasol’s offense has been fantastic of late, but he could use some help from Chandler Parsons.

 
Hornets small icon 13. Hornets (23-21, LW 17). The good news is they have won three in a row after a rough stretch (an 0-5 road trip where their defense was forgettable). Kemba Walker had a couple huge games in that stretch — will it be enough to get him named an All-Star Game reserve? He deserves it for his season, but with so many good guards and guys like Joel Embiid making a push, I fear that Walker will be the odd man out.

 
Pacers small icon 14. Pacers (22-21, LW 14).. The loss to the Lakers last week is the kind of game a team in a tight playoff race needs to win. As for the loss to Utah, that was just George Hill salt in the wound. Indiana is home for three of its next four, which is good because this team struggles to defend consistently on the road and is 6-16 away from the Fieldhouse, but is 16-6 at home.

 
Bulls small icon 15. Bulls (22-23, LW 13). Dwyane Wade is tweeting out apologies to fans for the team’s effort, and the front office is trying to find new homes for Rajon Rondo and Nikola Mirotic. Like TNT, the Bulls know drama. While the front office looks at roster tweets, the question becomes can Jimmy Butler get this team into the playoffs. They need wins against teams like Orlando, Atlanta, and Philly this week to do so, but who knows what we’ll get from the inconsistent Bulls.

 
Pistons small icon 16. Pistons (21-24, LW 19). The up-and-down Pistons are up again, having won three in a row — maybe all the trade rumors woke this team up (don’t look for Reggie Jackson to be moved unless some team comes up with a huge offer). Stanley Johnson has played better (and gotten more consistent run) of late, but the play of the week belonged to Marcus Morris.

 
Nuggets small icon 17. Nuggets (18-25, LW 23). Nikola Jokic is not going to be an All-Star this year, but keep having months like he has this January — averaging 23.4 points and 10.7 rebounds a game — and we will be talking about him a year from now. If I were going to keep an eye on a guy who could get moved at the deadline, it’s Jusuf Nurkic — he doesn’t fit with Jokic but he would have real value on other rosters.

 
Sixers small icon 18. 76ers (15-27, LW 25). When Joel Embiid plays — particularly with new starters T.J. McConnell and Nik Stauskas — the Sixers are a good team. The big question around the Sixers is will the coaches put Joel Embiid in the All-Star Game? My guess is no, they are a little old school because of his minutes restriction. Plus if he goes, a deserving player such as Kemba Walker stays home. But Embiid in New Orleans would be fun. #raisethecat

 
Bucks small icon 19. Bucks (20-23, LW 13). Kris Middleton can’t get back soon enough. The Bucks have dropped five games in a row, they have the worst net rating in the NBA in that stretch, and it’s not one end of the court — in those five games the Bucks had the second-worst defense and fourth-worst offense in the NBA. It’s going to be a tough week to turn that around with the Rockets, resurgent Sixers, Raptors, and Celtics on the schedule.

 
Blazers small icon 20. Trail Blazers (19-27, LW 16).. You wonder how a team with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum can be out of the playoffs in the West (if they started today), then you see they got crushed by the Hornets and lost to the Sixers thanks to Robert Covington and you see the inconsistency that plagues this squad. Portland starts a five-game homestand and this is where they need to start their push to secure the eight seed (not sure they can make up the 7 games for seventh) — if it doesn’t happen now it may never.

 
Knicks small icon 21. Knicks (19-26 LW 20). Carmelo Anthony’s run of seven consecutive All-Star Games will come to an and this season, but that’s the least of the drama around him the past week. At least with all the Anthony trade rumor talk we stopped discussing about Derrick Rose going AWOL (he’s had a few strong games lately). It’s been a hard-luck run for the Knicks, whose last three losses have come by a total of six points. But New York has had a run of close losses all season.

 
Pelicans small icon 22. Pelicans (17-27, LW 18). Anthony Davis is an All-Star starter for the game in his town, which is nice. It’s about the best thing you can say for the Pelicans in a week they let the Nets score 143 on them. The Pelicans are home this week and need to rack up wins to stay in the playoff chase, but with their games being against the Cavaliers, Thunder, Spurs and Wizards it’s not going to be that easy.

 
timberwolves small icon 23. Timberwolves (16-28, LW 22). In the key stretches of games last week, Tom Thibodeau went to a lineup of Kris Dunn, Tyus Jones, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, and Karl-Anthony Towns — and it worked. The youth movement beat the banged-up Clippers and the Nuggets. The Wolves have won 5-of-7 and are just 2.5 games out of the playoffs, if they are serious about making a run at that spot they need wins against teams like the Suns, Pacers, and Nets this week.

 
Mavericks small icon 24. Mavericks (15-29, LW 26). They have won 4-of-6 with Seth Curry in the starting lineup (he has shot 56 percent in that stretch), including thrashing the hapless Lakers. The Dallas offense is clicking, and that has made them a difficult out, which is good because we don’t want to see Dirk Nowitzki go out any other way (yes, I know he may well play another year, the point is valid).

 
Kings small icon 25. Kings (16-27, LW 21). Losers of five in a row and it’s hard to see bright playoff prospects for this team after losing Rudy Gay for the season with a torn Achilles. The phantom call on DeMarcus Cousins on Dwyane Wade didn’t help matters. Sacramento has started off 0-2 on an eight-game road trip may for good sink Vivek Ranadive’s playoff dreams for another season.

 
Suns small icon 26. Suns (15-29, LW 27). They may be hovering near the bottom of the West, but things like Eric Bledsoe’s 40 points against the Raptors, or Devin Booker’s game winner against the Knicks, give us a reason to watch this team. Booker now has 20 or more points in nine straight games.

 
Heat small icon 27. Heat (14-30, LW 29). They are on a three game winning streak, and it speaks to where the Heat are that all that does is make me wonder if it helps Goran Dragic’s trade value (he had a strong game against the Rockets 21/8/8). Or, to better phrase the question, will it drive up the trade value to what Pat Riley thinks he should get? Dion Waiters dropped 33 last week in a win, just wanted to point that out.

 
Magic small icon 28. Magic (18-28 LW 24). This team’s offense (already not striking fear into teams) stumbles badly without Evan Fournier in to provide spacing. Orlando can sell they are just 4.5 games out of the playoffs, but we all know they are not making it and need to make moves at the trade deadline thinking long term (such as unclogging the front court logjam).

 
Lakers small icon 29. Lakers (16-31, LW 28). Sunday, the Dallas Mavericks handed the Lakers the worst loss in franchise history (49 points). D’Angelo Russell is out for a couple weeks and it showed that game, they lacked his organization of the offense and the ball movement he sparks. Looking for a bright side? The Lakers lead the NBA in bench points per game at 49.6, which is the most since the league started tracking that stat in 1971.

 
Nets small icon 30. Nets (9-34, LW 30). No Jeremy Lin for another month or so as the Nets cement their place at the bottom of these rankings. Which makes Boston fans happy (they swap draft picks this year). The Nets snapped their 11-game losing streak by hanging 143 on the Pelicans — in their last five games the Nets have averaged 110.9 points per 100 possessions, top 10 in the NBA. Of course, they have given up 119.9, so things are not good, but the offense is putting up points.

Russell Westbrook wins the 2017 NBA MVP Award

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Russell Westbrook or James Harden for the 2017 NBA MVP? We finally have our answer.

On Monday night Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder star, took home the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, earning him the right to be called the league’s most valuable player for the 2016-17 NBA season.

The debate raged on the entire regular season, but the Oklahoma City Thunder star hit new heights in 2016-17, averaging a triple-double for the entire season, a feat not seen since 1962 when Oscar Robertson did it. That pushed him over impressive numbers by Houston Rockets star Harden, who was incredible as he moved to play the point guard position full-time for NBA Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni.

Whether you picked Westbrook or Harden, I’m not so sure that there was a wrong answer. Granted, the Rockets were a much better team and in fact gave some of the best squads in the Western Conference a run for their money. Harden and D’Antoni seemed like a natural pairing, and his move to the point guard position was inspired. Houston finished third in the Western Conference last season, a mark that most of us did not expect them to achieve without the likes of Dwight Howard.

In comparison, the Thunder were only in playoff contention because of Westbrook and even then, they scraped by the entire season. Oklahoma City had just three players with a positive VORP For the season, in stark contrast to the Rockets. While basketball purists might rightly point out that Westbrook’s contribution to his team was still centered around himself, the debate will have to rage on with the trophy now firmly in the Thunder star’s grasp.

Plus, if you ever watched the guy it would be hard not to point to him as MVP. Westbrook was just flat out ridiculous.

It is difficult to understate just how significant Westbrook’s statistical achievement is for the season. He averaged 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game. The ability of a player to achieve that record with modern defenses in the NBA being what they are is impressive, even if you want to argue that many teams allowed Westbrook to operate while concentrating on his lesser teammates.

In the age of advanced statistics, when an analyst with both a spreadsheet and a pair of working eyes may slide to the side of Harden, it is still an astonishing thought to think Westbrook dominated so wholly against his opponents statistically. Indeed, if you ask me who had a genuine impact and who was more impressive, the answer would have to be split between the two.

So here we are, at the end of the year and everything is as we thought it would be. Russell Westbrook is the individual season champ as a player, the best of the best. The Golden State Warriors are the team champions of 2016-17. You could argue against either of them, but I don’t think it would do you any good. Westbrooks season is a statistical anomaly we are unlikely to see again. NBA MVP voters have got it wrong a lot of the time over the years, but this isn’t one of them.

Russell Westbrook is your NBA MVP.

Draymond Green wins 2017 NBA Defensive Player of the Year

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There were a lot of incredible candidates for the 2017 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, but make no bones about it: Golden state Warriors forward Draymond Green was the most deserving.

Monday night Green was announced as the Defensive Player of the Year during the NBA’s Awards Ceremony.

In a year in which the Warriors were coming off a 73-9 season, and after an offseason where they added Kevin Durant, Green’s importance to the team was never overstated. His tenacity on defense and switchability allowed the Warriors to continue to be one of the best defensive squads in the NBA. Golden State finished second in the NBA in defensive efficiency in 2016-17, and part of that was due to Green acting as they lynchpin.

A unique defensive player, Green was able to take some of the pressure off of Durant as well as boost his impact on defense. A player who at times had to guard all five positions, Green led his team in defensive win shares.

To take home his DPOY award, Green got 73 out of a possible 100 first place votes (from select media members), comfortably beating out Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert, who was second, and San Antonio Spurs MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, who was third. Robert Covington of the Philadelphia 76ers was fourth, followed by LeBron James fifth.

Much like the MVP award this season, a real argument could be made for either Leonard or Gobert’s candidacy for DPOY. However, With yet another 60+ when season under his belt, it made sense that Green was seen as the key by voters for the Golden State defensive attack.

Green finished with 73 first place votes, while Gobert trailed with 16 and Leonard with 11. Green finished with 434 total points. Gobert was second with 169.

Durant was the 2017 NBA Finals MVP, and voting for DOPY closed before the playoffs began. But if anyone watched the great playoff run by the Warriors — one where they only lost one game — Green’s importance is easily understood.

Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni wins the 2017 NBA Coach of the Year Award

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Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni is your 2017 NBA Coach of the Year.

If you are a Texan or a fan of the Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns, today probably feels pretty good.

D’Antoni beat out the second place finisher, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, by 247 total points. D’Antoni grabbed 68 first place votes compared to Spoelstra’s nine.

This last season was an impressive one for D’Antoni, and his pairing with James Harden certainly seemed to excite fans to begin the season. D’Antoni is at least partially responsible for the way a modern NBA offense works, and putting him with one of the most efficient and exciting offensive players in Harden was at least match on paper.

But it was so, so much better on the floor.

D’Antoni immediately moved Harden over to play the point guard position full-time, a real utilization of his passing and scoring skills. The emphasis for Houston all season was getting the ball out often and early, much like it had been in Phoenix. Harden easily played the role of Steve Nash, getting the ball out on the wing to shooters early in transition, leading the break, and running the pick-and-roll in the early offense.

The result was a No. 3 finish in the Western Conference below the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs. Harden, a leading MVP candidate, finished the year with averages of 29.1 points, 11.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds per game. In seasons past a casual fan could find watching the Rocket a chore, with Harden whirling his arms around to draw illogical fouls. This year they became a delight.

Suddenly, the Rockets were out on the break more often and shooting more 3-pointers. They were dunking down lobs. Eric Gordon was shooting the lights out from the arc as a feel good Sixth Man of the Year candidate. It didn’t matter that Harden had somehow upped his free-throw rate to the highest it had been since 2012-13. The Rockets, with Trevor Ariza and Clint Capela and Ryan Anderson, were a dynamo with Harden leading the charge.

It doesn’t seem like an obvious change now, but adding more speed to Harden’s game was something that only a COTY like D’Antoni could have envisioned. With the addition of time, revolutionary ideas often seem like staid practices. They seem simple and blunt, which is why the execution of those ideas is what ends up making those we galvanize in the history of the game so important.

The Rockets lost a Hall of Famer — albeit an aging one — and somehow got 14 wins better. They finished 55-27 after going just .500 a year ago. They added an offense of system that took the extremes of the modern NBA and turned them up to 11.They did all of this with the coach who started that revolution more than a decade ago.

Mike D’Antoni winning the 2017 NBA Coach of the Year is about as good a story as you can get. His career has had all the acts and plot twists of a great narrative, with a rise, a crash in the middle, and a return to glory. Monday’s award puts D’Antoni right back where we thought he should be in Phoenix: at the top.

Warriors’ Bob Myers wins 2017 NBA Executive of the Year

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Give the Golden State Warriors in yet another trophy.

General Manager Bob Myers has won the 2017 NBA Executive of the Year Award, which was announced at the NBA Awards ceremony Monday night.

In a year in which the Golden State Warriors beat their rival Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals — thanks in part to the addition of free agent Kevin Durant — is it any wonder that Myers took home the top brass for an NBA executive?

The Warriors looked dominant even a year removed from their 73-9 season, with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Durant playing perfectly as they stormed through the 2017 NBA playoffs.

It wasn’t until Game 4 the NBA Finals that the Warriors actually lost a game, the only game that the Cavaliers and LeBron James would win in that series.

Golden State is on the verge of a dynasty even as they try to keep their team together. The swiping of Durant from the Oklahoma City Thunder was a huge coup, but the real magic for Myers has always been that the Warriors drafted their top three players.

The Warriors let off the gas a little bit in 2017, winning just 67 games on their way to a number one seed in the playoffs this last year.

Congratulations are in order yet again into the Warriors, who won their second NBA championship in three years thanks in part to the guidance of Myers at the helm.