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NBA Power Rankings Week 16: Does anyone want the eight seed in either conference?

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Dallas was miserable to start the season, playing without Dirk Nowitzki or a defense to speak of. Things were not any better in Miami. However, both teams have been on a run lately, and that has gotten those two teams in the conversation for the eight seed in their conferences. Both are climbing up the rankings here as well.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (43-8, Last Week No. 1). Stephen Curry is back to playing at an MVP level. After the Christmas Day loss to Cleveland, the Warriors put the ball in his hands for more pick-and-rolls, he worked to be more aggressive, and while his shots went up by three per game his three point percentage went from 39.7% before Santa to 46.2% after Santa. Big game this week is Kevin Durant returning to Oklahoma City on Saturday night.

 
Spurs small icon 2. Spurs (39-11, LW 2). Gregg Popovich is now the winningest coach with one team in NBA history, and his team just keeps racking up wins after win. By the way, he had to pass Utah’s Jerry Sloan to get that title. Monday night in Memphis the Spurs kick off their annual rodeo road trip, with nine of their next 10 games away from home.

 
Cavaliers small icon 3. Cavaliers (34-15, LW 4). It’s become trendy to say the Wizards are the hottest team in the East since Dec. 1 (they have the best record in that stretch), and Boston is climbing fast, however the Cavaliers remain the class of the East. The Cavs have righted their ship, won four-of-five (despite Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving missing some time), and remain the team to beat in that conference. Great test against the Wizards Monday night, however. They are still looking for a playmaker to add to the roster, but don’t expect something until right at the deadline.

 
Wizards small icon 4. Wizards (30-20, LW 5). What has helped turn the Wizards around this season? As we discussed in the latest PBT Podcast, featuring Wizards’ Insider J. Michael of CSNMidAtlantic, credit Scott Brooks. The coach simplified the defensive game plan and has not changed it when things got rough for a stretch (former coach Randy Wittman changed things all the time). Second, Brooks has lightened up the practice schedule, giving guys time to recover more, and with that John Wall, Bradley Beal and others are staying healthy.

 
Celtics small icon 5. Celtics (33-18, LW 6). Winners of seven in row and 11-of-12, and that includes knocking off the Raptors and taking control of the No. 2 seed in the East. All of that was enough to make Brad Stevens the Eastern Conference All-Star Coach. Isaiah Thomas is on a roll, but the Celtics have the sixth best defense in the NBA during the win streak, they have been strong on the boards, and that’s been the biggest difference.

 
Rockets small icon 6. Rockets (37-17, LW 3). Houston is 5-5 in its last 10 and the reason is the three ball is not falling for them anymore — they shot 33 percent from beyond the arc in January, and 31 percent through the first week of February. Trevor Ariza is a big part of this slump, but it’s bigger than just him. Houston has a soft schedule coming up which should allow them to turn this streak around.

 
Jazz small icon 7. Jazz (32-19, LW 7). Gordon Hayward had some big games last week, and he and Rudy Gobert both put up 25 in a game (which makes this team very difficult to beat). Plus, the Jazz are 17–4 when George Hill and Hayward both play. But the thing I liked best last week was the strong games from Joe Johnson playing a little small ball four, which gives this team even more versatility.

 
Hawks small icon 8. Hawks (30-21 LW 8). Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 23-point fourth quarter on the second night of a back-to-back — sparking a comeback win — was one of the more impressive performances of the season. (Just wanted to remind Atlanta sports fans of a good comeback win for them, it’s going to be a rough few days.) Interesting tests ahead for them this week against the Jazz, Nuggets, and at the Kings.

 
Pacers small icon 9. Pacers (28-22, LW 12).. The have won six in a row and have put themselves in the mix for home court in the first round of the playoffs (they are just a game back of four seed Toronto). The key to this run has been defense, where the Pacers have given up less than a point per possession over their last six. The real test comes this week, can they keep this up against the Thunder, Cavaliers, and Wizards?

 
Thunder small icon 10. Thunder (30-22, LW 9). They dropped three in a row after the Enes Kanter injury, but they got a good wins over Memphis and Portland, and look like they may be finding ways to score without their reserve big man. The good news for OKC is after a brutal January the team is home for most of the month and will get the chance to stay afloat without Kanter (and figure out how to win without him).

 
Grizzlies small icon 11. Grizzlies (31-22, LW 11). This ranking seems too low for a team getting monster nights from guys like JaMychal Green — he is knocking down threes, defending, and his matured game will get him paid this summer. Their offense has looked great against lesser squads, but this week the Spurs and the Warriors are on the schedule to provide real tests.

 
Raptors small icon 12. Raptors (31-21, LW 10). Fell to Celtics last Wednesday, and while they can rightly point out DeMar DeRozan missed that game, it still stung. This team has gone 3-7 in their last 10 and have a bottom 10 net rating in that time, and this recent run of play has them all the way down to fourth in the East (and it would be worse if Kyle Lowry didn’t hit a ridiculous game winner last week against New Orleans.

 
Heat small icon 13. Heat (21-30, LW 20). This team has won 10 in a row and is now just two games out of a playoff spot in the East. All after Justise Winslow went down injured. Erik Spoelstra could/should end up on some Coach of the Year ballots for getting this roster — which has talent but not great fitting talent — to come around and perform at any reasonable level, especially playing lock-down defense during their streak.

 
Clippers small icon 14. Clippers (31-20, LW 13). Los Angeles is 2-5 on a rough stretch of games that has them mostly on the road (to make way for the Grammys at Staples Center). Los Angeles’ offense has been good since Blake Griffin’s return — he’s an underrated playmaker and their shooters are knocking down shots — but the defense has been terrible. Four more games on the road coming up, including at Toronto and Utah.

 
Bulls small icon 15. Bulls (25-26, LW 15). Nothing seems to go smoothly for this team. Chicago had arguably its two best offensive performances of the season in wins over Philadelphia and Oklahoma City, only to lose Jimmy Butler for a stretch with a bruised heel. The Bulls are trying to hang on to a playoff spot as they go through a six-game road stretch, they split the first two but Butler’s return could have a lot to do with how the next four games go.

Pistons small icon 16. Pistons (23-28, LW 19). Andre Drummond continues to put up numbers in the middle (he remains a beast on the boards, but his growth seems to have plateaued this season. When Detroit gets wins it’s because Drummond gets help like he did last week from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jon Leuer and Marcus Morris. Detroit needs more of that help if they are going to hang on to a playoff slot out East.

 
Nuggets small icon 17. Nuggets (22-28, LW 14). In the falling-up battle to get the final playoff slot in the West, the Nuggets are in the playoffs as of today, but are going to need more consistent play — starting with star Nikola Jokic — if they plan to hold off Portland or suddenly-hot Dallas. Also, how will the Nuggets handle swirling trade rumors the next couple of weeks around Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler?

 
Mavericks small icon 18. Mavericks (20-30, LW 23). Yogimania has swept through Dallas — rookie Yogi Ferrell came in on a 10-day contract out of the D-League to provide point guard depth, and since then he has averaged 17.8 points a game and shot 52 percent from three. He dropped 32 on Portland. So Farrell is getting a two-year deal this week. The Mavericks have games against the Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and Jazz this week — if they are going to make the playoffs they need to get wins in games like those.

 
Blazers small icon 19. Trail Blazers (22-30, LW 16).. The search for something that works defensively in Portland may have found a relative solution with the team starting Evan Turner and Noah Vonleh (although Al Farouq-Aminu gets the late-game run, not Vonleh). They lost to Dallas last week, but they get another shot this week and that is the kind of game a playoff team needs to win.

 
Hornets small icon 20. Hornets (23-28, LW 17). They have dropped seven in a row and their offensive game has struggled since Cory Zeller went down, which is why the team made the moved to trade for Miles Plumlee (and take on a lot more salary to do it). This team’s up-and-down defense this season is definitely down of late. Charlotte has fallen out of the playoffs in the East and if they are going to turn that around it needs to happen with this four-game homestand (because the next seven after that are on the road).

 
Knicks small icon 21. Knicks (22-30 LW 21). There are two more weeks of Carmelo Anthony trade drama this team needs to play through (I still think they can’t find a new home for him until this summer). This team has really missed Derrick Rose and will be happy to get him back this week. They got a strong games from Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez last week, which is promising for the future.

 
Sixers small icon 22. 76ers (18-32, LW 18). Joel Embiid has missed eight of nine games for the Sixers, and not so coincidentally the team is 3-6 in that stretch. Robert Covington being out the last three also has dramatically hurt Philly’s defense. Jahlil Okafor is still available via trade, but word on the street is the Sixers are asking a lot more in return than other team are offering.

 
Kings small icon 23. Kings (20-31, LW 24). The Kings are 2.5 games out of the playoffs and if things are going to change for this team it needs to happen over the next few weeks — nine of their next 11 are at home. The win over Golden State was a very good start. Then again, the ugly loss to the Suns speaks to the unpredictable nature of this team. Who knows if we will see more Jekyll or Hyde during this homestand, about the only thing we can expect are big games from DeMarcus Cousins.

 
Bucks small icon 24. Bucks (22-28, LW 25). Trading Miles Plumlee was all about saving millions of dollars as of next July, when their team needs re-sign Jabari Parker. The good news for the Bucks is Kris Middleton is expected to play starting Wednesday and this team could use him as they remain just half a game outside the playoffs as of Monday.

 
Pelicans small icon 25. Pelicans (19-32, LW 22). They have lost four straight games and the problem isn’t Anthony Davis or Jrue Holiday — they are putting up numbers — it is everyone else on the roster that is struggling. There’s always a distraction from what is going wrong in New Orleans, and that is the All-Star Game coming to town, which means more pictures of their King Baby mascot to creep you out.

 
timberwolves small icon 26. Timberwolves (19-32, LW 26). The loss of Zach LaVine for the season is crushing to this team’s already faint playoff dreams — LaVine was the starter usually out there with the struggling bench units to provide some points and stability. Brandon Rush seems to be the starter, but the second unit is the concern. Just hope LaVine — who had taken real steps forward with his game this season — can bounce back from this torn ACL.

 
Magic small icon 27. Magic (20-33 LW 27). Orlando is a team to watch the next two weeks — not on the court, but heading into the trade deadline. They are looking for a home for Serge Ibaka (who is not likely to re-sign there) but considering they gave up Victor Oladipo and the pick that became Domantas Sabonis to get him, the Magic want quality back. Other teams are not interested at that price. Same basic thing with Nikola Vucevic. Will Orlando come down a little, and will the market rise up to meet them?

 
Suns small icon 28. Suns (16-35, LW 28). The Suns as a team continue to flounder, but one of their guards usually provides plenty of entertainment. Not long ago it was Eric Bledsoe’s string of 40-point games, but more recently it has been the 27 points in a quarter performance by Devin Booker.

 
Lakers small icon 29. Lakers (17-36, LW 29). Magic Johnson coming on board as an advisor to ownership means Jim Buss is on his way out (will Mitch Kupchak join him is the question). However, the Lakers should not abandon the idea of building their nice young core. Sure, D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and on down the line have had their ups-and-downs, but if you trade nice young players for slightly above average veterans to get a few more wins now you’re the Isiah Thomas Knicks.

 
Nets small icon 30. Nets (9-42, LW 30). Because it’s not been a hard enough season in Brooklyn, here’s another reminder that Yogi Ferrell — who is having a breakout run in Dallas — started the season with the Nets but they released him. The team is playing hard but has lost nine in a row.

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.