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NBA Power Rankings week 17: Will deadline trades change the Cavs/Warriors collision course?

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We’re more than halfway through the season, and the power dynamic of the NBA is set: Golden State in the West, Cleveland in the East. Will teams make trades trying to get into that mix, or is everyone going to sit back, hope for the best, and make their moves this summer? Probably more of the latter, but you never know when a team will get desperate.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (46-8, Last Week No. 1). Sure Kevin Durant treats the games against the Thunder like every other game, that’s why he’s averaging 37.7 points on 65.6 percent shooting in those three games, plus grabbing 9.3 rebounds. The Warriors remain on a 70-win pace this season, although that could drop off that number a little near the end of the season when Steve Kerr will get more serious about resting players.

 
Cavaliers small icon 2. Cavaliers (37-16, LW 3). How is Kevin Love finding a way to fit in better with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving? By going to the corners more. Love is averaging 2.6 corner threes a game, 120 total on the season, and is hitting 39.2 percent of them. Last season took 131 total. While rumors continue to swirl, don’t be surprised if the Cavaliers sit out the trade deadline and wait to see who gets waived just after, they will be anyone’s first choice and have their pick of the guys other teams jettison.

 
Spurs small icon 3. Spurs (41-13, LW 2). They are 2-2 to start off the annual rodeo road trip after a surprising loss to the Knicks Sunday. Tony Parker failed to score against the Knicks, a team that doesn’t exactly have a great defensive backcourt, which is why San Antonio is and should be concerned about what Parker brings in the playoffs. That said, Kawhi Leonard is playing like an MVP and the team is on pace for 62 wins.

 
Rockets small icon 4. Rockets (40-17, LW 6). Winners of four in a row, and that’s thanks to the James Harden show in Houston (an MVP-level show). He has nine 40-point games this season, he leads the league in total minutes played, and the only question is will he physically start to wear down from the load. While his raw shooting percentage numbers have fallen, he’s only shooting 40 percent, his efficiency remains high because he gets to the free throw line, plus the 11.3 assists per game.

 
Wizards small icon 5. Wizards (32-21, LW 4). They have won nine of 10 and the only loss was to the Cavaliers to overtime (and it would have been a Washington win without a ridiculous shot from LeBron to force OT). The Wizards are 16-5 since the calendar turned to 2017, the second best record in the NBA (Warriors), and while the starters carry the heavy load the once terrible bench has been solid of late. Something to watch Monday night: John Wall vs. Russell Westbrook.

 
Celtics small icon 6. Celtics (35-19, LW 5). It’s been said a lot but it can’t be said enough: Isaiah Thomas is a fourth quarter killer. He’s averaging 10.7 points per game in fourth quarters this season, far and away the best in the league. Boston is of the teams to watch heading into the trade deadline, it has a lot of assets and picks to move if there is a player that intrigues, but Danny Ainge is a patient man. Still, don’t be surprised if they make a move.

 
Jazz small icon 7. Jazz (34-21, LW 7). No offense to Dallas, but how does a Jazz team with this defense blow a 21-point lead? They have a couple losses in a row and a tough week ahead hosting the Clippers and Trail Blazers. Then at the end of the week Gordon Hayward becomes the first Jazz player in the All-Star Game since Deron Williams back in 2011.

 
Grizzlies small icon 8. Grizzlies (33-23, LW 11). They earned a split on a brutal week, beating the Spurs (it was not a pretty game, just the way the Grizzlies like it) then getting thumped by the Warriors. The good news for Marc Gasol and company is the schedule lightens up for the next few weeks — starting with Brooklyn and New Orleans this week — giving them a chance to focus on playoff seeding. This is a team nobody wants to face in the first round.

 
Hawks small icon 9. Hawks (31-23 LW 8). Losses to the Jazz and Kings last week showed how much this team’s defense has slipped with Thabo Sefolosha out (he’s missed seven in a row with a groin injury), but the offense still has this team playing over its head. As it has all season. Don’t expect to see them move Paul Millsap at the trade deadline, but as Sean Deveney and I discussed in the latest PBT Podcast they probably should.

 
Pacers small icon 10. Pacers (29-25, LW 9).. Losers of three in a row as they move through a tough part of the schedule, which continues this week with the Spurs, Cavaliers, and Wizards. The Pacers need the Jeff Teague who was lighting teams up during a recent seven-game win streak to return, the one who averaged 17.3 points and 8.9 assists per game, plus was knocking down his threes.

 
Thunder small icon 11. Thunder (31-24, LW 10). Russell Westbrook and crew picked up an impressive win over the Cavaliers last week. The bad news is the Thunder need to be more concerned with the Warriors and Spurs in the West if they have playoff dreams that last beyond a quick stay, OKC has yet to beat either of the West’s best. Also of note, they are 3-5 since Enes Kanter went out with his arm injury, they miss his offense.

 
Raptors small icon 12. Raptors (32-22, LW 12). They have lost four of six, and while the offense has stumbled some of late the real problem is a defense that was fourth in the NBA in December and 18th in February. Now Kyle Lowry is saying the team needs something, and it feels as if there is pressure building on Masai Ujiri to make a trade and bring in some depth at the four. Serge Ibaka is the big name, but there is Danilo Gallinari and other options.

 
Clippers small icon 13. Clippers (33-21, LW 14). With Chris Paul sidelined, Jamal Crawford has stepped up his game scoring 20 points a game and shooting 51.4 percent from three in his last five games. Crawford and Blake Griffin are carrying the Clippers offense of late. The Clippers have gone 4-6 on a tough stretch of road games, but it doesn’t end now with the Jazz and Warriors on the road this week.

 
Heat small icon 14. Heat (24-31, LW 13). Their 13-game win streak ended at the hands of a Sixers team playing without Joel Embiid or Jahlil Okafor. It happens, but the Heat are just two games out of the playoffs in the East now and have a real shot. It will help to get Dion Waiters back from his sprained ankle — he has thrived in the spotlight — but also expect the Heat to be buyers, not sellers, at the trade deadline.

 
Bulls small icon 15. Bulls (26-28, LW 15). Can the Bulls hang on to a playoff spot in the East? They are currently just 1.5 games ahead of ninth-seeded Charlotte and the time off around the All-Star Game couldn’t come at a better time as Jimmy Buttler has missed time with a heel injury and Dwyane Wade with his wrist. Also, the Bulls schedule gets tough the next few weeks, starting with Toronto and Boston this week. Chicago is entering a make-or-break part of the season.

 
Nuggets small icon 16. Nuggets (24-30, LW 17). Nikola Jokic put on a show in Madison Square Garden Friday night, just another step in him announcing himself as a future star in this league. That star didn’t pair well with Jusuf Nurkic hence the trade of him for Mason Plumlee, a move the Nuggets thing will help this team get the eight seed in the West. I’m not sold Plumlee and Jokic are going to pair a whole lot better, with the issue being on defense (Denver is already dead last in that category in the league), but if you platoon them, you can bolster the second unit.

Pistons small icon 17. Pistons (26-29, LW 16). With an impressive comeback win on Sunday night (the Raptors did their share to help) the Pistons improved to 5-2 in February — and it’s not a coincidence that Stan Van Gundy has started to lean heavily on Ish Smith and not Reggie Jackson at the same time. The Pistons have games this week against the Bucks and Mavericks — the kinds of games they need to win if they are a playoff team.

 
Mavericks small icon 18. Mavericks (22-32, LW 18). Dallas tread water in the chase for the eight seed in the West last week with losses to the Nuggets and Trail Blazers, but a win over Utah. Dallas remains two games out of the playoffs and will try to pick up some wins with what be a suddenly deep backcourt — Yogi Farrell has been fantastic, Deron Williams returned to the rotation on Saturday, and J.J. Barea is expected back in the lineup not long after the All-Star break.

 
Blazers small icon 19. Trail Blazers (23-31, LW 19).. The trade to bring in Jusuf Nurkic seems like a move for the future, not one designed to help them catch the Nuggets for the eight seed this season, because Plumlee’s versatility and skill as a secondary playmaker was a better fit for the Portland offense than back-to-the-basket Nurkic. Also the Trail Blazers now have three first round picks in this coming draft, which is to say don’t think they are done dealing. Either at the trade deadline or draft night.

 
Kings small icon 20. Kings (22-32, LW 23). DeMarcus Cousins has already been suspended one game for reaching 16 technicals in one season and now gets another missed game every second technical he picks up — and he got one Sunday night (he made incidental contact to the face of Donatas Motiejunas, it was a fair call he did catch the guy in the face). The Kings need him on the court to have a shot at the playoffs, and the owner wants them in it — which could lead to a short-term thinking move at the trade deadline. Don’t be shocked.

 
Hornets small icon 21. Hornets (24-30, LW 20). Kemba Walker is a deserving All-Star for the Hornets this coming weekend, the first Hornet All-Star since Gerald Wallace in 2010. The Hornets, however, have gone 1-2 on a homestand before they head out on a brutal seven game road trip (starting Wednesday in Toronto). They are only 1.5 games out of the playoffs but those postseason chances could get buried if they struggled on their road trip. They got Cody Zeller back for a night, they need a lot more of him.

 
Bucks small icon 22. Bucks (23-30, LW 24). The Bucks got Kris Middleton back and things were looking up, and then came the devastating ACL injury to Jabari Parker. The Bucks are back to playing their aggressive defense — in February they are averaging eight blocks and 9.8 steals per game, can that plus some added offense from Mirza Teletovic get them back into the playoffs? Hard to see it.

 
Pelicans small icon 23. Pelicans (21-33, LW 25). It is going to be a wild weekend in New Orleans, with the NBA All-Star Game and Anthony Davis is rightfully going to be at the heart of it all. Of course, the question is when the Pelicans will get some All-Star level talent to go around Davis? I’m good with the idea of taking a flyer on Jahlil Okafor via trade, maybe he pairs well with Davis, but what this roster really needs is some shooting out on the wings.

 
timberwolves small icon 24. Timberwolves (20-34, LW 26). Zach LaVine is gone for the season, but Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns have stepped up on the offensive end in his absence. The problem is without LaVine the defense seems to be suffering. Things are not going to get any easier this week with the Cavaliers and the improving Nuggets on the schedule, but we’re looking forward to a Towns vs. Jokic matchup.

 
Knicks small icon 25. Knicks (23-33 LW 21). Carmelo Anthony vs. Phil Jackson, and the utter foolishness of James Dolan, were drawing all the headlines in New York, but something else key for this team happened Sunday — Kristaps Porzingis looked confident and back in his groove again. He had 27 points on 10-of-19 shooting against the Spurs. Don’t expect a New York trade before the deadline (unless Jackson is willing to take back pennies on the dollar) but I still expect to see Anthony get dealt this summer.

 
Sixers small icon 26. 76ers (18-32, LW 22). A Sixers friend asked me a question I couldn’t answer the other day: How many more games does Joel Embiid need to play to win Rookie of the Year? He’s played 31, and Patrick Ewing once won just playing 50, but Embiid might not make that number. If he plays 45 is that enough? 40? With a weak class it might be. With Embiid out the last seven in a row the Sixers have gone 1-6.

 
Lakers small icon 27. Lakers (19-37, LW 29). The Lakers are staring and giving their young core some run together, and while Brandon Ingram has been improving it really all comes down to D’Angelo Russell — the Lakers are 13 points per 100 possessions better on offense in their last 10 when he is on the court, and 5.2 better on defense. Are the Lakers sold on Russell, or if they get to keep their pick (meaning it’s in the top three) do they take another point guard if Ball or Fultz are on the board?

 
Magic small icon 28. Magic (20-36 LW 27). The Magic have the worst net rating in the NBA over their last 10 games, but they are worth watching on the trade market as everyone not named Aaron Gordon is available. There’s a lot of interest from teams — Miami and Toronto in particular — in renting Serge Ibaka, but so far Orlando’s price is too high. Ibaka is not going to re-sign in Orlando unless they dramatically overpay, so they may be smart to get something now while they can.

 
Suns small icon 29. Suns (17-38, LW 28). Devin Booker’s 27-point quarter against the Bucks was a nice distraction from the rest of the week — Alex Len getting suspended for a fight, and Dragan Bender needing ankle surgery that will sideline him at last a month. The Suns are looking to find Brandon Knight a new home at the trade deadline, it’s something to watch.

 
Nets small icon 30. Nets (9-45, LW 30). Losers of a dozen in a row and 22-of-23, and it’s a sign of where this team is in the New York market that nobody is really talking about it, they’d rather rip James Dolan. Which to be fair, is a lot more fun than watching a Nets game. Don’t expect a Brook Lopez trade by the deadline unless another team becomes desperate and meets Brooklyn’s demands — he’s their best asset and GM Sean Marks isn’t giving him away.

Lakers/Suns have minor skirmish, Lonzo Ball just walks away

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If you’re on the court when your team gets in an NBA “fight” — what the rest of us would call a shoving match where nobody really wants to throw a punch — should you run into the fray and help your teammates?

Friday night, with just more than three minutes to go in Phoenix’s eventual win, the Suns called a timeout, and Tyler Ulis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope got in one of those silly shoving matches. Players from both teams raced into the fray to protect their teammate/break it up.

The Suns’ rookie Josh Jackson picked up a technical for his role racing in and escalating the matter.

Watch the video again, and you’ll see Lakers’ rookie Lonzo Ball just walk away from it all and head to the bench.

That has led to criticism of the rookie from some Lakers’ fans, who see a guy who didn’t rush in to protect his teammates — that’s seen as part of the sports locker room culture. A “band of brothers” or “us against the world” mentality. Ball, frankly, gave a more mature answer than that.

Ball is right, nothing was going to come of this. It was meaningless posturing. Walking away was the mature move.

However, the question is how is this perceived in the Lakers’ locker room? Do the players care that Ball shrugged and walked away? Do they think he needed to race in and try to look tough like everyone else? That can impact his standing on the team — as a guy Magic Johnson brought in to be a leader — more than anything.

Also, with all his shooting woes, is this the first sign of some Lakers fans starting to turn on Lonzo? It’s a little early for that.

Harrison Barnes offers advice for Dennis Smith Jr., Julius Randle

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For a guy in just his sixth NBA season, Harrison Barnes has seen a lot.

He has seen the mountaintop, having won a ring as a role player for the Golden State Warriors. He’s also has felt the devastation of being on a team that historically blew a 3-1 NBA Finals lead. He’s been a high school phenom — unfairly compared to Kobe Bryant — and a high draft pick (No. 7), he understands the pressures that come with all that. He’s played (and plays) with superstar future Hall of Famers. And he’s been the guy pushed aside by a team, despite playing well, to make room for one of those superstar players — the harsh business reality of the NBA.

Barnes is learning something new this season in Dallas — how to deal with losing. He never dealt with it before — not high school, AAU, college at North Carolina — but the Dallas Mavericks are 2-14, and while they struggled last year it was nothing like this.

“It’s been difficult,” Barnes told NBC Sports about the start of the season, “but I’ve definitely seen a lot of highs, seen a lot of lows, I’m just trying to get better and lead my team to some wins.”

With all that experience, Barnes was brought in to be a leader in Dallas, and he’s worked to do that on and off the court. Off the court, he has met with local high school players and donated gear he wears — Shock Doctor basketball mouthguards and McDavid HEX protective arm and leg sleeves — to those programs. 

On the court this year, he’s tried to blend his game with rookie Dennis Smith Jr., who the Mavs see as the future at the point guard spot.

“Playing with Dennis has been great,” Barnes said. “He’s got a lot of tools that will help him be a great guy in the league for a long time. So the transition, in terms of playing together and developing chemistry, hasn’t been hard at all. I think he’s very mature beyond his years, and that makes it easy.”

As a leader, his advice to Smith Jr. has just been to not hold back, trust his instincts.

“My advice is to always be aggressive in your decision making,” Barnes said. “Whether it’s ‘should I pass?’ or ‘should I shoot?’ should I do this or should I do that, whatever it is, be aggressive. Because right now as a team, we’re in a little bit of a rut, we just need energy. Whatever it may be, even if you’re making the wrong play or the wrong decision, do it with conviction so there’s some inertia and the rest of us can feed off it.”

With the young high school players around Dallas his advice is similar — go for what you want on and off the court, give it your all — but he adds with them they need to protect their bodies in an increasingly physical game.

“Today I was able to go to Lincoln High School, meet with the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams, and I was able to donate some Shock Doctor basketball mouthguards and McDavid HEX protective arm and leg sleeves to the young kid, and talk to them about protecting your body when you’re out there,” Barnes said. “The game is becoming more physical and more competitive at a younger age, and the best ability is availability.”

If there’s one guy in the NBA who can relate to Barnes’ path, it might be the Lakers’ Julius Randle.

The fourth-year big has been up and down but has gotten better every season and shown promise with the Lakers, putting up 11.4 points per game on 54.3 percent shooting this season (both career highs, although his jumper still needs work), plus grabbing 6.7 rebounds, but mostly he brings energy and physical, strong defense  in just 20 minutes a game off the bench. He has transformed his body, gotten leaner but stronger, and has done a good job filling a role for Los Angeles as a physical, defensive player in a league going small and getting skinnier

Randle is coming up on the end of his rookie contract next summer and is due a payday, he thought he was part of the franchise’s future, yet he is likely the odd man out in Los Angeles as the Lakers chase big name free agents. Randle’s name is a staple of trade talks (about moving Luol Deng and his contract).

Harrison Barnes can relate. He was swept out of Golden State to make room for that team’s successful run at Kevin Durant.

What would Barnes tell Randle?

“My advice is to focus on what is going to be the best for you,” Barnes said. “Focus on where you can grow as a player, get better, where you would thrive in. Whether or not he ends up in the same place or a different place, just make sure you’re in a situation where you can grow. That’s the most important thing because a lot of things are going to be out of his control, who decides to go where and that type of stuff, but as long as he focuses on getting better with his craft that’s the one thing he can control.”

That’s what Barnes did a couple seasons ago, and he ended up in Dallas with a big contract, a big opportunity, and a chance to be a leader. He’s trying to do that on a team transitioning out of the Dirk Nowitzki era, but it hasn’t been easy.

And it’s come with some harsh new lessons. Like dealing with losing. One Barnes and the Mavericks want to move past as quickly as they can.

Watch LeBron James score 39 to lead comeback win over Clippers

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CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James knows about the narrative bouncing around the NBA that Cleveland can be dethroned in the East.

He’s ignoring it, and slowly changing it.

“You know I could care less what people say,” James said. “I’m so far beyond that. I don’t care what people say.”

Just to make sure everyone understood him, James asked his two sons waiting for him in Cleveland’s locker room to chime in on whether he was concerned about outside voices.

The boys had dad’s back.

James had another of those games that he only seems capable of, scoring 39 points with 14 rebounds in 46 minutes as the Cavaliers continued to improve from a shaky start with their fourth straight win, 118-113 in overtime on Friday night over the skidding Los Angeles Clippers, who dropped their seventh in a row.

Kevin Love scored 25 and drained a pair of 3-pointers in OT, when the Cavs, who didn’t take the lead until the first minute of the extra session, outscored the Clippers 13-8.

Dwyane Wade gave Cleveland a huge spark, scoring 23 points with 11 rebounds in 37 minutes. The Cavs’ win wasn’t eye-pleasing, but it was another step in the right direction for the three-time defending conference champions, who went 3-1 on a just-completed road trip.

On Thursday night, James said he watched Boston beat Golden State to improve to 14-2, a stunning start that has prompted discussion about Cleveland’s vulnerability.

James dismissed any concern about the Celtics’ early burst.

“I’ve got too much to worry about around here right now trying to get our ship going in the right direction,” he said.

The Clippers’ ship is taking on water fast. Los Angeles has lost nine of 10 since a 4-0 start.

Blake Griffin scored 23 and DeAndre Jordan had 20 points and 22 rebounds for Los Angeles, which didn’t give up the lead until the first minute of overtime. The Clippers had chances to put the Cavs away in regulation, but they didn’t execute down the stretch and then had defensive breakdowns in overtime.

“They made some big 3s,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “You have to give them credit. That’s why they’ve been in a lot of Finals.”

The Cavs spent all night chasing the Clippers and caught them at 105-all when Love grabbed an offensive rebound and fed James, who dropped an uncontested 3-pointer with 47 seconds left.

Griffin missed tough shots on consecutive possessions, giving Cleveland one last chance in regulation but James missed an off-balance left-hander just before the horn.

James made a free throw to open OT – he went 1 of 5 at the line – and give Cleveland its first lead. Then, after Love made his two 3s, James sealed the Cavs’ fifth win in six games with a jumper.

“Well defended,” Rivers said. “It’s LeBron James.”

 

Anthony Davis leaves game with concussion, likely to miss time

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Anthony Davis has had a couple concussions during his NBA career, one of the several ailments that have kept him off the court for stretches the past few seasons.

Now Davis has suffered his third concussion since being in the league. Davis left the Pelicans’ game against the Nuggets in the third quarter after getting a concussion when trying to guard Nikola Jokic. There is no timetable for his return, he will enter the league’s concussion protocol and need to be cleared by a league neurologist before he can return to the court. After the game New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry didn’t have any details.

The play itself looked fairly innocent — there was no intent by Jokic.

Davis spent a couple of minutes on the ground after the play, his hands over his face, before going to the locker room.

Davis is averaging 25.6 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game this season.