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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.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.

 

 

Twins Marcus, Markieff Morris each fined by league for separate instances

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Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris have a special bond, one that includes doing so much together on the basketball court — playing at the same high school, the same AAU team, then going to college together at Kansas, and even playing together in the NBA for a while together with the Suns (they are now on separate teams).

That includes them both getting fined Saturday by the NBA for recent actions during the playoffs.

Washington’s Markieff Morris picked up a $25,000 fine for “attempting to escalate an altercation and pushing a game official,” the league announced. Here is the play in question, just minutes into Game 3.

Toronto’s OG Anunoby draws a foul knocking Morris to the ground, but Morris starts the incident with an elbow to Anunoby’s back, and he does push referee Kenny Mauer. Considering all that, a $25,000 fine is not that severe.

His twin Marcus Morris picked up a $15,000 for “public criticism of the officiating,” which he certainly did following the Celtics’ Game 3 loss to the Bucks. Here are his comments, and they are NSFW.

That $15,000 fine is pretty much the going rate for ripping the referees after the game.

Markieff outdid his brother on this one… if you consider getting the larger fine the “win.”

As expected, likely top-three pick Luka Doncic files to enter NBA draft

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Luka Doncic — the 6’8″ point forward who is putting up impressive numbers against men at the highest levels of European basketball — is bringing is game to the NBA. As expected.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the expected is now official.

Doncic, 19, submitted draft paperwork this week to formally enter his name, league sources said. Doncic is arguably the most decorated European player to make a jump to the NBA, a wunderkind who’s been playing in the EuroLeague since 2015. He is currently leading Real Madrid in the EuroLeague playoffs, averaging 14.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists this season.

The 6-foot-7 Doncic has the ability to play multiple positions, from being a primary ball-handler to shooting and playmaking off the ball. His season in Europe could continue into late May or June. NBA executives have long been intrigued by Doncic’s potential stardom, and several are continuing to make scouting trips for him.

Doncic is expected to go in the top three (likely the top two) come this June’s draft.

If you’re about to bring up Darko Milicic or some other European bust, just stop. This Slovenian has proven he can play — in 54 games this season between Liga ACB (Spain’s league, second best in the NBA) and the Euroleague, Doncic is averaging 14.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game. He has shown a gift for passing that should blossom in the more open play of the NBA, plus he just knows how to run a team and make plays. He can score when called upon and has three-point range, can shoot off the bounce, and if you switch a smaller guy onto him, Doncic can just post him up.

He’s not going to be a bust.

However, what his ceiling is remains the debate. He’s not an elite athlete by NBA standards who has struggled at points for Real Madrid when guarded by borderline-NBA level Americans in Europe. Can he defend at the NBA level? Can he be consistent with his jumper? He may be elite, but it’s no given.

He’s going to be good, and his floor is higher than a lot of the other top prospects in this draft class. However, if a GM thinks that Marvin Bagley III or Mohamed Bamba both have a higher ceiling and can reach it, they may go with the Americans. Doncic is going to put some GMs in an interesting position.