Associated Press

NBA Power Rankings Week 21: While other top teams stumble, Spurs just keep winning

Leave a comment

Lots of teams near the top stumbling, except for the Spurs who are as banged up as any team but just keep on winning. Because they’re the Spurs. For the first time in a long time, we have a team in the East ranked ahead of the Cavaliers, although I’ll admit that’s not done with a lot of confidence.

 
Spurs small icon 1. Spurs (51-14, Last Week No. 1). After trouncing the Warriors Saturday night (in an unwatchable game), the Spurs are just half a game out of the top seed in the West. While to man the Spurs say that they are not chasing the seed, they should — the path through the first two rounds in the West is noticeably easier for the one seed than the two (not to mention having any potential game sevens at home). That said, what the Spurs really need is to get healthy, and they should get Tony Parker (back) and Kawhi Leonard (concussion) back this week. LaMarcus Aldridge (heart issue) will be a little longer.

 
Rockets small icon 2. Rockets (46-21, LW 3). Before the season I said Houston would go as far as their defense would take them — since Jan. 1 they are 11th in the NBA in defense. Not lock down, but when you have an elite offense above average can be good enough and may well get them deep into the playoffs. It also helps that James Harden has 16 triple-doubles this season and 31 games where he scored 30 or more. Interesting game for them Saturday night in the second game of a back-to-back (after New Orleans).

 
Warriors small icon 3. Warriors (52-14, Last Week No. 2). “There’s been no panic in our locker room or around our team,” Stephen Curry told NBCSports.com Monday when asked about the recent losing streak. “We know who we are, we know what we’re capable of. The ultimate goal is winning a championship and you’re not going to do that in game 65 or 67 or what not, so it’s not to get wrapped up in what we think is a normal NBA experience.” The schedule will help, they are finally home after a tough road trip and now face a soft schedule at home for a stretch.

 
Wizards small icon 4. Wizards (41-24, LW 6). They have gone 4-0 on a West Coast road trip putting up at least 123 points in every game (even if they needed the referees missing a call in Portland to do it). Washington has won five in a row and seven of eight, moving them into the two seed in the East, and I can’t see them falling out of the top three. They are the first team in NBA history to start the season 2-8 and come back to be better than 15 games over .500.

 
Cavaliers small icon 5. Cavaliers (43-22, LW 4). It didn’t get the publicity (or have the miles traveled) of the Warriors recent road swing, but the Cavaliers had seven games in 12 days through a tough patch of the schedule, and they went 2-5 in there. They are 6-6 since the Kevin Love injury, if you’re counting. The loss of Andrew Bogut to a broken tibia was a blow, Cleveland is rolling the dice that Larry Sanders can regain some of his old form to help out down the stretch and into the postseason.

 
Jazz small icon 6. Jazz (41-25, LW 7). There seems to be a sense of urgency around Utah with this team — Gordon Hayward and George Hill will be free agents this summer and will draw interest (as will Joe Ingles, who fits what Utah does well). Does a second-round playoff run make it more likely they stay? The Jazz are currently the four seed, one game up on the Clippers for home court in the first round, which makes Monday’s game between the sides huge.

 
Celtics small icon 7. Celtics (42-25, LW 5). They went 2-3 on a tough five-game road trip, then recovered once they got home by smacking around the Bulls. Fivethirtyeight.com says the Celtics have a 43 percent chance of getting the No. 1 seed, compared to 42 percent for the Cavaliers because Cleveland has a tougher schedule down the stretch (Washington is at 15 percent). I think the Celtics blew their chances when their bench decided to do the wave, killing their Karma.

 
Clippers small icon 8. Clippers (40-26, LW 11). Los Angeles has won four-of-five through a tough road stretch, doing it by playing better defense (which is what they did well when they were hot to start the season). The Clipper are not going to catch the Rockets for the three seed (5.5 games back), but they are just one game back of the Jazz for the four seed and home court in the first round, and those two teams play Monday night (in Utah).

 
Raptors small icon 9. Raptors (38-28, LW 9). The dream in Toronto is to get back up to the three seed (read: avoid Cleveland in the second round) but that seems highly unlikely being 3.5 games back of both the Wizards and Celtics with 16 to play. The bigger problem is in the rearview mirror — Atlanta is just one game back of Toronto for the four seed, and home court in the first round. The Raptors have gone 5-4 without Kyle Lowry, 2-3 on a recent road trip, but they need to find some wins or their playoff road gets that much harder.

 
Thunder small icon 10. Thunder (37-29, LW 11). To me, this is the best Russell Westbrook MVP argument: OKC is 26-6 when Westbrook has a triple-double this season, 11-23 when he falls short. Does he chase them a bit at times? Sure, but he’s in a position to do so and if he isn’t the Thunder usually lose. Coach Billy Donovan made a smart move finally putting Taj Gibson in the starting lineup, and the Thunder are 2-0 since that happened.

 
Hawks small icon 11. Hawks (37-29 LW 12). Paul Millsap had scored at least 20 points in five straight games before the Memphis game Saturday (16 points). That an an improved defense (not counting the ugliness Monday against the Warriors) has the Hawks winning three straight and within striking distance — one game — of the four-seed Raptors. Can they keep it up against quality opponents this weak in the shorthanded Spurs, the Grizzlies, and the Trail Blazers.

 
Bucks small icon 12. Bucks (32-33, LW 17). When this team defends they are very dangerous, and during their current six-game winning streak they are defending (second best in the NBA in that stretch). This moved them into the eight seed and the playoffs in the East, but the test to whether they can hold on to that spot gets serious this week with a six-game road trip through the West (eight of the next 10 Bucks games are on the road, and they are 12-17 away from home this season).

 
Heat small icon 13. Heat (32-35, LW 13). They are in a home heavy stretch of the schedule and are taking advantage of it, having won for in a row before heading on the road Sunday and falling to Indiana (second night of a back-to-back). Five more home games coming up, and Miami has won 13 of their last 14 at home, but they need the wins because a tough road trip looms after it. Hopefully Goran Dragic’s eye will be well enough to have him playing this week.

 
Pacers small icon 14. Pacers (34-32, LW 15).. Since the All-Star break, C.J. Miles has played well and been a consistent force on an inconsistent team, averaging 12.4 points per game and shooting 42 percent from three. The six-seed Pacers are just one game up on the seven seed Pistons, meaning Indiana needs some wins this week in games against the Knicks, Hornets, and Rockets.

Pistons small icon 15. Pistons (33-33, LW 14). Reggie Jackson is playing well, Tobias Harris is back in the starting lineup, and the Pistons are back to .500 having won four of five. That has them as the seven seed, and fivethirtyeight.com gives them a 2/3rds chance to make the playoffs, but with just three games separating the six and 10 seeds in the East the Pistons are far from safe. Tough week ahead with the Cavaliers, Jazz, and Raptors on the schedule.

 
Grizzlies small icon 16. Grizzlies (36-30, LW 10). Losers of five in a row and while they have been terrible on both sides of the ball it is the defense — allowing 117.5 points per 100 possessions in that stretch, worst in the NBA — that is the most shocking. Heck, they lost to the Nets. They still seem safe for the playoffs, 6.5 games ahead of the nine seed, but six of their next eight games are on the road (and the two home ones are the hot Bucks, then the Spurs). The Grizzlies may be destined for the seven seed.

 
Nuggets small icon 17. Nuggets (31-35, LW 18). The Nuggets need Nikola Jokic to stay healthy (he missed two games due to an illness) because they have just a 1.5 game cushion over Portland and they need wins now — five of their next seven are at home, then could a tough five game roadie that starts with the Blazers. How much Jokic means to Denver was obvious when he put up 21 on Boston in his return, helping the Nuggets to a key win.

 
Blazers small icon 18. Trail Blazers (28-36, LW 19). They have won five-of-six, and that one loss was a controversial one to the Wizards at home. At the heart of their run has been the play of Jusuf Nurkic, who has fit better than Mason Plumlee did because Nurkic is a better shooter, he rolls hard to the basket, and he’s a better pure post threat than his predecessor. Nurkic is doing things he didn’t show us — or wasn’t given the chance to show us — in Denver. And Portland got a first round pick with him in the trade, so it’s a full on steal for them.

 
Mavericks small icon 19. Mavericks (25-36, LW 20). While we were all rightfully dazzled by Dirk Nowitzki reaching the 30,000 point plateau, we may have missed that Dallas is playing well. They are 6-3 since the All-Star break and are outscoring teams by 5 points per 100 possessions in that time. They have four games on the road through the East coming up, including the Raptors and Wizards this week.

 
timberwolves small icon 20. Timberwolves (27-38, LW 21). This has been a sneaky good team in their last 10 games, outscoring opponents by 6.4 points per 100 in that stretch, going 6-4, and beating the Warriors, Clippers, and Jazz. They are doing it because Tom Thibodeau’s constant yelling seems to have sunk in and Minnesota is playing the kind of impressive defense we expected from them all season (second best in the NBA since the All-Star break).

 
Bulls small icon 21. Bulls (31-35, LW 15). Losers of five in a row, they have fallen out of the playoffs in the East and it’s hard to see them bouncing back into it with their inconsistent play. That’s especially true if Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade don’t start knocking down shots — they have been cold of late, as evidenced by their combined 6-of-22 shooting against the Celtics Sunday.

 
Hornets small icon 22. Hornets (29-37, LW 22). Cody Zeller is back in the lineup and the Hornets are playing better, so suddenly the ceiling is the roof for Charlotte. They are 3.5 games out of the playoffs with fewer than 20 games left, which means they need to rack up wins and this week they face the Bulls, Pacers, and Wizards.

 
Pelicans small icon 23. Pelicans (26-40, LW 23). Anthony Davis was going off for 42 on Saturday night and leading the Pelicans to a big OT win over Charlotte, and DeMarcus Cousins got a good view of it from the bench. Alvin Gentry went with what was working, but speaks to the Pelicans not having figured it out yet. When Davis and Cousins are on the court together the Pelicans have been outscored by 6.5 points per 48 minutes.

 
Suns small icon 24. Suns (22-45, LW 25). The Suns are worth watching right now. First because their games are tight and Devin Booker can be a late-game killer (just ask the Mavericks). Also, because you never know when the gorilla might just dive out onto the court.

 
Knicks small icon 25. Knicks (26-41 LW 24). We are coming up this week on the three year anniversary of Phil Jackson being handed the key to the Knicks and saying he had a plan to turn things around. PJ is back to trying to install the triangle, but the bigger problems have been him giving Joakim Noah and anchor of a contract, then turning a situation where he might have been able to find a new home for Carmelo Anthony into an adversarial confrontation where ‘Melo didn’t want to appear forced out of town. It’s going to be an interesting summer in NYC.

 
Sixers small icon 26. 76ers (24-42, LW 26). Is Dario Saric the Rookie of the Year? Joel Embiid is still the frontrunner, but because he only played in 31 games voters are looking around and Saric has now posted at least 19 points in 11 straight games (he had 29 against the Lakers Sunday). If this streak keeps up, he vaults into the conversation, if he’s not already there.

 
Magic small icon 27. Magic (24-43 LW 28). The Magic look relatively better of late, in large part because Terrence Ross at the three and Aaron Gordon at the four are far more natural fits than what was going on when they still had to shoehorn Serge Ibaka into the lineup. Along with those forwards, Elfrid Payton has looked better of late, including picking up his fifth career triple-double at the expense of the Chicago Bulls (Orlando split a home-and-home with them).

 
Kings small icon 28. Kings (25-41, LW 27). Losers of eight in a row, they will keep their pick this season (top 10 protected). One of their picks last season was Skal Labissiere, who was heralded coming to Kentucky but got off to a slow start there. With Cousins gone, Labissiere has been given a little leash and has shown some real flashes of that potential. I liked what I saw from him at Summer League, I think he could develop into something for the Kings.

 
Lakers small icon 29. Lakers (20-45, LW 29). The most interesting thing out of the press conference introducing Rob Pelinka as general manager was when he was asked if the current Lakers young core was championship material. Both he and Magic Johnson were tepid in their response and had a real wait-and-see attitude. The Lakers shouldn’t fully abandon their plan to grow that core (especially since it seems more likely they keep their pick in this draft) but don’t be surprised if some of that “core” is moved in favor of players the new front office likes better.

 
Nets small icon 30. Nets (12-53, LW 30). They are going to finish with the worst record in the NBA (much to the joy of Boston Celtics fans), but the Nets are close to moving out of the bottom of these rankings having won three of their last seven. That included beating the Knicks on Biggie night in Brooklyn, can they return the favor on the road this week?

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

2 Comments

Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

2 Comments

If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
4 Comments

Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

Rob Carr/Getty Images
3 Comments

John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

image

The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.