Associated Press

NBA Power Rankings Week 24: It’s Golden State’s world, we just live in it

1 Comment

The Warriors have won 11 in a row, and that includes beating the Spurs and the Rockets a couple times. They are going to finish the season with the NBA’s best record and on top of these rankings as the team to beat in the NBA. Yes, they were last year as well, and all they did was get to Game 7 of the Finals. Also, notice that a team with a longer streak than the Warriors has moved to the bottom of this list.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (63-14, Last Week No. 1). You want to know why teams rest players sometimes? Steve Kerr took a lot of heat for resting his stars against the Spurs on national television a few weeks back, but the Warriors have not lost since — 11 wins in a row. And by this coming weekend they could get Kevin Durant back. During win streak Stephen Curry is averaging 27 points, 7.9 assists, and 2.3 steals per game, plus is shooting 46.5 percent from three.

 
Spurs small icon 2. Spurs (59-17, LW 2). Coming from 21 down to beat the Thunder on Friday night was one of the best wins of the season for the Spurs, and they have had a lot of them. It feels to me (talking to voters) that Kawhi Leonard is going to finish third in the MVP voting, with a season that would be strong enough to win it most years. If the Spurs are going to be a real threat to the Warriors in the postseason, they are going to need some vintage Tony Parker, like we saw Sunday.

 
Celtics small icon 3. Celtics (50-27, LW 4). The top seed in the East could be decided Wednesday night when the Celtics host the Cavaliers (catching Cleveland on the second night of a back-to-back is helpful). Boston has an easier schedule the rest of the way compared to Cleveland and could win it either way. Of course, the real question is: Can Boston beat a fully healthy Cavaliers team four times in seven games? You can add me to the skeptics list there. But home court would help.

 
Rockets small icon 4. Rockets (52-25, LW 3). James Harden came out and said that playing in every game should matter toward MVP, but with his wrist injury and him battling the flu, taking more games off than just Sunday’s (a Houston over the hapless Suns) might be wise heading into the playoffs. Harden’s MVP case is not going to be made much stronger in these handful of games, but he needs to be right for the playoffs if Houston is thinking second-round upset of the Spurs.

 
Raptors small icon 5. Raptors (47-30, LW 7). While everyone has been focusing on Boston and Cleveland, Toronto has quietly been the best team in the East the past few weeks — 8-2 in their last 10 outscoring teams by 8.2 points per 100 possessions. Plus could get Kyle Lowry back this week, it looks like he certainly returns for the playoffs. The Raptors have moved past the Wizards into the three seed in the East, and on paper they might be the best matchup against Cleveland in the East.

 
Clippers small icon 6. Clippers (47-31, LW 8). They have won 7-of-9 and have a soft schedule with plenty of rest built in the rest of the way. That is to say, the Clippers are peaking at the right time and will be about as healthy as they have been in a long time heading into the postseason (although Austin Rivers is out for a bit). That should be trouble for the Jazz in the first round. Golden State in the second… not so much.

 
Jazz small icon 7. Jazz (47-29, LW 10). Watching the Jazz struggle to slow the Spurs Sunday, we’re reminded that Utah’s preferred starting five — George Hill, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert — have played just 13 games together. This team has been deep and versatile enough to overcome that, but if Utah can secure home court in the first round (they are just half a game ahead of the Clippers) and get that five on the court, the Jazz have a real shot to win that series.

 
Wizards small icon 8. Wizards (46-30, LW 5). After starting their road trip with a couple of wins (Cavs and Lakers), the Wizards have dropped three straight, their defense has been unimpressive, and they have whined about getting blown out. They have a relatively easy end of the season schedule and they need the wins to try and catch Toronto for the three seed in the East.

 
Cavaliers small icon 9. Cavaliers (48-27, LW 6). LeBron James played 52 minutes Sunday against Indiana, and he will play a healthy amount Wednesday in a big showdown with Boston. Aside from that, do the Cavs need to think more about rest than chasing the No. 1 seed? Their defensive play against the Pacers — rotation mistakes when the game was still in doubt — point out what we’ve been saying about them not building good habits this season. Still, hard not to picture them coming out of the East once playoff LeBron gets going.

 
Thunder small icon 10. Thunder (43-33, LW 9). Wild week for the Thunder: They come back from 13 down with 3:30 left to beat the Mavericks, they came from 21 down to beat Orlando, then blew a 21 point lead to the Spurs. Through it all Russell Westbrook keeps racking up triple-doubles — he has 40 with six to play, and has gotten one in six-straight games. He can tie Oscar Robertson’s record of 41 in a season Tuesday. By the way, the Thunder are 31-9 when he gets one, 12-24 when he fall short.

 
Blazers small icon 11. Trail Blazers (38-38, LW 13). Portland has been the second best team in the NBA in its last 10 games, going 9-1 and outscoring opponents by 12.1 points per 100 possessions. They should hold off Denver and get the eighth seed. That said, the injury that ended Jusuf Nurkic’s season and will keep him out of the playoffs is a real blow (and ends any already long-shot dreams of a first-round upset).

 
Bucks small icon 12. Bucks (40-36, LW 11). Winners of three in a row until they stumbled on Sunday, they are going to make the playoffs, the only question is can they hold off Atlanta and remain the five seed. I’ll admit I thought Thon Maker was a reach when they drafted him, but he’s come along faster and farther than I thought this season, it’s easy to picture him as part of the future rotation in Milwaukee. Don’t take my word for it, ask the Greek Freak.

 
Bulls small icon 13. Bulls (38-39, LW 17). Thanks in part to a soft stretch of the schedule, the Bulls are playing some of their most consistent and best ball of the season. The Bulls are going to make the playoffs. Sure, they are just one game up on Miami and Indiana (tied for the 8/9 seeds) but look at their final five games: Knicks, Sixers, Nets (twice), and Magic. If anything, the Bulls are more likely to climb up to the six seed than fall out of the postseason.

 
Grizzlies small icon 14. Grizzlies (42-35, LW 15). They have locked up a playoff spot, so it’s smart of them to get Marc Gasol as much rest as they can now in hopes of having him healthy for the playoffs. It looks like we’re going to get a Pau vs. Marc Gasol brothers first-round matchup that should be fun, but likely is not going to last very long. Mike Conley has been playing well and carrying this team for the past week.

 
Heat small icon 15. Heat (37-40, LW 12). Miami has lost three of its last five and that leads to a sentence I never thought I’d type: This team desperately misses Dion Waiters. The Heat and Pacers are tied for the eighth seed out East, but look at the final five games for Miami: at Charlotte, at Toronto, At Washington, Cleveland, Washington. Brutal. But the Heat need to find some wins in there, even if that mans a Hassan Whiteside tip at the buzzer.

 
Pacers small icon 16. Pacers (37-40, LW 16).. They are tied with Miami for that final playoff slot in the East and their final playoff slot in the East, and while that was a dramatic, hard-fought loss to the Cavaliers Sunday it was still a loss. Where the Pacers need to feel good is they have an easier schedule to close out the season than the Heat: Raptors, Bucks, at Magic, at Sixers, Hawks.

 
Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (33-43, LW 22). This ranking may seem high, but the Pelicans are starting to figure it out — they are 7-3 in their last 10 with the fourth-best point differential in the NBA in that stretch. And yes, part of that is DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis starting to figure out how to play together. It is possible both of the Pelicans big men could make the All-NBA team as centers this year (a lot of voters are likely to move David to center, where he’s played more minutes this season than forward, because the forward crop is so deep).

 
Hornets small icon 18. Hornets (35-41, LW 21). This ranking may be too low, the Hornets have quietly won 7-of-9, outscoring opponents by 5.5 points per 100 possessions in that run thanks to an improved offense, and they have moved within a game of Miami and Indiana for the final playoff slot in the East. If they have dreams of that spot, they need to beat the Heat on Wednesday. Tough end of the season schedule even outside that game with the Wizards, Celtics, Bucks, and Hawks on the docket.

 
Nuggets small icon 19. Nuggets (35-40, LW 14). Losers of three in a row, but the big blow was Tuesday night in a loss to Portland. Denver needed that game to have a real shot at the eighth seed, but the defense that has been an issue all season let them down on that big stage. On the bright side, Nikola Jokic picked up another triple-double on Friday with 26 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists in a loss to Charlotte.

 
Hawks small icon 20. Hawks (39-38 LW 18). Paul Millsap returned on Sunday, which is huge for the Hawks heading into the postseason (he was an understandably rusty 4-of-14 against the Nets). They need him because this team is 2-9 in their last 11 games, which sets up a tough first-round series (likely against Toronto) where the Hawks will be one-and-done, then face some tough off-season questions about direction.

Pistons small icon 21. Pistons (35-42, LW 19). . The Pistons have lost 9-of-11 and their playoff dreams are dead, which is stunning for a team that was .500 and in control of its own destiny as late as March 11. I’m not sure any team in the NBA has been as disappointing as Detroit this season, and that will make for a rough summer. Reggie Jackson has been benched, and now at the top of Stan Van Gundy’s summer to-do list is deal with the point guard situation in Detroit.

 
Mavericks small icon 22. Mavericks (32-44, LW 20). This will be the fist time the Mavericks finished below .500 since Mark Cuban purchased the team, but this group proved to be scrappy and that bodes well for the future. Harrison Barnes showed he can handle a larger role with more playmaking, Yogi Ferrell has been a find, and we do get one more season of Dirk Nowitzki.

 
timberwolves small icon 23. Timberwolves (30-45, LW 24). This is the 13th consecutive year the Timberwolves will miss the playoffs, the longest streak in the NBA, but at least it seems poised to end next year. Ricky Rubio has been fantastic since the All-Star break, averaging 16.4 points and 10.7 assists per game, all with his jump shot falling. He should be back at the point next season (Kris Dunn has not been the answer).

 
Sixers small icon 24. 76ers (28-48, LW 23). Joel Embiid and Dario Saric are likely going to finish 1-2 in the Rookie of the Year balloting (with Malcolm Brogdon and Willy Hernangomez battling for the third spot on people’s ballots). The question is who gets the award? Embiid was nothing short of brilliant but only played in 31 games (with a minutes limit at that). Was Saric’s run after the All-Star break enough to catch him?

 
Kings small icon 25. Kings (30-47, LW 26). Off the court, there were the Sam Hinkie rumors, that he (or someone more established) would come in and take over the top dog role instead of Vlade Divac. Something the team denied. It came off as another “the right hand does not know what the left is doing” moment in Sacramento. On the court, coach Dave Joerger is getting a long look at all his young players as the season winds down. Sure, Buddy Hield has looked more comfortable, but so have Skal Labissiere, Georgios Papagiannis, and Willie Cauley-Stein, in flashes.

 
Knicks small icon 26. Knicks (29-48 LW 27). Derrick Rose’s season-ending injury doesn’t mean anything to the death spiral of the Knicks season, but it’s the final nail in the coffin of the idea he could come back to the Knicks next season. The Knicks will miss the playoffs again this season, and it’s worth remembering that since 2000 they have won exactly one playoff series. This summer is going to be an interesting one in NYC, with the only thing that seems certain is Carmelo Anthony agreeing to be traded.

 
Nets small icon 27. Nets (18-59, LW 28). The Nets have won 5-of-8 and are showing some life. The good news for Boston fans is Brooklyn was so bad for much of the season that there is still almost no chance Phoenix or the Lakers can tank their way to a worse record this year. But the Celtics have the Nets pick next year also and you have to wonder if that is losing a little potential value.

 
Magic small icon 28. Magic (27-50 LW 25). The most interesting question left around the Magic during this season is: Will the Cavaliers rest LeBron against them Tuesday night to have him fresh for the Celtics game Wednesday? Eyes of Magic fans should be on the draft, where they are slotted to pick fourth (before the lottery has its say). That could mean someone like Jayson Tatum or Malik Monk to get them buckets (since Mario Hezonja can’t seem to do that). Has Elfrid Payton played well enough that a point guard is off the table? (Not if they get lucky in the lottery and can move up to a top two spot it doesn’t.)

 
Lakers small icon 29. Lakers (22-55, LW 30). The Lakers picked up a nice win Sunday over Memphis behind one of the good D’Angelo Russell games the Lakers thrive during. Russell has been inconsistent, but when he is on you can see the potential of the Lakers’ young core come together. (Which is why you don’t trade those kids for Paul George or Jimmy Butler this summer.) If the Lakers lucked out in the lottery and got the top pick, would they feel pressure to take UCLA’s Ball over Washington’s Fultz? Most teams have Fultz rated higher.

 
Suns small icon 30. Suns (22-55, LW 29). Losers of a dozen in a row and things do not look better with Golden State and Oklahoma City on tap for their next two. Still, with Devin Booker, Alex Len, and the emerging Marquese Chriss there is reason for hope going forward — as Long as the Suns don’t just go for the quick fix to get back in the playoffs next season. If they can land a top two pick and draft the point guard of the future, then trade Eric Bledsoe for players who fit the younger timeline, they could start to build something. They just need a little luck and some patience.

Gregg Popovich: “Kawhi Leonard is, in my opinion, the best player in the league right now”

Associated Press
Leave a comment

The Spurs are on to the second round of the playoffs, and the reason is Kawhi Leonard. Through six games he averaged 31.2 points per game on 54.8 percent shooting overall and 48.3 percent from three. Plus he was taking on Mike Conley — the toughest Grizzly to defend — for stretches of the game. Leonard has a PER of 36.4 through the first round of the playoffs, which is flat-out ridiculous.

That comes on the heels of a season where Leonard was a legitimate MVP candidate who will draw a lot of votes.

“We have a knack for hanging in ’cause things happen, and obviously Kawhi Leonard is, in my opinion, the best player in the league right now,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said in his postgame press conference. “He’s the best two-way player, and does it all with such class, it’s impressive.”

“His conditioning is like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Grizzlies coach David Fizdale added about Leonard. “I mean, the guy, he just keeps coming and keeps coming and keeps coming and he finds a way to make a play, a winning play, whether it’s a steal, a block, a rebound, a drive, pass. He made plays tonight off the dribble.”

If Leonard isn’t the best player in the game — LeBron James can stake a claim, among others — he’s damn close. He’s a Swiss Army knife who can do whatever a team needs to win — get buckets driving the lane, hit threes, grab a board, or lock down an opponent on a key play. That kind of versatility is rare.

It just feels like an MVP trophy and some more rings are in Leonard’s future, although probably not this season. On either count.

Spurs advance: San Antonio beats Grizzlies 103-96 in Game 6

Leave a comment

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The San Antonio Spurs wanted no part of playing a seventh game against the Grizzlies, not with the Houston Rockets looming in the next round.

Kawhi Leonard scored 29 points, and the Spurs advanced to the Western Conference semifinals by beating Memphis 103-96 on Thursday night to take the series 4-2.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich congratulated Memphis on a great year, especially rookie coach David Fizdale.

“I’m seriously thrilled that we were able to get through that first round,” Popovich said. “That’s the good news. The bad news is that now we have to go play Houston.”

The Spurs now have beaten Memphis four of the five playoff series between these teams, and this was San Antonio’s second straight win over the Grizzlies in the first round. But this was the first time all season that the visiting team won.

“It’s huge for us,” Spurs guard Tony Parker said. “Memphis, you have to give them a lot of credit. They played unbelievable. They’re a great team, and they made it hard on us and so we didn’t want to come back for Game 7. We treated this game as if it was Game 7. We wanted those days off before playing Houston because it’s going to be a fast-paced game against them.”

Parker added 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting, while LaMarcus Aldridge had 17 points and 12 rebounds. San Antonio outrebounded Memphis 46-28, with 16 of those offensive boards. That led to 17 second-chance points.

Fizdale said rebounds, points in the paint and who pressured the best impacted each game in the series.

“I kept stressing that to our guys,” Fizdale said. “To their credit, (the Spurs) won it more games than we did. But it definitely wasn’t from a lack of competition on our part. I can sleep at night knowing my guys battled and competed their tails off.”

The Spurs’ semifinal with Houston will start Monday night in San Antonio.

Mike Conley scored 26 points, leading the five Memphis starters in double digits. Marc Gasol added 18.

The Grizzlies fell to 3-10 in elimination games, losing six straight.

This was a taut game with 16 ties and nine lead changes, especially with four ties in the fourth quarter.

The Spurs took control after the Grizzlies went up 88-81 on three free throws from Conley with 6:29 left. Then Leonard scored eight straight for San Antonio, starting a 22-8 run to finish the game.

“The guys were amazing in the fourth quarter,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “Huge plays. Great defense too. So, happy to go back home with a win and win the series.”

Even with Conley and Gasol a combined 2 of 10 in the first quarter, the Grizzlies trailed only 24-22 after Conley knocked down a 3 at the end of the quarter for his first bucket of the game. Conley hit another 3 for the final shot in the second quarter, putting Memphis up 50-45. The team that led at halftime won each of the first five games.

Parker hit his first six shots before finally missing his seventh with 29 seconds left in the first half.

The Grizzlies took their biggest lead at 57-47 on a 3-pointer by James Ennis III. That gave Memphis as many made 3s (9 of 17) as the Spurs had attempted (3 of 9) at that point. Randolph’s layup with 7:19 left matched that 10-point lead at 63-53.

Then the Spurs went on a 13-3 run over a 4-minute span to erase that lead on Aldridge’s three-point play at 67-66. Aldridge finished with nine points in helping the Spurs lead 75-74 at the end of the quarter.

TIP-INS

Spurs: They improved to 36-15 with a chance to clinch a series under Popovich, who took over in the 1996-97 season. … Ginobili converted a four-point play with 1:31 left in the third, putting the Spurs up 73-69. … The Spurs wound up tying the Grizzlies’ reserves with 16 points thanks to Mills.

Grizzlies: The Grizzlies set a franchise record hitting eight 3-pointers in the first half, topping the previous mark of seven in the second half May 1, 2005, against Phoenix. … Conley has 20 or more points in five straight playoff games, the longest such streak in franchise history.

HE SAID IT

Popovich: “I’m thrilled we were able to win because if we played 10 times, we each would probably win five.”

FREE THROW WATCH

Fizdale earned a $30,000 fine from the NBA for his “Take that for data” rant about the free throw discrepancy in Game 2. Well, Leonard was 9 of 10 at the free throw line through three quarters compared to the Grizzlies’ 7 of 8. The Spurs were 18 of 20 through three quarters. The Spurs finished 22 of 25 compared to 20 of 24 for Memphis.

 

Cavaliers celebrate Raptors win over Bucks because they don’t have to practice (VIDEO)

AP
Leave a comment

The Toronto Raptors closed out the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night in Game 6, 92-89. Toronto’s social media team even tried trolling the Bucks about it.

In any case, the Raptors now move on to the second round, despite their best efforts, to face the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, have been waiting for an opponent after sweeping the Indiana Pacers.

Cavaliers wingman Richard Jefferson — a Snapchat legend, it should be mentioned — took to the social media platform to celebrate playing the Raptors.

Er, or maybe just the fact that the team didn’t have to practice Friday.

Via Twitter:

Cleveland’s biggest test before the Finals might just be the Raptors, and we will get to see them head-to-head in the second round.

Raptors troll Bucks after closing in Game 6 with RapsIn6.com website (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

Despite a disastrous fourth quarter performance, the Toronto Raptors closed the series against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night. The Raptors came away from Game 6 with a 92-89 victory and a chance to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round.

Meanwhile, the rivalry between the Raptors and the Bucks appears to be alive and well, as the Raptors pushed a video on social media after the game ended that was pointed toward the Bucks.

In it, the Raptors mascot registers a domain name for the team at RapsIn6.com, then proceeds to sip tea in the style of the famous Kermit meme.

In case you are out of the loop, this is a reference to Brandon Jennings saying Milwaukee would beat the Miami Heat in six games back in 2013.

Meanwhile, game ops at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee played the theme song from the children’s TV show “Barney” during Raptors player introductions.

Nothing really happens if you go to RapsIn6.com. There’s nothing on the website save for the video the Raptors posted to social media, which you can watch above.

Toronto has their core together and presumably will for a little while. The Bucks are a growing young team. I’m cool with them duking it out in the postseason for years to come.