Kosta Koufos

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NBA Power Rankings: Rockets remain on top, Raptors climb into top five

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There’s a lot of stability at the top of the rankings as teams keep on winning. The big mover this week was the Utah Jazz, who leaped from No. 19 up to 8 thanks to their six-game win streak — and they got Rudy Gobert back.

 
Rockets small icon 1. Rockets (18-4, Last Week No. 1). The Rockets have won seven games in a row since Chris Paul’s return, doing so by an average of 21.6 points per contest. Talk to the veteran Rockets and they are a focused group: “If you’re slacking, we let you know,” Trevor Ariza told NBC Sports. “That’s how it is, when we see somebody is not giving the effort they normally give, I’ll yell ‘let’s go’ and it usually works, because everybody knows it’s coming from a good place.”

 
Celtics small icon 2. Celtics (21-4, LW 2). Rookie Jayson Tatum leads the NBA in three point percentage, hitting 51.3% while taking about three shots from beyond the arc a game. He is in the mix for Rookie of the Year for a reason. Marcus Smart has shown a real chemistry with Al Horford already, and that combined with Smart’s defense is why Brad Stevens is choosing to close games with him on the floor. Interesting matchup with the Spurs Friday night.

 
Warriors small icon 3. Warriors (19-6 LW 3). They have started 4-0 on a six-game road trip, but will have to play the rest of it — and a couple weeks after it — without Stephen Curry who sprained his ankle against New Orleans Monday. With Kevin Durant getting more touches, the Warriors have the talent to not miss a beat even with a former MVP in street clothes, but to do so the team needs to be more focused than it has been most of the season. The Warriors are coasting. It gets them in trouble (like down 20 to the Pelicans at the half, so Curry is in at the end of the game and that’s when the injury hits).

 
Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (17-7 LW 4). Winners of 12 in a row, in part thanks to LeBron James playing at an MVP level (he and James Harden are the clear frontrunners in my book, although it’s very early), but also a defense that is back to being Top 10 during this run. At the heart of that defensive surge, the Cavaliers are defending the arc much better, running teams off it and not giving up those clean looks. The win streak may continue with 5-of-6 at home before a road heavy end of the month.

 
Raptors small icon 5. Raptors (15-7, LW 6). Kyle Lowry has been one of the hottest players in the NBA the past couple of weeks — in his last 5 games he has averaged 21.2 points per game on 53 percent shooting, he’s knocked down five threes a game, and dished out 7.6 assists. It’s been impressive. Starting Friday in Memphis the Raptors get out of the cold a lot with 8-of-11 games on the road, but there are some real measuring stick games in there.

 
Spurs small icon 6. Spurs (16-8, LW 5). Kawhi Leonard could return this week, but before he does we need to give one more shout out to LaMarcus Aldridge, who has been second-tier MVP discussion good through the first quarter of the season. Aldridge is averaging 22.8 points on 50.6% shooting, he’s hitting his threes (38.5%), and he is grabbing 8.2 points per game. Still, the offense needs better shot creation, and Leonard may provide that.

 
Sixers small icon 7. 76ers (13-10, LW 8). That the Sixers are 13-10 having played the NBA’s toughest schedule so far this season is a testament to how improved this team has been. The losses to Cleveland and Boston in the past week are understandable, and beating Washington and Detroit is a sign of where this team stands (the loss to Phoenix was just ugly). Starting Saturday the Sixers have 9-of-12 on the road. #FreeJah

Pistons small icon 8. Pistons (14-9, LW 7). More than a quarter of the way into the season, and despite some recent stumbles, it’s time to stop asking if the Pistons are for real — they are. The stats at Ben Falk’s Cleaning the Glass project them finishing with 44-45 wins, which would be the five seed (and very close to the four and home court in the first round). Stan Van Gundy deserves some consideration for Coach of the Year for his work this season.

 
Pacers small icon 9. Pacers (13-11, LW 10). A lot has been made of Indiana shooting an impressive 39.8% from three as a team (it jumps over 40% when you take out garbage time), but when you’re 24th in the league in attempts from beyond the arc it limits the impact of that shooting. The Pacers lost to the Rockets and Raptors in the last week (they did beat the Kristaps Porzingis-less Knicks), and the schedule doesn’t get easier with the Cavs, Nuggets and Thunder coming up.

 
10. Timberwolves (14-11, LW 12). The fact Minnesota’s name came up in the list of teams pushing hardest for DeAndre Jordan is interesting — has Tom Thibodeau decided Karl-Anthony Towns is never going to be a great defender and needs one next to him to do the dirty work? The Timberwolves are 27th in the league in defensive rating (when you take out garbage time) and that’s not good enough for the kind of team they want to be. All that said, I don’t see how Minnesota has the players that would interest the Clippers in a trade. What is interesting is the reasoning to go after Jordan.

Bucks small icon 11. Bucks (12-10 LW 15). The Bucks are 8-4 since the Eric Bledsoe trade, however Monday’s loss at Boston felt like a reminder that even when Giannis Antetokounmpo is brilliant — 40 points — they have a ways to go to compete with the NBA’s elite. The Bucks need to do better on the defensive glass and stop fouling as much to take the next defensive step forward.

 
Jazz small icon 12. Jazz (13-12, LW 19). They had won six in a row until running into Oklahoma City on Tuesday, and that streak pushed them up the board thanks to an offense that found it’s groove. Part of that is Derrick Favors, who is a dangerous scorer inside and out at the five, and he has dominated second half through this stretch. Rudy Gobert is back now (he played the end of the game against the Thunder, not Favors), but what’s impressive is Utah’s 7-4 record without him. Rodney Hood has been out the last three and Alec Burks has stepped up.

 
Wizards small icon 13. Wizards (13-11, LW 11). Bradley Beal’s 51 points on Tuesday in Portland is just part of what has been Beal’s best NBA season — 23.3 points per game, and a strong true shooting percentage of 56.7% despite having to take on more of the offense this season. He’s playing at an All-Star level. Washington also has gotten a lot more out of its bench lately, led by Kelly Oubre.

 
Blazers small icon 14. Trail Blazers (13-11, LW 9). Despite their inability to stop Beal on Tuesday, the Blazers are still are a surprisingly good defensive team, fourth in the league overall with the lowest opponent field goal percentage around the rim in the league (55.3%, from Cleaning the Glass). Opponents are still getting a lot of shots there, however, which is concerning. The Blazers have lost three in a row to start a four-game homestand and now things get tough: Houston on Saturday, followed by five in a row on the road, opening against Golden State. Then when the road trip ends they come home to the Spurs.

 
Thunder small icon 15. Thunder (11-12 LW 18).. Oklahoma City has won three in a row beating teams above them in the standings — Minnesota, San Antonio, and Utah — using a combination of good defense and Russell Westbrook. More importantly, the Thunder won close games and played well down the stretch — if they can build on that they can become the team people expected before the season. The Thunder travel to Mexico this Thursday to take on the Nets in Mexico City.

 
Nuggets small icon 16. Nuggets (13-10, LW 13). They are 4-3 since Paul Millsap went down. Nikola Jokic has missed a couple games with with a sprained ankle suffered against the Bulls, which is not ideal because they are on a six game road trip. The Nuggets hope to have him back near the end of it (in a week), but they are 3-8 on the road this season and need to find a way to get some wins on this trip.

 
Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (12-12, LW 14). The Pelicans have lost 4-of-5, and while part of that is playing the Warriors twice, part of it is they are not the same without Anthony Davis — they are 14.8 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court this season, he is playing at a level that would get him bottom of the ballot MVP votes, and now he is missing time due to his hip injury. The Pelicans are -9.2 per 100 when DeMarcus Cousins is on the court without Davis. New Orleans got one win without Davis in Portland when DeMarcus Cousins went off, with four of five at home they need more of that from their big man.

 
Hornets small icon 18. Hornets (9-13, LW 20). Our thoughts are with coach Steve Clifford as he takes an indefinite leave of absence from Charlotte to deal with a personal health issue. Stephen Silas takes over as acting coach, but I don’t know that he, nor any coach, can simply solve the bench issues for this team — the starters are fine (even with Kemba Walker missing a couple of games) but the Hornets bench digs a hole the starters can’t get the team out of.

 
Heat small icon 19. Heat (11-12, LW 16). Hassan Whiteside will be out a couple of weeks, although rookie Bam Adebayo has proven to be a solid replacement and NBA starter for Miami. The travel to Mexico City for a Saturday game against Brooklyn but they will be without Hassan Whiteside who is skipping the entire three-game road trip to recover a bone bruise on his left knee. The Heat defense is 6.8 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

 
Knicks small icon 20. Knicks (11-12, LW 17). The combination of a sprained ankle and an illness sat Kristaps Porzingis for a couple games, plus Tim Hardaway Jr. missed those same games against Orlando and Indiana, and the Knicks struggled without them. Porzingis is expected back Wednesday, but Hardaway is out a couple of weeks. New York has five straight games against what look like non-playoff teams — Grizzlies, Bulls, Hawks, Lakers, Nets — and they need to pad the win column before the schedule turns difficult.

 
Nets small icon 21. Nets (9-14, LW 24). They have two games this week in Mexico City, Thursday against the Thunder then Saturday against the Heat. When you watch those games, see how the OKC and Miami do from the midrange — the Nets do what teams should do on paper and force opponents to shoot from the midrange, but opponents are hitting 42.4% from there, second highest percentage in the NBA (Cleaning the Glass).

 
Magic small icon 22. Magic (10-15, LW 25). With Terrence Ross out for a while, more will fall on Jonathon Simmons — who has looked pretty good for the Magic but now has a lot more responsibility. The Magic snapped their nine-game losing streak and have won 2-of-4, which is the start to a turnaround, and now they have 4-0f-5 at home.

 
Grizzlies small icon 23. Grizzlies (8-15, LW 26). Since J.B. Bierstaff took over, the Grizzlies have gone back to their old ways and have played at the slowest pace in the league, and they are taking fewer threes. The new coach is 1-3 on the job, but Memphis did snap its 11-game losing streak to the play-down-to-the-competition Timberwolves. Things don’t get easier for the Grizzlies, still without Mike Conley, as the Raptors and Thunder are among the teams on the schedule this week.

 
Clippers small icon 24. Clippers (8-14 LW 21). How will DeAndre Jordan personally, and the Clippers as a team, handle the swirling trade rumors around him (ones that are not going away before he is moved or the trade deadline in February, whichever comes first)? The Clippers should get both Milos Teodosic and Danilo Gallinari back in the next week, which will help, because with Blake Griffin out for at least a month Austin Rivers has become the team’s primary playmaker, and that’s not working.

 
Mavericks small icon 25. Mavericks (7-17 LW 27). The good news is Dallas is playing hard and getting themselves into close games, but they still struggle to close those out as seen in losses to the Spurs and Nets. However, the Mavericks have won two in a row now and head out with 5-of-6 on the road. As for a Nerlens Noel update:

 
Lakers small icon 26. Lakers (8-15 LW 22). The Lakers have dropped five in a row and now have 6-of-7 on the road (with the one home game being Golden State) in their toughest stretch of the schedule this season. On the bright side, Kyle Kuzma continues to impress as a rookie and put up numbers. Also, having seen him twice in the last week in person, Brandon Ingram seems to be turning a corner into a more aggressive player whose shot is coming along.

 
Suns small icon 27. Suns (9-17, LW 23). The Devin Booker groin injury is scary (as of this writing we do not know how long he will be out). He’s averaging 24.3 points per game, is shooting 38.3% from three, is the Suns biggest scoring threat, and the team’s offense has scored less than a point per possession when he is off the court. The Suns went 2-4 on their recent road trip, but it doesn’t get easier coming home to the Wizards and Spurs for a couple games.

 
Kings small icon 28. Kings (7-16, LW 28). There has been little consistency with this team, Skal Labissiere was starting a few games ago, then last week he got assigned to the D-League. The Kings are playing big again with Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos starting. De’Aaron Fox is showing flashes, but mostly looks like a rookie thrown to the wolves. George Hill summed up the mood of Kings fans about this season well.

 
Hawks small icon 29. Hawks (5-18, LW 29). The best barometer of the Hawks is point guard Dennis Schroeder — in games he doesn’t play or scores fewer than 20 points, the Hawks are 0-11 (they are 5-7 when he does hit that mark). Tough to see John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon out injured, their play was one of the few reasons to watch the Hawks this season. Atlanta has a home-and-home with Orlando that starts Wednesday.

 
Bulls small icon 30. Bulls (3-19 LW 30).. A couple of harsh 1-point losses (to Denver and Sacramento) last week, which I guess could be seen as moral victories for the Bulls, who have dropped 9 straight. The Bulls could get Nikola Mitotic back this week. The guy they really need suited up is Zach LaVine, but that still seems weeks away.

Rookie De’Aaron Fox’s jumper with 13.4 seconds left lifts Kings over 76ers

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — De'Aaron Fox made a 19-foot jumper with 13.4 seconds remaining to lift the Sacramento Kings over Philadelphia 109-108 on Thursday night, ending a five-game winning streak for the 76ers that marked their longest in six years.

Philadelphia center Joel Embiid missed a shot from the free throw line as time expired.

Two nights after rallying from 17 points down to upset Oklahoma City and snap a seven-game skid, Sacramento (3-8) pulled off another stunner by closing the game with a 7-0 run.

The Kings (3-8) led most of the second half but fell behind late in the fourth quarter when they went nearly four minutes without a field goal. Fox ended the drought with a short jumper and Garrett Temple hit a 3-pointer before Fox’s game-winner gave Sacramento its second consecutive win.

Zach Randolph had 20 points and seven rebounds for the Kings. Justin Jackson scored 19, including 11 in the fourth quarter, and Fox finished with 11 points and seven assists.

Embiid had 22 points and 15 rebounds on an uneven night for the 76ers’ big man. He shot 7 of 20, struggled in the paint against Randolph and Kosta Koufos, and had a shot blocked in the final minutes by Willie Cauley-Stein.

Robert Covington scored 24 points and sank six 3-pointers for Philadelphia (6-5). Ben Simmons added 18 points and six assists.

The 76ers trailed by as many as nine and looked out of rhythm most of the night before Simmons scored six straight points in the fourth quarter, including an emphatic, one-handed driving dunk down the lane.

Dario Saric followed with a 3 and Covington’s sixth shot from beyond the arc followed by a three-point play extended Philadelphia’s lead to 108-102 before the Kings made their decisive push.

The teams played even early before Sacramento pulled away midway through the second quarter to lead 64-57 at halftime.

 

 

Three questions the Sacramento Kings must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 32-50, missed the playoffs for the 10th straight season.

I know what you did last summer: Their “summer” really started last February at the trade deadline when they moved DeMarcus Cousins for Buddy Hield. The Kings had an active summer, and that included moving on from a lot of guys on the roster: Rudy Gay, Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, Tyreke Evans, Arron Afflalo, and Ben McLemore among others were gone. To replace them they drafted De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, rolled the dice on Harry Giles, the Kings finally got Bogdan Bogdanovic to come over, then in free agency landed some solid veteran free agents in George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter.

THREE QUESTIONS THE KINGS MUST ANSWER

1) How do the Kings balance the minutes between their best young players and their veterans? George Hill is clear and away the best point guard option on the Kings, but they just drafted the speedy and talented De’Aaron Fox. Zach Randolph, while his skills are fading, is a solid four coach Dave Joerger can trust, but Skal Labissiere could become the most skilled power forward on this roster. Kosta Koufos is a solid veteran big who will not beat you with mistakes, but the Kings are trying to season the talented Willie Cauley-Stein at center.

It’s the biggest question coach Joerger has heading into the season, how to balance out the minutes and opportunities for the veterans on this team vs. the best young prospects on the Kings’ roster. It’s easy to say “George Hill is there to develop guys like Fox and Buddy Hield” but that doesn’t mean Hill is just another coach riding the pine most of the time. The Kings aren’t going to win a lot of games, but veterans like Vince Carter can show young players how to compete (Carter, who has been in the league since roughly the Taft administration, may well be the best three on this roster still). The hope has to be that as the season goes along, as the young players get minutes and good developmental coaching, their role grows as the veterans take a step back, but will it work out that way?

Tied to this: How long are these veterans going to be Kings? Part of the reason for bringing in a guy like Hill is that at some point a team hurting at the point guard spot due to injuries or whatever reason come calling. These teams will want Hill, and in return the Kings can get a quality young prospect or a good pick. The question is how long before the calls come, and how much demand will there be (especially for the aging Randolph and Carter)? It may happen this season, at or before the trade deadline, or it could be next summer, but expect the Kings to make a move.

2) Which young players on this roster develop into quality NBA players? The Kings have eight guys on rookie contracts plus a couple other young players — they have 10 players 25 and younger. The Kings are in the player development business now, and the question is which ones will find their way to become NBA players of some level — stars, starters, rotation players, whatever?

There are interesting questions up and down the young roster. Harry Giles will be out until at least January (if not the season), but can he get healthy and if so how much can he contribute? Skal Labissiere showed promise at the end of last season, can he build on that (he didn’t at Summer League)? Can Justin Jackson get stronger, develop his shot and become a rotation player at the three? Just how good is Willie Cauley-Stein? Same question for Malachi Richardson? A lot of these questions could get answered on the Reno Bighorns, which is where some of these players will go to get run.

For me, the most interesting battle to watch is at the two. The Kings got Buddy Hield back as the main piece from New Orleans in the DeMarcus Cousins trade, and in 25 games with the Kings he averaged 15.1 points per game and shot 42.8 percent from three. However, the Kings are also very high Bogdan Bogdanovic, who Vlade Divac called the “the best player in Europe” and he is going battle for that starting spot. Which one of these two develops into a starter and takes the job, and who does not. We’ll see how Hield develops, but watching him as a rookie — and his both lack of understanding and interest on defense — and I saw a sixth man. A gunner in the Lou Williams/Jamal Crawford mold — which is not a bad thing, those guys have had good careers and helped a lot of teams. Is Hield on that path, or can he develop into something more?

3) Can management and ownership be patient? The Kings have a good plan in place. They have young players with potential — De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Skal Labissiere, Willie Cauley-Stein, and more — and some veterans were brought in to mentor them and set a tone. Whatever you think of the young talent (I like the potential) or how many veterans they brought in (more than I would have) it’s a solid rebuilding plan. One that’s not going to yield a lot of wins short term (they retain their first round pick next draft) but is a respectable and reasonable path.

The problem is the Kings have never stuck to a plan long enough to let it play out. Look at it this way, since they drafted Cousins in 2010 the Kings coaches have been Paul Westphal, Keith Smart, Mike Malone, Ty Corbin, George Karl, and Dave Joerger. That’s not counting the three different GMs and a change of ownership. With each successive move the plan shifted, and with that, the roster and the style were never settled.

This falls to owner Vivek Ranadive — he has to be patient. It’s not in his nature, but he needs to be. I don’t know that I would have chosen Vlade Divac to run my team, but now that Ranadive has let the basketball people make the basketball decisions. Divac and the staff there have planted a garden, let it start to grow and blossom, and know that it’s going to take years to bear fruit. The biggest mistake the Kings could make right now would be to at the All-Star break (or next summer) change plans, bring in a new GM and coach, and completely change directions.

Kings will keep rookie Harry Giles off court until January to strengthen knee

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When last year’s draft class was done with its freshman high school season, Harry Giles was on top of early recruiting/draft lists. He had everything a team could want in a potential No. 1 pick – size, athleticism, skill, motor. Then the injuries came — ACL, MCL and a meniscus tear in his left knee that have required a couple of surgeries, plus another surgery on his right knee last year.

The Sacramento Kings drafted him at No. 20 out of Duke (via a trade with Portland), and it’s a good gamble in that spot — if he can get anywhere near his previous form this is a steal.

Sacramento is taking the cautious route with Giles, announcing Friday they are going to keep him shut down until at least January, “while he and the Kings training staff focus on a measured and sustained progression plan designed to improve physical strength in his surgically repaired knees,” according to the release. He will remain with and continue to practice with the team, but will not play.

This is not due to a new injury or setback in rehab, a source familiar with the situation told NBC Sports. Rather, this is the Kings taking a page out of the book of other teams rehabbing injured rookies (think Sixers) — better to be cautious than push him back too quickly and set the stage for another injury. Remember, the Kings new assistant GM Brandon Williams came from the Sixers, where this was the norm. Recovering from ACLs and major knee injuries can take years, and the Kings see Giles as a 19-year-old that they are betting on down the line, not for this season. Better for them to focus on getting it right.

Giles wasn’t going to get a lot of run anyway. The Kings will start Skal Labissiere at the four, and after the way he finished last season they want to give him every chance, then will bring Zach Randolph in off the bench. While in theory Giles could play some at center the Kings have Willie Cauley-Stein, Kosta Koufos, and Georgios Papagiannis in that rotation already.

Better to be patient. Maybe Giles never makes it all the way back, but the Kings should be patient and give him the best shot at a full recovery and opportunity.

Buddy Hield’s 22 points lead Kings to 123-117 win against Wolves

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Buddy Hield tied a career high with 22 points, going 4 of 6 from 3-point range, and the Sacramento Kings got 66 points from their bench in a 123-117 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night.

Reserve point guard Ty Lawson had 21 points and 11 assists. Langston Galloway added 17 points and Aaron Afflalo scored 16 off the bench as the Kings recovered after losing by 28 points a night earlier at New Orleans against former Sacramento star DeMarcus Cousins.

Playing its fifth game in seven nights, Sacramento shot a season-high 56.4 percent to win for the sixth time in 15 games since trading Cousins on Feb. 21.

Andrew Wiggins scored 32 points for Minnesota, which had won five of its previous six homes games. A game after scoring a career-high 33 points, Ricky Rubio had 11 points on just 1-of-10 shooting, and added 13 assists.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 26 points and 11 rebounds for the Timberwolves.

The Kings looked like weary road travelers early, as Minnesota had another quick start with 31 points in the first quarter. Sacramento had nine turnovers in the first and shot 43.8 percent.

The bench got the Kings back in the game and then Sacramento took control with a 26-9 run at the end of the third and start of the fourth. Lawson scored 12 points in the second half and was 11 of 14 from the free-throw line in the game.

Given a chance for more minutes since being traded for Cousins, Hield has responded in his rookie season. Hield entered the game averaging 13.9 points and shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 41.0 percent from 3 in his 19 games with Sacramento.

TIP-INS

Kings: Tyreke Evans, Kosta Koufos and Garrett Temple were ruled out for planned rest. . C Willie Cauley-Stein had 15 points and 10 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season – all since the All-Star break. . Sacramento is 15-25 on the road this season, including two wins in Minnesota.

Timberwolves: G Zach LaVine was chosen the Flip Saunders Legacy Award recipient. The award, named after Minnesota’s former coach, recognizes excellence in community service and is voted on by the team’s players. . Rubio had his third straight double-double and 22nd of the season. . The Wolves are 19-20 at home this season.