Paul George

NBA Power Rankings: Celtics on top, Spurs move into top five

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The top four in our power rankings did not change this week and the teams just kept on winning — including 13 in a row for Boston, but that will be tested Thursday night when they face the Warriors. The Wizards were the big climbers this week, jumping from 16 to 8 (although I may have had them a little low the week before).

Celtics small icon 1. Celtics (13-2, Last Week No. 1). Brad Stevens is getting a lot of praise from front offices around the league because his Celtics team loses Al Horford for a couple of games, Kyrie Irving gets his face busted by Aron Baynes, and they keep on finding ways to win. Boston keeps on doing it with defense, which remains the best in the NBA. The Celtics have passed every test so far, but the Thursday one against the Warriors is the biggest yet in a young season.

Warriors small icon 2. Warriors (11-3 LW 2). They have won seven in a row and all by double digits, and during that stretch they have the best offense and second best defense in the NBA (it was the D that got off to the slow start). Here’s the scary thing, so far the Warriors have played the second toughest schedule in the NBA, and that doesn’t change Thursday with the Celtics on the docket.

Rockets small icon 3. Rockets (11-4, Last Week No. 3). The top two players in three-point attempts this season so far are James Harden and Eric Gordon (Stephan Curry is third). Harden has made at least five threes in six straight NBA games, which is a record. Chris Paul should return in the next week or two, but Mike D’Antoni has to find a way to keep using the Rockets’ starting five — Harden, Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Clint Capela — which is outscoring opponents by 25.7 points per 100.

Pistons small icon 4. Pistons (10-3, LW 4). Tobias Harris is having the best start to his career and it all starts at the arc — he has nearly doubled the number of threes he’s taking (3.8 per game last season, 6.4 per game, and it’s hitting 50.6 percent this season. Also, Andre Drummond has grabbed at least a dozen rebounds in every Piston’s game this season, confirming he is the best rebounder in the NBA.

Spurs small icon 5. Spurs (9-5, LW 7). San Antonio went 4-2 on a recent homestand (the Warriors and Bucks were the losses), which has helped them hold on to a playoff slot while we wait for the return of Kawhi Leonard (still no timetable, but “sooner rather than later” is the new word). After a rough start to the season with more isolation than they wanted, on the homestand the Spurs got the ball moving again, averaging 313.8 passes per game (same as the Warriors in that stretch). That has sparked their offense. Even without Leonard the Spurs are fifth in defense.

6. Timberwolves (8-5, LW 5). On the surface they look like they are off to a good start to the season — winning record, great young talent — but if their 26th in the NBA defense, which is 29th if you remove garbage time (as the site Cleaning the Glass does) things will go south. The most concerning thing: Minny’s defense is 10.9 points per 100 possessions worse when Karl-Anthony Towns is on the court. He is still struggling on that end. Andrew Wiggins takes a lot of heat for his D from Timberwolves fans, but the team defense is 5 points per 100 better when he is on the court.

Raptors small icon 7. Raptors (8-5, LW 9). They are moving the ball more and isolating less, but they are still a team that scores on the drive — they average 28.2 points per game on drives, the most in the NBA. The Raptors’ five losses are the Warriors, Spurs, underrated Nuggets, Wizards, and Celtics — they had beaten the team they were supposed to but needed a marquee win, and they got it putting up 129 on the Rockets Tuesday night. OG Anunoby has been a find.

Wizards small icon 8. Wizards (8-5, LW 16). The Wizards move up this week because they feasted on a soft part of their schedule, winning 3-of-4 on a homestand. It’s a good sign that they are at least taking lesser teams seriously. Now the schedule gets harder: 11-of-14 on the road with a lot of playoff teams in the mix is up next, starting with a home-and-home vs. the Heat.

Pelicans small icon 9. Pelicans (8-6 LW 13). The DeMarcus Cousins/Anthony Davis pairing continues to thrive — they are both averaging more than 26 points and 11 rebounds per game (which is a historic pace for teammates, if they can sustain it). Rajon Rondo returned to the lineup in limited minutes on Monday, as he works his way back into shape Alvin Gentry needs to find some perimeter rotations that can help out that strong front line. Darius Miller has earned some extra run with his performances.

Nuggets small icon 10. Nuggets (8-6, LW 14). Nikola Jokic is having a fast start to the season and the reason is he is trusting his three-ball. Jokic is nearly doubling the number of threes he took per game last season (1.9 up to 3.6) but the key is he is hitting 41.2 percent this season (up from 32.4 percent last season). Denver moved up the rankings going 5-1 on a homestand, but Monday’s loss at Portland is the first of 11-of-15 on the road.

Knicks small icon 11. Knicks (7-6, LW 8). The Knicks thought they had a signature win Monday night against Cleveland, only to blow a 23-point lead and take a punch to the gut. I know that coach Jeff Hornacek likes his center rotation of Enes Kanter and Kyle O’Quinn, but he played Kristaps Porzingis there at the end of the Orlando game, I’d like to see more of that.

Sixers small icon 12. 76ers (7-6, LW 11). The big news for the Sixers this week is Robert Covington can sign a new contract extension, and expect the Sixers to make him a happy man with a healthy payday in the next few days. The Sixers are 2-2 on a five-game road trip that ends in Los Angeles Wednesday (one loss was an ugly one to the Kings), then the Sixers are home for six straight.

Magic small icon 13. Magic (8-6, LW 10). It’s still a little strange to type this, but Aaron Gordon continues to kill it from three, shooting 53.7 percent this season, best in the NBA. The Magic are improved on both ends of the court this season, but are 1-2 on their current road trip, with 5-of-7 on the road still to go.

Blazers small icon 14. Trail Blazers (7-6 LW 12). Portland has the third best defense in the NBA this season, and with that should have a better record than they do so far (they have the point differential of a 9-4 team). What’s holding them back is a middle of the pack offense, and the reason is they get the fewest points out of transition in the league. The Blazers need to play a little faster and get some easy baskets.

Grizzlies small icon 15. Grizzlies (7-6, LW 6). I like the move to start Dillon Brooks over Andrew Harrison, but it does not change the momentum of a team that has lost 5-of-7, with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol struggling with their shot. The most impressive thing about Memphis this season has been the strong play of its bench, led by Tyreke Evans.

Bucks small icon 16. Bucks (7-6 LW 23). Winners of three in a row since Eric Bledsoe arrived, although none of those wins was particularly pretty. What he has brought is a willingness to push the pace more — a team with the Greek Freak and a defense designed to create turnovers shouldn’t be 26th in the league in pace. On Saturday the Bucks head out for 5-of-6 on the road.

Heat small icon 17. Heat (6-7, LW 24). The Heat had a solid 3-3 road trip, one where they played good defense, allowing less than a point per possession during the trip. Problem is they also scored less than a point per possession. Still, that road trip felt closer to the Heat team from the second half of last season than we have seen yet this season.

Cavaliers small icon 18. Cavaliers (7-7 LW 20). Kevin Love playing the five has been an experiment that has not always looked good, but Love has finished better at the rim — 70.8 in the restricted area this season — than at any point in his career. LeBron James has played more regular season games now than Michael Jordan, is in his 15th NBA season, yet leads the NBA in 38.1 minutes played per game. He’s been phenomenal in those minutes – because the Cavs need him to be — but that’s a heavy load.

Thunder small icon 19. Thunder (6-7 LW 21).. The Thunder have a couple wins in a row, which happened for two reasons. First, because Paul George went off for 42 and 37 in those games to carry a struggling offense. The other reason for the wins is the Thunder played the Clippers (six game losing streak and then a Dallas team that is last in the Western Conference. Maybe the Thunder needed a couple easy wins as slumpbusters, just any wins to turn the team around, and with Chicago up next the streak could well reach three wins.

Hornets small icon 20. Hornets (5-7, LW 15). They have played the toughest schedule in the NBA so far this season. The Hornets start fast, outscoring teams by 6.9 points per 100 in the first quarter, but they get outscored by 6.3 per 100 in the fourth, which has them blowing leads and losing ugly (like leading by 12 in the forth to Boston and losing).

Lakers small icon 21. Lakers (6-8 LW 18). What’s impressive is the Lakers have the fourth best defense in the NBA this season, which is shocking after years of horrid defense from the team. They are defending well in the half court, with Brook Lopez playing a key role in the paint, but they struggle defending in transition (20th in NBA according to Cleaning the Glass). The offense, like Lonzo Ball’s shot, needs a lot of work.

Pacers small icon 22. Pacers (6-8, LW 19). Myles Turner returned to the lineup, and since then the Pacers are 1-6 with the fifth worst defense in the NBA. Turner hasn’t seemed himself since returning from injury, but the Pacers are doing a poor job of getting him the ball in the spots he wants. It’s hard to find positives, outside of Victor Oladipo’s in-game 360 dunk.

Clippers small icon 23. Clippers (5-8 LW 17). Losers of six in a row and 7-of-8, and the key reason is their defense has fallen apart. The Clippers are allowing 113.8 points per 100 in their last six games, worst in the NBA. Injuries — games lost for Danilo Gallinari, Milos Teodosic, and Patrick Beverley — has exacerbated the problems for this team.

Jazz small icon 24. Jazz (6-8, LW 22). Rudy Gobert is out for at least a month after Dion Waiters crashed into his knee, and the Jazz could be in real trouble — in their second game without him the Timberwolves pounded Utah inside. It doesn’t get easier, Utah’s schedule for the next month is brutal. The Jazz need to find a way to get wins and not slide out of the playoff picture in the crowded West while Gobert is out.

Nets small icon 25. Nets (5-9, LW 25). After the past few seasons it’s strange to type this, but the Nets are fun to watch. This is a scrappy, if not good, team. The Nets suffered a blow when D’Angelo Russell tweaked his knee, he is now out for a while and that means more Spencer Dinwiddie at the point, and Caris LeVert doing some playmaking as well.

Suns small icon 26. Suns (5-10, LW 26). That bump the Suns got after firing Earl Watson and replacing him with Jay Triano — winning 4-of-5 — is over, Phoenix has dropped 6-of-7 since. In those seven games the Suns have a bottom 10 offense and defense, and have been outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions. Devin Booker puts up numbers, but Phoenix desperately needs a playmaker to put next to him.

Kings small icon 27. Kings (3-10, LW 28). While George Hill had a good game against the Wizards Monday, for much of this season he has struggled and rookie De’Aaron Fox has been as good or better. Fox shows real promise. A young guns lineup for the Kings — Fox, Buddy Held, Justin Jackson, Skal Labissiere, and Willie Cauley-Stein — has only played 21 minutes together this season, and it hasn’t been great (-9.8 per 100) but I would like to see more of it. This is a developmental year in Sacramento.

Bulls small icon 28. Bulls (2-9 LW 27). Since returning from suspension, Bobby Portis is averaging 19.3 points and 10 rebounds a game. It’s going to be awkward when Nicola Mirotic eventually returns to practices and the lineup, but with Portis playing this well he is going to get a lot of run. The Bulls have lost 6-of-7 and have 5 of their next six on the road.

Hawks small icon 29. Hawks (2-12, LW 29). Ersan Ilyasova is back healthy and will come off the bench for Atlanta on Wednesday against the Kings. The Hawks have gotten help from some unexpected places, for example Luke Babbitt is shooting the ball well and that is opening things up for Dennis Schroder. Also, rookie John Collins is averaging 10.4 points per game shooting 50.4 percent, is grabbing 7.2 rebounds a night, and has a PER of 18.9 that is the best on the team among regular rotation players.

Mavericks small icon 30. Mavericks (2-13 LW 30). With his second made basket Friday against Minnesota, Dirk Nowitzki will pass Hakeem Olajuwon for eighth place on the NBA’s all-time made baskets list. Nowitzki passed Olajuwon in points three seasons ago to become the all-time leading scorer among international players. Nowitzki said he will let his body — and not the Mavs record — determine if he will come back for one more season after this one.

Three Things to Know: Kyrie who? Celtics win streak reaches dozen

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) No Kyrie, no problem — Celtics keep finding ways to win, streak up to 12. Brad Stevens has turned the Boston Celtics into the embodiment of every coaching cliché: one man goes down and it’s next man up, they are just taking it one game at a time, they just have to worry about themselves and play their game, they play a full 48 minutes, they are focusing on defense, and they are giving 110 percent effort.

Bottom line — it’s working, and the Celtics are winning. Twelve in a row now.

Kyrie Irving was out Sunday due to a facial fracture suffered at the elbow of teammate Aron Baynes (he is expected back Tuesday at Brooklyn wearing a mask, which could be bad news for the league, last time Irving had to wear a mask he tore it up for a couple of weeks).

Next man up. Marcus Smart started for Steven’s Celtics, Al Horford returned from missing games with a concussion and scored 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting, Jaylen Brown added 18, the Celtics again played strong defense, and they held on through a tight fourth quarter to knock off a good Raptors team 95-94. The Raptors had the chance to win with a couple late pull-up jumpers and an offensive foul call on Jayson Tatum that a kid hated and screamed about, apparently into a courtside mic. However, DeMar DeRozan missed both chances, the second one was the kind of shot he hits a lot of (he is shooting 42.9 percent from that area of the floor this season).

The Celtics have been the NBA’s most surprising and impressive story to start the season, losing Gordon Hayward but shifting the offense around, getting well-rounded games out of Irving, Horford playing like he’s 26 again (but with a three-point shot), and the team is defending like mad, all game long and especially in the fourth quarter. It works. They get a real measuring stick on Thursday against Golden State, but so far all the clichés sound good in Boston.

2) Rudy Gobert out 4-6 weeks with a bone bruise in his knee.
Utah Jazz fans breathed a huge sigh of relief Friday night when Rudy Gobert returned to the court after this injury where Dion Waiters went crashing into his knee.

They may have exhaled too quickly — Gobert is out four to six weeks with a bone bruise.

That’s not good. The Jazz defense, third in the NBA this season allowing just a point per possession (100.2 per 100), is focused around forcing penetration into Gobert, who is the best shot blocking/rim-protecting big in the game right now. Utah is going to struggle to get stops the same way, because Derrick Favors is not that same kind of athlete (nor the same kind of athlete Favors himself was before the injuries).

What might help Utah compensate for this is an improved offense — the two-big starting lineup with Favors and Gobert, and Ricky Rubio running the show, has an offensive rating of 94.7 points per 100 possessions this season in 108 minutes — they are still struggling with those starters despite the defense. They miss Gordon Hayward’s shot creation and shooting with those two bigs on the court. Forced to go to just one big, maybe they find better spacing and options. Maybe.

It still could be a rough time between now and Christmas for the Jazz.

3) Paul George drops 37, Thunder win second in a row… but let’s not say they have figured it out yet. Hey, Paul George, what did you get Russell Westbrook for his birthday.

PG13 dropped 37, Russell Westbrook had 16 of his 27 in the third quarter when the Thunder pulled away, and Oklahoma City beat Dallas 112-99 for a comfortable win on Sunday. The kind of win the Thunder need — that’s two wins in a row now.

You know why Oklahoma City has back-to-back wins? No, not the team meeting, good luck finding a player who actually thinks those things are useful other than to vent. No, I’m nowhere near convinced the Thunder have started to figure it out (they were without Carmelo Anthony on Sunday).

The Thunder have won two straight because they have played a Clipper team that’s falling apart (they are 1-7 in their last eight) and then a Dallas team that is last in the Western Conference. Maybe the Thunder needed a couple easy wins as slump busters, just any wins to turn the team around, and with Chicago up next the streak could well reach three wins. But talk to me after the games against the Spurs, Pelicans, and Warriors, then we will have a measuring stick.

After fourth-straight loss, Thunder have long closed-door team meeting

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Team meetings rarely solve problems. They let players and coaches vent, it can help clear the air, but most of the time they don’t translate to much on the court.

We’ll see if the slow-starting Oklahoma City Thunder change that dynamic.

Thursday night, after blowing an 18-point lead and falling to the Denver Nuggets due to another terrible fourth quarter performance, the team held a closed-door meeting, reports Fred Katz of the Norman-Transcript.

“You have to talk about it. You have to look at it. You have to be up front with everybody,” Carmelo Anthony said. “Everybody’s got to be held accountable for what’s going on.”

“Meetings just make sure we all stay together no matter what,” point guard Raymond Felton said. “Everybody said their piece. Coach said his piece…Right now, we going through something, and we got to stick together no matter what.”

In the fourth quarter Thursday night, the Thunder shot 38 percent while allowing the Nuggets to hit 53 percent. Throughout the game (and the season) it felt like the Thunder’s big three — Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony — were just taking turns, not working and playing in an offense or off each other. Then in the fourth it was all Westbrook, he was 1-of-6 in the fourth, while Paul George got just one shot in the final 12 minutes. Westbrook was 6-of-22 on the night, and in the fourth he took some difficult shots.

The Thunder make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league, and they get the more of their offense out of isolation than any team. As noted by Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver, OKC now has just three assisted field goals in the final five minutes of a game within five points all season. Meanwhile their defense struggles in the clutch as well.

OKC needs to figure out how to get this together, because it’s highly unlikely this roster is back in this form next season (George is a free agent, and if he stays and ‘Melo opts in the tax bill becomes so ridiculous there is no chance the small market Thunder will pay it, no matter what owner Clay Bennett says publicly). They need to get it together sooner rather than later.

Report: Julius Randle ‘very unlikely to continue with Lakers’

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The Lakers have made no secret of their plan to chase two max free agents next summer.

LeBron James? Paul George? DeMarcus Cousins?

Los Angeles wants to be in the mix.

A wrinkle: Julius Randle will be a restricted free agent with a $12,447,727 cap hold.

Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN:

One player whose future is very unlikely to continue with the Lakers is Julius Randle.

Randle is arguably the Lakers’ best player right now, and he’s just 22. He shouldn’t be hastily cast aside.

Still, when the prize could be LeBron and George, renouncing Randle would be a small price to pay. That’s the simplest route to clearing major cap space.

In an ideal world for the Lakers, it wouldn’t come to that. They could trade Randle before February’s deadline for value. Knowing he might no longer fit in Los Angeles will drive down the Lakers’ return, but there’s still value in acquiring his Bird and matching rights. The Lakers could get a future draft pick that wouldn’t count against the cap next summer and might even be useful for unloading Luol Deng and/or Jordan Clarkson or even trade Deng and/or Clarkson with Randle now.

But what if the Lakers strike out on major free agents? They’d regret selling low on Randle now.

So, the Lakers could keep him into the summer as a hedge. If LeBron, George, Cousins, etc. sign elsewhere, the Lakers could re-sign Randle. But there’s always a chance Randle is unwilling to wait around for those stars to decide and presses the issue with an offer sheet. Even in the best-case scenario with keeping Randle past the trade deadline, two stars picking Los Angeles, the Lakers would lose Randle for nothing.

Now, it’s just a matter of the Lakers determining how aggressively they want to pursue outside free agents. They could go all-in and trade Randle before the deadline or hedge by waiting until the offseason to determine how to handle him.

Paul George on Thunder’s slow start: “We have a whole year to figure it out”

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The Oklahoma City Thunder have the second best defense in the NBA, allowing less than a point per possession (96.9 per 100 possessions). They are long, athletic, and have a big backstop in Steven Adams in the paint.

Yet, they are just 4-6. Tuesday night, they lost to a Sacramento Kings team that was 1-8 coming in.

Despite having reigning MVP Russell Westbrook plus Paul George and Carmelo Anthony on the roster, the Thunder have the 22nd ranked offense. Watch them play and it reminds you of the 2010-11 Miami Heat when LeBron James first arrived there: guys played next to each other taking turns in isolation, not getting plays out of the offense. The Thunder make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (via the SportVU tracking cameras in arenas). They run more isolation than any team in the league — 12.3 percent of their shot attempts come out of isos, and they shoot just 42.7 percent on them, scoring only 0.87 points per possession on them (19th in the league). Anthony still stops the ball, and the Thunder are predictable. And predictable is defendable.

Paul George is not worried, he is still preaching patience, as he told Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.

“We have a whole year to figure it out,” George said. “We can’t really try to rush this. It’s something that’s step-by-step, day-by-day [and], at this point, game-by-game.

“We’ve got to slowly get on the same page.”

Carmelo Anthony is preaching from the same book.

“This is all new to everybody, new situations for everybody,” said Anthony, who along with George joined the team this summer. “Even though we losing games, I think it’s more of lessons being learned than actually losing the game. So right now, we’re learning a lesson in these last couple games.”

Hard lessons. However, they are right, it was always going to take a while to figure out, it would take time for these players who speak glowingly of making sacrifices to win actually put that into practice. We’ve seen it when LeBron James jumped ships (first to Miami, then back to Cleveland), there are rough patches. Even last year’s Golden State Warriors had some bumps integrating Kevin Durant into the fold.

The challenge is this: Will they figure it out in time to keep Paul George? Westbrook signed a massive extension and is going nowhere, and Anthony has a $27.9 million player option next season that most around the league think he will pick up (unless he reaches a wink-wink deal with the Thunder for multiple years at a little less money). However, George is a free agent. The people around him were not shy about talking Lakers before the trade.

Next summer, with the chemistry be worked out and the pull of staying in OKC be so strong that George re-signs? That’s the real deadline for this team. But they’ve got 72 more regular season games to put it together, that’s plenty of time.