Kurt Helin

Entertainment at the Q: life-size Hungry Hungry Hippos

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In game entertainment at NBA games has a formula that is fairly similar arena to arena — half-court shot by a fan, a virtual race of some kind on the scoreboard, of course the team dancers, and so on.

Cleveland broke the mold Sunday with a good one: life-sized Hungry Hungry Hippos. Not with a real hippopotamus, obviously, those are only on the Jungle Boat ride at Disneyland.

It’s a little rough around the edges, but I like it. Beats another virtual race anyday.

NBA Power Rankings Week 4: Clippers climb into top spot

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These power rankings are not a projection of the future, they are a snapshot of what is happening right now — and right now, no team is playing better than the Clippers, which is why they take over the top spot. Can they sustain this play and stay healthy are questions for another day.

 
Clippers small icon 1. Clippers (9-1, Last Week No. 2). On a six-game win streak as they continue to be carried by the best defense in the NBA and an offense that has found its groove the past week. What are they doing right on D? Smothering the pick-and-roll ball handler, who are shooting just 31.4 percent against L.A (via Synergy Sports). Also they are closing out and contesting on spot up shooters very well. Fun game against the Bulls Saturday.

 
Cavaliers small icon 2. Cavaliers (8-1, LW 1). Cleveland keeps on winning and their offense keeps on firing away, but the team has a lot of games where a strong half of defense is all they produce (and against everyone but Atlanta that was enough). You can see the lack of commitment sometimes in their pick-and-roll coverage, which has been spotty this season (at best). Look for a better effort Tuesday night when Toronto comes to town, that should snap them out of their slumber.

 
Warriors small icon 3. Warriors (8-2, LW 4). About Stephen Curry getting fewer threes this season: Through 10 games Curry has hit 48 three pointers, which puts him on pace for 394 threes this season (he had 402 in 79 games last season). He’s very close to his old pace. Not surprisingly, with Curry hitting threes the Warriors now have the best offense (statistically) in the NBA. Four games on the road this week, including at Toronto and Boston, tough places to play.

 
Raptors small icon 4. Raptors (7-2, LW 6). They picked up quality wins on the road last week at Oklahoma City and Charlotte. DeMar DeRozan now has eight 30+ point games this season and he’s doing it hitting midrange jumpers off the dribble at a high rate (that may not be sustainable, but so far he just keeps draining them). Rough week ahead with Cavaliers and Warriors are on the schedule.

 
Hawks small icon 5. Hawks (7-2 LW 7). They handed Cleveland its lone loss this season thanks to a stifling defense (second in the NBA), holding the Cavs to less than 40 percent shooting. The other thing the Hawks have going for them this season is fantastic bench play so far this season, statistically the best in the NBA. Best test on the schedule this week is at Charlotte.

 
Spurs small icon 6. Spurs (7-3, LW 3). Already three losses at home this season, after having just one all of last season. Part of that may be due to Tony Parker missing time with a sore knee — he’s not the dynamic player he once was, but he’s still a strong floor general that gets San Antonio into good actions. He’s working his way back into the rotation. Kawhi Leonard continues to be an absolute beast this season.

Jazz small icon 7. Jazz (7-4, LW 10). That they went 3-1 on the road without George Hill speaks to how much better this team plays with Gordon Hayward on the floor. That poor first week defensively seems a long time ago as the Jazz are locking teams down and now have the fourth-best defense in the NBA. Fun clash of styles game this Saturday when Utah travels to Houston — how does their defense deal with James Harden?

 
Hornets small icon 8. Hornets (6-3, LW 8). Tough losses to Toronto and Cleveland this week shouldn’t put a cloud over how well Charlotte has started the season. The most interesting thing is they are fourth in the NBA in percentage of shots with an assist, there with the Warriors, Celtics, Rockets, and other teams moving the ball around. Kemba Walker has played brilliantly and is carrying the Charlotte offense (he had 40 against Toronto but it was not enough).

 
Bulls small icon 9. Bulls (6-4, LW 15). The Bulls offense is coming back to earth, despite a couple monster games (39 and 37 point nights) from Jimmy Butler last week. The hot three point shooting of earlier in the season was not going to last — in the last five games the Bulls have shot 30.5 percent from beyond the arc. That makes them defendable. Tough road swing out West this week with the Trail Blazers, Jazz, Clippers, and Lakers.

 
Blazers small icon 10. Trail Blazers (7-4, LW 11). Damian Lillard’s play this season has been fantastic, and it’s helped carry the Blazers through the end of tight games (all but one of their wins have been relatively close games). This is a team still getting outscored by their opponents on the season, but that is skewed by the fact they’ve had three games against the Clippers/Warriors and gotten thumped. Still, the defense is bottom 10 and that will hurt them if it doesn’t improve.

 
Thunder small icon 11. Thunder (6-4, LW 5). They have lost three in a row and the reason isn’t Russell Westbrook (who had another triple-double Sunday), it is their defense that has stumbled. The Thunder were one of the best defensive teams in the NBA to start the season but have been torched during this losing streak (including by a not-great Orlando team on Sunday). Bet the over when Westbrook and the Thunder take on Harden and the Rockets Wednesday.

 
Celtics small icon 12. Celtics (5-4, LW 14). Still no Al Horford (concussion) or Jae Crowder (ankle) but give them credit for picking up wins over the weekend against struggling teams in the Knicks and Pacers. Horford should return this week, and they could use him when they face Golden State and Detroit, that said the Celtics enter a soft part of the schedule and should be able to put together some wins, if the defense starts to come around.

 
Lakers small icon 13. Lakers (6-5, LW 12). The Lakers are getting little out of their big off-season signings — Timofey Mozgov has been passable, but Luol Deng’s picture could show up on a milk carton soon. The biggest surprises with the Lakers this season go: 1) Nick Young playing defense; 2) Julius Randle’s all-around improvement; 3) the bench being one of the better ones in the league, scoring more than 50 points a game, and when the starters are out the Lakers have outscored opponents by 7 points per 100 possessions.

 
Bucks small icon 14. Bucks (5-4, LW 13). Both the Pelicans and Mavericks got their first wins of the season against the Bucks last week, not a great sign. They are getting enough offense out of Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo (especially at home), but it’s not a balanced attack. The Bucks have struggled on the road and are out there again this week against the Hawks and Heat, then they get the Warriors at home.

 
Rockets small icon 15. Rockets (5-4, LW 16). Patrick Beverley should return this week, providing more shooting, defense, and depth in the back court. They need it — when James Harden sits this team’s offense drops by 30 points per 100 possessions. The Rockets split a home-and-home last week with the Spurs, which they will take. More good tests with Oklahoma City, Portland, and Utah on the schedule this week

 
Pistons small icon 16. Pistons (5-5, LW 9). They went 1-3 on the road last week, including a loss in Phoenix, but they were able to pound a big Denver team inside, which is a promising sign. The Pistons continue to struggle with consistency on offense, but that’s to be expected with Reggie Jackson out injured, he is at the heart of what they do on that end. Tough schedule ahead this week with the Thunder, cavaliers, and Celtics.

 
Grizzlies small icon 17. Grizzlies (4-5, LW 19). They have the point differential of a 3-6 team (according to basketball-reference.com), but this is a team that knows how to grind out close wins. The Grizzlies’ offense still needs spacing, it gets 19.3 percent of its shots on spot ups but his hitting an eFG% of 48% on those, not high enough. On contested catch-and-shoots they are hitting just 27.7%.

 
timberwolves small icon 18. Timberwolves (3-6, LW 23). The opposite of Memphis, Minnesota has the point differential of a 5-4 team. Andrew Wiggins is shooting 54.8 percent from three but what was most impressive Sunday against the Lakers was the way he attacked the rim. Rookie Kris Dunn’s up-and-down play in a big role shows why Tom Thibodeau might night be that eager to move Ricky Rubio once the Spanish point guard gets healthy.

 
Nets small icon 19. Nets (4-5, LW 24). That this team is pushing .500 with this roster (and Jeremy Lin still out) is a credit to what coach Kenny Atkinson is doing. Granted, the Nets have yet to beat a team over .500, but they are beating teams closer to their level, which is more than was expected. Tough week ahead with the Clippers, Lakers, and Thunder all on the road, then the Trail Blazers at home.

 
Pacers small icon 20. Pacers (4-5, LW 18). Think they don’t miss Frank Vogel and George Hill? The Pacers have the third worst defense in the NBA this season. The Pacers split a home-and-home with Philly and both games went to overtime — they were evenly matched. Not a good sign. On offense, the Pacers need Paul George back (he was out Sunday) and to get Myles Turner more touches.

 
Kings small icon 21. Kings (4-5, LW 22). Mike Malone had the Kings playing deliberately (and winning, until DeMarcus Cousins got sick), then the owner wanted to run, and they got George Karl. Now Dave Joerger has them playing slowly again, but that only works well for a good defensive team, and the Kings are 25th in the NBA on that front. Cousins trade rumors are swirling around the league, how the players (including Cousins himself) handles that will have a lot to do with if they can start to get wins.

 
Magic small icon 22. Magic (4-6 LW 21). Their record is better than they are actually playing, they have the point differential of a 2-8 team, and they still have the second worst defense in the NBA (which has to be gnawing at Frank Vogel). If the Serge Ibaka that showed up against the Thunder can show up every night that would help. Winnable games this week (Pacers, Pelicans, Mavericks) and they kind of games they need to win if they fancy themselves a playoff team.

 
Mavericks small icon 23. Mavericks (2-6, LW 27). Dallas picks up a couple of wins with Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams sidelined, in part because Harrison Barnes continues to earn that massive paycheck with great play. Nowitzki is expected to return this week (possibly Monday) and how Barnes adjusts his game to fit with the future Hall of Famer will determine if Dallas can get enough offense to get wins (their defense has been okay).

 
Nuggets small icon 24. Nuggets (3-7, LW 17). They have lost four in a row and most of the games haven’t been close. Mike Malone is still searching for the big man rotations that work for him (he has ended the Nikola Jokic/Jusuf Nurkic starting combination). Rookie Jamal Murray is starting to put up some points outside the paint for Denver (19 points Sunday. Denver is at home but will be challenged by the Raptors, and Jazz this week.

 
Knicks small icon 25. Knicks (3-6 LW 25). All the talk about how much triangle offense they are running, if they are running it right, and how happy (or not) people are about it is moot — if they can’t get stops they will lose. And the Knicks still have the worst defense in the Association. Part of the problem is the Knicks foul a lot, and that’s not just on Tony Brothers.

 
Heat small icon 26. Heat (2-6, LW 20). They have lost four in a row, their offense is struggling, and now Goran Dragic will be out for a while with an ankle injury. Dion Waiters has some NBA skills, but he’s no point guard and now he’s forced to play it some in Miami. Things don’t get easier with the Spurs and Hawks on the schedule this week.

 
Suns small icon 27. Suns (3-8, LW 26). While Devin Booker is scoring 20.2 points per game (second on the team) he is shooting just 27.5 percent from three (he shot 34.3 percent last season). Phoenix gave up 17 straight points during a loss to Brooklyn on Saturday, then played better Sunday but were no match for Golden State. They are playing teams close but struggle to finish. The are on the road this week in Denver, Indiana, and Philly.

 
Wizards small icon 28. Wizards (2-7, LW 28). They picked up a nice win against Boston, but then lost two over the weekend (Chicago and Cleveland) as Bradley Beal missed the games with a sore hamstring. Marcin Gortat created a controversy saying the Wizards’ bench was one of the league’s the worst — but he was right. Statistically they are the third worst bench in the NBA this season. It’s just one of many problems for this team.

 
Pelicans small icon 29. Pelicans (1-9, LW 29). It’s great to see Jrue Holiday set to return this week — not because the Pelicans need him (although they do) but because it means his wife and baby are healthy enough for him to get back into the grind of the NBA. Holiday’s playmaking should help improve a bottom-five offense, but have the Pelicans dug too deep a hole already to make the playoffs this season in the West?

 
Sixers small icon 30. 76ers (1-8, LW 30). They pushed Indiana to overtime in two games and picked up their first win of the season. That’s the good news. Brett Brown can’t wait to get the minutes restriction off (or at least increased) on Joel Embiid — you could see how much they need him when Brown brought him back in overtime anyway to get the win last week. He’s the focal point of their offense and their defense is vastly better with him on the court.

Watch Russell Westbrook put up another triple-double: 41/16/12

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The Thunder have lost three in a row, their defense that was so solid to start the season has stumbled, but none of that has slowed Russell Westbrook.

He was attacking and scoring on Sunday night with 41 points, 16 assists and 12 rebounds for the Thunder. That’s three triple-doubles in 10 games this season for the angriest man in the NBA.

Orlando got the win Sunday behind 31 points and four blocks from former Thunder star Serge Ibaka.

Three things we learned Sunday: Serge Ibaka haunts old team as ghost of Thunder past

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Here’s what you missed Sunday night around the NBA while taking part in a grave digging competition

1) Serge Ibaka just needed a revenge game to get going. Through nine ugly games to start the season, Serge Ibaka just told Magic fans “keep believing in me” (while OKC looked smart for getting Victor Oladipo). The days when Ibaka was going to be the third star in Oklahoma City next to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook seemed a distant memory, as did the full-court game that made one think Ibaka could be that guy.

What Ibaka needed was a revenge game. Even if he didn’t really have a reason for revenge. Ibaka came out against his old team Sunday and showed them what they were missing — he was the ghost of Thunder past. Ibaka scored a career-high 31 points — including draining the game winner with a nine-foot baseline jumper. But more than just the points, it was “Ibaka the rim protecting beast” that showed up and won the game for Orlando — his four blocks helped the Magic get out to the 20-point first half lead (that they almost blew late). Now it is Steven Adams that is the anchor in the paint for the Thunder, the guy that helped make Ibaka expendable in OKC, and Ibaka took a personal joy in shutting him down.

The other hero for Orlando may be Elfrid Payton, who had a line of 23/7/9 and seemed to have his way when Westbrook was guarding him (Andre Roberson shut him down, but Roberson was needed on Jeff Green who posted up Westbrook at will when they switched). Payton had key threes in the fourth when the Magic needed him in a frenetic game. Westbrook got another triple double — 41 points, 16 assists, 12 rebounds — but Oklahoma City could not just outscore Orlando. The Thunder started the season 6-1 because of the combination of Westbrook and strong defense, but the defense part of that has gone away during a three-game losing streak. Look at Orlando’s shot chart from Sunday night.

shotchart_1479124854587

2) Andrew Wiggins found the Lakers “defense” to his liking. When I wrote about the Lakers potentially making the playoffs after a 6-4 start, I said it would come down to if they could sustain their league-average defense. If you want an example of why I question that, look no further than Andrew Wiggins — in a battle of “up-and-coming young rosters in the West” Wiggins dropped a career high 47 on the Lakers, who had no answer for how to defend him (not that any team has of late).

Wiggins was getting to the rim and not settling for turnaround jumpers. He also just continues to kill it from three — 54.8 percent this season (that is not sustainable) — which opens everything up.

3) Damian Lillard keeps putting up points, and Portland keeps on winning. It seems easy to look at the stat lines some nights and say “Damian Lillard dropped 32, of course he did” and move on as if it’s an everyday thing. Because he can get those numbers at will. But Lillard is getting those buckets in wins and Portland is now 7-4 to start the season and right there with two good teams in the NorthWest division in OKC and Utah. Lillard had 32 as Portland beat Denver Sunday and they are right now the four seed in the West — they can have dreams of getting home court in the first round of the playoffs. Which is a long ways off, but when Lillard keeps doing this things happen.

Wiggins scores 47 to lead Timberwolves over Lakers, 125-99

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Andrew Wiggins: 47.

All five Los Angeles Lakers starters: 47.

Wiggins hit 14 of 21 shots to blow past his previous career high of 36, leading the Minnesota Timberwolves to a 125-99 victory over the Lakers on Sunday night.

“I’m finding myself, finding things I’m good at and things I need to work on,” said Wiggins, nine games into his third season in the league. “The game has kind of slowed down for me a little bit. I’m able to read defenses better now and see how the defense is set.”

Wiggins hit 17 of 22 free throws and Nemanja Bjelica added a career-high 24 points and eight rebounds for the Timberwolves, who played without starting guard Zach LaVine and reserve forward Shabazz Muhammad. Both missed the game with sore right knees.

Lou Williams scored 13 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter for the Lakers, who got 47 points from their starters and 52 from their bench. Julius Randle had 14 points and six rebounds and Jordan Clarkson scored 14.

“You let a player as good as him get an additional 22 free chances on that, one he’s going to score a lot and two he’s going to get hot because he’s in a rhythm from all the free throws he’s shooting,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “We couldn’t really contain him tonight.”

Wiggins was a team-best plus-34 in 41 minutes, and LaVine showered his close friend with Gatorade during his postgame television interview. The Wolves went 13 of 27 from 3-point range, many of them clean shots coming after the defense collapsed on Wiggins.

“I think he’s just scratching the surface,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I think he can do a lot more.”

The game featured two of the most promising young cores in the league, with Wiggins, LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns hoping to end Minnesota’s 12-year playoff drought and D'Angelo Russell, Randle and Brandon Ingram reviving the Lakers in the post-Kobe era.

Entering the season, the Lakers were believed to be a step behind the Wolves in the process, but they won six of their first 10 games while Minnesota got off to a disappointing 2-6 start.

Both teams played on Saturday night, but the Wolves were finishing a rare home back-to-back, and appeared to have the fresher legs all night. The Timberwolves scored 21 points off of 17 Lakers turnovers.

TIP-INS

Lakers: C Timofey Mozgov was in foul trouble all game, playing just 15 minutes before fouling out. … Ingram played after being listed as questionable with a sprained ankle suffered on Saturday night in New Orleans. Ingram finished with 10 points in 26 minutes. … The Lakers wrapped up their three-game road trip at 2-1.

Timberwolves: Wiggins scored a career-high 25 points in the first half. … F Brandon Rush missed his fourth straight game, and coach Tom Thibodeau revealed that Rush has been dealing with a bruised big toe on his right foot.

BJELICA STARTS

With LaVine injured, Thibodeau inserted the 6-foot-10 Bjelica, normally a power forward, into the lineup at small forward and moved Wiggins to shooting guard. The former Euroleague MVP made five 3s and also had three steals and a block.

“I thought he played a beautiful game tonight,” Thibodeau said. “He made really good decisions.”

LAKERS BENCH

The second unit has been a strength for the Lakers all season, averaging 52.1 points per game in the first 10. The leading scorer from the game has come from their bench in eight of 11 games so far this season.

“No excuse,” Russell said of playing three games on the road in four nights. “We just lost.”

TOWNS STRUGGLES

Towns finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds, but he really had to work for it. The reigning rookie of the year made 7 of 22 shots, including just 6 of 10 free throws.