Kurt Helin

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NBA Power Rankings Week 15: The Wizards are climbing fast, and they are legit

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The very top of the rankings remains stable, but the Wizards are climbing fast — and this isn’t a hot streak, they are healthy and legit. Also rising fast is Miami, where Eric Spoelstra could put himself in the mix for magician, er, coach of the second half of the season.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (41-7, Last Week No. 1). They are 14-2 in the last 16 games and still have the No. 1 ranked offense and defense in the NBA. Stephen Curry has stepped back onto center stage, averaging 28.6 points, 6.6 assists per game in the last five. The next big question for Steve Kerr? If he deploys his four All-Stars in one lineup as promised — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green — then who is the fifth player? And will Green try to recruit him?

 
Spurs small icon 2. Spurs (36-11, LW 2). San Antonio when focused is very good, see the win over Toronto this week (and Cleveland last week) as examples, but then they drop two in a row to the Pelicans and Mavericks (the Spurs have lost two in a row just four times in the past two seasons). The losses are not going to drop them in these rankings (in part because the best teams behind them have stumbled as well), but they are 4.5 games back of the Warriors now and will not catch them.

 
Rockets small icon 3. Rockets (35-16, LW 3). James Harden is just ridiculous, scoring 51 points against the Sixers Friday to notch his second 50-point triple double of the season, the first player ever to that. They have gone 4-5 in their last nine, but now have 8 of 10 at home and seven of those games are against teams below .500, look for them to get right.

 
Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (32-14, LW 4). I feel like I should hashtag every story lately about Cleveland with #eliteteamproblems. Could they use another playmaker/backup point guard to match up with the Warriors? Sure. It also will help when J.R. Smith returns. Did they have a mid-season swoon? Yes, but so what? This team is still the clear class of the East and is on a path to return to the Finals. However, in the short term five of their next six are on the road.

 
Wizards small icon 5. Wizards (27-20, LW 10). This team is for real. They are 8-2 with the second-best net rating in the NBA over their last 10 games (Golden State) — and that includes knocking off Boston last week. More than that they are doing it over time, the Wizards are 21-9 since Dec. 1. They maybe the five seed, but they are just two games back of the two-seed Celtics and in that mix. Expect the wins to keep coming with the Knicks, Lakers, and Pelicans at home this week.

 
Celtics small icon 6. Celtics (29-18, LW 8). While Celtics fans — and Danny Ainge — are on the hunt for the next big trade, this team has slid into second place in the Eastern Conference. They can cement that standing by beating the Raptors Wednesday night at the Garden in an interesting showdown — lose that game and the Raptors have the tiebreaker between the teams. Boston has four at home this week before spending most of the rest of the month on the road.

 
Jazz small icon 7. Jazz (30-19, LW 8). They faced three West playoff teams last week (as of today) — Thunder, Grizzlies, Nuggets — and lost all of them. Utah has dropped five in a row against West playoff teams. That said, as the Clippers stumble without Chris Paul the Jazz are primed to grab the four seed and hold it (Utah is just half a game back), giving them home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

 
Hawks small icon 8. Hawks (28-20 LW 6). The Hawks don’t win the easy way, they had the dramatic comeback win against the Bulls and the 4OT game against the Knicks last week. However, they also had ugly losses to the Clippers (without CP3 or Griffin) and falling by 26 to the Wizards. Atlanta has the net rating of a .500 team and to me it feels like the Hawks are performing over their heads, meaning the likely regress to the mean at some point.

 
Thunder small icon 9. Thunder (28-20, LW 11). We will see if they can sustain this ranking without Enes Kanter, he was playing well for them off the bench before taking his frustrations out on a chair and fracturing his arm. Look for more run for Joffrey Lauvergne. OKC has gone 7-7 through a rough January schedule (with one game left in the month, vs. San Antonio) and then the schedule eases a little. Westbrook has 24 triple-doubles this season but his efficiency has slipped — he’s shooting 38.7 percent overall and 29.2 percent in his last 10 games.

 
Raptors small icon 10. Raptors (29-19, LW 7). Finally snapped their five-game losing streak by beating the Bucks, then turned around and lost to Magic on Sunday. If your a Raptors fan looking for bright spots at least DeMar DeRozan seemed to snap out of his slump on Sunday. Key game against Boston this week, win and they secure the tiebreaker with that team. Also, Kyle Lowry on the jumbotron was one of the best moments of the last week.

 
Grizzlies small icon 11. Grizzlies (28-21, LW 12). This team continues to just kind of float along down the river, going 5-5 in their last 10 with two wins over the Jazz and one against the Raptors, but falling to the Trail Blazers and Bulls in there. This team can beat anybody or lose to anybody on any given night. The Grizzlies are two games into a six-game road trip but the good news is that as that ends the schedule softens up for them for a while.

 
Pacers small icon 12. Pacers (25-22, LW 14).. C.J. Miles has been put in the starting lineup and the Pacers have rattled off three wins in a row (including over Houston), making them look mildly more secure in the playoff chase (four games up on the nine-seed Pistons). The other reason for the hot streak? All-Star Paul George has played phenomenally, he carries this team.

 
Clippers small icon 13. Clippers (30-18, LW 9). As noted by NBA.com’s John Schuhmann on twitter, the surprising thing is that with Chris Paul out the Clippers get dramatically worse on defense — in the dozen games he missed this season they have allowed 115.2 points per 100 possessions. It’s a bigger issue than the offense. Oh, and trading for Carmelo Anthony is not going to help their defense. The Clippers have six of their next seven on the road, and the one home game is Golden State on Thursday night.

 
Nuggets small icon 14. Nuggets (21-25, LW 17). They have the best offense in the NBA over their last 10 games, scoring 116.9 points per 100 possessions. That has propelled them to a 7-3 record in that stretch and has them holding on to the eight seed (by 1.5 games over Portland so far). That offense gets tested this week by the Spurs and Grizzlies. Nikola Jokic wasn’t going to make the cut as an All-Star this season, but next year could be a different story — other teams are starting to have to game plan for him.

 
Bulls small icon 15. Bulls (24-25, LW 15). Did Sunday’s win over Philadelphia mean Chicago has put all the ugliness of internal squabbling — Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler calling out their younger teammates’ effort, Rajon Rondo calling out Wade and Butler’s leadership, and a team meeting — behind them? We will find out as the Bulls head out on a tough six-game road trip that this week has them in Houston and Oklahoma City.

 
Blazers small icon 16. Trail Blazers (21-28, LW 20).. Evan Turner is in the starting lineup and Portland has played well with him paired alongside Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Not that it was enough to beat a shorthanded Warriors team on Sunday. Portland needs wins, three games back of the eight seed Nuggets in the loss column. Also, Lillard reached and impressive milestone last week.

 
Hornets small icon 17. Hornets (23-21, LW 13). They are 4-10 in January and have lost four in a row. Worse yet, they have lost seven in a row on the road and now head out on a tough three-game road trip (Blazers, Warriors, Jazz). Kemba Walker is a deserving All-Star, but the man needs some help if this team is to hold on to (or improve on) the eighth seed, and he’s not getting it.

 
Sixers small icon 18. 76ers (17-29, LW 18). Joel Embiid, we miss you, get back on the court quickly please (I think he’ll be the first replacement in the East if injury forced someone to drop out of the All-Star game). Sixers fans see the recent run of success, their team only five games out of the playoffs, and have started to dream… sorry, but I think that dream is dead. Although not to the point of it being impossible, which alone is a credit to how far this team has come.

 
Pistons small icon 19. Pistons (21-26, LW 16). This team has come apart on the defensive end of the floor, which is why they are on the outside looking in at the playoffs. That starts with Andre Drummond, who should be a better rim protector than he has been this season. We know Reggie Jackson is not being traded for Ricky Rubio, the question is will he be traded for anyone else (probably not at the deadline, but you never know).

 
Heat small icon 20. Heat (18-30, LW 27). Winners of seven in a row, and that includes knocking off the Warriors and Rockets. Eric Spoelstra is doing it with smoke and mirrors, starting with getting this team to play great defense. Plus the coach is getting some strong backcourt play from Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters.

 
Knicks small icon 21. Knicks (21-28 LW 21). The Knicks have had more drama the past week than a Real Housewives episode, all of it starting because Phil Jackson has come to the realization most Knicks fans did last summer that Kristaps Porzingis is the future, and they should try to move Carmelo Anthony. That said, Anthony has played well of late and doesn’t deserve to be booed (save that for the rest of the roster around him). My guess is that Anthony is not moved at the deadline, unless Jackson is willing to take back a ridiculously poor deal. This summer might be a different story.

 
Pelicans small icon 22. Pelicans (19-29, LW 22). They beat the Cavaliers and Spurs last week, which helps keep their playoff dreams afloat somewhat (they are 3.5 games back of the eight seed). It helps that nobody in the West seems to want the eight seed, but the Pelicans need to start racking up wins. Which will be difficult heading out on road to Toronto, Detroit, and Washington this week.

 
Mavericks small icon 23. Mavericks (17-30, LW 24). Dallas needed shooting in the lineup, they started Seth Curry and have gone 6-3 since then — Curry has averaged 15.1 points per game and is shooting 50 percent from three in his recent starts. With a good draft pick this year, Wesley Matthews staying healthy (he’s played well of late) and Harrison Barnes continuing to grow in his new role, you can see a path back to the playoffs for this team next year. Especially if they can land a couple quality free agents this summer.

 
Kings small icon 24. Kings (19-28, LW 25). They picked up three road wins last week, but with this streaky team it’s difficult to read much into that. The guy to start watching in Sacramento is Malachi Richardson, the rookie out of Syracuse, who has started to look like a solid NBA wing — the guy the kings hoped Ben McLemore would be. Richardson has bumped McLemore from the rotation.

 
Bucks small icon 25. Bucks (21-26, LW 19). They have lost eight of nine. A large part of that is Giannis Antetokounmpo — a deserving All-Star starter — but it’s also that this team’s defense isn’t great, particularly out at the arc, and so they never pull away and games tend to be close and dramatic. They sit 1.5 games out of the playoffs but strike me as the team most likely to climb back into the mix once they get Kris Middleton back in February.

 
timberwolves small icon 26. Timberwolves (18-29, LW 23). They have won eight of their last 10, and with seven of their next nine games at home you can’t count them out of the playoff chase quite yet (they are 3.5 games back of eight seed Denver). Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns have played well, but it is an improved and now solid defense that has them at least still in the playoffs conversation.

 
Magic small icon 27. Magic (19-30 LW 28). This team’s odd-fitting roster looks even worse with shooters like Evan Fournier and Jodie Meeks out injured. Also, Bismack Biyombo got a homecoming win in Toronto last week. The most interesting news around the team is all the trade interest in Nikola Vucevic, who seems destined to be out the door before the Feb. 23 trade deadline, although don’t we think that every year? Maybe this year it happens, it would help unclog the front court in Orlando.

 
Suns small icon 28. Suns (15-32, LW 26). The backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Devin Harris is really clicking for the Suns, and Bledsoe was a legitimate candidate to be an All-Star reserve (he was done in by how bad the team has been). Of course, all the nice offensive play is moot when you can’t get a stop, and the Suns are 27th in the NBA in January (and 25th for the season) on the defensive end of the court.

 
Lakers small icon 29. Lakers (16-34, LW 29). Intending to or not, the Lakers are making a push to keep their pick this season (it is top three protected, otherwise it goes to the Sixers). Thanks to recent runs by Dallas and Philly, the Lakers have the third-worst record in the NBA. The progress seen from the team’s young stars earlier in the season has faded over the team’s recent stretch, for example Brandon Ingram is shooting 8.7 percent over the team’s last three games. The real offseason question in Los Angeles: Does Jim Buss keep his job?

 
Nets small icon 30. Nets (9-38, LW 30). Teams have scored at least 100 points against them in 23 straight games. Granted, they play at the fastest pace in the league (104 possessions per game) so that has a lot to do with it, but still 23 straight. You want something positive? Um… Caris LeVert might develop into a rotation player. That’s all I got.

Three things we learned Sunday: Amid trade rumors ‘Melo is brilliant, but Knicks still lose

Associated Press
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Sunday you were probably busy playing reggae music for your dog — you certainly weren’t watching the Pro Bowl — so here is what you missed around the NBA while all that was happening.

1) The frustration builds: Carmelo Anthony is fantastic scoring 45 for Knicks, but they still fall in 4 overtimes to Hawks. Phil Jackson apparently is so set on trading Carmelo Anthony that he may be willing to take Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and whatever flotsam from the Clippers it takes to make the salary numbers work out, then Jackson doesn’t want to keep Crawford. (Not that Jackson is wrong in wanting to retool around Kristaps Porzingis, but why wasn’t this the drive last summer when every Knicks fan and most around the NBA were thinking they should go down that road? Now the Knicks are looking at bad deals just to get it done fast. Amazing.) No doubt Porzingis is the future in NYC, and Sunday was making plays like this against Dwight Howard and the Atlanta Hawks.

But it was Carmelo Anthony who the Knicks best player on Sunday — he put aside the off-court distractions and played like Olympic ‘Melo. It was a veteran, professional performance. It just wasn’t enough as the Knicks fell in quadruple overtime 142-139.

Anthony came out scorching hot with 17 first quarter points on just 11 shots, and he still had it at the end with 11 points in the four overtimes. He was doing it from the midrange — Anthony took just two shots in the key, but was 13-of-25 from the midrange (particularly killing it on the right baseline) during the game.

It felt like the Knicks wasted a great Anthony game, but the game itself was one of the most dramatic and entertaining of the season — 23 lead changes, 21 ties, and a dozen players scoring in double-digits (with five fouling out, including ‘Melo). Paul Millsap played 60 minutes (37 points, 19 rebounds), one of six players to log at last 48 minutes. That showed on guys, particularly Courtney Lee, who was fantastic all game but didn’t seem to have the legs on his shots when he missed a game-winner opportunity in the third OT and a couple of chances to send it to a fifth.

I can’t describe this game’s wild final 20+ minutes, so just watch the video of every made bucket late in regulation and overtime.

2) Portland almost got Golden State. But not quite. Golden State was on the second night of a back-to-back, playing without Stephen Curry, and Portland was desperate for a win to keep pace with the Denver Nuggets for the final playoffs slot in the West. The recipe was in place for the upset.

It wasn’t enough. The Warriors are the best team in the NBA right now for a reason. With the game on the line a cold-shooting Klay Thompson (6-of-21) drained a three with 37 seconds left, and when Evan Turner got the chance to give the Trail Blazers the win late, he couldn’t. It ends 113-111 Warriors. Kevin Durant dropped 33 like it was nothing.

3) Donald Trump’s immigration ban leaves NBA world unhappy, scratching its head. Safe to say there’s not a lot of love for Donald Trump around the NBA, but his executive order restricting travel from seven Muslim-majority nations left the NBA league office looking for clarification from the State Department. Sudan — including the independent South Sudan — was on the list of seven countries where people from that nation were restricted entering the USA, and there are two NBA players from there: the Lakers’ Luol Deng and the Bucks’ Thon Maker. Their situations are a little different: Deng has dual citizenship with England, Maker the same with Australia, and both have lived in the USA for many years. Still, the NBA had questions, particularly with the Bucks playing in Toronto and questions about whether Maker could get back in the country. He did.

Still, the NBA world was part of the massive backlash against the ill-conceived executive order. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich — a former Air Force man, don’t forget — had this to say (via ESPN):

“As you already know, I have lots of thoughts about what we’ve done to ourselves as a country and what we’ve allowed to happen. But we’ll see where this goes. Obviously the rollout today was Keystone Kops-like by any measure with objectivity. Whether you want to say it’s good or bad is irrelevant. But it was Keystone Kops, and that’s scary.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said the order was “really going against the principles that this country is about.”

Stephen Curry passes between Jamal Crawford’s legs for assist to Andre Iguodala (VIDEO)

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It was this kind of night for the Warriors. And Clippers.

Everything the Warriors touched seemed to go right, while the reverse was true for the Clippers — and this play summed it up. Curry was trying to create space on right wing, when he whipped a bounce pass through Jamal Crawford‘s legs to the waiting Andre Iguodala for the bucket.

The Warriors were schooling the Clippers like this all night, going on to win 144-98, behind 43 from Curry.

DeMarcus Cousins, Spencer Hawes pick up double technicals for verbal altercation (VIDEO)

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This is the kind of silly technical foul Dave Joerger and the Sacramento Kings would like to see DeMarcus Cousins stop picking up.

It came late in the second quarter of the Kings’ win over the Hornets. Cousins got the ball deep, moved to use his right hand and scored while being fouled by Spencer Hawes. Cousins draws the and-1.

Then he walks by and shoulders Hawes for no reason. Hawes swings behind him hitting Cousins in the back, so Cousins spins around and starts to confront Hawes. Nothing happens, other players step in, and the referees give both Cousins and Hawes a technical.

It was a pointless tech and Cousins started it.

Cousins had 35 points and 18 rebounds in the 109-106 Sacramento win.

NBA reached out to State Department in wake of President Trump’s immigration ban

Associated Press
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Lakers’ veteran Luol Deng was born in Wow, South Sudan.

Bucks rookie Thon Maker was also born in South Sudan.

Sudan was one of the countries listed in Donald Trump’s executive order that suspended entry to the United States for 90 days for people from certain nations with mostly Muslim populations (but, oddly, not the nations that provided the 9/11 terrorists). Part of Trump’s program has been put on hold after a federal judge in New York has granted a stay, saying that people with valid Visas could not be detained.

The NBA contacted the State Department before that ruling, reported Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The National Basketball Association has contacted the State Department to understand how President Donald Trump’s executive order to suspend immigration from seven countries could impact the league’s players…

NBA spokesman Mike Bass issued a statement saying: “We have reached out to the State Department and are in the process of gathering information to understand how this executive order would apply to players in our league who are from one of the impacted countries.

“The NBA is a global league and we are proud to attract the very best players from around the world.”

The NBA’s primary concern was simple: If Deng or Maker traveled to Toronto for a game, or went to Africa as part of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program next summer, could they re-enter the country?

Deng came to this country at the age of five from the Sudan and has British citizenship, Maker played his high school ball in the USA and Canada and carries an Australian passport. Because of those facts their situation may be different from others trying to enter the country, but the NBA understandably wanted clarification.