Kurt Helin

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant sits on the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Saturday, March 12, 2016, in San Antonio. San Antonio won 93-85. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)
Associated Press

NBC’s NBA Power Rankings: Where should Thunder, Clippers fall in pecking order?

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The top three teams in this week’s edition of the NBC NBA power rankings are pretty clear, but the next few spots get tricky. Just how good are the Thunder and Clippers? OKC played San Antonio close but got out-executed at the end. Without Blake Griffin the Clippers got crushed by the Cavaliers. How big is the gap from the top three to everyone else, and can those next three (or another team) bridge that gap in the playoffs?

 
source: 1. Warriors (59-6, last week No. 1). They need to go 14-3 the rest of the way to break the Bulls’ 72-win record, it’s doable but not easy. Remember they play the Spurs three times, twice in the AT&T Center where San Antonio has yet to lose this season (including a meeting this Saturday). The bigger issue may be the loss of Andre Iguodala for a couple weeks, he is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate who settles down and is the best defender on Golden State’s second unit. He will be missed in the big games the next couple of weeks.

 
source: 2. Spurs (56-10, LW 2). They beat the Thunder Saturday night when neither Tony Parker nor Manu Ginobili hit a shot from the field, which speaks to the evolution and depth of this team. Challenging week ahead with games against the Clippers, Trail Blazers, and Warriors.

 
source: 3. Cavaliers (47-18, LW 3). Winners of three in a row on their “business trip,” the Cavaliers look like they are coming together. “We’re kind of getting in form right now,” LeBron James said Sunday. “I think coach (Tyronn) Lue has done a great job of finding out his rhythm, of finding out what he wants from us, and we are responding.”

 
source: 4. Raptors (44-20, LW 5). Despite defensive struggles in recent weeks, the Raptors have won three in a row and remain just 2.5 games back of Cleveland for the top seed in the East. Toronto has a slightly tougher schedule and will not catch Cleveland, and expect Dwane Casey to start resting key players (we’re looking at you, Kyle Lowry) down the stretch).

 
source: 5. Clippers (42-23, LW 4). Clippers loss to Cavaliers Sunday should destroy any remaining “they are better without Blake Griffin” foolishness. Jeff Green and Luc Mbah a Moute are not going to get it done as your starting forward against elite teams. The Clips head out on a tough five-game road trip that includes stops in San Antonio and Golden State, they may be just 1.5 games back of Oklahoma City for the three seed but they’re going to need help to catch them.

 
source: 6. Thunder (44-22 LW 6). Interesting stat from Marc Stein of ESPN via twitter: Since the All-Star break, Russell Westbrook is shooting 28.1 percent in the fourth quarter and overtime of games. Which speaks to the knock on OKC in the fourth: If you run a lot of Westbrook and Kevin Durant isolations (or simple pick-and-rolls), as good as those guys are that’s predictable, especially in a playoff series. And predictable is defendable.

 
source: 7. Hornets (37-28, LW 10). The hottest team in the NBA, winners of seven in a row, and it’s being driven by Kemba Walker and their offense. The other guy really finding a groove is Nicolas Batum — doing that in a contract year is going to make him a very rich man this summer.

 
source: 8. Celtics (39-27, LW 7). The loss of Jae Crowder for at least two weeks with a high ankle sprain could see Boston tumble a few slots down in playoff seeding, and down in these rankings. His “3&D” game is the glue that holds key lineups together and he is going to be missed with a heavy road schedule the next few weeks.

 
source: 9. Heat (38-28, LW 8). Joe Johnson and Goran Dragic are developing a real chemistry, which is help driving the offense, wins, and them up the East standings. Interesting tests ahead this week against Charlotte and Cleveland.

 
source: 10. Hawks (38-29, LW 9). They may have had a little defensive slippage but it remains that side of the ball that not only has this team in the playoffs but also makes them dangers in it. After a slump, Kyle Korver has found his three point stroke again (which is bad news for opponents).

 
source: 11. Pacers (35-31, LW 14). They had a three-game winning streak, including one over the Spurs, until a loss on Sunday. Paul George has driven the offense, and he’s going to need to this week with a tough schedule of Boston, Toronto, and Oklahoma City.

 
source: 12. Grizzlies (39-27, LW 11). I’m afraid I’m going to roll an ankle just writing about the Grizzlies. No Mike Conley or Mario Chalmers at the point for a few weeks, but Dave Joerger got his start in the D-League throwing together lineups and that experience seems to be paying off with some great coaching from him in recent weeks. Despite the injuries they are locked in as the five seed.

 
source: 13. Pistons (34-32, LW 16). They are finding offensive balance and that has covered up an unimpressive defense and has them as the eight seed in the East as of this writing. Getting Stanley Johnson back healthy and into the rotation should help as they try to hold off a banged up Bulls team to make the postseason.

 
source: 14. Trail Blazers (35-32, LW 12). Last week the Trail Blazers got their heads handed to them by the Warriors, but mostly they just keep beating the teams they are supposed to beat (Washington, Orlando) and are sticking in the playoffs. Tough week ahead with the Spurs and Thunder, both part of a week-long road trip.

 
source: 15. Rockets (33-33, LW 17). They are tied with Dallas for the seven/eight seed in the West, but with a softer schedule than the Mavericks going forward Houston is expected to make the playoffs. Despite slow starts and shaky three-point shooting this team has enough talent to make it to the postseason.

 
source: 16. Mavericks (33-33, LW 13). . They have lost five in a row due to a terrible defense, and now look at their next six games” At Charlotte, at Cleveland, Golden State, Portland, at Portland, at Golden State. Utah is two games back and if Dallas is going to hold them off they need to win a couple of those.

 
source: 17. Bulls (32-32, LW 15). Now Pau Gasol is out at least a couple games with swelling on the knee, just as the Bulls get Jimmy Butler back. The Bulls are entering a soft part of the schedule (after Toronto Monday), if they are going to climb back into the playoffs and make it they need to go on a run in the next couple weeks.

 
source: 18. Jazz (31-35, LW 19). While they are two games back of Dallas for the final playoff spot in the West, most prediction models have them making it because of a much easier schedule the rest of the way. But they need to pick up wins in places like Chicago and Milwaukee this week if they are going to play into late April.

source: 19. Wizards (30-34, LW 18). They have lost five in a row and it’s becoming hard to imagine them climbing into the playoffs, especially watching that loss to Denver Sunday. They play the teams they are chasing in Detroit and Chicago this week, and if Washington is going to get back in the mix these are must-win games.

 
source: 20. Bucks (28-38, LW 20). Bad news about O.J. Mayo breaking an ankle (at home, walking down stairs), but Giannis Antetokounmpo playing point-forward with Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker continues to show a lot of promise. And win games. Expect more this week with a comfortable homestand.

 
source: 21. Magic (28-37, LW 21). They continue to show flashes — like the comeback against Golden State — and the experiment with Aaron Gordon at the five is very interesting. But it’s not translating to wins, and that likely doesn’t change this week with Charlotte, Cleveland, and Toronto on the schedule.

 
source: 22. Nuggets (28-38, LW 24). Emmanuel Mudiay dropped 30 during the Nuggets win Sunday, and they went 5-2 on their recent homestand. This team isn’t making the playoffs, but Mike Malone has established a culture in Denver that will pay off next season.

 
source: 23. Knicks (28-40, LW 23). The Knicks have won three of five — the last thanks to Jose Calderon’s game winner against the Lakers — but all that really does is hurt where Toronto picks in June. Phil Jackson may have wanted his man to succeed, but there is no way Kurt Rambis should coach this team next season.

 
source: 24. Timberwolves (21-45,LW 22). Oklahoma City let Ricky Rubio take a three to beat them — and he did. The Timberwolves seem to be shooting the long ball a little better of late (including Zach LaVine) and if that is something they could sustain it would be huge for their offense going forward.

 
source: 25. Pelicans (24-41, LW 26). Jrue Holiday deserves serious consideration for Sixth Man of the Year: He is averaging 16.3 points and six assists a game coming off the bench in New Orleans. He only comes off the bench to help limit his minutes after injuries, they have him out there to close games. I just don’t know if voters will recognize a player on a team struggling this much.

 
source: 26. Kings (25-40, LW 25). The DeMarcus Cousins/George Karl feud continues to go Hatfields vs. McCoys and is something the front office has to address this summer. And not in a “we can patch this relationship up” kind of way. The Kings have dropped 9-of-10.

 
source: 27. Lakers (14-52, LW 29). There is now officially less than one month left in Kobe Bryant’s career, still he pulled out a pretty impressive game with 27 points against Cleveland Thursday. Much to the chagrin of Lakers fans their team could pick up a couple more wins this week with just Sacramento and Phoenix on the board.

 
source: 28. Nets (18-48, LW 27). If you’re looking for bright spots, Sean Kilpatrick has played well since Sean Marks picked him up. That’s about it. This team is still bottom four in both offense and defense, and is just hard to watch.

 
source: 29. Suns (17-49, LW 28). They made it entertaining this week when Golden State played down to their level and Brandon Knight stepped it up for a night. Still, this feels like a team that could fall behind the Lakers in the standings due to their inept offense.

 
source: 30. 76ers (9-57, LW 30). And now Jahlil Okafor is out for the season, hopefully this knee issue is as minor as the Sixers went out of their way to make it sound. This is a chance to run more stuff for Nerlens Noel the final weeks, plus the Sixers defense got them a win over Brooklyn last week and these “powers” face off again this week.

Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: LeBron has Cavaliers taking care of business

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James reacts after dunking during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angeles, Sunday, March 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
Associated Press
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What you missed on a Sunday around the NBA while you were busy trying to get your pet tiger out of traffic lanes….

LOS ANGELES — 1) Cavaliers focus on their “business trip,” take care of Clippers with ease. Before tip off Sunday at Staples Center, Doc Rivers was talking about the early start time (12:30 p.m. on the day of the time change, so everyone felt groggy) and if that would impact the game and said he “hoped Los Angeles had done its job.” The L.A. nightlife has softened up many a team for the home team over the years.

LeBron James made sure that didn’t happen. He sat down with teammates and told them this was a business trip (as Chris Haynes reported) — go ahead and enjoy the couple days in L.A. but remember why you’re here.

“Guys understood what this trip was about,” James said postgame. “This is a business trip, and they get an opportunity to be in a great city but at the end of the day, we knew what the main thing was and that was to continue the momentum that we’ve been on. We came out and took care of business.”

The Cavaliers did just that — they looked like a contender in “manhandling” (Doc Rivers’ word) the Clippers from the middle of the first quarter on. Cleveland was sharp on defensive rotations and pressuring the ball, on offense LeBron and Kyrie Irving drove the lane and did a good job kicking the ball out to open shooters when the defense collapsed, the Cavaliers made the extra pass, and they knocked down their shots — 18 three-pointers for the Cavs on 48 percent shooting from three. Cleveland coasted to a 114-90 win, looking every bit the best team in the East and a title contender gearing up for the playoffs.

2) Clippers need to have Blake Griffin for the playoffs. The other thing that was clear at Staples Center Sunday afternoon? Against elite teams, the Clippers miss Blake Griffin. Their up-tempo, share-the-ball, spread pick-and-roll style with Chris Paul dominating the show can beat a lot of teams without Griffin, but go up against an elite team and the dynamic changes. The Clippers’ loss Sunday was evident in the forward matchups: LeBron James and Kevin Love vs. Luc Mbah a Moute and Jeff Green. The Laker combo combined for 3-of-15 shooting.

“It gets real tough (playing without Griffin),” Paul said. “They have three, four guys out there that no shot clock can bail you out (of). Just having Blake to be able to throw the ball into the post, when the shot clock is low, or just that pick-and-roll, just having that pick-and-pop option. Just all the attention that he brings opens it up for all of is. So it has been tough without him, but we have to keep fighting until he gets back.”

There still is no timetable for his return, Doc Rivers said. While his broken hand is doing better, the quad tendon injury that sidelined Griffin for a few games before he punched a Clipper team employee (breaking that hand) still lingers and is the bigger issue now, Rivers said. They are being cautious, but remember Griffin has a four-game suspension to serve for that punch once he is medically cleared.

3) Giannis Antetokounmpo puts up triple double against Nets, continues run of strong play. If you are not watching the Nets and point-forward Giannis Antetokounmpo now, you are missing out. The Bucks have become a lot of fun again. The Greek Freak put up a triple-double of 28 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds on Brooklyn Sunday, his fourth triple-double of the season. And the Bucks won again, they remain hot.

4) Knicks Jose Calderon drains game winner to beat Lakers. All the hype was about the last meeting of Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony. Or Kobe telling Knicks fans they should trust the brilliant mind of Phil Jackson. But with the game on the line, it was the mano-a-mano battle of Jose Calderon and Marcelo Huertas. Well, it became that after about the ugliest inbounds/last second play in NBA history. But Calderon pulled up and nailed the three, and New York gets another win.

5) DeMarcus Cousins and George Karl remain at odds in Sacramento. There is a lot of frustration in Sacramento right now — owner Vivek Ranadive all but demanded a playoff team so that the Kings’ playoff drought didn’t reach double digits in years, plus the team would have momentum going into their new building next year. Instead, they are a mess with a lot of infighting — after Sunday’s loss DeMarcus Cousins said his one-game suspension was not the organization coming down on him but it was Karl. Even though the suspension came from GM Vlade Divac.

Ranadive can be frustrated, but he needs to look in the mirror. He got rid of Mike Malone just as Malone was genuinely building a culture of winning, plus he had bonded with Cousins in a way no other coach had (look at the culture Malone has built in Denver — Emmanuel Mudiay dropped 30 on Sunday and Denver won again). Ranadive fired him and eventually brought in Karl because he wanted a team that would run, even though the roster is not built for that in the least. The result is a frustrated superstar who doesn’t like the coach, plus a lot of losses. Vlade Divac may not be ready for the day-to-day intricacies of being a GM, but the man also is trying to navigate a minefield of the owners’ making. This summer the Kings need to choose Karl or Cousins, then actually build a roster to play that style and stick with it for a few years. We’ll see if that happens.

DeMarcus Cousins says his suspension was George Karl, not organization

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Vlade Divac, and ultimately Kings’ owner Vivek Ranadive, have a choice to make this summer: George Karl or DeMarcus Cousins.

The latest sign of a the fault line between Sacramento’s star center and their coach — a feud that goes back to Karl pushing to trade Cousins and his tweets in response this summer, a fissure that was never fully closed — came after the Kings’ loss to the Jazz Sunday. That was Cousins return from a one-game suspension for berating Karl.

From James Ham of CSNBayArea.com.

“That wasn’t a suspension from the organization, that was one from the head coach,” Cousins said. “There’s a difference.”

It was GM Vlade Divac who had announced the suspension (he also reportedly argued with Cousins that night). Here is Divac’s response to Cousins’ comments, via Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

When told of Cousins’ view of the suspension, Divac told Yahoo Sports with a huge grin: “I love DeMarcus Cousins. That is my only comment.”

We don’t have room on the Internet to cover everything the Kings need to start doing differently as an organization, but this summer it begins with choosing a direction (then sticking with it for a few years). If they want to build around Cousins, Karl and his up-tempo style need to go. If they want to be a running team in a Karl style, they need to work with Cousins on a trade and make wholesale roster changes to get players who fit that style. Either way, there needs to be some serious roster changes.

But the Karl/Cousins dynamic isn’t working. That much is clear.

Knicks’ Jose Calderon drains game-winning three to beat Lakers (VIDEO)

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If the Knicks were asking Jose Calderon to defend a game-winning shot, it probably doesn’t go very well. But the guy is shooting 40 percent from three this season.

The Lakers had come back from 16 back to make it a game, one that was tied 87-87 with 9.3 seconds left. The Knicks had Calderon inbounding the ball, with the plan to get the ball to Carmelo Anthony. However, the Lakers double-teamed him from the start and denied that option. As an outlet Calderon threw the ball to Robin Lopez out high, but the pass almost went into the backcourt and the entire play blew up, the spacing was shot, and the Knicks were scrambling. This was just an ugly mess. Lopez just gave the ball back to Calderon.

Calderon drove right but Marcelo Huertas was caught off guard when Calderon pulled up, and that gave the Knick point guard a clean look at a three.

Splash.

Knicks win. Which makes some fans in Toronto sad (the Raptors have the Knicks pick this June, although the Nuggets have the right to switch picks with the Knicks, so the Raptors get the worse of the two).

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s fourth triple-double in 11 games leads Bucks

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NEW YORK (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds, nearly getting his fourth triple-double in the last 11 games by halftime, and the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Brooklyn Nets 109-100 on Sunday night.

Antetokounmpo already had 12 points, nine assists and eight rebounds by the half on his way to becoming the first Bucks player with four triple-doubles in a season. All of them have come since Feb. 22.

Jabari Parker added 23 points, and Khris Middleton had 19 points to help the Bucks win their third straight game.

Brook Lopez scored 20 points for the Nets, who dropped their fourth in a row. Sean Kilpatrick added 19 in his first home game with the Nets after they returned from a franchise-record, nine-game trip.

Data curated by PointAfter

The Nets committed 12 turnovers that led to 17 points in the fourth quarter as Milwaukee seized control after trailing 79-78 through three.

Antetokounmpo, who had a highlight dunk in the first half when he jumped from just near the foul line on the fast break, set up Miles Plumlee‘s dunk that put Milwaukee ahead for good at 99-98 with 3:21 to play. The Bucks kept expanding it from there on a finishing 12-2 run, helped repeatedly by the Nets’ turnovers that sent Antetokounmpo leading a fast break in the other direction.

TIP-INS

Bucks: Because of plane trouble, the Bucks didn’t get into New York until early Sunday afternoon. Their plane wasn’t able to take off Saturday night after their victory over New Orleans in Milwaukee, so they remained there overnight. … Antetokounmpo’s seven assists in the first quarter matched the high for a Bucks player in any period this season.

Nets: Brooklyn was swept in the three-game season series. The Nets dropped the first two in their first seven games of the season. … G Wayne Ellington missed the game with an upper respiratory infection. … Brooklyn wore “Los Nets” jerseys as part of the NBA’s Latin Nights series.

WHERE DID EVERYBODY GO?

Lopez is the only player remaining from the Brooklyn team that Kidd coached to the second round in the 2013-14 season. Kidd got the Bucks job that July in what began the team’s breakup. Paul Pierce wasn’t re-signed and many more moves followed.

“That happens in sports. Change happens all the time, from coaches to players, so the teams that tend to win are the ones who stick together, are together for a long time,” Kidd said. “You look at Golden State, you look at San Antonio, you look at Oklahoma City, those are the teams that are atop the NBA and those are the teams that tend to win, so for Brooklyn or Milwaukee, we’re all trying to strive to be consistent.”