Author: Kurt Helin

Mike Budenholzer, Thabo Sefolosha

PBT’s weekly NBA Power Rankings: If you’re not taking the Hawks seriously, you should


For a while we kept saying “sure the Hawks are winning, but they need to beat some quality teams before we fully buy in.” Well, they are beating quality teams so we are buying in and they move to the top of the power rankings this week (although I’d still take the No. 2 team in a seven game series).

source:  1. Hawks (25-8, Last Week No. 6). Who is the No. 1 seed in the East now? That’s right. They have won 18-of-20 and are 7-2 against the West. My coach of the year at the 1/3 mark of the season: Mike Budenholzer. Let’s hope whoever is announced to buy this team (very possibly in the next couple weeks) doesn’t come in and start changing things around on the basketball side.

source:  2. Warriors (26-5, LW 3). They have won three in a row to start off a stretch of seven-of-eight at home (and only 3 of seven are over .500). Their defense has slipped some without Andrew Bogut but is still ninth in the league in the team’s last 10 games.

source:  3. Bulls (24-10, LW 2). It wasn’t always pretty, but they still won three of four last week. Tom Thibodeau is doing a good job of keeping Derrick Rose’s minutes under control, but Pau Gasol is playing more than 35 a night and Joakim Noah more than 31 — take your foot off the gas a little Thibs and get your bigs some rest as we get into the new year.

source:  4. Trail Blazers (26-8. Last Week No. 1). They’re still without Robin Lopez in the paint, so Terry Stotts had been starting Joel Freeland but now he is injured as well. Which will mean the Meyers Leonard show for a little while.

source:  5. Mavericks (25-10, LW 7). Winners of five in a row. Since Rajon Rondo arrived the Dallas defense has improved by more than three points per 100 possessions, plus Rondo is showing some real chemistry with Tyson Chandler, while the Rondo/Dirk Nowitzki +/- numbers are amazing. And Rick Carlisle still has more than half a season to fit all the pieces together properly.

source:  6. Grizzlies (24-9, LW 8). They had won three in a row including a nice win over the Spurs (again) until a schedule maker’s loss in Denver. That said they are still 3-4 without Zach Randolph in the lineup. Interesting test Wednesday on the road against Atlanta, a team that has been dismissing the best of the West lately.

source:  7. Clippers (23-11, LW 9). The Clipper’s starting five — Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan — is +15.5 points per 100 possessions. Sub Jamal Crawford in for Barnes and the defense struggles but that lineup is still +9.9 per 100. But getting solid play out of the bench is a nightly adventure.

source:  8. Spurs (21-14, LW 11). San Antonio was 8-10 in December, which is just the third losing month in all of Tim Duncan’s career. That’s ridiculous. They remain without Kawhi Leonard but have won three of their last four, with some winnable games ahead.

source:  9. Rockets (23-10, LW 4). They had their most lopsided loss and most lopsided win of the season on the next night. So I wouldn’t really use the word consistent with the Rockets. Maybe they get a little more with Josh Smith coming off the bench, it took him all of five games to lose his starting spot, but he is helping their defense.

source:  10. Raptors (24-10, LW 5). They have dropped 4-of-6 on a tough road swing, falling to Chicago, Portland, Golden State and Phoenix. The Suns and Warriors really exposed the Raptors’ 21st-ranked defense — as good as Toronto’s offense is they are not getting out of the East without more consistent defense.

source:  11. Thunder (17-17, LW 13). Rust? They don’t know of rust in OKC where Kevin Durant missed six games then came back and dropped 78 in his first two back on the court. They are just two games back of Phoenix at the eight seed, but the Thunder have 10 of their next 13 on the road so the charge to the playoffs will be a bit uphill for a while.

source:  12. Wizards (22-11, LW 12). They have gone 1-3 on the road against some of the top of the West, including losing three in a row. Things don’t get easier for John Wall and company with the Pelicans, Bulls and Hawks all on the schedule this week.

source:  13. Suns (20-16, LW 10). If the NBA just took the top 16 teams for the playoffs regardless of conference the Suns would be a relatively comfortable 13 seed with a 2.5 game cushion on falling out of the playoffs. Instead they are the eight seed in the West and if they look over their shoulder they will see a healthy Thunder team closing fast.

source:  14. Pelicans (17-16, LW 15). This team has some tough late losses, but none more painful than Omer Asik’s accidental tip to send the game vs. the Spurs to OT (which San Antonio eventually won). That said, why Tyreke Evans and the Pelicans guards go away from Anthony Davis in crunch time remains a mystery. Feed the man the ball.

source:  15. Bucks (18-17, LW 16). They have won four games on the road and, as the current sixth seed in the East, are a comfortable five games up on the nine seed (Indiana). These Bucks are headed to the playoffs this season, which is going to get Jason Kidd some COY votes.

source:  16. Cavaliers (19-15 LW 14). No LeBron James for more than a week, and while teams with strong systems in place survive those kinds of losses short term (think Spurs or Bulls when guys are out) the Cavaliers are not that. What they are getting is Minnesota Kevin Love — he scores and rebounds like a beast, but is nonexistent on the other end of the court.

source:  17. Heat (15-20, LW 17). They had lost four in a row until a win Sunday against Brooklyn, and with that have fallen to the eight seed (and they are just ?? ahead of the Pacers). We’ll see if they can hold that playoff spot in a rough five-game road trip out West.

source:  18. Nets (16-17, LW 19). They are 12-3 against teams below .500, which pads their not-that-impressive record and makes it look better than it is. Good news that Deron Williams sore side from Sunday night is not something going to keep him out long term.

source:  19. Jazz (12-22, LW 22). They have won six of nine and even in their losses they are a very tough out. Add me to the chorus of people who wants to see more Rudy Gobert on the court, with him out there the Jazz defense will win them some games.

source:  20. Pacers (13-22, LW 25). They are within two games of the eight seed in the East, and the are doing it with defense — they have allowed 97.2 points per 100 possessions their last 10 games, second best in the NBA.

source:  21. Pistons (10-23, LW 24). . They have won five in a row since waiving Josh Smith, and in those games the Piston’s offense is 13.7 points per 100 possessions better and their defense is 11.7 per 100 better. This is not all about the Smith trade, they have had a soft schedule the last five, but the timing of the improvement also is not a coincidence.

source:  22. Kings (14-20, LW 18). Since the firing of Mike Malone we have seen some of the old DeMarcus Cousins — sloppy, lazy defensive moments, and he got ejected from one game for throwing Avery Bradley to the ground. The Sacramento defense is falling apart of late, which also may be Malone related.

source:  23. Nuggets (14-20, LW 20). Still tough to get a feel for this team as we start to approach the midway point of the season, and if the team doesn’t have a personality that usually means trouble for the coach. The question though is really what kind of team does management really want to build? That’s not clear, either.

source:  24. Magic (13-24, LW 21). There have started to be playoff dreams in Orlando, they are just three games out of the eight seed, but after dropping three in a row before heading out this week for four tough ones on the road they need to just rack up some wins.

source:  25. Hornets (11-24, LW 23). They have lost Al Jefferson for a month, which essentially kills the “they can still turn this around and make the playoffs” vibe in Charlotte. Expect a lot of Lance Stephenson trade rumors for the next six weeks as they try to move him.

source:  26. Lakers (11-23, LW 27). The Lakers have played the toughest schedule in the NBA so far. It’s a tribute to Kobe that mid-season he can switch his mentality and the way he plays (even if he denies anything is different, it is, he is showing trust in his teammates).

source:  27. Celtics (11-20, LW 26). Rajon Rondo returned to Boston last week, showed that he can still play some defense and can still score plenty (he dropped 29), which are both things Celtics fans hadn’t seen from the point guard in a while.

source:  28. 76ers (4-28, LW 28). Great news for the Sixers — they are back home for five of the next seven. Er… maybe not such great news as the Sixers are 0-14 on their home court. They have to win one eventually, right?

source:  29. Timberwolves (5-27, LW 29). Ricky Rubio should be back in the next couple of weeks, he’s showing improvement in practice. In the short term, read Dan Feldman’s great story about how a stint in the D-League inspired Shabazz Muhammad’s great run of play recently.

source:  30. Knicks (5-31, LW 30). Carmelo Anthony is on track to be voted in an All-Star Game starter by the fans, a game at Madison Square Garden, but his knee is clearly an issue. Will he fight through and play in that game then shut it down?

Lakers’ rookie Julius Randle to have foot surgery, too

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers

Julius Randle was already out for the season after breaking his leg just 14 minutes into his debut on opening night this season — it was one of the more disappointing moments of the season, robbing Lakers fans of one of the potential bright spots for the future.

While he’s out, the Lakers’ rookie is going to have some other work done — he’s going to have foot surgery, the team has announced. From the official release:

Lakers forward Julius Randle will undergo surgery on Tuesday morning to replace the screw in the fifth metatarsal of his right foot. The surgery will be performed by Dr. David Thordarson of the Cedars-Sinai Orthopaedic Center.

This is to repair and clean up an old high school injury.

The Lakers drafted Randle as the seventh overall pick out of Kentucky last June. He’s showed a little promise, hopefully we’ll get to see more of that next season.

Nick Young with crossover then backwards layup for shot of night (VIDEO)

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
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Nick Young is just a walking highlight.

Down two in the fourth quarter, Young came off a high pick, ran into Luis Scola, crossed him up a little and got close to the rim and found the long arms of Roy Hibbert, so Young turned his back and put up a crazy over-his-head reverse layup thing. That fell, of course.

That tied the game at 74-74, the Lakers needed that point as they went on to win 88-87 on a Kobe Bryant game winner.

Carlos Boozer shoved Roy Hibbert to ground, who bounced up ready to fight (VIDEO)

Roy Hibbert, Carlos Boozer

Carlos Boozer likes to do the little things that can get under an opponent’s skin. Like shove them to the ground, occasionally.

He did that to Roy Hibbert Sunday night and we can safely say Hibbert took exception, bouncing up and going right at Boozer. Teammates instantly stepped in and separated the two, so it came off as a basic NBA non-fight.

Boozer was not impressed with Hibbert, as reported by ESPN Radio’s Beto Duran.

After the official review Hibbert did get a technical but the referees gave Boozer a flagrant one foul for instigating everything. That seems about right to me, and I can’t see the league coming in on this one and tacking on any additional fines. It wasn’t that serious. Kobe Bryant thought it was even less serious.

The Lakers went on to win the game 88-87 on a Kobe game winner.

PBT Monday NBA Winners/Losers: Detroit 5-0 since addition by subtraction with Josh Smith

Brandon Jennings

Every night the NBA can be a cold hard reality — there are winners, there are losers. It’s the nature of the game. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to bring you the best and worst of the NBA each week night. Here’s what you missed while watching every goal (and assist) Cristiano Ronaldo racked up in 2014….

source:  Detroit Pistons. They have won five in a row since the addition by subtraction of waiving Josh Smith — and in the East five wins can put you back in playoff contention. The Pistons are now just four games out of the eight seed and making the playoffs. Think about that for a second. Sunday’s fifth straight win came over the Kings thanks to 35 points from Brandon Jennings who had his jumper going — he was 5-of-5 from the midrange and 5-of-8 from three. That’s emblematic of what is going on, Detroit’s true shooting percentage is up 7.3 points since Smith was traded. Or, look at it this way, in the last five games the Piston’s offense is 13.7 points per 100 possessions better and their defense is 11.7 per 100 better. This is not all about the Smith trade, but the improvement also is not a coincidence.

source:  Sacramento Kings. On the flip side of smart moves by management, there is Sacramento, which canned well-liked coach Mike Malone and have struggled since then. Think it’s not a lot about the coach?

source:  Kobe Bryant. He had 20 points on 14 shots, plus six rebounds and six assists, but all anyone will talk about is the game winner. Kobe had struggled of late with game winners and game tying shots, he’s not what he used to be in terms of explosiveness, but if you let the man get to his spots on the court he will beat you. Like he did knocking down the game winner to beat the Pacers Sunday.

source:  Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade. The two remaining guys of the big three have struggled this season without that third guy in the mix. However, they are still putting up numbers some nights. The pair scored 51 points — or 58 percent of the team’s points — in an 88-84 Miami win over Brooklyn on Sunday. They did that on an efficient 36 shots, too. This was a win the Heat needed, having lost four in a row and about to head out West for a rough road trip. With the pressure on the big guys stepped up.

source:  Rajon Rondo, Tyson Chandler. They are becoming a dangerous pick-and-roll tandem, adding another weapon to one of the league’s best offenses. The kinks are still being worked out having Rondo at the head of the Maverick’s offense, but things are starting to click (Chandler shot 6-of-7 on the night, hitting all six of his attempts at the rim).

source:  Phoenix Suns second quarter. To be fair, they caught a tired Raptors team at the end of a tough West Coast road trip, and frankly even when they’re rested the Toronto defense isn’t impressive. That said, the Suns still dropped 43 on the Raptors in the second quarter on 78.3 percent shooting (and 83.9 true shooting percentage), and that’s impressive. As tends to happen when the Suns get hot it happened when the Suns got out and ran and their guards got hot — Isaiah Thomas had nine points, while Gerald Green and Eric Bledsoe each had eight. The Suns pulled away that quarter and went on to win 125-109.