Kurt Helin

PBT’s NBA Power rankings: Cavaliers slide to five, Pacers up to three

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For the first time this season, the Cavaliers have slipped out of the Top 3 after dropping three straight (the last one without LeBron James to a good Miami team). Also for the first time this season, the Sixers are out of the cellar.

source: 1. Warriors (22-0, last week No. 1). If you’re looking for a weakness, it’s a relative term for the Warriors. However, their defense is inconsistent (see the 38-point quarter the Nets had Sunday). That said, the defense is still top five overall. Fun showdown against the Pacers Tuesday night.

source: 2. Spurs (17-4, LW 2). They have the best defense in the NBA by a healthy margin, that is getting them wins, but the offense is Top 10, too (despite Gregg Popovich saying it wouldn’t be good until March). Kawhi Leonard has become hard to deal with on the offense end and had a game last week with seven threes.

source: 3. Pacers (12-7, LW 5). Third best point differential in the NBA their past 10 games, but their defense slipped a little the last couple games (on the road). Best game of the week by far is Golden State visiting the Fieldhouse in Indiana on Tuesday.

source: 4. Heat (12-6, LW 6). Wins over the Thunder and Cavaliers (without LeBron) last week move them up, and again it’s all based on their defense which is second best in the NBA. They are getting enough offense thanks to Dwyane Wade having moments and Goran Dragic playing a little better, I still expect the offense will come around.

source: 5. Cavaliers (13-7, LW 3). They have lost three straight, and the Wizards beat them going super small, which is a concern. David Blatt is trying to spark the backcourt by starting Matthew Delavedova and bringing Mo Williams off the bench. What will really spark the backcourt is the return of Kyrie Irving, who was cleared to practice last week and is likely ready to go in the next few weeks.

source: 6. Thunder (12-8 LW 4). Put to the test last week, the Thunder lost on the road at Miami and Atlanta (and they had to hang on against Sacramento). When Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are on the floor together they cover a lot of mistakes, but there is a serious drop off as OKC gets into the bench.

source: 7. Bulls (11-6, LW 9). Mike Dunleavy’s setback is not good, they could certainly use his floor spacing and shooting (the Bulls need more threes), although Tony Snell and Doug McDermott has played better than expected for him. Despite all the questions, the Bulls are the three seed in the East, and they can get better.

source: 8. Hawks (13-9, LW 10). Paul Millsap has been phenomenal this season — 18.2 points and 9.5 boards a game, efficient true shooting percentage of 57.2%, and a PER of 23.4 (the kind of number usually seen with lock All-Stars and a guy mentioned but not really in the MVP conversation). He’s stepped it up this season.

source: 9. Hornets (11-8, LW 11). In their last 10 games, the Hornets have outscored their opponents by 5.7 points per 100 possessions, fourth best in the NBA for that stretch. They have gotten solid bench play out of Jeremy Lamb and Jeremy Lin, this team is solid and legit. Good tests this week with the Pistons, Heat, Grizzlies and Celtics.

source: 10. Grizzlies (12-9, LW 13). Matt Barnes is playing a little better off the bench, but I don’t love the starting wings of Tony Allen and Jeff Green. That said, Green had the game-winning dunk and Marc Gasol is having big games that get them wins.

source: 11. Raptors (12-9, LW 7). If you’re talking about the second tier of early MVP candidates (Curry has his own tier right now) and you’re not mentioning Kyle Lowry, you’re doing it wrong. He showed it last week when the Raptors beat the Hawks and gave Golden State all they could handle. Faster starts so they’re not playing from behind so much would help.

source: 12. Celtics (11-9, LW 12). With Avery Bradley playing more, they are holding their own without Marcus Smart — effort and defense is going to get them through. David Lee seems to be fading from the rotation, he’s not a great fit for their future.

source: 13. Clippers (11-9, LW 15). J.J. Redick could be back
Monday night, but it may be a few more games before Chris Paul returns. Going to be a rough rest of the month for the Clippers, who are heavy with road games (12 road, two home games the rest of the month). We will find out if this team can start to come together as a lot of us expected.

source: 14. Magic (11-9, LW 16). Scott Skiles has they playing Top 10 defense, but the other end of the floor is inconsistent. The combination of Channing Frye backed up by Andrew Nicholson at the four is becoming a strength of this squad.

source: 15. Mavericks (12-9, LW 8). This feels a bit low for them, but the parity out in the East of teams over .500 makes slotting Dallas in challenging. Wes Matthews drained 10 threes in a game Sunday, his shot is back, but understand he’s not near as explosive as they had been.

source: 16. Pistons (12-9, LW 19). They keep on winning despite one of the weakest benches in the NBA right now. They are destined for the playoffs for the first time in years. This team is not turning the ball over, but SVG has to be looking at the market trying to find shooters.

source: 17. Jazz (9-9, LW 14). Being without Rudy Gobert for a while (no timetable, but sprained MCL) will be a challenge, they started 0-3 but then surprised everyone with a win over Indiana. Derrick Favors is playing at an All-Star level this season. Home-and-home with the Thunder this week, that will be a challenge.

source: 18. Knicks (10-11, LW 20). That loss to Milwaukee over he weekend was a reminder of just how far this team needs to to still, despite all the Kristaps Porzingis hype. As a team the Knicks are struggling from three of late and that has hurt their already fragile offense.

source: 19. Rockets (10-11, LW 23). Expect this team to climb the rankings and standings the next couple weeks. Their next six games are against are against teams under .500, giving the Rockets the chance to get on a roll — if they take things seriously and show up focused every night. Good news for them getting Donatas Motiejunas back in the lineup.

source: 20. Trail Blazers (9-12, LW 22). Great stat via John Schulman at NBA.com — the Blazers have played just 13 minutes total this season without at least one of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum on the floor. When you have just to shot creators, that is exactly what you should do, stagger the minutes. Well done, Terry Stotts.

source: 21. Wizards (8-10, LW 21). There is no more bipolar team in the NBA than in the one in nation’s capital. They beat the Cavaliers last Tuesday with an aggressive John Wall and everyone thought “maybe they have turned the corner.” Then the next night they lost to the Lakers. Don’t expect that to mean Randy Wittman is in trouble — no way owner Ted Leonis pays for two coaches at once for more than one season.

source: 22. Timberwolves (8-11,LW 18). Losers of three in a row, but this is a team that is hanging around games, the young core just doesn’t know how to finish games yet. That will come. It’s only a quarter of the way through the season, but if the vote was today Karl-Anthony Towns would be the ROY.

<source: 23. Suns (8-13, LW 17). Losers of four in a row, they were within five points in the final five minutes in all of them. This team struggles to execute on the both ends. This team is the reigning champ of painful losses. The loss on the Jeff Green alley-oop Sunday was especially hard. We will see how Markieff Morris trade rumors impact the team, but know that teams are calling the Suns to see how attached they are to the forward.

source: 24. Bucks (8-13, LW 24). If you watched the Bucks beat the Knicks on Saturday, you’d say “that looks like the Bucks’ defense from last season.” Been that way for a little more than a week now. The real test of that defense is coming up this week: Trail Blazers, Clippers, Raptors, and Warriors.

source: 25. Pelicans (5-15, LW 26). Tyreke Evans is back and starting, and they got a dramatic overtime win against the Cavaliers Friday (despite a monster LeBron-led comeback by the Cavs, Jrue Holiday was nails sending the game to OT). Heavy road stretch coming up the rest of the month and the Pelicans have played poorly this season outside the big easy.

source: 26. Kings (7-15, LW 25). Willie Cauley-Stein is out 4-6 weeks, so the Kings are going small and starting Rudy Gay again. The Kings’ starting five with Gay is -1.8 points per 100 possessions, which isn’t good but not terrible either. However, Gay isolations to end games — as Sacramento tried and failed against the Thunder — are not a good idea.

source: 27. Nuggets (8-13, LW 27). This team continues to get unexpected wins (against Toronto last week, for one) and play over it’s head, they have the point differential of a 6-15 team according to basketball-reference.com. Credit new coach Mike Malone for getting this team to play hard every night, that’s getting them some victories they might not otherwise pick up. Don’t worry about Emmanuel Mudiay’s struggles, he’s been put in a tough spot.

source: 28. Nets (5-15, LW 28). They had won four straight at home until the Warriors showed up Sunday, which is good because they have five games left in this homestead. After that dreaded 0-7 start the Nets are 5-8, which isn’t great but not terrible. Shane Larkin is showing some potential.

source: 29. 76ers (1-20, LW 30). Only one win (although they came close to another against Denver) but the head-to-head win against the Lakers moves them out of the cellar for at least a week. The Jahlil Okafor suspension is over — hopefully so are the days of him putting himself in troubling situations — and maybe they can pick up a couple more.

source: 30. Lakers (2-15, LW 29). The Lakers need to get Jordan Clarkson more touches early in games. He’s second on the team in scoring (15.8 per game) and is shooting 43.9 percent from thee (top 15 in the league). Of course, those shots go to the Kobe Bryant farewell tour fund, but if you’re trying to develop players you need to give them a lot of touches.

Rajon Rondo’s behind-the-back assist of the night (and season?)

Rajon Rondo
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While you weren’t paying attention (because not a lot of people are paying attention to the Kings right now), Rajon Rondo has been playing well. There are still flaws in this game, specifically his jumper, (although from the left side of the floor he’s shooting 51.2 percent from three) but the man is dishing out a league-best 10.9 assists a night.

And he had his best assist of the season on Sunday — you’re not going to see many better this season.

Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Thunder are talented, but how good?

Kevin Durant, Anthony Morrow
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If you spent your Sunday starting to deal with all things Christmas — putting up Christmas lights, starting your shopping — they you probably weren’t getting to chill and watch some NBA. We’ve got you covered… on the NBA stuff. You’re on your own with the gifts; we don’t know what to get your sister either. But here are five things to know from Sunday around the Association.

1) Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant save the day for Thunder. Again. And show where the team is at right now.
The Oklahoma City Thunder had led by 17 in the third, 10 entering the fourth and seemed to be in control — then midway through the fourth quarter the visiting Sacramento Kings went on an 11-0 run, took the lead, and until the final minute looked like they would steal a big win on the road. That the Thunder blew the lead at all speaks to this team’s struggles and inconsistencies (specifically on defense), and it shows why they are not yet a real threat to the Warriors and Spurs in a seven-game series.

But Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant showed why they can be — talent wins out. In the 34 minutes those two were on the court together, the Thunder were +9, in the 14 minutes one was rested they were -6. Westbrook had his third triple-double of the season with 19 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. But when it was crunch time the ball was in KD’s hands — and that made up for a lot. The best example: The game was tied in the final minute, the Thunder ran some actions to get Durant the ball out top but then they didn’t bring a pick, rather let him go one-on-one, and he took a 20-foot leaning step-back deep two — which he drained. It wasn’t a good shot, but Durant can hit it and did. On the other end you saw what it was like not to have Durant: The Kings ran a pick to get Steven Adams switched onto Rudy Gay then isolated Gay, but he couldn’t quite get by Adams on the drive, plus Rajon Rondo‘s man didn’t fear Rondo’s jumper and helped off him in the corner on Gay, the result ultimately being a steal and turnover. The Thunder have the talent to win games like this because they have KD and Westbrook, but they are not a team threat yet.

2) Rajon Rondo had the pass of the day, maybe the season. Rondo is playing well right now, but this pass is wicked, even for his standards.


3) The Warriors are now 22-0. Which is insane. To beat the Raptors Saturday it took the full Stephen Curry — 40 points and a lot of help from teammates. To beat the Nets Sunday, it took one quarter of Curry. He went off for 16 in the third, Golden State pulled away, and the win streak just keeps on rolling. The Warriors have the best offense in the NBA (114.1 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com) and the fifth best defense, and are outscoring opponents by 16.5 points per 100 possessions. It’s all historic if they can keep it up — the 72-win Bulls had two losses at this stage in the season, for comparison.

4) Jeff Green with a game-winning alley-oop dunk for the Grizzlies — the Suns find another way to lose. The game is tied, and there are 0.8 seconds left, if you’re Phoenix and defending the inbounds play the first thing you do is zone off and take away a lob pass to the rim (if someone beats you with a rushed, leaning jumper that’s one thing, but don’t give up the easy bucket). Phoenix failed at this, and Jeff Green made them pay with a Memphis win.

The Suns are not a terrible team (8-13) but they find more ways not to execute then get beat down the stretch than I thought existed.

5) Wesley Matthews is coming off a torn Achilles? He dropped 36 on the Wizards. He tied the Dallas record with 10 made threes in a game and was just phenomenal in Dallas beating the Jekyll and Hyde Wizards on the road.

Report: Rockets interested in trade for Suns’ Markieff Morris

Markieff Morris
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Markeiff Morris has struggled this season for the Suns. Shocking, I know, after he spent all summer demanding a trade (of course, he changed his tune after a fine) he has come out and played poorly. He is averaging 12.1 points per game, but is shooting just 39 percent. In previous seasons, he was strong when he got the ball at the elbow or mid-post areas, but this season Morris has struggled with his shot from those areas, he’s been inconsistent (or consistently poor) and he has a PER of 9.8 on the season.

It got ugly Sunday when a healthy Morris got a DNP-CD from Jeff Hornacek, who started Jon Leuer in his place.

The Suns were not willing to consider trading Morris this summer, but if that benching signals a change in their attitude they will have at least one suitor, reports Marc Stein at ESPN.

The Houston Rockets have trade interest in Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris, who made multiple trade demands this past offseason, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN.com the Rockets are in the market for roster upgrades in the wake of their disappointing 10-11 start and have Morris on their list of targets, amid a growing belief around the league that the Suns are indeed prepared to finally move Morris.

Detroit — where the Suns had sent Marcus Morrisreportedly has interest as well.

Houston needs help at the four; they have been starting Clint Capela, although they just got Donatas Motiejunas back and Terrence Jones is still there. One of them, likely Jones, would be moved in a deal for Morris. And Morris, in theory, could come in and give them help at either forward position, depending on what lineup combos Houston threw out there. That said, the Rockets reportedly have some chemistry issues, and they may want to question bringing in Morris, who has the reputation of being hard to deal with.

Morris is making $8 million this season and is under contract for three seasons after this one (this is the first year of a four-year, $32 million extension for Markieff, which he thought was below market value, but he took to play with his brother Marcus, who was traded this summer to Detroit in Phoenix’s efforts to clear out cap space for a potential LaMarcus Aldridge signing).

Don’t expect any trades before Dec. 15. That’s the first day any player signed this summer can be moved, and it puts a lot more players and contracts in play to make something happen.

Another day, another Blake Griffin to DeAndre Jordan alley-oop reverse slam

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This play is just a bread and butter part of the Clipper offense at this point, but it works because Blake Griffin is such a great passer and it’s hard to defend all the options.

Griffin sets a screen out high for Jamal Crawford (in this case, Chris Paul and others fill that role as well) then while the ball-handler probes and draws defenders Griffin half-rolls to the free throw line, where Griffin gets an easy bounce pass back. DeAndre Jordan is lurking around on the baseline and when his big man rotates over to take away the lane so Griffin can’t throw down his own monster dunk (and the help has to come way out because Griffin can knock down that jumper, too), Jordan makes a cut to the rim, takes the alley-oop pass and throws it down.  Today they did it with a reverse jam, just to add to the degree of difficulty.

Everyone knows it’s coming, but stopping this play is just not simple. Orlando couldn’t come close on this play, but they came close in the game falling to the Clippers 103-101.