Author: Kurt Helin

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green

PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: It’s the Warriors world


If you’ve been wondering “when do the Western Conference powers start beating up each other?” the answer is pretty much now. As we head into the Christmas day slate of games things will get interesting, but for now the top remains the same as Golden State is just winning and winning and winning.

source:  1. Warriors (21-2, Last Week No. 1). When Andrew Bogut was out we quickly saw how much he meant to this team — the rim protection on defense was not nearly the same, and equally important his passing on offense that helps them move the ball strong to weak quickly was gone. For about a half. By the time Golden State rolled into Dallas Saturday they were again a force again in an impressive win. Still, Bogut is key for them come the playoffs, best to get him fully healthy now.

source:  2. Rockets (18-5, LW 3). The Rockets were 8-3 with Dwight Howard out (surprisingly Rockets had fifth best defense in league in last 10 without Howard) and in that time James Harden averaged 29.1 points a game, shot 39 percent from three, dished out 6.1 assist and pulled down 6 rebounds a game. James Harden is playing like an MVP, and that didn’t change on Howard’s return when Harden dropped a triple double Saturday.

source:  3. Grizzlies (19-4, LW 6) I only moved them up to third because while they beat Charlotte and Philadelphia they didn’t exactly look good doing it. This coming week is different, win these games any way you can and you move up: Warriors, Spurs, Bulls and Cavaliers.

source:  4. Trail Blazers (18-6. LW 4). They have a top 10 offense, a top 10 defense, they look like they can beat anybody, but they also are fully capable of mailing it in and losing to Minnesota. Tough stretch coming up with the Spurs twice this week, plus the Rockets and Thunder on the road to start next week.

source:  5. Spurs (17-7, LW 2). That loss to the Lakers was the kind of game which leads to the :45 second, angry Gregg Popovich press conference. What should make him feel better — not happy, Popovich is never happy — is the return of Tiago Splitter to the lineup. Splitter even started on Sunday night. That should improve their defense.

source:  6. Clippers (16-7, LW 5). Doc Rivers said the key to Chris Paul’s improved shooting this season is he is taking the first good, open look he gets. “That’s what we need him to do, take the open shot. I jokingly tell him, the option you are looking for is you. When you’re coming wide open off the pick and roll, he’ll do it tonight at least once or twice, he’ll look around and I’ll be ‘what is the better option than right now.’ And he’s doing it.”

source:  7. Mavericks (17-8, LW 7). They are 0-6 vs. Western Conference playoff teams and 17-2 vs. everyone else. That can’t make Mark Cuban comfortable. Chandler Parsons isn’t comfortable due to lower back soreness, he missed one game and could miss more.

source:  8. Cavaliers (13-9 LW 8). Has LeBron James lost some bounce this season? Probably, he’s not as aggressive going to the rim. But his playmaking skills and his desire to use them with his new teammates is part of the reason he’s not attacking as much. Also, there’s just not the space in the Cavs offense yet that there was in Miami.

source:  9. Raptors (18-6, LW 7). Kyle Lowry must make the All-Star team in the East. I know the point guard spot is loaded (Irving, Rose, Wall) but Lowry is simply playing too well (PER of 23.2, as a snapshot) to be ignored.

source:  10. Bulls (15-8, LW 12). Derrick Rose is getting his points a little differently (that floater is a weapon) but he’s starting to get them again and that’s good news in Chicago. The best sign of a title contender is a top 5 offense and defense (in terms of efficiency), the Bulls have that.

source:  11. Wizards (17-6, LW 11). Quality win over the Clippers last week, showing on the right night this team can beat anyone. Consistency is always the question, they had down games against Boston and Orlando. Still, they won those two and eight of their last nine.

source:  12. Hawks (16-7, LW 10). It wasn’t pretty when their winning streak was snapped by the Magic. The Hawks have played the easiest schedule in the NBA so far but that is about to change: Bulls, Cavaliers (twice), Rockets, Mavericks, Clippers, and Bucks (twice) make up the next eight games.

source:  13. Thunder (11-13, LW 18). Winners of five in a row and eight of nine, they could be the eight seed inside a week as after the top seven in the West things have fallen off. On Tuesday Kevin Durant should get to 15,000 points in his career, second youngest to do it behind LeBron.

source:  14. Bucks (12-12, LW 15). Maybe the most entertaining team in the league and also one of its biggest surprises at .500 and in the playoffs in the East. What’s been impressive is the quality play Jason Kidd is getting out of his bench, which is not flush with big names.

source:  15. Pelicans (11-12, LW 16). They got great guard play Sunday night from Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans but this team needs Anthony Davis back in the lineup (chest contusion) if they are going to start winning more consistently.

source:  16. Kings (11-13, LW 14). Ownership wants to play faster (more Spurs-like) and Tyrone Corbin is going to oblige now that Mike Malone has been fired. One problem: This roster really isn’t built to play faster or move the ball like the Spurs. DeMarcus Cousins is a halfcourt guy (Team USA tried to get him to run more with limited success) but at least he can pass, their starting two guard doesn’t have the handles or the passing skills, Rudy Gay’s legs aren’t as young as they once were and he’s a volume scorer, and there’s just not enough overall athleticism. We’ll see how this strategy goes.

source:  17. Suns (12-13, LW 13). P.J. Tucker was given some starts for defensive reasons and nightly he gets the toughest opponent assignments — he had DeMarcus Cousins against the Kings, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin against the Clippers. That’s versatility. His defense hasn’t helped much as they have lost five in a row and are falling fast down the Western Conference standings.

source:  18. Nuggets (10-14, LW 17). JaVale McGee is going to be out for months, just another of the guys they would normally have in their rotation who are banged up (that’s five now). This team is still dangerous, however. Just ask the Raptors.

source:  19. Nets (10-12, LW 21). They have been beating up lottery bound teams but are struggling with any team looking like a playoff squad. Which could be trouble this week against Miami, Toronto and Cleveland.

source:  20. Heat (11-13, LW 19). Josh McRoberts is out for a while and that is a blow to Miami on both ends of the floor — the team’s defense has struggled all season but the offense has become disjointed in recent weeks. Chris Bosh missing time doesn’t help.

source:  21. Magic (10-16, LW 23). There are a number of holes in Tobias Harris’ game, but if you need a game-winning play he should be in your top 10 because the guy just gets buckets in the clutch. The Hawks learned that the hard way.

source:  22. Lakers (8-16, LW 24). They get to keep their first round pick in the next draft if it is top five, they keep their second round pick if it is in the first 10 of the second round. The Lakers picked up a trio of nice wins this week — including an upset of the Spurs — and currently they sit tied for eighth worst record. Magic isn’t only Lakers fan rooting for losses.

source:  23. Celtics (7-14, LW 20). Rajon Rondo is dropping triple-doubles (three this season) but has been sat at the end of games as well. All of that has to be viewed through the prism of free agency/trades — do the Celtics need to move him so they don’t get nothing when he walks?

source:  24. Pacers (7-17, LW 23). They have Roy Hibbert and David West back in the lineup but it hasn’t mattered against a string of tough competition. The Pacers have lost eight in a row and are about to face a series of games against the deeper West, much of it on the road.

source:  25. Hornets (6-17, LW 25). Jeff Taylor can come back from his suspension due to domestic violence this week, which could make it easier on Charlotte if they can find someone to take on Lance Stephenson. Also, more Michael Kidd-Gilchrist please.

source:  26. Timberwolves (5-18, LW 26). Kobe Bryant said he saw himself 17 years ago in Andrew Wiggins. That’s high praise. But what Kobe came in the league with was a chip on his shoulder, a crazy work ethic, and a drive to prove himself every night. Does Wiggins?

source:  27. Jazz (6-17, LW 27). If you’re a Jazz fan your hope stems from the flashes you see from this team, like the win over San Antonio. They have moments but like a lot of young teams they simply are not consistent. Yet.

source:  28. Pistons (5-19, LW 29). Surprising wins over Phoenix and Sacramento on the road to end their losing streak. Now they have Jodie Meeks back in the rotation and once he shakes the rust off he will really help their outside shooting and spacing. Things they desperately need.

source:  29. Knicks (5-21, LW 28). With the New York media feeding a storm around this team — “they don’t like each other or the triangle” — they snapped their 10-game losing streak. But next week will be rough with Dallas, Chicago, Phoenix and Toronto.

source:  30. 76ers (2-21, LW 30). They are playing hard — they were up 18 on Memphis in the fourth — but are learning the hard way about closing out victories. Right now it’s about seeing what players can be part of the future, and K.J. McDaniels and Robert Covington can be.

Russell Westbrook wins jump ball from 7’1″ Alex Len (VIDEO)

Oklahoma City Thunder v Minnesota Timberwolves

Russell Westbrook is amazing.

While he was racking up 28 points and leading Oklahoma City to a thrashing of the Phoenix Suns — a win that brought the Thunder within half a game of a playoff spot out West — he at one point tied up Suns’ center Alex Len for a jump ball. That would be 6’3″ Westbrook against 7’1″ Len.

Guess who wins.

Russell Westbrook is amazing.

Kobe Bryant says he sees reflection of himself in Andrew Wiggins

Los Angeles Lakers v Minnesota Timberwolves

On one side you saw one of the game’s all-time greats reaching a new milestone and not letting up. Kobe Bryant is still performing, still putting up impressive numbers at age 36 (coming off two major surgeries) and in passing Michel Jordan on the all-time scoring list he is a testament to getting the most out of your natural ability through hard work and dedication to the craft.

On the other side is promise incarnate. Andrew Wiggins is the guy Minnesota needed to give up Kevin Love. At age 19 he shows incredible athleticism and with that incredible potential.

Kobe looks at Wiggins and it looks familiar, he told Serena Winters of

In terms of the promise, yes.

The question is does Wiggins have anywhere near the drive Kobe had? And still has.

Kobe walked in the door with a chip on his shoulder. As a rookie he used to challenge the veterans to games of one-on-one to try to prove his dominance. Kobe studied the game, spent countless hours in the gym, honed his body and his craft. Phil Jackson said Kobe trained harder than Michael Jordan. Kobe was relentless in trying to improve his game.

Does Andrew Wiggins have that in him?

By all accounts he is very coachable and has a good work ethic, but at times during games he can also willingly fade into the background and let others take over (something Kobe does not do, to a fault). He seems like a nice guy, but does he have the edge he needs? Is Wiggins going to put in the off-season work? He has the athleticism, no doubt, but his skill set needs a lot of work still, as does just his game understanding. He’s a bit of a project.

Kobe sees the potential. The question is can Wiggins live up to it?

PBT’s Sunday NBA Winners/Losers: Kobe Bryant reaches another milestone

Los Angeles Lakers v Minnesota Timberwolves

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 thinking maybe Ariana Grande’s ego has gotten a little too big

source:  Kobe Bryant. Say what you will about Kobe — he remains the most divisive player in the league — passing Michael Jordan on the NBA’s all-time scoring list is a serious accomplishment. Something Kobe did Sunday night from the free throw line. It speaks to playing at a high level for an extended period of time, it speaks to a guy working hard to get the most out of his natural ability. Nobody has worked harder at their craft, nobody has gotten more out of themselves than Kobe Bean Bryant. Oh, and by the way, he scored 26 on the night to lead the Lakers to their third straight win.

source:  Sacramento Kings. They didn’t even play Sunday yet they made the list because after an 11-13 start — which most considered ahead of expectations, especially since DeMarcus Cousins missed the last nine games — they fired coach Mike Malone. This was a philosophical thing — owner Vivek Ranadivé and his trusted advisor Chris Mullin wanted a more up-tempo offense than Malone gave them. Fair enough, the owner should be able to guide the team’s direction that way. But then why hire Malone in the first place — this was a guy that helped design an offense in Cleveland to get LeBron James to play slow down ball. You hired him then are shocked he didn’t want to run more? This feels like they have a guy in mind (George Karl?) and were clearing the decks early. (Tyrone Corbin will coach the Kings the rest of the season but he may want to have that resume updated for next summer.)

source:  Golden State Warriors. They are the team with the best backcourt in the NBA but on Sunday they ran into a Pelicans team where the backcourt was out to make up for the lack of Anthony Davis in the lineup — Tyreke Evans had 34 points, eight rebounds, five assists, while Jrue Holiday had 30 points and nine assists. That was enough to push Golden State to overtime but that’s where Stephen Curry scored eight of his 34 points and the Warriors picked up their 16th straight win. Klay Thompson had 29 points also, but where the Kings really get teams is their role players doing well — Draymond Green had 11 points and 13 rebounds, Shaun Livingston had a dozen off the bench.

source:  Russell Westbrook. He had 14 points in the first quarter as the Thunder pulled away early from the Suns and blew them out — with that win the Thunder are just half a game out of the eight seed in the West. That didn’t take long. Westbrook finished with 28 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. He did it all — he even beat Suns’ center Alex Len on a jump ball.

Kings fire coach doing quality work, that always works out well

Los Angeles Clippers v Sacramento Kings

The Sacramento Kings were off to an impressive 9-6 start to the season until their star center and best player — DeMarcus Cousins — came down with a life threatening illness (viral meningitis). They had gone 2-7 after that but done so while playing the second toughest schedule in the league to this point and are half a game out of a playoff spot. This team had taken a quality step forward from last season, both the offense and defense were playing better. You could feel a positive culture change around the team. Plus the Kings and their system had gotten more efficiency and quality play out of Rudy Gay than any previous stop in his career.

So Sunday night the Kings fired their coach, Mike Malone.

That always works well in the NBA, firing a coach doing a good job. Just go ask the Nuggets about it.

(To be fair, it seems to be working in Golden State this season. But that’s more the exception that proves the rule.)

This is on owner Vivek Ranadivé, who had hired Malone personally before even hiring GM Pete D’Alessandro when he bought the team. It was a rookie ownership move because he hired a star assistant but not one with the same basketball philosophy as himself or the GM — remember Malone (an assistant to Mike Brown at the time) was part of the group that kept a young LeBron James in a slowed down, walk-it-up offense (and won a lot of games that way). Ranadivé and his man Chris Mullin (an official advisor) wanted more showtime, which reportedly led to tension between Malone and ownership.

Ranadivé tolerated some losing last season but as’s Bill Herenda notes Ranadivé said this season he wanted wins and lots of them.

What he really wanted was more offense. The Kings are currently right at the league average, 15th in offensive efficiency at 103.6 points per 100 possessions, playing at what is a middle of the road pace of 95.7 possessions a game (16th in the league). Again, that’s without Cousins the past nine games and after D’Alessandro traded away Isaiah Thomas in the off-season. What bothered Malone more was the Kings’ defense, which at 104.2 points allowed per 100 possessions was 18th in the league.

And Malone is right — if the Kings envisioned themselves a playoff team defense was what mattered. Well, that and getting Cousins healthy.

That said, the owner has the right to set the tone and style he wants to see from his team. If Ranadivé wants it more up-tempo, he should be able to push the team that direction. But three things need to be mentioned. First, again, why hire Malone in the first place if that’s the style you want (Ranadivé knew Malone from Golden State, where Malone had coached and Ranadivé was a minority owner)? Second, why bring Malone back this summer? There had been rumblings his job could be in jeopardy, why not make a clean break then, why in the middle of the season?

Third, and finally, this roster is not really built to run. Cousins works best in the half court, Gay isn’t young anymore, they don’t have enough ball handlers, and while I could go on you get the point. If they want to play fast it’s going to take more than a coaching change, some roster changes are needed.

Sacramento will ride out the season with former Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin in the big chair. He has a clear mandate and will play faster, but short of him getting the Kings the playoffs — something highly unlikely in the deep West, especially with Cousins still out a while — you have to think they will go coach shopping next summer. The biggest name being floated is George Karl (the quality coach fired by the Nuggets after a 57-win season), who has a big supporter in D’Alessandro from when both were in Denver. He certainly likes to pay up tempo. Two other names being mentioned as guys to watch are Mark Jackson and Vinny Del Negro. Neither of those last two are upgrades over Malone.

At least this time around Ranadivé should hire someone who is on his page philosophically.

As for whether that person is a better coach than Malone, I wouldn’t be so sure.