Kurt Helin

Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul, left, gestures to other teammates along with center DeAndre Jordan during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 120-93. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press

PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Who is the third best team in the NBA?

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The top two teams in the NBA are clear and aren’t really going to change through the end of the season barring some unforeseen disaster. But who is the third best team? I thought it was Cleveland, but they have dropped four of five. The Thunder have dropped three of four. Toronto, a team that starts Luis Scola? I have the Clippers there this week, but I’m not a big believer in them either. At the bottom of the rankings the Sixers are in a familiar spot.

 
source: 1. Warriors (53-5, last week No. 1). They have already clinched a playoff spot and now need to go 20-4 the rest of the way to beat the Bulls’ 72 win record (and they have 17 games at home, where they are undefeated this season). Sorry Chicago, but the Warriors are going to break the record. Stephen Curry could miss a game or more after his ankle got rolled against the Thunder.

 
source: 2. Spurs (50-9, LW 2). Kawhi Leoard is back, and with him in the starting lineup the Spurs’ defense is back as well. Which should scare teams. I thought Ray McCallum was going to work out in San Antonio (they picked him up this summer), but he was cut loose over the weekend to make way for veteran Andre Miller.

 
source: 3. Clippers (38-20, LW 5). They are playing .500 ball over their last six games, but that’s better than the couple teams just below them in these rankings. The Clipper defense continues to impress. Jeff Green has been exactly what was expected: inconsistent, but still an upgrade over Lance Stephenson. Tough showdown against OKC on Wednesday at Staples.

 
source: 4. Cavaliers (41-17, LW 3). They have dropped three of four, and look like a team still searching for answers. Particularly on defense, where they have struggled since Tyronn Lue took over. They are just two games up on Toronto for the top seed in the East (after a loss to Toronto this week) but them finding their defense will matter a lot more than home court.

 
source: 5. Thunder (41-18 LW 4). They have lost four of five, but the punch in the gut by Stephen Curry and Golden State Saturday night was the most painful of those. The Thunder don’t want to hear it, but they earned a moral victory in that game — do they stand a better chance to beat the Warriors than the Spurs? Brutal back-to-back Wednesday at Clippers then Thursday at Warriors.

 
source: 6. Raptors (39-19, LW 6). They picked up a huge win over Cleveland on Friday behind Kyle Lowry and they are now within two games of Cleveland for the top seed (and the Raptors have the tiebreaker). But with Lowry resting Sunday the rest of the Raptors took a mental vacation in Detroit, a win they could have used. They remain the biggest threat to the Cavaliers in the East.

 
source: 7. Celtics (35-25, LW 7). They have won 10 in a row at home, which when you consider it looks more and more likely they will have a first-round playoff series starting at the Garden means the Celtics in the second round seems more and more likely. Heavy home schedule coming up (except a tough showdown with the Cavs this week on the road).

 
source: 8. Hawks (33-27, LW 12). Big wins over the weekend, knocking off the Bulls and Hornets at home, and they are doing it thanks to a lock-down defense that is the best in the NBA over the last 10 games (three points per 100 possessions better than the second-place Clippers).

 
source: 9. Trail Blazers (32-28, LW 10). They finished 9-2 in February. With good reason we’ve talked a lot about Damian Lillard’s strong play since not making the All-Star team, but the Blazers have had a Top 10 defense in their last 10 games as well.

 
source: 10. Heat (33-26, LW 8). Joe Johnson jumped right into the starting lineup for the Heat on Sunday, and he should give them improved three-point shooting that they need. Miami may go on a little run, they are entering a soft part of the schedule (including a home-and-home against the Sixers this week).

 
source: 11. Grizzlies (34-24, LW 9). They are 10-games above .500 and have a six-game cushion from falling out of the playoffs, that should be enough to keep them in the postseason without Marc Gasol. Should. But their schedule starts to really get difficult the last month of the season.

 
source: 12. Hornets (30-28, LW 13). They are in a virtual tie with Chicago and Detroit for the final two playoff slots in the East (charging Washington is just two games back). Which is why the 10-of-12 at home stretch starting this week for Charlotte is key — this is when they need separation from that pack. Keep playing defense like they have and they will get it.

 
source: 13. Mavericks (32-28, LW 15). . They are entertaining to watch because this team puts up a lot of points and gives up a lot of points — Mavs games are old-fashioned shootouts. David Lee is getting what he wanted, he’s part of the rotation and playing minutes, and he fits with the rest of the Dallas team — he’s shown he can still score but not defend.

 
source: 14. Pacers (31-28, LW 11). They have lost three out of four, are just half a game ahead of the nine seed (and falling out of the playoffs), and they have a tough four-game road trip this week that includes Cleveland, Charlotte, and Washington. The Pacers need to find some consistent offense, Rodney Stuckey return should provide some of that (but hasn’t).

 
source: 15. Pistons (31-29, LW 18). They have won four in a row and remain right in the middle of the mix for one of the last playoff spots in the East. Tobias Harris in the starting lineup with Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, and Andre Drummond has been a strong lineup, but the Pistons need more out of the bench.

 
source: 16. Rockets (29-30, LW 17). They remain the eight seed in the East as we enter the week, thanks in large part to a come-from-behind win against a hot Portland team over the weekend. James Harden is carrying this team on offense, and that’s the way it will have to be the rest of the season if they are going to hold on to that playoff slot.

source: 17. Wizards (28-30, LW 19). They are a couple games out of the playoffs and can’t string together many wins, but if you want a ray of hope for their playoff chances here you go: The Wizards have the easiest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way. This week they have the Cavaliers (likely with LeBron this time) and Indiana, and they need to win at least one of those.

 
source: 18. Jazz (28-30, LW 14). The loss to the Nets this week makes you wonder if this team can climb back into the eight seed and hold it. Heavy road schedule the next three weeks will determine their fate, and this week is tough at Boston, Toronto, Memphis, and New Orleans.

 
source: 19. Bulls (30-28, LW 16).No Derrick Rose, no Jimmy Butler, no consistent offense. But that’s not the real problem — 13 straight opponents have scored more than 100 points against Chicago. Even if they make that playoffs that defense gets them swept aside quickly.

 
source: 20. Magic (26-32, LW 23). It’s hard to imagine them making up he four games needed to get back into the playoffs in the East, particularly when the Magic can’t get consistent stops. Which you know eats at Scott Skiles.

 
source: 21. Bucks (24-35, LW 22). Unlike a lot of teams at the bottom of these rankings, there is a good reason to watch the Bucks right now — Giannis Antetokounmpo playing point guard. It’s working. He is good playmaker setting up teammates, and their offense is more than three points per 100 possessions better when he is the playmaker.

 
source: 22. Pelicans (23-35, LW 21). Anthony Davis showed what he can do in a win over the Thunder, and Eric Gordon returned scoring 31 in his first game back after five weeks. But that is all moot because this team cannot get consistent stops, the defense just undercuts them every time you think they can make a run up the standings.

 
source: 23. Kings (24-33, LW 24). Watch for more frustrated DeMarcus Cousins as the Kings water a tough stretch of the schedule (Thunder, Grizzlies, Mavericks, and Spurs this week) and likely will struggle. It feels like this team is just treading water until the summer, when coaching and roster changes will shake things up. Again.

 
source: 24. Timberwolves (19-41,LW 26). As they should, the Timberwolves are upping the minutes for their young core down the stretch. They bought out Andre Miller (now with the Spurs) and Kevin Martin may join him. Their offense is clicking with all that youth, it’s the other end of the court where they struggle.

 
source: 25. Nuggets (23-36, LW 20). They are the team that fans of playoff teams see on the schedule and think “easy win” but will learn the hard way have been playing much better lately. However, no Danilo Gallinari for some time with an ankle injury is a setback.

 
source: 26. Knicks (25-36, LW 25). Kurt Rambis is coaching to win — more specifically, to save his job – and that has meant heavy minutes for Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks are 6.5 games out of the playoffs, that’s not happening, no reason to run Carmelo into the ground now.

 
source: 27. Nets (17-42, LW 27). Break up the Nets, they have won two games in a row. Bojan Bodganovic is starting in place of Joe Johnson and is trying to show other teams he can knock down threes (which has been a good thing for the lowly Nets offense).

 
source: 28. Suns (15-44, LW 30). Earl Watson got his first coaching victory thanks to the Suns beating the stumbling Grizzlies last week. That could be it for a while, the schedule isn’t kind, including four on the road this week with stops in Miami and Charlotte.

 
source: 29. Lakers (11-49, LW 29). They have lost eight in a row, and the team with the worst defense in the NBA is playing its worst defense of the season during this stretch. But the Kobe Bryant show rolls on, and that’s what Laker management prioritized.

 
source: 30. 76ers (8-51, LW 28). Losers of eight in a row and it’s not pretty. Brett Brown is in experimentation mode and Jerry Colangelo is spinning that it’s “inappropriate” to draw conclusions about the Sixers right now. Time for Sixers fans to start planning their lottery parties.

Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Could Toronto catch Cleveland for East’s top seed?

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, right, looks on from the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, in Washington. James did not play. The Wizards won 113-99. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
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Here’s what you missed on a Sunday around the NBA while thinking, “I should see Spotlight.”

1) Cavaliers rest LeBron James, look sloppy in loss to Wizards. It would be easy to write off Sunday’s Cleveland loss to Washington saying “the Cavs were resting LeBron.” Except the Cavaliers have dropped three of their last four and continue to look lost on defense and still searching for an identity on offense. The Cavaliers still started Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but those two combined for 13-of-31 shooting Sunday. There was more Love in isolation than anyone needs to see. More importantly, the Cavaliers played sloppy defense again (Washington had an offensive rating of 111.9 points per 100 possessions, meaning against the Cavs defense the Wizards looked like the Warriors). Coach Tyronn Lue was so frustrated he hockey line changed out all the starters mid-way through the third and tried to turn the game over to the Cavs’ bench.

After the game, J.R. Smith was the voice of reason, saying the Cavaliers can’t keep playing like this. Not just if they want to beat Golden State or whoever comes out of the West, but if they want to beat Toronto and the other teams in the East (the Raptors beat the Cavs a couple of nights ago.

2) Toronto misses chance to close gap on Cavaliers to one with loss to Pistons. Cleveland is opening the door with this mini-slump for the Toronto Raptors, something Toronto took advantage of earlier in the week to move within two games of the top seed. But Toronto missed an opportunity on Sunday — the Cavaliers lost again, but so did Toronto, falling to Detroit in ugly fashion 114-101. Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey decided to rest Kyle Lowry — which is a smart thing to do — but it seems the rest of the team took a mental vacation as well. Jonas Valanciunas got thoroughly worked by Andre Drummond, particularly on the glass. Corey Joseph didn’t impress with the start. In the second half, DeMar DeRozan was making bad shot choices. It was just a poor game and a blown opportunity to make up ground by Toronto.

3)Damian Lillard goes off for more than 30 again. Lillard’s run of hot play continued as he scored 20 points in the first quarter on his way to 33 for the game as the Trail Blazers beat the beat the Pacers in Indiana 111-102. Lillard led Portland to a 9-2 record in February.

4) Joe Johnson jumps right into Miami’s starting lineup. Joe Johnson went to Miami to get minutes and he was given them right off the bat — he was in the starting lineup Sunday against the Knicks and played 30 minutes, knocking down the first three he took on his way to scoring a dozen points on 10 shots in Miami’s 98-81 win. Johnson (and the entire Heat team) was a bit up-and-down on the day, Johnson was trying to find a comfort level with his new teammates, and to feel his way through the offense. Fortunately for the Heat, they were playing the Knicks so their mistakes were not exploited, at least not consistently. Dwyane Wade dropped 26 points, while Hassan Whiteside finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Miami is the four seed in the East and with Johnson is looking to keep home court advantage in the first round. Johnson is an upgrade for them that should help with that goal.

5) Dallas’ Dwight Powell had the dunk of the day. This is nasty.

Dallas’ Dwight Powell with ferocious slam (VIDEO)

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In his second season, Dwight Powell has become a constant part of the Dallas rotation, giving them 15 quality minutes a night behind Dirk Nowitzki. On the offensive end he takes a few more long twos than Rick Carlisle probably prefers, but mostly he stays in his lane with nearly half his shot attempts coming at the rim.

And he can finish at the rim.

As he showed during Dallas’ win over Minnesota on Sunday.

Dwyane Wade scores 26, Heat beat Knicks in Joe Johnson’s debut

Miami Heat forward Amar'e Stoudemire (5) and guard Dwyane Wade (3) celebrate in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks as New York Knicks guard Jerian Grant (13) watches during the Heat's 98-81 victory over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) — Joe Johnson jumped right into Miami’s starting lineup and right into the playoff race.

He looked completely comfortable in both.

Dwyane Wade scored 26 points, Johnson made a 3-pointer on his first shot in a Heat uniform during a big game-opening run, and Miami beat the New York Knicks 98-81 on Sunday night.

Johnson was in the starting lineup a day after signing with the Heat and contributed to their 13-2 burst to start the game, a lead they never relinquished.

“You get a guy a caliber of, a player like him, you normally get that in the offseason,” Wade said. “So to be able to get it right now, as you’re going into a playoff run, is very important for this team, especially with everything that we’ve been dealing with.”

Hassan Whiteside added 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Heat, who matched a franchise record with their fifth straight victory in New York. Luol Deng scored 15 points and Johnson finished with 12.

Miami had dropped two in a row but made a nice pickup during that stretch Saturday with the signing of Johnson, a seven-time All-Star who had been waived by the Brooklyn Nets after agreeing to a contract buyout.

Playing on one of the worst teams in the league a few days ago, his first time changing teams in midseason puts him on one battling for home-court advantage in the postseason.

“This is kind of new, but I’m up for it, man,” Johnson said. “It’s a challenge. I’m looking forward to it, and every game from here on out is going to be a playoff-type game for us. We’ve got to have that mentality.”

Carmelo Anthony scored 25 points for the Knicks, who have lost 14 of 17. Robin Lopez had 14 points and 14 rebounds.

“We just couldn’t get any sort of consistent rhythm because we couldn’t make the shots we normally make,” interim coach Kurt Rambis said. “It breaks your momentum, it breaks your confidence and guys couldn’t just get momentum, get the fans involved in the ballgame.”

Johnson picked the Heat in part because of his relationships with fellow veterans such as Wade and Amare Stoudemire, and because Wade talked to him about a future with the team beyond this season. Johnson fit nicely in the lineup with them while the bench got big contributions from Whiteside and Justise Winslow, who grabbed 13 rebounds.

Some loud “Let’s go Heat!” chants broke out at Madison Square Garden, where the Heat built a few big leads, let it get close a couple times, and finally pulled away to improve to 14-0 when holding opponents below 90 points.

The Knicks shot 37 percent and thought they put too much pressure on Anthony, who shot 9 for 24. Anthony said that’s understandable when players are missing shots.

“A lot of them (were) wide open that they missed,” Anthony said. “But when you’re not making, who else is there to look to to make shots and try to make shots and try to make plays? I don’t look at it as putting too much on me.”

TIP-INS

Heat: Stoudemire had eight points and seven rebounds while playing at Madison Square Garden for the first time since the Knicks bought him out at last year’s All-Star break. Signed in 2010, he received a mixed reception, which matched what he called mixed emotions. “So many familiar faces,” he said before the game. “So kind of don’t want to beat them too bad, but then again I do.”

Knicks: Starting guard Arron Afflalo sat out with a bruised right thigh. … Stoudemire’s take on the Knicks: “It’s hard for me to watch from the outside looking in because I was so involved with creating a positive atmosphere around the Knicks, but now it seems that it went the opposite way.”

STATISTICS

Johnson’s first shot gave him 19,000 career points. He is six behind Reggie Theus for 50th place on the career list. … Wade has scored in double figures in 39 straight games against the Knicks, counting playoffs, his longest active streak against any team.

COURTSIDE CROWD

Among those choosing hardwood over Hollywood on Oscars night: Director Spike Lee, as he said he would, and actors Dustin Hoffman and Tracy Morgan, seated a few seats away in the front row.

 

Chandler Parsons, Mavs start fast in 128-101 win over Timberwolves

Chandler Parsons
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DALLAS (AP) — Owner Mark Cuban believes boos from the home crowd during a bad start in the last game for the Dallas Mavericks probably got the attention of his team.

Maybe so.

Chandler Parsons scored 29 points as the Mavericks started fast after a woeful opening half two nights earlier and rolled to a 128-101 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night.

“This was a mature win for us,” said Parsons, who scored 13 straight Dallas points over the second and third quarters to help restore a 20-point lead built in the first 11 minutes of a sixth straight victory against Minnesota. “Obviously we haven’t been perfect and we’ve had some inconsistencies, but we are sticking together.”

Two nights after scoring 27 points to help Dallas rally from 23 down in the second quarter of an overtime victory against Denver, Parsons was 10 of 15 from the field, made four of seven from 3-point range and hit all five of his free throws.

“We went to him a lot and he delivered,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He played a really smart game.”

Shabazz Muhammad scored 24 points to lead the Timberwolves, who used nine players and dropped to 1-10 on the second night of a back-to-back after rallying for a win at New Orleans.

“We get tomorrow off, but we just look like a tired basketball team,” interim Minnesota coach Sam Mitchell said. “You could see it in their eyes.”

Dirk Nowitzki and Parsons sparked the quick start, both scoring 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range, in the first quarter. The Mavericks went up 39-19 on Nowitzki’s layup for his last points of the game with 1:15 left in the first quarter.

The 7-foot German left early in the third quarter with his fourth foul, and the Mavericks were up by 26 points when he finally came back late in the quarter. Apparently realizing they could rest the 37-year-old, the Dallas coaches pulled him again 24 seconds after he returned.

With Nowitzki and all but one starter for both teams sitting the entire fourth quarter, Dallas’ lead reached 31 as Parsons had to settle for finishing two points shy of his season high while getting six rebounds and four assists.

Wesley Matthews scored 15 points, and backcourt mate Deron Williams had 10 points and nine of the Mavericks’ season-high 34 assists. Dallas had its largest margin of victory a week after beating Philadelphia by 26.

“We’ve been emphasizing getting off to some better offensive starts, and us five collectively had to make a decision to get us going in the first and third quarter,” Parsons said. “We’ve been straggling a bit there with our spacing.”

Muhammad scored 11 points in the second quarter and the Timberwolves got as close as seven before the Mavericks pushed their lead back to 65-54 at halftime when Parsons hit a pullup jumper over Karl-Anthony Towns from just inside the arc.

Andrew Wiggins scored 15 points, and Towns had 12 points and 11 rebounds a night after getting 30 and 15. Zach LaVine, the only starter for either team to play in the fourth quarter, had 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting with nine rebounds after scoring 25 against the Pelicans.

BASEBALL NIGHT IN TEXAS

Newly elected baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. and former Texas Rangers star Michael Young both had front-row seats. Both got loud ovations when they were shown on the video board during a timeout.

FINALLY COOLING OFF

The Timberwolves shot 38 percent after three straight games of at least 50 percent shooting – the second time they’ve had a streak that long in February. “We all pretty much felt like we had the energy to do it,” Towns said. “Sometimes you don’t realize how much your body has taken a toll until it’s actually going through something rigorous again.”

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: The Timberwolves won for the 17th time in franchise history at New Orleans when trailing by at least 10 points in the fourth quarter. Their record is 17-562 in such games. … Ricky Rubio had 14 points and five assists. … Towns had the 34th double-double, tops among NBA rookies.

Mavericks: Dallas shot 64 percent in the first quarter with 13 assists on 16 baskets. … The Mavericks have played a league-high 10 overtime games coming off a stretch of four in six games. That included a franchise-record three straight. Dallas is 7-3