Author: Kurt Helin

Atlanta Hawks v Memphis Grizzlies

PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Should it be a big-three with Memphis in mix now?


For the past few weeks it has been Atlanta, Golden State then everyone else in the NBA. Should Memphis be included in that mix? They are playing like it, and it’s not like they need to switch styles to play playoff-style basketball come the postseason — they grit and grind for 82 games before that. The bottom of the rankings see the two biggest markets in the league.

source:  1. Hawks (42-10, Last Week No. 1). They dropped two games last week to quality teams — New Orleans and Memphis — but their body of work over the previous five weeks keeps them in the top spot for now. The Hawks remain 8-2 against the West’s playoff teams. Interesting little test for Jeff Teague this week against the suddenly hot Timberwolves and Ricky Rubio.

source:  2. Grizzlies (38-13, LW 2). They have won 13-of-15 and beat the Hawks. Why don’t they move up to the top spot? That loss to Minnesota hurt their cause in my book (plus the Hawks were just too hot for too long to drop with one average week). That said, right now I think there is a big three, with Memphis in the mix with Atlanta and Golden State. I’m not a huge fan of bringing Tony Allen off the bench, I get the need for offense but it’s not working yet. Allen was fantastic against Kyle Korver, however.

source:  3. Warriors (40-9, LW 3). They have the top ranked offense and the top ranked defense in the NBA in terms of points per possession (they moved past the Clippers in offense this week). There is a legitimate chance they finish the season that way (if they stay healthy). If that doesn’t make you a legit title contender, nothing will.

source:  4. Cavaliers (31-21 LW 7). They have won 13 of 14 and are the second best team in the East but here is why I’m hesitant to crown them as best of the East — they have a defensive rating of 101.3 (points allowed per 100 possessions)in their last five games, that’s 13th in the league in that stretch. In their last 15 games it’s 102.8, 15th in the league. The defense has improved and with that offense it wins regular season games, but the big tests remain ahead.

source:  5. Spurs (32-19, LW 5). The Spurs started their annual “rodeo road trip” on Sunday in Toronto with a loss they will be riding the rails (or, in this case, a cushy charter plane) for eight more games before returning to the Lone Star state. Some Spurs teams have come together on this trip, we’ll see if this one can start to return to its form of last season in this stretch.

source:  5. Rockets (35-16, LW 6). Give them credit, they are 5-2 without Howard in this most recent stretch including wins over Dallas and Chicago. James Harden has been MVP worthy, but it’s Donatas Motiejunas stepping up that really keeps them afloat.

source:  7. Mavericks (35-18, LW 8). They have won four of five since Rajon Rondo went down and their defense has still been pretty good. Portland had no defensive answer for Dirk Nowitzki down the stretch Saturday, but then who does?

source:  8. Trail Blazers (34-17. Last Week No. 10). They had lost seven in a row on the road to teams that would make the playoffs in the West before Sunday, when they picked up a quality road win in Houston. Better late than never to put Damian Lillard on the All-Star Team in the West, even if it took an injury to make it a reality.

source:  9. Raptors (35-17, LW 11). Back-to-back wins over the Clippers and Spurs make it eight wins out of 10 for our Canadian friends, who have found their stride again. Hopefully Kyle Lowry enjoys his All-Star turn in New York this week, he earned it.

source:  10. Clippers (33-19, LW 4). The Clippers have lost four in a row for the first time in the Doc Rivers era, and things are about to get worse. This team is really just six players deep and now are without Blake Griffin for likely at least a few weeks, although J.J. Redick may be back before All-Star Game. Their upcoming schedule is brutal. They will slip down the West (they are already sixth) and missing the playoffs is not likely but not impossible. They need Spencer Hawes to step up big now.

source:  11. Suns (29-24, LW 9). They have dropped four of their last five games, including a tough-bounce loss to Sacramento on Sunday. Oklahoma City and New Orleans haven’t taken full advantage yet, but the Suns look like a team that could lose their playoff grip. If they can get through February they have a very home-heavy March where they will pad that record.

source:  12. Bulls (31-21, LW 12). In sticking up for his team’s defense of late, nice to see Tom Thibodeau use points per possession stats. And he’s right in last five games they are sixth in the league on that end of the floor. They are also 2-3. The Bulls have played well in big games recently (beating San Antonio and Golden State), Cleveland on Thursday is a going to be another good test.

source:  13. Pelicans (27-24, LW 14). Anthony Davis is out for a handful of games with a sprained shoulder, but that fall looked like it could have been a lot worse. As you saw against the Bulls Saturday, no team is more reliant on their star to make it all work than the Pelicans are with Davis. Isn’t that the sign of an MVP?

source:  14. Thunder (26-25, LW 15). They split the home-and-home with the Pelicans but then crushed the Griffin-less Clippers on Sunday. Both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant will be in New York for the All-Star Game this week, and both deserve to be there. If I were Steve Kerr, I might even start Durant in Griffin’s place.

source:  15 Wizards (32-20, LW 13). They snapped a five-game losing streak on Saturday (thank you Nets). You can say this spot is too low for a team 12 games above .500, but who above them do you think they could beat in a seven-game playoff series? Right now, none of them. Against teams above .500 the Wizards are just 10-15. Might they be one-and-done in the playoffs?

source:  16. Bucks (28-23, LW 16). Giannis Antetokounmpo is shooting 61 percent over his last seven games and has four double-doubles in that stretch — that earned him NBA Player of the week honors. The first of many, I think.

source:  17. Hornets (22-29, LW 17). Tough losses to the Sixers and Pacers last week, those are the kinds of games they need to win if they plan to hold on to a playoff spot (even in the East). The Hornets are just half a game ahead of nine-seed Brooklyn, 2.5 up on 10 seed Detroit, which makes the game against the Pistons this week huge.

source:  18. Pistons (20-31, LW 20). If one team is going to sneak past Miami (and Brooklyn) into the eight seed out West, it is Detroit. The Pistons are 2 games back heading into this week. Their defense has fallen off in recent games, they need that back for a key showdown vs. Charlotte Tuesday.

source:  19. Nets (21-29, LW 21).

source:  20. Heat (21-29, LW 18). As good as Hassan Whiteside has been, the point guard play has been that bad. With a handful of decent ones potentially available at the trade deadline Pat Riley has to at least makes some calls and see.

source:  21. Celtics (19-31, LW 23). Their not winning a lot but Brad Stevens small-ball experiment is entertaining (they put up points). They had a little three-game winning streak and in the East that will keep a team’s playoffs hope alive, although they are slim for the Celtics (which is the way Danny Ainge wants it right now).

source:  22. Pacers (20-32, LW 24). They have won three in a row now thanks to George Hill’s game winner Sunday. Hill struggled to fit in working off the ball with Paul George and a healthy Pacers team, but he has looked good when asked to do more for the team of late.

source:  23. Jazz (18-33, LW 19). The Dante Exum as starting point guard experiment has had mixed results so far, but when you’re lottery bound with a young team like the Jazz these are the kinds of experiments you try. Let him learn on the job, see how he develops. Then tell him to pass to Gordon Hayward more.

source:  24. Kings (18-29, LW 25). Thanks to DeMarcus Cousins’ game winner, Sacramento is now 7-19 since firing Mike Malone so they could go up tempo with Tyrone Corbin. If there is a candidate for “GM most likely to be fired this summer” it is Pete D’Alessandro. Whether or not George Karl is hired.

source:  25. Timberwolves (11-40, LW 30). Ricky Rubio is back and suddenly the ball is moving, players are running the break, and the Timberwolves have won three in a row. It’s going to be a pretty quiet trade deadline again this season, but don’t be shocked if Kevin Martin or Thaddeus Young are the biggest names on the move. Flip Saunders wants to deal.

source:  26. Nuggets (19-32, LW 22). Losers of five in a row and they are a team in disarray in terms of team building and direction. Either give Brian Shaw a team that fits his style or bring in a coach that likes to run, but pick a direction and stick with it.

source:  27. 76ers (12-40, LW 28). They have won four straight home games. This is the second year in a row they have been held up as the poster child for tanking teams, only to have another team in their own conference be worse (the Bucks last season, the Knicks this season).

source:  28. Magic (16-37, LW 27). They fired Jacque Vaughn but it begs the question: What kind of team are they trying to build in Orlando? Stan Van Gundy said this week there is no such thing as a long-time Magic coach, and that is a big part of the problem. Develop a plan then stick with it.

source:  29. Knicks (10-41, LW 26). What is the under/over on games Carmelo Anthony plays after the All-Star Game before shutting it down and getting surgery? I’d put the line at 2.5, and likely bet the under.

source:  30. Lakers (13-37, LW 29). As we spend the rest of the season watching and deciding if Jordan Clarkson can develop into an NBA rotation guard, here is my big question: What is the Lakers’ long-term plan? Swing for the fences every summer is not really a plan for building a full roster.

Damian Lillard talks finally being named to NBA All-Star Team

Portland Trail Blazers v Houston Rockets

He was the biggest snub for this year’s All-Star Game, and it took an infection in Blake Griffin’s elbow to change that. But change it did.

Damian Lillard is an All-Star again. Finally. He was named as Griffin’s replacement to the West squad for the game next Sunday in New York City.

Lillard talked about that with Jabari Young of Lillard said he was frustrated not to have made it but he understands the Western Conference is brutally deep and picking the team was difficult. He’s just excited to have the opportunity now.

Legendary coach Dean Smith’s best starting five in NBA

Dean Smith obituary

Dean Smith left more than just a legacy of great basketball at North Carolina, he helped change the game of basketball. Including the NBA, for example he was talking about points per possession and other “advanced stats” basics back in the 1960s and ’70s. His fingerprints and influence can be felt from the Los Angeles Lakers (where former Smith player Mitch Kupchak is the GM) to Charlotte (where Michael Jordan is the owner) and just about every place in between.

Smith, who passed away last weekend, sent numerous players on to the NBA out of Chapel Hill, but what would have been his best starting five at the next level? We put together the list — and it’s one heck of a team.

Point Guard: Kenny Smith. While Phil Ford may have had the better college career, we give the nod to Kenny “the Jet” Smith. He was the starting point guard on both Houston Rockets title teams, was an intellegent player who took care of the ball, was fantastic in transition, knocked down a  career 39.9 percent from three, and knew how to run a team. On this squad he isn’t the one going to be asked to do the scoring, but he would help space the floor, play solid defense, and help the team get some easy buckets on the break.

Shooting Guard: Michael Jordan. Was there any doubt? The six-time NBA champion, five-time MVP, 14-time All-Star, and, most would argue, simply the greatest player ever, said that Dean Smith was key to both the player and person Jordan became. “He was my mentor, my teacher, my second father…. In teaching me the game of basketball, he taught me about life.” (Vince Carter would be the reserve here… not a bad backup.)

Small Forward: James Worthy. An important part of the Showtime Lakers, “Big Game James” Worthy could play back-to-the-basket in the post or destroy you with tomahawk dunks in transition. He had the quickest baseline spin move of anyone I remember seeing play in the league. He was also an underrated defender. Over the course of his Hall of Fame career he averaged 17.6 points on 52 percent shooting, and he picked up one Finals MVP with his three rings. Billy Cunningham would come off the bench behind him.

Power Forward: Bob McAdoo. One of the great scorers the game has seen, he was a three-time scoring champion and had one MVP award for his efforts. He averaged 22 points (and 9.4 rebounds) a game for his career, but three seasons he topped 30 points a game on average. Even well past his prime he could put up enough points that he was a valuable part of the Lakers’ first two titles of the Showtime era. Antawn Jamison would be his reserve.

Center: Brad Daugherty. One of the more underrated NBA big men of his era, he averaged 19 points and 9.5 rebounds a game, plus was a quality defensive big man in the paint for those Cavaliers teams that were good but could never get past Jordan’s Bulls. Daugherty, a No. 1 overall pick, was efficient with a career .590 true shooting percentage. Off the bench behind him we’d have the scoring machine that was Sam Perkins — one of the first bigs who could really space the floor with his shot, a career 36 percent shooter from three.

LeBron James admits “fit-in” tweet aimed at Kevin Love, wants him to buy into team

Minnesota Timberwolves v Cleveland Cavaliers

It all started with this tweet from LeBron James late Saturday night.

That tweet seemed a bit cryptic but it wasn’t too hard to guess it was aimed at Kevin Love. The All-Star big man had struggled to find his offensive footing with the Cavaliers (at least until Sunday when he put up 32 points on 18 shots against the lowly Lakers). If you had any doubts that tweet was aimed at Love, remember Love said this in the preseason (via Dave McMenamin of ESPN):

“I’m comfortable and just not trying to, I guess, fit in so much. I had a talk with the guys on the plane ride over [to Brazil] and also at different practices off the floor and they told me to fit out. Just be myself.”

Since LeBron took a couple weeks off to get his body and mind right, he has come back looking like the best player on the planet again. That, combined with improved defense (thanks to what Timofey Mozgov brings), has the Cavaliers winning 13 of 14. They are starting to find their stride and LeBron wants Love to run with them and fit in. The “fit in” line was not a coincidence.

LeBron admitted as much Sunday, McMenamin reports.

But later, when asked at his locker about the tweet and its relationship to Love’s quote back in October by a small group of reporters after the game, the four-time MVP flashed a revealing smile.

“It’s not a coincidence, man,” James said.

Love still has a ways to go, but he also is committed to the process. While Love can opt out this summer and become a free agent — and he may do that to chase a bigger payday — he is not leaving the Cavaliers. Nobody around the league that I’ve spoken to expects him to bolt this summer.

That “where might he go” speculation makes for a fun message board topic on a fan site, or sports talk radio segment, but the reality is Love isn’t going anywhere short term. What Love wants in terms of exposure and off-the-court opportunities comes with being on the biggest stages in the game — not being in the biggest markets but rather playing in the marquee Christmas Day games, going deep in the playoffs and winning titles. Those things will come with playing next to LeBron in Cleveland far more likely than being part of a rebuilding process in New York or Los Angeles.

Love had the most to sacrifice of Cleveland’s big three to make this work; he’s still adjusting to that both on the court and mentally. Chris Bosh was right before the season when he said it was not going to be easy for Love to get used to playing with Lebron. But what Love wants is in Cleveland and he knows it, he’s not just giving up after one season.

He’s just still trying to figure out how he can fit in.

DeMarcus Cousins delivers cryptic comments as Kings close in on hire of George Karl

DeMarcus Cousins, Ben McLemore

After draining a dramatic buzzer-beating game-winner to lift Sacramento past Phoenix, All-Star DeMarcus Cousins should have led the celebration in the Kings’ locker room. Instead, he was saying this:

“I ain’t pumped up, I just got a lot on my mind. Crazy thing about it, I just got a question for ya’ll, I just wanna know how you’re gonna stop God’s plan? How are you gonna do that? How are you gonna do that? This city put through me so much, I stayed loyal to it the whole time. God gives the hardest battles to the strongest souls. The marathon continues. I’m out.”

Okay then.

Those comments are both cryptic and clearly aimed at the ongoing talks by Sacramento Kings management to bring in George Karl as coach. Cousin’s camp has opposed the hiring from the start, but it appears close, with just the owner signing off on the deal left, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Kings GM Pete D’Alessandro was supposed to meet with Cousins and his people Sunday, but that is different from giving him veto power over the hiring of the next coach. Our own Aaron Bruski of PBT and NBC Sports adds this:

It does now fall to the owner, Vivek Ranadivé, and what direction he wants to take the team. If his dream is an up-tempo team, hiring Karl would be a good first step. Then there would need to be others because this roster is not built for that style right now.

Ranadivé also needs to weigh the costs of such a move, something Cousins was trying to bring up. I guess. Those comments were pretty cryptic.