Kurt Helin

PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Warriors on top, Sixers on bottom, confusing middle

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The top four slots in our weekly rankings not only remain the same and that group has separated themselves from the pack. In reality, the top three separated themselves, then there is OKC on kind of its own tier, then we get to the great middle where teams five through 14 feel almost interchangeable week to week. Meanwhile, the Sixers are back on the bottom, proving the win over the Lakers was a fluke.

source: 1. Warriors (26-1, last week No. 1). Great stat via Tom Haberstroh of ESPN: In the last two seasons, the Warriors are 18-13 in games where they trailed by 15 points or more; the rest of NBA wins .210 percent of those games. Golden State keeps on rolling. Fun showdown with full-squad Cavaliers on Friday.

source: 2. Spurs (23-5, LW 2). We’ve talked about the Spurs having clear-and-away the best defense in the NBA, but they are fifth in offensive rating — and doing it in an anti-Warriors way. They play big, slow, methodical, and while you have to watch LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard plenty of other guys can beat you on a given night. They have won five in a row, nine of 10, and are heading into the soft part of their schedule.

source: 3. Cavaliers (18-7, LW 3). Kyrie Irving is back and played 17 minutes in his return, moving well but looking understandably rusty at times. With him the showdown against Golden State’s small ball is fascinating because Cleveland can counter with Irving, Iman Shumpert, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson. Thank you Santa for that Christmas Day matchup.

source: 4. Thunder (18-9 LW 4). They sit fourth because of the loss to Cleveland, which exposed their biggest flaw against the elite teams: After Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka there is nobody they can consistently trust. Real test Monday night against the Clippers.

source: 5. Heat (16-10, LW 11). Miami’s top-five defense on the season has been pedestrian the past 10 games, 14th best in the NBA. They have been saved by an improving offense. They are feasting against the West (8-1) but that may change with a home-heavy, relatively soft schedule the next couple weeks where Miami should rack up wins.

source: 6. Hornets (15-11, LW 5). They are up and down at times, but they have the fifth best net rating in the NBA over their last 10 games. Plus, watching Jeremy Lin drop 35 is fun. Nicolas Batum was only out for one game, he scored 14 in his return against the Wizards, showing how much their offense needs him.

source: 7. Pacers (16-10, LW 10). They had quality wins against the Raptors and Mavericks last week, but it will be tougher test in the Spurs to open this week. The Pacers have been very strong at home (10-3) but have struggled much more on the road.

source: 8. Clippers (16-12, LW 9). There are no must win games in December but the Clippers are looking at Monday against the Thunder as a real litmus test — Blake Griffin said the Clippers aren’t a team that is winning big games, Chris Paul says they are not a team others should fear. Five of their next six are road games, although one of those is against the Lakers Christmas night.

source: 9. Hawks (17-12, LW 12). Quality wins against Boston and Orlando last week. In his edition of the PBT Podcast, A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com (their Celtics insider) said he thought the Hawks were one of the teams most likely to break out of the crowded middle pack in the East and grab the two seed (and/or make it to the conference Finals).

source: 10. Pistons (16-12, LW 13). They should get bonus points for the 4-OT win over the Bulls, but that’s not the way the NBA works. Their struggling offense from earlier in the season is starting to find a groove, but will be tested this week against the Heat, Hawks, and Celtics.

source: 11. Bulls (15-10, LW 7). Derrick Rose may still be the Bull best at creating his own shot, but late in games it seems to me the Bulls are better off running actions (read: plays) through Jimmy Butler than the Rose iso we see too much. Tough road back-to-back this week with the Thunder on Christmas Day followed by Dallas on Saturday.

source: 12. Raptors (17-12, LW 6). They lost to the Pacers and Hornets, but found a win against the Heat in Miami last week. Their Top-10 offense has sputtered and is pedestrian of late (14th in NBA over last 10 games). Kyle Lowry struggled the last couple games and was ejected on Sunday, the Raptors need the MVP conversation Lowry of most of this season to stay up near the top of the East.

source: 13. Mavericks (15-12, LW 14). They went 2-1 last week with wins against West foes Phoenix and Memphis, and you know things are going well when you get a quality, productive game out of JaVale McGee. Dallas is at Toronto and Brooklyn this week, but they have a winning record on the road.

source: 14. Magic (15-12, LW 14). Monday’s game at Madison Square Garden the only road game for the Magic in a run of eight around the holidays. They are half a game out of a playoff spot in the East and it’s because of their sixth-ranked defense in the NBA over the last 10 games.

source: 15. Celtics (14-13, LW 8). Losers of three in a row and it’s because of an offense that has slipped (20th in the NBA in their past 10 games). During the Celtics-focused PBT Podcast last week, A. Sherrod Blakely says Danny Ainge is certainly going big game hunting for the No. 1 option kind of player they lack, the question is who is out there to get (and no, DeMarcus Cousins is not an option).

source: 16. Rockets (14-14, LW 16). They climbed up to .500 again thanks to a quality win over the Clippers Saturday, but can they sustain it this time (Hornets, Magic and Spurs on the docket this week). The Rockets need to go big with Clint Capela and Dwight Howard paired more often, as they did against the Clips.

source: 17. Grizzlies (15-14, LW 17). The Grizzlies are just 2-3 since moving Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to the bench, but the problem has not been the starters so much as the bench. Marc Gasol has played his way into shape/gotten fully healthy and the Memphis starters are thriving.

source: 18. Knicks (14-14, LW 21). The showdown last Monday with Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns was fascinating, with Towns winning the box score (25 points) but Kristaps Porzingis getting seven blocks and showing his potential. New York has won four in a row, in part behind the offense of Aaron Afflalo (21 points per game in those four). Can they keep it going on the road in Cleveland, Atlanta, and Boston this week?

source: 19. Jazz (11-14, LW 18). How much does Utah miss Rudy Gobert? They are 3-8 since his injury and their defense is 29th in the NBA in the last 10 games. The big man is reportedly making progress, but Utah will be cautious bringing him back so it could be January.

source: 20. Wizards (11-14, LW 19). They picked up a nice win over Charlotte, but Washington remains inconsistent and plagued by injuries (Otto Porter was the latest). The issue remains the defense, which is 26th in the NBA over their last 10 games.

source: 21. Kings (11-16, LW 23). Don’t look now, but at the ugly back end of the Western Conference Sacramento is just one game out of the playoffs, having won four-of-five. They are 10-9 when DeMarcus Cousins plays, he’s the face of the franchise and it’s most popular player as they move into a new building next season, so explain to me again why you think they want to trade him?

source: 22. Timberwolves (11-16,LW 24). Karl-Anthony Towns is the guy in front of the Rookie of the Year race as we come up on Christmas, he is putting up consistent numbers. Minnesota just isn’t putting up consistent wins and have some challenging games this week with Boston, San Antonio, and Indiana.

<source: 23. Suns (12-17, LW 20). They are up and down, with Markeiff Morris trade rumors continuing to swirl around the team and the league. Of course, if you’re going to trade him you need to show him off, so Morris has been playing quality rotation minutes and looked good against New Orleans (one of his rumored destinations).

source: 24. Nuggets (11-16, LW 28). They made a nice little run when the schedule got soft, but reality set in with losses to the Jazz and Pelicans last week. This week they are on the road against the Suns, Spurs and Thunder — so much for the easy part of the schedule.

source: 25. Trail Blazers (11-18, LW 22). They have started 0-3 on their five-game road trip, and now comes the news Damian Lillard is battling plantar fasciitis. Their offense is 12.5 points per 100 possessions worse without him and his shot creation, they can’t afford to be without him for any lengthy stretch. Not that they are tearing it up with him.

source: 26. Bucks (11-18, LW 25). Jason Kidd is out for six weeks (give or take) with hip surgery, leaving Joe Prunty in the big chair as they head into a difficult part of the schedule (well, after the Sixers). To the Bucks’ credit they played Golden State well again, although this time in a loss, if only they could sustain that level of play against everyone.

source: 27. Pelicans (8-19, LW 27). They picked up a couple or road wins last week, leading to the latest round of “have they finally turned the corner and gotten on track” questions. The offense has found a groove, but we’ll need to see more consistent defense before we buy in at PBT.

source: 28. Nets (7-20, LW 26). They have lost five in a row and the defense is a mess, signaling the end to the little run of nearly .500 ball in Brooklyn. The defense badly misses Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and his athleticism.

source: 29. Lakers (4-23, LW 30). Despite all the losing and bad basketball, the Lakers remain the biggest road draw in the NBA thanks to the Kobe Bryant farewell tour. Kobe knows this and doesn’t want to sit out like he did with a sore shoulder against OCK (who they face again on Wednesday). You can see Kobe on Christmas evening against the Clippers.

source: 30. 76ers (1-28, LW 29). As our Dan Feldman noted, the Sixers are in danger of the slowest 30-game start in NBA history — every NBA team has won at least twice in the first 30. The Sixers have a net rating of -18.9 points per 100 possessions in their last 10 games, which is worse than the numbers during their 0-18 start. We’ll see what Mike D’Antoni brings to the table, but nobody is winning with this roster.

Anthony Bennett became first No. 1 pick assigned to D-League Sunday

TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 28:  Anthony Bennett #15 of the Toronto Raptors poses for a photo during media day on September 28, at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)
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It was a very short stint in the D-League. With Toronto and its affiliate playing a double-header Sunday, Anthony Bennett was sent down to the Raptors 905 for one game, scored 13 points, then was recalled immediately to the main Toronto club so he could sit on the bench and have front row seats for the Raptors’ ugly loss to the Kings Sunday.

With that, Bennett became the first No. 1 pick ever sent to the D-League. Former No. 2 pick Hasheem Thabeet had held the honor of highest pick sent down until Sunday.

Former No. 2 pick Hasheem Thabeet had held the honor of highest pick sent down until Sunday. TSN has the Raptors saying this was Bennett’s idea:

“Anthony came to us asking to use this double-header as an opportunity to work on his game,” said Jeff Weltman, Raptors executive vice president of basketball operations. “This is an example of how we envisioned using our D-League team to improve our players.”

Whoever came up with it, this was a good move by the Raptors — frankly the Cavaliers should have done it his rookie season. Bennett was considered a project from the day he was a surprise No. 1 pick and needed to develop out of the spotlight of the NBA. Cavaliers GM Chris Grant reached for him in the draft, but coach Mike Brown wasn’t going to play him, and the result was Bennett (who has skills) never actually developing. To be fair, part of that is on Bennett himself — he has to show the work ethic and dedication needed at the NBA level (particularly 0n defense) to stick. But he wasn’t helped by the situation he fell into.

Bennett has played just 48 minutes total this season for Toronto (after a somewhat promising summer of international ball) and so getting some run in the D-League is smart. He should get more.

(Hat tip the amazing Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie)

Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Cleveland has Kyrie Iriving back

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 20: Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers speaks with the press after the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on December 20, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by David Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
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‘Tis the season for holiday parties and busy schedules. If on Sunday you were trying to finish your shopping before going to the neighbors Christmas extravaganza, so you missed the NBA action, we understand. And we’ve got you covered. Here are five things you need to know from around the NBA Sunday.

1) Kyrie Irving returns, the Cavaliers are getting whole. Cleveland didn’t send Kyrie Irving down to the D-League for a rehab stint before his NBA debut this season, but they did the next best thing — he returned against the 76ers. As you’d expect there was rust on him and his game after having been on the shelf since Game 1 of the NBA Finals — Irving missed his first five shots. Eventually, the shots started to fall, and Irving finished with 12 points on 12 shots, plus four assists in 17 minutes of work. What was important is that he moved well and wasn’t hesitant, so he should look better against the Knicks Wednesday (and the Warriors Friday). What’s important is the Cavaliers are getting whole.

Oh, by the way, LeBron James had 23 to lead Cleveland to a 108-86 win Sunday over struggling Philadelphia.

2) Damian Lillard still putting up numbers, injured or not. Portland did what they do Sunday: Look good early then fade late and lose (this time to Miami 116-109). Damian Lillard did what he does as well, being the hub of the Blazers offense to the tune of 32 points and nine assists. But by the fourth quarter Lillard seemed to be favoring one leg a little, and after the game came news he is battling plantar fasciitis, which he aggravated against the Heat. Not good. If you’re a Trail Blazers fan because the only real cure is rest, and Portland can’t afford to lose Lillard for any length of time, their offense drops off by 12.5 points per 100 possessions.

3) Paul Millsap had the dunk of the day. Atlanta just snuck past Orlando Sunday, 103-100, but Paul Millsap had the dunk of the day in my book. That is Jason Smith for Orlando who recognizes what his happening too late and can’t get over in time to stop it.

4) Kyle Lowry ejected, tied for league lead in technicals, and the Raptors lose. Toronto teases you, they beat San Antonio recently and showed the potential for what they can be. Then they come out Sunday at home against the Kings flat, went down 17-2 to open the game, trail by 22 in the first quarter, and look unimpressive in a loss. A frustrated Kyle Lowry (4-of-13 shooting) got called for a foul he didn’t like in the third and would not stop chirping at the official asking for clarification, picked up a couple of technicals and got tossed. He’ll get a fine for that. Lowry now has eight technicals this season, tied for the league lead with Blake Griffin. If you’re getting as many techs as Griffin, you’re talking too much. Look at it this way: The Raptors are 11.4 points per 100 possessions better with Lowry on the court, they can’t afford for him to get tossed anymore.

 

5) DeMarcus Cousins with a monster slam. From the Kings’ win, Cousins hurt the rim with this one.

Kyrie Irving returns, Cavaliers rock lowly 76ers 108-86

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 20: Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives past Tony Wroten #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on December 20, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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CLEVELAND (AP) — As Kyrie Irving dressed following his first game in six months, LeBron James popped on some music.

With Chris Brown’s “Picture Me Rollin”‘ filling the locker room, Irving, James and Iman Shumpert bobbed their heads in unison and did some small dance moves.

Close to full strength, the Cavaliers are grooving again.

Irving scored 12 points and played 17 minutes in his season debut and James had 23, leading Cleveland to a 108-86 victory Sunday over the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, who lost their 10th straight and fell to 1-28.

Back on the floor for the first time since breaking his left kneecap in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Irving showed some rust but that didn’t matter.

“Kind of been a long, long road, but finally getting out there with my teammates was a pleasure,” Irving said.

The Cavs managed to open the season 17-7 without Irving. But Cleveland is more complete with the All-Star point guard running its offense and being a headache for opposing defenses. Now that Irving’s back, the Cavs are as healthy as they’ve been since early in the playoffs last season.

“We’re almost there,” James said.

Matthew Dellavedova made four 3-pointers and added 20 points for the Cavs, who improved to 12-1 at home and are eyeing a Christmas Day game against Golden State. James didn’t play in the fourth quarter, logging a season-low 25 minutes.

Nerlens Noel had 15 points and 12 rebounds for the brutal Sixers, now 0-17 on the road and on their second double-digit losing streak.

The losing is taking its toll.

“Everybody’s human,” Noel said. “Everybody has their own frustrations, but you stay positive and do your best to keep working through it.”

Irving received a warm ovation from the crowd during pregame introductions. He waved in appreciation and was cheered again as he dribbled up the floor for the first time, a sight Cleveland fans have been waiting months to see.

The Cavs ran a set play for him on their first possession, but Irving missed the layup.

“I didn’t know I was going to be that open at the rim,” Irving said before James reminded him of his gaffe.

“He tanked the layup!” James shouted.

Irving smiled at the playful ribbing.

“As you can hear, I did trick the first layup but it’s OK, I’m not worried,” he said. “It feels good, just getting this one out of the way.”

Irving missed his first five shots before scoring on an uncontested layup after James made a steal near mid-court and fed his teammate. Following the assist, James walked over to Irving patted him on the head and said, “Welcome back.”

“I was on my way to the rim and I saw Ky,” James said. “He had missed his first couple shots and I was like the best way to come back is to get a layup, get an easy one and it was only right I was able to find him, welcoming him back the best way I know how.”

The Cavs plan to ease Irving into the rotation, building up his stamina before extending his minutes. After he was taken out in the first quarter, Irving rode a stationary bike to stay loose.

Irving scored just two points in the first half, but had seven in the third quarter when he showed a couple moves that have made him one of the league’s premier backcourt players. He made a signature crossover dribble and scored on a twisting layup before dropping a 3-pointer to give the Cavs a 62-40 lead.

 

TIP-INS

76ers: Brown coached Irving’s father, Drederick, in Australia and has known the 23-year-old since “he was two days old.” Brown unsuccessfully tried to recruit Irving for the Australian national team. … Newly hired associate coach Mike D’Antoni will join the team on Philly’s upcoming trip that starts Dec. 26 in Phoenix.

Cavaliers: The crowd roared when Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel’s touchdown pass against Seattle was shown on the arena scoreboard. Fans gathered around TVs at halftime to catch up on the action. … G Mo Williams missed his second straight game with a sprained right thumb. … G Iman Shumpert returned after sitting out one game with a strained groin. He had three points in 15 minutes.

 

Bucks’ coach Jason Kidd out indefinitely after hip surgery

during the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 20, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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After what had been a promising last season, but Bucks are off to a rough 11-18 start this season, including a defense that went from feared to bottom five, and an offense that lacks shooting.

Now they have another challenge — head coach Jason Kidd is out indefinitely because of needed hip surgery that will take place Monday in New York, the Bucks announced Sunday.

“I tried to put off surgery for as long as I could, but after consulting with my doctor, he advised that the best course of action was to have the procedure now,” Kidd said in a released statement.

C.F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal added these details.

ESPN’s Marc Stein said that Kidd is likely out until February.

Assistant coach Joe Prunty will take over in the big chair.

“I have every confidence in Joe to lead our team during my absence,” Kidd said in the statement. “Joe has many years of coaching experience both in the NBA and in international competition. He’s well-respected in the league, and I know our players and coaches will give their all during Joe’s time as head coach.

At least he gets an easy start, the Bucks next game is against the Sixers.