Kurt Helin

NBC/PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Thunder climb to third, Mavericks and Bulls fade

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Only two more power rankings to go after this one — then the playoffs start (you know, the things that make these rankings moot). Oklahoma City is getting hot at the right time, Dallas and Chicago are the polar opposites of that.

 
source: 1. Warriors (66-7, last week No. 2). They have to go just 7-2 the rest of the way to beat the Bulls’ single season win record, and Steve Kerr will chase it rather than rest players wholesale (like the next team on this list). They have a challenging back-to-back with Washington and Utah Monday/Tuesday but Kerr said expect everyone to play. Best playoff sign: They are 13-1 against teams with the next five best records.

 
source: 2. Spurs (61-12, LW 1). Gregg Popovich knows the Spurs are not catching the Warriors for the top seed so he has begun resting guys wholesale — five guys were out vs. Oklahoma City Saturday (it’s not a coincidence that’s the likely second-round matchup, why potentially tip your hand/give them confidence). Biggest playoff concern: San Antonio is 5-6 against others in league’s top six (by record).

 
source: 3. Thunder (51-22 LW 5). Winners of seven in a row and most against playoff teams — they peaking at the right time behind Russell Westbrook’s triple-doubles and Kevin Durant’s improved all-around game. Tough schedule down the stretch including Toronto, Detroit, LA Clippers and Houston this week.

 
source: 4. Cavaliers (52-21, LW 3). Big picture, things look pretty good in Cleveland. Sure, LeBron James is frustrated with the lack of consistent focus, and Tyronn Lue has had to dial back what he wanted to do on defense, but this is still an elite team that almost certainly will get the chance to throw its punches in the NBA Finals. That said, to me they often look like first-year Miami with LeBron — talented players playing next to each other, not with each other.

 
source: 5. Hawks (44-30, LW 6). Atlanta has won eight of nine. The Hawks have had an elite defense for a while (second best in the NBA this season) but after the All-Star break their offense has improved with starter Kyle Korver regaining his form from three, while bench leader Dennis Schroder is shooting much better from just about everywhere compared to the first half of the season.

 
source: 6. Raptors (49-23, LW 4). These Raptors will set the franchise record for wins in a season, but the question is how will they fare in the playoffs (where they haven’t gotten out of the first round since the Vince Carter era)? The return of DeMarre Carroll would help with that, but he did not take to the road with the team recently and there is no official timetable yet.

 
source: 7. Hornets (42-31, LW 7). Jeremy Lin has been red-hot off the bench and sparked a 23-point comeback against the Spurs to give Charlotte it’s best win of the season. Still a dangerous team on paper come the playoffs, but if they started today they would struggle with a hot Atlanta team in the first round. They are just a game back of getting home court in the first round, but they need to rack up wins — a home-and-home with the Sixers this week should help.

 
source: 8. Heat (42-30, LW 8). They are currently the five seed in the East but are just a game back of the three-seed Hawks and Miami has a soft schedule down the stretch. Just like the Hawks, Miami thinks if it can get the three seed (and avoid the Cleveland side of the bracket) they can make a deep playoff run.

 
source: 9. Clippers (45-27, LW 9). Blake Griffin has been cleared to play and following his suspension will return to the Clippers lineup Sunday and with that he will have seven games to get back in the flow with teammates (he also will have the four or five games Los Angeles will have in the first round against a depleted Memphis team). The Clipper ball movement has been better overall (although not the last week) with Griffin out, can can certainly pass but can he keep the ball from sticking on one side of the court too much?

 
source: 10. Celtics (43-30, LW 10). They stopped their slide with a four-game winning streak, it doesn’t matter who that was against. However, now comes a brutal West Coast road trip — at the Clippers, Trail Blazers, Warriors, and Lakers (the last time Kobe faces the Celtics).

 
source: 11. Pacers (39-34, LW 11). They seem comfortably in the playoffs, up 2.5 games on the nine-seed Bulls with nine to play, but that makes Monday’s matchup against Chicago key. Indiana continually seems to beat the teams it should beat but doesn’t stack up well with the teams in the top five in either conference.

 
source: 12. Pistons (39-35, LW 15). Detroit is 5-2 on their nine-game homestead, with both losses coming at the hands (or wings) of the Atlanta Hawks. Next up are tough ones with Oklahoma City and Dallas, but the real test is Saturday night on the road in Chicago — that’s the team trying to catch them in the playoff chase. If Detroit win just one game this week, it needs to be that one to secure their playoff spot.

 
source: 13. Jazz (36-37, LW 16). Utah would be in the playoffs if they started today and you have to like their chances of staying there. While they have just a one-game cushion over the nine seed, that is Dallas which is fading fast. Also, the Jazz have a heavy home schedule the rest of the way with some very winnable games this week (Golden State excepted). After the injury-riddled season they had, making the playoffs would be quite an accomplishment. And that defense would make some top team work for their first-round wins.

 
source: 14. Rockets (36-38, LW 12). They have been dropping a lot of close games of late (they have lost four of five), but that’s not on James Harden who has carried the offense (including a triple double in Toronto). Houston is just half a game ahead of Dallas for the last playoff spot in the West and their schedule this week — Cavaliers, Bulls, Thunder — isn’t doing them any favors.

 
source: 15. Grizzlies (41-32, LW 13). With makeshift lineups due to injury, you have to expect runs like this where the Grizzlies beat the Clippers but then lose to the Lakers. As one would expect with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol out, the Grizzlies defense isn’t very good (which doesn’t bode well for that first round series against the Clippers).

 
source: 16. Trail Blazers (38-36, LW 19). Portland remains a team with a quality offense led by an elite backcourt, but they need to outscore teams to win because their defense is unimpressive. Particularly the past few weeks. Portland is 2.5 games clear of Dallas to remain in the playoffs, hard to see them dropping out of the postseason, but their schedule this week isn’t easy (Boston, Miami, Golden State).

source: 17. Wizards (36-37, LW 14). They continue to win enough games to keep their playoff hopes alive, but making up 2.5 games on Detroit or three on Indiana in just a couple weeks seems like a longshot without a few upset wins. They are out on a five game West Coast swing that includes Golden State and the LA Clippers this week.

 
source: 18. Bulls (36-36, LW 17). They have lost three in a row and from the outside there seems to be a lot of consternation as to the cause — especially getting swept in a home-and-home by the Knicks. I’d start by looking at the defensive end, where the once-stout Bulls are a mess. If they are going to climb back into the playoffs they need wins against the teams they are chasing this week, Indiana and Detroit.

 
source: 19. Mavericks (35-38, LW 18). . Their playoff dreams took a serious blow losing Chandler Parsons for the season (don’t buy the rumors he could return this season/playoffs). Dirk Nowitzki is carrying as big a load as he can (and he will be back next year), but the defense is the problem for Dallas. Winnable games this week — Denver, New York, Minnesota — but the Mavs need to get some stops. Do it and maybe their playoff dreams don’t fade away.

 
source: 20. Nuggets (31-43, LW 21). Let’s just bask in that moment one more time — Emmanuel Mudiay hit the best game winner of the season last week against Philadelphia. While you can’t play them together (unless you hate defense), I love the 1-2 center punch of Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic.

 
source: 21. Bucks (30-44, LW 20). When Jason Kidd and his staff sit down after the season to look ahead to the next one, the first question they need to ask is “how do we get our defense back to its 2015 level?” Last season they made the playoffs on the strength of that defense, this season they found an offensive groove with Giannis Antetokounmpo as the point forward, now how do you combine them?

 
source: 22. Knicks (30-44, LW 24). Kristaps Porzingis is scoring more than 20 points a game most nights again — is he through the rookie wall, or did Kurt Rambis figure out how to use him better? Carmelo Anthony feasted on the Bulls defense last week.

 
source: 23. Kings (29-44, LW 23). The drama never seems to go away with this team, with DeMarcus Cousins taking a not-so-veiled swipe at George Karl by backing Seth Curry. Time to move on to something positive: There’s still a lot of development to do with him, but Willie Cauley-Stein has had some solid offensive games lately, which is a good sign for the future.

 
source: 24. Magic (30-43, LW 22). Good to see Dewyane Dedmon look good in the win over the Bulls, one man’s injury is another’s opportunity. By the way, Dwight Howard is open to a return? Ignoring the numerous burned bridges there, does an aging big man at a big price fit with with the model in Orlando? They can do better.

 
source: 25. Timberwolves (24-49,LW 26). As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann pointed out on twitter, Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine have dramatically improved their shooting the second half of this season. If those two can become guys you have to respect on the perimeter because of their jumpers, Karl-Anthony Towns job just got easier — and he’s already making it look pretty easy of late.

 
source: 26. Pelicans (26-46, LW 25). With Anthony Davis out the Pelicans have to play the other two other bigs they thought might work next to him, Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca. That’s worked about as well as you thought it would. That’s one area whoever is the GM of this team this summer needs to work on.

 
source: 27. Nets (21-51, LW 27). They beat the Cavaliers and Pacers last week, Bojan Bogdanovic is shooting well, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is back on the court. That’s about as much positive news about the Nets as we have had in a while.

 
source: 28. Suns (20-53, LW 28). Devin Booker continues to be a bright spot, and he may have found a better groove with Brandon Knight. The players want management to bring back Earl Watson as coach next season, but he’s gone 6-18 and is that going to inspire management to keep him.

 
source: 29. Lakers (15-58, LW 29). We continue to see signs of development from D’Angelo Russell (fortunately his ankle sprain wasn’t serious), Julius Randle (he’s seeing the court and passing much better), and the vastly underrated Larry Nance. This Sunday is Kobe’s final game vs. Boston.

 
source: 30. 76ers (9-65, LW 30). They need just one more win to avoid tying the worst all-time record for an 82-game season, which doesn’t seem like much but they have already lost nine in a row and have just one win since Feb. 8. This week they face Charlotte (home and home) and Indiana, hard to see a win in there.

Watch Klay Thompson drop 40 on Sixers

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Where was Klay Thompson beating the Sixers Sunday? Above the break threes. And just about anywhere else he wanted.

Thompson had 40 points on 27 shots against the Philadelphia — including hitting 6-of-12 on above the break threes — as the Warriors beat the Sixers 117-105. It wasn’t a total blowout and making Stephen Curry play in the fourth quarter could be a moral victory for Philly.

But when Thompson is shooting like — and Draymond Green has a triple-double — the Warriors are almost impossible to beat.

DeAndre Jordan was either dunking on or blocking Nuggets all game long

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Count me in the camp that thought Doc Rivers went over the top the past couple seasons in pumping up DeAndre Jordan. I get why he did it, after Vinny Del Negro had torn Jordan down Rivers built him back up to being an elite center and confidence was at the heart of it. However, the past couple seasons Rivers was pushing Jordan for Defensive Player of the Year when the Clippers defense was just as good when he sat (last season the Clipper defense was 0.3 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court). Watch him closely and you saw Jordan struggle with the finer points of defense.

This season, Jordan has improved his consistency, timing, and doing those little things on defense — and he continues to be a force on offense as the most dangerous roll man in the game.

The Denver Nuggets saw all of that Sunday. Above you can see one of Jordan’s ferocious dunks. Below, check out his six blocked shots, three of them on Emmanuel Mudiay. He had 16 points and 16 rebounds to key to Los Angeles’ 105-90 win.

Klay Thompson scores 40, Draymond Green with triple-double in another home Warriors win

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Klay Thompson scored 40 points in consecutive games for the first time in his career, Draymond Green posted his franchise-best 12th triple-double and the Golden State Warriors beat the Philadelphia 76ers 117-105 on Sunday night.

Stephen Curry had 20 points and eight assists and Green contributed 13 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists as Golden State (66-7) stayed a game ahead of the pace set by the 1995-96 Bulls’ during their record 72-win season. Chicago was 65-8 through 73 games.

Backup big man Marreese Speights added 17 points and seven rebounds in the Warriors’ 53rd straight regular-season victory at Oracle Arena and 35th consecutive at home this season.

Carl Landry scored 22 points for the lowly Sixers, who lost their ninth in a row and 22nd in 23 while playing a back-to-back.

When coach Steve Kerr took the Golden State job before last season, he challenged Speights to extend his range by a foot. It was a slow process that didn’t happen during the championship run, but the 6-foot-10 center has done it this season all right.

The Splash Brothers set the example for a guy they’re considering giving “Splash Cousin” status.

Curry (350) and Thompson (253) have 603 combined 3s, the most by a pair of teammates in a season. Reigning NBA MVP Curry, already the first player in NBA history with 300 3s in a season, has nine games left to chase 400.

Thompson shot 15 for 27 and had his fourth 40-point game this season and eighth of his career, all coming at home. Speights hit his first six field-goal tries, including a pair of 3-pointers, and finished 7 for 10.

Ish Smith added 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting and 10 assists for the 76ers, who rallied from 24 points down and 19 in the fourth quarter before losing 108-105 to Golden State in the first meeting Jan. 30 on Harrison Barnes‘ game-winning 3 with .2 seconds left.

On Sunday, Curry started 1 for 6 and missed his initial four 3-point tries before connecting 4 minutes before halftime – running his NBA record to 143 straight games with at least one 3.

GETTING DEFENSIVE

With 20 games remaining, Kerr challenged the Warriors to clean up the turnovers and take it up a notch defensively. The first task has been far better down the stretch, but Golden State’s coach is still calling for more on the defensive end.

After Friday’s win against Dallas, he called the defense “horrific.”

“We have been paying close attention to our defensive numbers the last 10 games,” Kerr said. “What we are really trying to reinforce with our players is the idea that come playoff time that we better be sharp and we have to start building those habits now in order to be sharp in the postseason.”

TIP-INS

76ers: Coach Brett Brown is unsure whether F Richaun Holmes will return from a right Achilles tendon strain before season’s end after he re-injured it Saturday at Portland. “I worry. You don’t want to mess around with Achilles injuries,” Brown said. “You go overboard with your conservative approach.” Brown is not as concerned with F/C Nerlens Noel‘s status as he nurses a bone bruise on his right knee. He missed his third straight game. … The Sixers called up F Christian Wood from the Delaware 87ers and signed him to a 10-day contract. … Philadelphia hasn’t beaten Golden State since a 104-97 win on March 2, 2013.

Warriors: Speights hit his 20th and 21st 3s this season in the second, topping the 19 total he had his first seven seasons. … Shaun Livingston got a night off to rest. … If C Festus Ezeli does fine scrimmaging 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 in the coming days, he could return from left knee surgery later next week – but not in Tuesday’s or Wednesday’s games, Kerr said. G Andre Iguodala (sprained left ankle) is further behind. … Golden State swept the season series 2-0 for the third straight year. … The Warriors are 8-7 on Easter Sunday, including 5-1 at home. They hosted on Easter for the first time since 2004.

 

Paul George scores 25 points, Pacers beat Rockets 104-101

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul George did the bulk of his work for the Indiana Pacers early on, and then Monta Ellis and Ian Mahinmi came through at the end.

George scored 16 of his 25 points in the second quarter and the Pacers overcame 34 points from James Harden to beat the Houston Rockets 104-101 on Sunday night

“This was exactly the kind of game we expected,” Mahinmi said. “We knew we had to have this one tonight. A big thing right now is that we are still learning to play with each other, and we are getting better.”

The trio worked well together to put the game away and keep the Pacers rolling on a playoff push.

Ellis scored 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting, including the go-ahead basket with 4:46 remaining to give the Pacers a 96-95 lead. Mahinmi, who tied his career high with 19 points, followed up with back-to-back baskets to give the Pacers a 104-101 lead.

Harden added eight rebounds and Trevor Ariza added 14 points for the Rockets, who have lost two straight.

The Pacers took a 16-point lead in the third quarter and appeared to have the game put away before the Rockets went on a run and took a lead early in the fourth quarter with a dunk by Ariza.

The Pacers are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. The Rockets dropped to eighth in the West and are trying to stay in the chase for the playoffs.

It was a solid effort in the second half for Houston, though.

The basket by Ariza in the fourth quarter came while the Pacers turned it over three straight possessions and the Rockets scored three straight baskets to take an 85-81 lead.

The Pacers extended a 10-point halftime lead at the start of the second half when George Hill made a 3-pointer and Ellis drove to the basket to put Indiana ahead 67-51.

But then Houston went on a 19-3 run. Trevor Ariza made a 3 and Harden made three more, including one to tie the game at 70 with 3:37 left in the third quarter.

Before that, the opportunities were few and far between.

“They’re a very good defensive team,” Houston coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “They do a great job protecting the paint and they’re running you off the 3-point line and sending you to more people.”

Houston recorded its second-lowest 3-point percentage in a game this season and was held to 21.2 percent from behind the arc.

“They missed some open 3-pointers, but overall, I thought our 3-point defense was good,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “They hurt us and got back in the game in the third quarter when they went small, and James Harden really got going.”

The Pacers used strong ball movement to take a 57-47 halftime lead.

Ellis and Miles each made 3-pointers during a 10-2 spurt late in the second quarter and Mahinmi scored to cap off the run to make it 55-42 with 1:41 left in the first half.

TIP INS

Rockets: Dwight Howard had 11 points and 10 rebounds. … Houston was 2 of 18 from 3-point range in the first half and finished 7 of 33. … Forward Sam Dekker was out with lower-back soreness.

Pacers: George and Mahinmi each had 11 rebounds. … The Pacers were 9 of 26 from 3-point range. … Indiana shot 50 percent from the field in the first half.