LeBron James

PBT’s weekly NBA Power Rankings: If you’re not taking the Hawks seriously, you should

23 Comments

For a while we kept saying “sure the Hawks are winning, but they need to beat some quality teams before we fully buy in.” Well, they are beating quality teams so we are buying in and they move to the top of the power rankings this week (although I’d still take the No. 2 team in a seven game series).

 
source:  1. Hawks (25-8, Last Week No. 6). Who is the No. 1 seed in the East now? That’s right. They have won 18-of-20 and are 7-2 against the West. My coach of the year at the 1/3 mark of the season: Mike Budenholzer. Let’s hope whoever is announced to buy this team (very possibly in the next couple weeks) doesn’t come in and start changing things around on the basketball side.

 
source:  2. Warriors (26-5, LW 3). They have won three in a row to start off a stretch of seven-of-eight at home (and only 3 of seven are over .500). Their defense has slipped some without Andrew Bogut but is still ninth in the league in the team’s last 10 games.

 
source:  3. Bulls (24-10, LW 2). It wasn’t always pretty, but they still won three of four last week. Tom Thibodeau is doing a good job of keeping Derrick Rose’s minutes under control, but Pau Gasol is playing more than 35 a night and Joakim Noah more than 31 — take your foot off the gas a little Thibs and get your bigs some rest as we get into the new year.

 
source:  4. Trail Blazers (26-8. Last Week No. 1). They’re still without Robin Lopez in the paint, so Terry Stotts had been starting Joel Freeland but now he is injured as well. Which will mean the Meyers Leonard show for a little while.

 
source:  5. Mavericks (25-10, LW 7). Winners of five in a row. Since Rajon Rondo arrived the Dallas defense has improved by more than three points per 100 possessions, plus Rondo is showing some real chemistry with Tyson Chandler, while the Rondo/Dirk Nowitzki +/- numbers are amazing. And Rick Carlisle still has more than half a season to fit all the pieces together properly.

 
source:  6. Grizzlies (24-9, LW 8). They had won three in a row including a nice win over the Spurs (again) until a schedule maker’s loss in Denver. That said they are still 3-4 without Zach Randolph in the lineup. Interesting test Wednesday on the road against Atlanta, a team that has been dismissing the best of the West lately.

 
source:  7. Clippers (23-11, LW 9). The Clipper’s starting five — Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan — is +15.5 points per 100 possessions. Sub Jamal Crawford in for Barnes and the defense struggles but that lineup is still +9.9 per 100. But getting solid play out of the bench is a nightly adventure.

 
source:  8. Spurs (21-14, LW 11). San Antonio was 8-10 in December, which is just the third losing month in all of Tim Duncan’s career. That’s ridiculous. They remain without Kawhi Leonard but have won three of their last four, with some winnable games ahead.

 
source:  9. Rockets (23-10, LW 4). They had their most lopsided loss and most lopsided win of the season on the next night. So I wouldn’t really use the word consistent with the Rockets. Maybe they get a little more with Josh Smith coming off the bench, it took him all of five games to lose his starting spot, but he is helping their defense.

 
source:  10. Raptors (24-10, LW 5). They have dropped 4-of-6 on a tough road swing, falling to Chicago, Portland, Golden State and Phoenix. The Suns and Warriors really exposed the Raptors’ 21st-ranked defense — as good as Toronto’s offense is they are not getting out of the East without more consistent defense.

 
source:  11. Thunder (17-17, LW 13). Rust? They don’t know of rust in OKC where Kevin Durant missed six games then came back and dropped 78 in his first two back on the court. They are just two games back of Phoenix at the eight seed, but the Thunder have 10 of their next 13 on the road so the charge to the playoffs will be a bit uphill for a while.

 
source:  12. Wizards (22-11, LW 12). They have gone 1-3 on the road against some of the top of the West, including losing three in a row. Things don’t get easier for John Wall and company with the Pelicans, Bulls and Hawks all on the schedule this week.

 
source:  13. Suns (20-16, LW 10). If the NBA just took the top 16 teams for the playoffs regardless of conference the Suns would be a relatively comfortable 13 seed with a 2.5 game cushion on falling out of the playoffs. Instead they are the eight seed in the West and if they look over their shoulder they will see a healthy Thunder team closing fast.

 
source:  14. Pelicans (17-16, LW 15). This team has some tough late losses, but none more painful than Omer Asik’s accidental tip to send the game vs. the Spurs to OT (which San Antonio eventually won). That said, why Tyreke Evans and the Pelicans guards go away from Anthony Davis in crunch time remains a mystery. Feed the man the ball.

 
source:  15. Bucks (18-17, LW 16). They have won four games on the road and, as the current sixth seed in the East, are a comfortable five games up on the nine seed (Indiana). These Bucks are headed to the playoffs this season, which is going to get Jason Kidd some COY votes.

 
source:  16. Cavaliers (19-15 LW 14). No LeBron James for more than a week, and while teams with strong systems in place survive those kinds of losses short term (think Spurs or Bulls when guys are out) the Cavaliers are not that. What they are getting is Minnesota Kevin Love — he scores and rebounds like a beast, but is nonexistent on the other end of the court.

 
source:  17. Heat (15-20, LW 17). They had lost four in a row until a win Sunday against Brooklyn, and with that have fallen to the eight seed (and they are just ?? ahead of the Pacers). We’ll see if they can hold that playoff spot in a rough five-game road trip out West.

 
source:  18. Nets (16-17, LW 19). They are 12-3 against teams below .500, which pads their not-that-impressive record and makes it look better than it is. Good news that Deron Williams sore side from Sunday night is not something going to keep him out long term.

 
source:  19. Jazz (12-22, LW 22). They have won six of nine and even in their losses they are a very tough out. Add me to the chorus of people who wants to see more Rudy Gobert on the court, with him out there the Jazz defense will win them some games.

 
source:  20. Pacers (13-22, LW 25). They are within two games of the eight seed in the East, and the are doing it with defense — they have allowed 97.2 points per 100 possessions their last 10 games, second best in the NBA.

 
source:  21. Pistons (10-23, LW 24). . They have won five in a row since waiving Josh Smith, and in those games the Piston’s offense is 13.7 points per 100 possessions better and their defense is 11.7 per 100 better. This is not all about the Smith trade, they have had a soft schedule the last five, but the timing of the improvement also is not a coincidence.

 
source:  22. Kings (14-20, LW 18). Since the firing of Mike Malone we have seen some of the old DeMarcus Cousins — sloppy, lazy defensive moments, and he got ejected from one game for throwing Avery Bradley to the ground. The Sacramento defense is falling apart of late, which also may be Malone related.

 
source:  23. Nuggets (14-20, LW 20). Still tough to get a feel for this team as we start to approach the midway point of the season, and if the team doesn’t have a personality that usually means trouble for the coach. The question though is really what kind of team does management really want to build? That’s not clear, either.

 
source:  24. Magic (13-24, LW 21). There have started to be playoff dreams in Orlando, they are just three games out of the eight seed, but after dropping three in a row before heading out this week for four tough ones on the road they need to just rack up some wins.

 
source:  25. Hornets (11-24, LW 23). They have lost Al Jefferson for a month, which essentially kills the “they can still turn this around and make the playoffs” vibe in Charlotte. Expect a lot of Lance Stephenson trade rumors for the next six weeks as they try to move him.

 
source:  26. Lakers (11-23, LW 27). The Lakers have played the toughest schedule in the NBA so far. It’s a tribute to Kobe that mid-season he can switch his mentality and the way he plays (even if he denies anything is different, it is, he is showing trust in his teammates).

 
source:  27. Celtics (11-20, LW 26). Rajon Rondo returned to Boston last week, showed that he can still play some defense and can still score plenty (he dropped 29), which are both things Celtics fans hadn’t seen from the point guard in a while.

 
source:  28. 76ers (4-28, LW 28). Great news for the Sixers — they are back home for five of the next seven. Er… maybe not such great news as the Sixers are 0-14 on their home court. They have to win one eventually, right?

source:  29. Timberwolves (5-27, LW 29). Ricky Rubio should be back in the next couple of weeks, he’s showing improvement in practice. In the short term, read Dan Feldman’s great story about how a stint in the D-League inspired Shabazz Muhammad’s great run of play recently.

 
source:  30. Knicks (5-31, LW 30). Carmelo Anthony is on track to be voted in an All-Star Game starter by the fans, a game at Madison Square Garden, but his knee is clearly an issue. Will he fight through and play in that game then shut it down?

Kyrie Irving will not travel with the Cavs to Philadelphia

13 Comments

When the Cleveland Cavaliers travel to Philadelphia to play the Sixers on Monday, they will be down two of their three superstars. In addition to LeBron James, who is out for two weeks with a knee injury, the team announced on Sunday that Kyrie Irving will not be making the trip.

According to David Blatt, Irving hurt his back in the second half of the Cavs’ Friday win over the Hornets. He played in Sunday’s home loss to the Mavericks, scoring 6 points in 25 minutes and deciding that he needs some time to heal.

In some ways, the timing of the injury is good news for the Cavs. This was already going to be a rough couple of weeks with James out, regardless of whether or not Irving played. If James came back and then Irving got hurt, that would just extend their bad luck. If taking a little time off now gets both James and Irving back close to 100 percent, that’s better for the Cavs in the long run.

Cleveland’s schedule doesn’t get much easier over the couple weeks. Between now and January 19, they play Houston at home and then road games against the Warriors, Suns, Clippers and Bulls. James should be back for the tail end of that stretch, barring a setback, but it’s not an ideal stretch of schedule for Cleveland.

Cavs GM David Griffin calls David Blatt speculation “totally ridiculous”

11 Comments

Less than halfway into the season, there’s already a coaching controversy in Cleveland. David Blatt has supposedly lost the locker room after a disappointing 19-14 start for a team that was supposed to be a powerhouse. There’s talk that he may be on the way out, to be replaced by LeBron James favorite Tyronn Lue.

Cavs general manager David Griffin hit back at the rumors and gave Blatt a vote of confidence on Sunday, via Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick:

To be sure, the beginning to Blatt’s tenure with the Cavs has been a disappointment. And the coach is not completely blameless, but it doesn’t fall entirely on him, either. It’s just a bad situation for him.

When the Cavs hired Blatt, they thought they were signing him up to guide a rebuilding team built around Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins. That’s the kind of situation a coach like Blatt, with no NBA experience, needs to be in to be successful. The Timberwolves talked to Blatt before Flip Saunders hired himself, and that would have been the ideal spot for Blatt.

Blatt’s job changed over the summer, before he’d even coached a game: James’ decision to return home and the trade of Wiggins and Anthony Bennett for Kevin Love completely shifted the franchise’s priorities. Rather than being a young, rebuilding team, they were suddenly in win-now mode. No matter how good a coach Blatt may be, throwing him into a situation where there are championship expectations right away isn’t ideal. It brings to mind the Nets’ 2013 hire of Jason Kidd 10 days after he retired from playing. Brooklyn traded several draft picks for the aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, firmly cementing their window of contention as “right now.” Hiring a rookie coach for a win-now roster was a mistake, but Kidd has proven to be a good coach with the young Bucks team he’s leading this year. Blatt is far from a rookie coach on the global stage, but he’s never coached in the NBA before and never had to manage superstar personalities like James, Love and Kyrie Irving.

It’s easy to draw parallels between Blatt and the scrutiny Eric Spoelstra faced in LeBron James’ and Chris Bosh’s first year in Miami, but the similarities aren’t exact. For one thing, Spoelstra had already coached the Heat for several years and built up a track record as a well-regarded coach. He also had the support of Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley, two voices strong enough that even a force of personality like James couldn’t overrule them. He essentially ran the show in Cleveland, and playing for a coach with actual authority was an adjustment. But Spoelstra’s coaching acumen and ability to command the respect of the entire locker room, including the superstars, played a major role in the Heat’s success, making four straight Finals and winning two titles in 2012 and 2013.

Blatt has no such authority in Cleveland. Make no mistake: LeBron is the most powerful person in the organization. There’s no Pat Riley, a legendary coach and GM with the championship track record to force him to fall in line. If James wants Blatt gone, eventually he will be gone. For now, it doesn’t seem like that will happen during the season, but barring a turnaround this season, there’s a good chance he won’t be back for a second season. And that’s too bad.

Ty Lawson says he has talked with Kevin Durant about going home to Washington DC

11 Comments

While the Wizards brain trust was making smart off-season moves — re-signing Marcin Gortat, bringing in Paul Pierce —all the talk among fans was on one topic:

Would Kevin Durant come home in 2016?

LeBron James choosing to return to Cleveland sparked a lot of hope in the DC faithful, and it will be a topic again tonight as the Wizards are on the road against the Thunder.

Ty Lawson is another District area native and Ben Standig of CSNWashington.com asked if the two had spoken about playing at home.

“I’ve talked to him about it, but I probably can’t tell you what he said,” Lawson laughingly told CSNwashington.com when the Nuggets visited last month….

“We talked about it. Everybody going home and playing for their respective cities,” Lawson said. “It would be cool, especially playing with the people you grew up with. I grew up with KD. It would be fun to play with them on one team.”

Lawson is not likely bound for the Wizards when his contract is up in two years, Washington is pretty set at point guard with John Wall.

Wizards fans who are Comcast Sportsnet Washington subscribers, you can watch a live stream of the Washington vs. Oklahoma City game Friday night by following this link.

Durant, on the other hand, would fit in very well. Of course, he’d fit well on 29 other NBA teams as well. Should Durant decide to really test the waters come the summer of 2016 teams from Los Angeles to New York and every stop in between would try to court him.

After seeing him answer questions about 2016 when he was with Team USA this summer in Las Vegas (before he dropped out of the World Championships) I don’t believe Durant has any idea yet what he will do in two summers. I would bet that Oklahoma City has the best chance of retaining his services.

After that, the Wizards would certainly be in the mix. But two summers is two lifetimes in the NBA and what Durant will want to do remains unpredictable.

Report: LeBron James didn’t buy into Erik Spoelstra until well into second season with Heat

41 Comments

It’s no secret LeBron James and Erik Spoelstra were not on the same page their first season with the Heat.

Miami started 9-8, and reports swirled about friction between Spoelstra and the players. LeBron bumped Spoelstra while returning to the bench during a timeout, and speculation reached fever pitch.

It seemed Spoelstra might not make it through his first season coaching LeBron.

Sound familiar?

Cavaliers coach David Blatt is dealing with those same type of reports. He’s even getting near-identical quotes from LeBron about the star’s support.

LeBron on Spoelstra in 2010: “This is who we have.”

LeBron on Blatt in 2014: “What other coach do we have?

But LeBron and Spoelstra made it through a rough start and won two championships together. By the time they reached the 2011 NBA Finals, they were all good, right?

Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report:

It took awhile—Heat insiders will say that it took well into the 2011-12 season—but eventually James gained enough confidence in Spoelstra not only to allow Spoelstra to completely coach him, but to start parroting some of Spoelstra’s principles, from a leadership position, to the rest of the team.

If it took well more than a season – with Pat Riley standing up to LeBron in Spoelstra’s defense and Spoelstra proving himself a good coach – for LeBron to come around to Spoelstra, what chance does Blatt have?

There’s no Riley in Cleveland to defend the coach. LeBron wields more power with the Cavaliers than he did in Miami. Could you really see Dan Gilbert standing up to LeBron about supporting Blatt?

And, more importantly, Blatt has not proven himself a good coach. Maybe that’s an unfair expectation for an NBA rookie who’s suddenly coaching a team in the spotlight, one that has a unique collection of stars though not enough fitting role players to produce even a starting shooting guard. But his grace period to learn the ropes won’t last much longer.

LeBron is more mature now, and I’d bet Riley’s insistence on sticking with Spoelstra four years ago taught LeBron something about patience. That lesson likely gets Blatt a longer leash.

But if this provides any perspective on how difficult it is for a coach to gain LeBron’s support, Blatt has a tougher task ahead than we realized.