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NBA Power Rankings: Warriors locked on top, Timberwolves slowly climbing

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There’s a lot of stability at the top of the power rankings, with the Warriors and Celtics still in the top two slots. Minnesota keeps on winning, they are defending better, and they climb up to No. 4 — but will the heavy minutes load for the starters catch up to them?

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (33-8 Last Week No. 1). In the five games since his return from a sprained ankle, Stephen Curry has averaged 35.2 points per game, hit 53.2% of the 12 threes he has a game, and averaged a +13 — and with him back the Warriors have averaged 121.7 points per 100 possessions as a team (7 per 100 better than second-place in that span). Remember, Kevin Durant missed a couple of those games. That’s all just a reminder how crucial Curry is to the Warriors success.

 
Celtics small icon 2. Celtics (33-10, LW 2). Boston swept a five-game homestand that included beating the Rockets, Cavaliers, and Timberwolves — all because their defense is locking teams up. In their past six games, the Celtics have allowed just 91.7 points per 100 possessions. Only one game for the Celtics this week as they are in London (Thursday against the Sixers).

 
Raptors small icon 3. Raptors (28-11, LW 3). This season, DeMar DeRozan is assisting on 23% of his teammates’ buckets when he is on the floor, a career high for him by a healthy margin. Combine that with his improved shooting profile — his midrange attempts are down, replaced with threes he confidently knocks down — and you have a guy playing the best ball of his career and leading his team to a five-game win streak (which ended vs. Miami Tuesday). The Raptors don’t get on national television enough (their Canadian audience doesn’t count in US television ratings) but they get a showcase against the Cavaliers Thursday on TNT.

 
4. Timberwolves (26-16, LW 5). Over the past 10 games, Minnesota has been the best team in the NBA statistically, outscoring its opponents by 11 points per 100 possessions — and most importantly their bad defense had been fifth best in the league during that stretch. Karl-Anthony Towns’ defense has improved, but Jimmy Butler is key for the Timberwolves on that end. I’d say they turned the corner, but then I see the minutes for their starters and worry things could fall apart.

 
Rockets small icon 5. Rockets (28-11, LW 4). With James Harden out for a few more weeks, it’s the Chris Paul show in Houston — when he is on the floor the Rockets are still dominating teams, when he sits the team’s defense falls apart (allowing more than 130 points per 100 possessions) and that gets them in trouble. Houston misses Luc Mbah a Moute a lot on defense, but need to find a way to get more consistent stops during the next few weeks until Harden returns.

 
Spurs small icon 6. Spurs (28-14, LW 6). Kawhi Leonard is out again after tweaking his shoulder, but this isn’t expected to keep the forward out for long. That’s good news for the Spurs — their defense is elite with him on the court this season (allowing less than a point per possession). The Spurs have gone 2-3 in a recent strung of road games that heads to Los Angeles (Lakers) on Thursday, then after a game at home against Denver Saturday the Spurs are back on the road for three more.

 
Wizards small icon 7. Wizards (23-17, LW 9). We always talk about John Wall or Bradley Beal, but the guy who doesn’t get enough credit on this team: Otto Porter. He is averaging 14.2 points and 6.5 rebounds a game, both career highs, and is shooting 44.8% from three. ESPN’s Real plus/minus is may not be a perfect stat, but the fact Porter is sixth in the NBA in it this season speaks to his importance as the glue guy in Washington that makes it work. The Wizards seem to have gotten the memo and showed up to play against the last few below .500 teams that they played.

 
Thunder small icon 8. Thunder (22-19 LW 8).. Andre Roberson is missed — if you wondered who the fifth player with the Thunder’s big four would be wonder no longer. In the five games Roberson has been out with a sore knee the OKC defense, once second in the league, has been 24th in the NBA allowing 111.5 points per 100. Consider this a boost for Roberson’s Defensive Player of the Year candidacy. Rookie Terrence Robinson got a few starts and looked like the future (he couldn’t miss in the second half against the Lakers and had 24), but it’s not the same. A fun matchup with the Timberwolves Wednesday, could well be a first-round playoff preview.

 
Cavaliers small icon 9. Cavaliers (26-14 LW 7). Call it an expected mid-season malaise if you want, the Cavaliers continue to look vulnerable to the other top teams in the East. They have lost 5-of-6 on the road recently, giving up 127 points in their last two games (including to Orlando), and now face the Raptors and Pacers in real tests. Then the Warriors next Monday. Kyle Korver has moved into fourth on the all-time three-pointers made list (he moved past Paul Pierce on Monday night).

 
Nuggets small icon 10. Nuggets (21-19, LW 10). Just a reminder: This team is without Paul Millsap, and have gone 12-12 with the star forward (injured wrist). The trade deadline question for Denver: what should it do with Kenneth Faried? Trade him? Play him? The energy bring that doesn’t bring what he once did has racked up 8 DNP-CDs in the last 10 games. Can’t blame coach Mike Malone for that, the Nuggets are 8.9 points per 100 possessions better when the Manimal is sitting this season. Faried isn’t going to bring much of anything on his own, if traded he’s in a package (with Emmanuel Mudiay?).

Bucks small icon 11. Bucks (21-18 LW 12). Toronto is a team that has adapted its game and is now moving the ball, swinging it from strong to weak, and in two recent games they exposed that the Bucks defense can still be ripped apart by teams that do that. The Raptors scored 131 (in OT) and 129 on Milwaukee in those games. The Bucks defense is 23rd in the NBA on the season (25th if you take out garbage time, 21st in the last 10 games) and it’s the end of the floor that will cost them in the playoffs if things don’t change.

 
Heat small icon 12. Heat (23-17, LW 13). Miami has won five straight – all by single digits. Still, a win is a win and as of right now the Heat are tied with the Wizards for the four seed in the East (meaning the first round of the playoffs would be at home). Is Miami poised for a run like the second half of last season? Don’t bet on it. Miami has the point differential of an 18-22 team (according to Cleaning the Glass), they have been the luckiest team in terms of wins in the NBA this season by those numbers.

 
Blazers small icon 13. Trail Blazers (22-18, LW 15). What would help a Portland offense that hasn’t been itself this season? How about some easy buckets in transition — Portland is 29th in the league in percentage of offensive plays that start in transition (11.3%, via Cleaning the Glass). Despite that the Blazers have won of 6 of their last 8, including going into Oklahoma City and getting a win Tuesday at the start of a rough four-game road trip (which includes Houston and Minnesota).

 
Sixers small icon 14. 76ers (19-19, LW 18). Winners of four in a row as they head to London to take on the Celtics. One reason for the win streak is they’ve slowed down the turnovers — on the season the Sixers have coughed the ball up on 17.2% of their possessions, but in the last five games that has dropped to 14.5 percent. Ben Simmons had a solid game against the Spurs, he needs more of those as Donovan Mitchell is closing in on him for Rookie of the Year.

 
Pelicans small icon 15. Pelicans (20-19, LW 14). When they needed a win to help solidify their playoff position, they went in and got it last Wednesday in Utah (thanks to one of their best defensive performances of the season). The Pelicans are the eighth seed in the West, 2.5 games up on the stumbling Clippers, and New Orleans has a soft schedule the next couple of weeks where it can create some cushion in the standings.

Pistons small icon 16. Pistons (21-18, LW 11). The win over the Rockets last week was one of the more inexplicable outcomes of the season — Detroit was without Andre Drummond and on the second night of a back-to-back, yet upset an elite team (the Piston’s only win in their last four). Drummond missed two games last week with a rib injury, he hadn’t missed two games all season in the past five years.

 
Pacers small icon 17. Pacers (21-19, LW 17). Victor Oladipo has been back for two games, and the Pacers are on a two-game winning streak. This is not a coincidence. On the season the Pacers are 13 points per 100 possessions better when Oladipo is on the floor, and in those two wins he was +38 combined (and also scored 38 points). Indiana faces the streaking Heat, Cleveland, then 6-of-7 on the road.

 
Clippers small icon 18. Clippers (18-21 LW 16). Los Angeles keeps lurking around the playoff picture at the bottom of the West and if they can just get healthy… but that’s not going well (Austin Rivers sprained his ankle, Blake Griffin got a concussion, and Millos Teodosic had to miss a few games). The Clippers are also tied for the second easiest schedule in the NBA so far this season (based on opponent records) and things are about to get tougher, starting with Golden State this week.

 
Knicks small icon 19. Knicks (19-21, LW 20). What does Kristaps Porzingis being “so tired” mean? In November, he shot 46.1% overall, so far in January that is down to 33.8%. In November he shot 42.4% on threes, in December that was down to 32.1%. The Knicks are just two games out of the last playoff slot in the East, but they need a lot more Porzingis — and to get Tim Hardaway Jr. back — to make a push.

 
Hornets small icon 20. Hornets (15-23, LW 24). Is Charlotte going to be a seller at the trade deadline? The next few weeks may have a say in that as the Hornets are 5 games out of the last playoffs but have 8-of-9 at home, this is their last chance to make a serious push. Kemba Walker continues to be fantastic but the Hornets need some secondary playmaking form somewhere, and it’s not Nicolas Batum’s nature.

 
Nets small icon 21. Nets (15-253, LW 25). Brooklyn loves to launch threes — they are third in the league in percentage of their shots from three (35.9%, excluding garbage time). The problem is they are hitting 35.8% of them, 28th in the league. The scrappy Nets are also playing their best defense of the season, which is why they were able to push the Celtics twice in recent games.

 
Bulls small icon 22. Bulls (14-27 LW 19).. The emergence of Lauri Markkanen — averaging 17.2 points per game and shooting 50% from three in his last five, continuing the trend of growth we have seen from him all season — makes Nikola Mitotic the guy most likely to be traded at the deadline. Utah and Detroit are the frontrunners, other teams may have interest (watch Portland), but will any give the Bulls the first round pick they want? (The bidding may come down to the protections on the pick.)

 
Jazz small icon 23. Jazz (16-24, LW 21). When Rudy Gobert went down the second time this season with a knee injury, the concern was Utah was heading into a brutal stretch of the schedule. That seems to have done their playoff dreams in — the Jazz are 2-9 during Gobert’s second injury, with their offense and defense in the bottom five in the league. On the bright side, Donovan Mitchell continues to tear it up and is knocking on Ben Simmons’ door in the Rookie of the Year race.

 
Suns small icon 24. Suns (16-26, LW 22). While the Suns are seeing growth — rookie Josh Jackson is looking more comfortable with his shot of late, for example — it’s not likely going to translate into wins as the Suns have the toughest remaining schedule in the NBA. There’s a push in Phoenix to get Devin Booker on the All-Star team, but his biggest obstacle is the conference is LOADED with good guards and it’s tough to crack that group.

 
Mavericks small icon 25. Mavericks (14-28 LW 23). Dallas has become a scrappy team — they pushed the Warriors to the end (and lost on a Curry three) and have been close late in most of their last 10 games. Their most dangerous lineup of late has been Dirk Nowitzki and the bench guys, which is +25.6 points per 100 possessions on the season.

 
Grizzlies small icon 26. Grizzlies (12-27, LW 26). It sounds like Memphis has no interest in moving Marc Gasol at the trade deadline, but what about Tyreke Evans? He is averaging 19.7 points per game and would be in the mix for Sixth Man of the Year if he were coming off the bench more (he’s started half the team’s games so far). In a depressed trading market the Grizzlies would not get a lot back, but maybe a young player or second-round pick who could be part of the future with the Grizzlies.

 
Lakers small icon 27. Lakers (13-27 LW 29). While Lonzo Ball has returned, that didn’t solve the team’s biggest issue o— a severe lack of effort. Especially on defense. What did solve it was playing worse teams (Sacramento and Atlanta, which is who Los Angeles beat on a two-game win streak. The Lakers need more of this play and less of the recent distractions from Lithuania. “We aren’t going to start feeling sorry for ourselves,” Walton said after the loss to the Thunder.

 
Kings small icon 28. Kings (13-27, LW 27). The biggest question for the Kings’ front office during the season should be: How are our young players developing? That’s been up and down, but on the bright side point guard De’Aaron Fox seems to be finding his shot — he shot 37.6% in December and 45.8% so far in January. Also this month his three-point shooting is up to 41.7%. Fox led the Kings’ 25-and-under starting lineup to a win over the Nuggets last Saturday, which is one of those positive signs.

 
Hawks small icon 28. Hawks (10-30, LW 28). Atlanta is reportedly putting Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova, and Kent Bazemore on the trade block coming up on the Fib. 8 trade deadline, and while there may be some interest, in a depressed trade market don’t expect much of a return despite the quality of players. The Hawks are 0-4 so far on a recent road swing (with Denver still to come on Wednesday), which for the season makes them 3-18 away from home.

 
Magic small icon 30. Magic (12-29, LW 30). Look for Orlando to try and be sellers at the trade deadline as they try to assemble a roster that fits together better. Detroit had interest in Evan Fournier — despite the fact he is owed $17 million a season for three beyond this one — which speaks to the need and value of shooting around the league. The Magic have lost 14-of-15 and have 6-of-8 coming up on the road.

Report: Kyle Lowry is day-to-day with bruised tailbone

AP
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Toronto Raptors fans had to hold their collective breath this week as PG Kyle Lowry took a nasty tumble during a game against the Brooklyn Nets.

Lowry was battling for a rebound when Brooklyn’s Joe Harris collided with him.

The force from Harris was enough to knock Lowry flat before he hit the ground. The resulting impact shook Lowry enough that he was on the floor for some time, and had to have help getting back to the locker room.

Via Twitter:

On Tuesday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Lowry was listed as day-to-day with a bruised tailbone.

This is perhaps the best news for Raptors fans as the impact from the court in Brooklyn seemed to give Lowry quite the knock. That he appears to be OK (relatively speaking) and without major injury is important for the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference.

Toronto plays Thursday at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers and again in Canada on Saturday vs. the Golden State Warriors.

Jarrett Allen dunks over Jonas Valanciunas (video)

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Jonas Valanciunas turned around just in time to become a prop in this Jarrett Allen dunk.

Three Things to Know: Isaiah Thomas ejection caps another ugly Cavaliers loss

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Isaiah Thomas ejected for Andrew Wiggins caps off ugly night for Cleveland, while Timberwolves keep on streaking. Make no mistake, Minnesota earned this win. Over the past 10 games, Minnesota has outscored opponents by a best-in-the-league 11 points per 100 possessions — more importantly, the bad defense that had marred their season has been fifth best in the NBA during that stretch. Jimmy Butler is leading and the Timberwolves are not just going to break a playoff drought that stretches back to 2004, they are going to be dangerous in the postseason.

On the other side of that coin, Cleveland has been a hot mess of late. Monday night, Minnesota routed Cleveland 127-99, highlighting just how far off their game the Cavaliers are right now.

Fortunately for Cleveland, the sporting world Monday was focused on Georgia vs. Alabama, and if they saw any highlight from the Cavs/Timberwolves it was Isaiah Thomas getting ejected for clotheslining Andrew Wiggins (it wasn’t intentional, but it was basically a karate chop to the neck and that warrants an ejection every time).

Cleveland was a mess all around Monday — LeBron James had a season-low 10 points (the fewest points he’s had in a game since 2007) and sat for good midway through the third quarter. This one felt over early: Minnesota raced out to a 20-4 lead to open the game, and in the first quarter the Cavaliers shot 8-of-23 (34.8 percent), while the Timberwolves knocked down 59.1 percent of their looks. The blowout continued, with the Cavaliers going down by 41 at one point.

LeBron, coach Tyronn Lue, and others have shrugged off the Cavaliers struggles this season (there was the impressive 18-of-19 win streak and not much else) but it gets harder and harder to do that. There’s a reason other teams in the East think the Cavaliers are vulnerable. The offense was off on Monday night, but those nights happen — games where Thomas, Kevin Love, and J.R. Smith combined to go 0-of-18 in the first quarter are not the norm. Cleveland’s offense is fine. However, the Cavaliers defense is 26th in the NBA over its last 10 games allowing 111.9 points per 100 possessions and that is not a fluke — they allow 109 points per 100 for the season (29th in the NBA). Teams shoot a high percentage at the rim, the Cavaliers don’t run teams off the three-point line, and the Cavaliers allow the second-most transition opportunities in the NBA (16.4 percent of opponent possessions start in transition, and teams score a very good 124 points per 100 on those). (Stats courtesy Cleaning The Glass.)

This feels like the annual mid-season malaise that has struck the Cavaliers the past few years, that they will turn it around and start to play better eventually (the Cavs next two games are at Toronto and Indiana, two teams playing well right now). However, the underlying issues with the Cavaliers are legit. I’m still not convinced any team in the East (as currently constructed) can beat the Cavaliers in a seven-game series, but it seems plausible. Which is a big change from where things have been in the East in recent years.

2) Kyle Lowry goes down hard and appears to injure back, DeMar DeRozan leads Raptors to win anyway. DeMar DeRozan has gotten all the highlights and a lot of acclaim this season, but Kyle Lowry has been more than impressive in his own right leading a changed Raptors offense.

But he took an ugly spill Monday night and had to be carried off the court by teammates.

We don’t yet know the severity of the injury.

With Lowry gone DeRozan stepped up and carried the team in the fourth quarter, with 9 points on 4-of-6 shooting, and the game went to overtime in Brooklyn. In the extra period, DeRozan had 5 of the Raptors 7 points, and Toronto got the 114-113 win on the road. The Raptors get a rare national television game next, Thursday night against the Cavaliers (Toronto gets screwed on nationally televised games because their Canadian fan base doesn’t count in U.S. television ratings, so take this chance to watch them).

3) Steve Kerr speaks for a lot of us on LaVar Ball. To be honest, we’ve run a lot more LaVar Ball stories than I prefer the last few days. The reason is simple: You care. I may have a distaste for a father of a player — one currently on the other side of the globe — ripping his son’s coach, the simple fact is that story has generated more traffic than any other for us in recent days (and I’d bet ESPN, which put the mic in front of LaVar, had a similar impact — plus it helped feed the network’s talking head cycle for a day). If you don’t want to see more LaVar, stop reading what he says. Make him irrelevant — which is how the Lakers feel about his opinions.

You want to read more game-related stuff? Click on that. Read that. The simple fact at every NBA (and sports) site is trade rumors/roster speculation/GM talk drives far, far, far more traffic than game breakdowns.

Steve Kerr — the Warriors’ coach who has defended his good friend Luke Walton — got into all of that in a rant that sums up how I feel pretty well.

Here are Kerr’s full comments, hat tip to NBC Sports Bay Area:

“This is the world we live in now. I was thinking about ESPN. They laid off, I don’t know, 100 people. How many people did they lay off over the last year? More? Well over 100. Many of whom were really talented journalists covering the NBA. This is not an ESPN judgment, it’s a societal thing more than anything.

“Where we’re going is were going away from covering the game and getting close to sensationalized news. It’s not even news really, it’s just complete nonsense. But if you package that irrational nonsense with glitter and ribbon, people are going to watch. I’ve talked to people in the media this year. I say ‘Why do you guys have to cover that guy?’ They say they don’t want to, nobody wants to, but our bosses tell us we have to because of the ratings, because of the readership. Somewhere, I guess this is in Lithuania, LaVar Ball is laughing at all of us. People are eating out of his hands for no apparent reason, other than he’s become like the Kardashian of the NBA, and I guess that sells and that’s what’s true in politics, in entertainment and now in sports. It doesn’t matter if there is any substance involved with an issue. It’s just, can we make it really interesting, for no apparent reason. There’s nothing interesting about that story.

“Do you know how many parents of my players are sitting at home going ‘Why isn’t he playing my kid?’ And yet, we’re sticking a microphone in his face because it apparently gets ratings. I don’t know how cares, but people care. They must care, or ESPN wouldn’t be spending whatever they’re spending to send reporters to Lithuania when they are laying off people who are writing really substantial (stories), people like Ethan Strauss and Marc Stein are getting laid off. Again, this is not a condemnation of ESPN. It’ not. It’s a societal issue. It’s been going on for many, many years. And it’s invading the sports world now.”

Jayson Tatum’s key plays late helps Celtics edge Nets for sixth straight victory

Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) — With a couple big wins behind them and a long plane ride ahead, the Boston Celtics knew they were in for a rough game.

“I think everybody had to push through,” rookie Jayson Tatum said.

Tatum did most of the pushing at the end.

He had a driving dunk and a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions, pulling the Celtics out of a late hole and leading them to an 87-85 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night.

Playing without Al Horford because of a sore left knee, Boston won its sixth straight heading into its trip to London to face Philadelphia on Thursday.

The Celtics were trailing by one when Tatum got the ball and drove for a powerful slam that gave them an 84-83 lead. Kyrie Irving missed on Boston’s next possession but wrestled the ball away from DeMarre Carroll and got it to Tatum in the corner near the Boston bench, and his 3 made it 87-83 with 45 seconds to play.

“He is not scared of the moment,” coach Brad Stevens said about the No. 3 pick. “Never has been.”

The Nets cut it two on Joe Harris‘ tip and had a bunch of chances to tie in the final seconds, but missed a series of shots near the basket, with DeMarre Carroll appearing to be injured during the sequence.

Irving finished with 21 points, and Tatum added 14.

Both teams shot under 40 percent, with the Celtics perhaps worn out after a draining week in which they beat Cleveland on Wednesday and Minnesota on Friday in nationally televised games at home. But they played their usual rock-solid defense, limiting the Nets to 33 percent shooting from the field and 19 percent from 3-point range.

“For us as a young, developing group to really will ourselves to that win, of course there are some games where we’re not necessarily going to score over 90 points,” Irving said. “But on the flip side, we can hold teams to under 90 points so we’ll always give ourselves a great chance to win if we’re playing at a high level on the defensive end.”

Spencer Dinwiddie had 20 points for the Nets, who were bidding for their first three-game winning streak of the season.

They’re also trying to earn respect, and Dinwiddie feels they aren’t getting it yet from referees.

“When you approach somebody and they shush you or they wave you off like you’re not a man, you know what I’m saying, or something of that nature,” Dinwiddie said, “that’s also frustrating to already be in a position of feeling like you’re not getting the same respect.”

Harris had 10 points and 12 rebounds in his first career double-double.