Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry (30) and Kevin Durant, right, celebrate in the final minutes of an NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Monday, Jan. 2, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. Golden State won 127-119. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Associated Press

NBA Power Rankings Week 13: At halfway point it’s the Warriors in West, Cavs out East

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We are at the midway point of the NBA season, which means things like the mid-season awards will be coming from us in the next couple days (a post on Tuesday, plus a podcast breaking them down). It’s also the midpoint of the rankings, and not shockingly the Warriors are on top and the top five teams have four we were pretty sure would be there before the season started.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (34-6, Last Week No. 4). The Warriors have outscored opponents by 11.6 per 100 possessions this season, the best net rating in the NBA. Last season when they won 73 games, their net rating was that same 11.6. Of course, regular season accomplishments are not how this team will be judged, which is why Monday’s rematch (and Finals preview) with Cleveland matters more than other regular season games. Expect a lot of Stephen Curry/Kevin Durant pick-and-rolls this time around.

 
Spurs small icon 2. Spurs (31-9, LW 1). The Spurs have had their stumbles recently, but their three most recent losses were by a combined seven points. What keeps them in games is the third best defense in the NBA and that they are the best three-point shooting team in the league (41.5 percent as a team). Fun showdown Saturday when they take on the Cavaliers on the first of the NBA’s big Saturday night showdowns.

 
Rockets small icon 3. Rockets (32-11, LW 2). Montrezl Harrell has turned into a player — in the 15 games since Clint Capela went down he has averaged 14.2 points a game. He’s been solid. When you take as many threes as the Rockets — 48.1 percent of their shot attempts are threes in January — there are nights they just don’t fall and the team struggles. For example, the loss last week to Memphis when they shot 24.4 percent three. They face Memphis again this week, as well as Golden State.

 
Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (29-10, LW 3). They are 3-2 on the road trip through the West, but the big game is Monday night in Golden State. Kyle Korver scored 18 against the Kings, the majority of his touches coming curling off screens, he is starting to find a comfort level in the offense (particularly with the LeBron and the bench line). One other big game this week, they host San Antonio in the first of the NBA’s big Saturday Night showdown games.

 
Clippers small icon 5. Clippers (28-14, LW 10). Winners of six in a row (they have yet to lose in 2017), this team is playing well again and they should be getting Blake Griffin back relatively soon. Yes, they are beating below .500 teams (save Memphis) and have a home heavy schedule, but what good teams do is beat the teams below them. Chris Paul is averaging 17.8 points and 12.3 assists per game since his return, and the Clippers are destroying teams when he is on the court.

 
Raptors small icon 6. Raptors (27-13, LW 6). They knocked off Boston last week to reclaim the “second best team in the East” mantle (for at least a while). Still, this team’s issues at the power forward spot have been blown wide open with Patrick Patterson out, and that’s the reason to expect them to be active at the trade deadline. Kyrie Irving will start at one of the All-Star Eastern Conference guard spots, but who gets the other one: Kyle Lowry deserves it, but can he beat out the hot (and also deserving) Isaiah Thomas?

 
Celtics small icon 7. Celtics (25-15, LW 5). The Celtics are 12-3 in their last 15, and Isaiah Thomas is averaging 31 points a game in that stretch. He has become as dangerous a clutch player as their is in the league right now (just ask the Hawks). This is a good team, but here is the concern — they have yet to beat any of the teams you see ranked above them here (0-8). That includes a loss to Toronto last week.

 
Jazz small icon 8. Jazz (26-16, LW 11). They have the best defense in the NBA through half a season, and it is anchored by Rudy Gobert, the leading candidate through Defensive Player of the Year. This team is 18.2 points per 100 better when George Hill is on the court and he has been healthy lately, but the basketball gods cannot ease up on Utah as now Rodney Hood has a knee issue (no structural damage, which is good news considering how it looked at the time).

 
Thunder small icon 9. Thunder (25-17, LW 8). Enes Kanter has been putting up impressive numbers off the bench lately — 20.6 points per game his last five, 18.4 his last 10 — and has injected himself into a very crowded Sixth Man of the Year conversation. The Thunder are 4-4 through their brutal January schedule so far, with four more road games coming up (Clippers and Warriors this week, then Jazz, and Pelicans next week).

 
Grizzlies small icon 10. Grizzlies (25-18, LW 7). They remain the team nobody wants to see in the postseason, and they are 4-0 this season against the Rockets and Warriors. And they face the Rockets again this week. The Grizzlies have a top four defense but are 24th in offense — they run pick-and-rolls 30 percent of the time and score well when the ball handler shoots, but once the passing starts the percentages dip because they don’t have the spot up shooters to make a defense pay.

 
Hawks small icon 11. Hawks (23-17 LW 9). They have pulled Paul Millsap off the trade market, which means they are making a run at the playoffs. They are considering bringing in Gary Neal as a veteran shooter to fill some of Kyle Carver’s minutes (along with Mike Dunleavy, who played well off the bench for them last week). If they are going to get the four seed in the East, they need wins in games like the ones against Detroit and Chicago this week.

 
Wizards small icon 12. Wizards (20-19, LW 16). Bradley Beal’s play has lifted these Wizards up to a playoff level team at the halfway point, the only questions are can they stay healthy, and can they sustain any success. The Wizards are 3-0 so far in a stretch where they have 5-of-7 at home (plus they picked up a road win in Milwaukee in there). Portland and Memphis round out the homestead this week.

 
Bucks small icon 13. Bucks (20-19, LW 14). The fans are getting a few things right with their All-Star votes (no, Dwyane Wade starting is not one of them) — they are putting Giannis Antetokounmpo in as a starter in the East. He should be. He’s going to win Most Improved Player because is making leaps as long as his strides, but we want him in the All-Star Game for plays like this.

 
Pacers small icon 14. Pacers (20-19, LW 12).. Dropped the one game they played last week, to Denver in London, and it was everything Pacers this season: They had won five in a row, Paul George was playing well, then the entire team came out like they’d had a few too many Guinness while in London. The inconsistency of this team is maddening, but a soft schedule this week (Pelicans, Kings, Lakers) could get them back on track.

 
Bulls small icon 15. Bulls (21-21, LW 13).
Busy five games in seven nights week for Chicago, with two back-to-backs (getting Washington and Memphis on those second nights).

 
Blazers small icon 16. Trail Blazers (18-24, LW 19). The win over the Cavaliers last week was a reminder that this team is much better when Al-Farouq Aminu is on the court (they need his defense). That said, so long as Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are their undersized backcourt, defense is going to be a challenge for this team. The improved play of late from this team has them looking like the team that gets the eight seed in the West, which they should be when you look at their competition.

 
Hornets small icon 17. Hornets (20-20, LW 15). They are 1-6 in their last seven and the problem has been on the defensive end, allowing 113 points a game. This is not good for Steve Clifford’s sleep patterns. The Hornets have five in a row at home starting on Wednesday, they need to use that stretch to turn the losing streak around or they could be on the outside looking in come the playoffs.

 
Pelicans small icon 18. Pelicans (16-25, LW 21). They have been a force defensively the past few weeks — allowing just 98.7 points per 100 possessions in their last 10, best in the NBA — which has them just 1.5 games back of Portland for the final playoff slot in the West. Of all the teams chasing the Blazers the Pelicans may be the most likely to be a threat. If they can sustain this defense. Somebody knocking down a jumper would help as well.

 
Pistons small icon 19. Pistons (19-24, LW 18). Reggie Jackson has played much better the past 10 games, averaging 19 points a night in that stretch (and shooting 40 percent from three in his last five). Still the team struggles are simple, in the last 15 games their defense has been terrible, allowing 111.2 points per 100 (27th in the NBA). Also, Andre Drummond and the starters just are not meshing like expected — the Pistons are outscored by 7.6 points per 100 possessions with Drummond and Tobias Harris on the floor together, and by 9.9 when Drummond and Jackson are paired.

 
Knicks small icon 20. Knicks (18-23 LW 17). The drama has returned to New York. They have lost 10-of-12. Derrick Rose went AWOL and is clashing with Jeff Hornacek. Carmelo Anthony trade rumors are starting up (it would be vintage Phil Jackson to push Anthony out of town with it looking like ‘Melo’s idea). Hornacek is changing up the starting lineup, putting Ron Baker in over Courtney Lee. Atlanta, Boston, and Washington are the kinds of games playoff teams win — or at least are competitive in — and can the Knicks do that?

 
Kings small icon 21. Kings (16-24, LW 20). Sacramento is 1-5 so far in a make-or-break seven game homestand and have trailed by at least 14 points in every game. The bad news is now things are about to get tough — after a Wednesday date with the Blazers the Kings head out on an eight game road trip that could bury them. If you want a silver lining, Anthony Tolliver has played well since being made a starter.

 
timberwolves small icon 22. Timberwolves (14-27, LW 26). They are 4-6 in their last 10 games but have been playing better than that — they had won three in a row until stumbling against Dallas Sunday. In those three wins, Karl-Anthony Towns averaged 28.7 points, 15.3 rebounds and 3 blocks a game. There are moments you see the flashes from this team, but they lack the glue that brings the roster together, and like many young teams they lack consistency.

 
Nuggets small icon 23. Nuggets (15-23, LW 24). They needed the trip to London, having lost five in a row before getting there the Nuggets routed the Pacers behind another quality game from Nikola Jokic (22 and 10). His scoring makes his fantastic passing that much more dangerous. Tough schedule ahead for Denver with five games this week and the Spurs and Clippers among them.

 
Magic small icon 24. Magic (17-25 LW 22). This is the team I’m most interested to watch at the trade deadline — last summer Scott Skiles moved on in part because he didn’t like the roster, and Frank Vogel has moved Nikola Vucevic in and out of the starting lineup. They have a front-court logjam and the only questions are what pieces are they willing to move, and at what price. Anyone not named Aaron Gordon should be available.

 
Sixers small icon 25. 76ers (12-26, LW 28). They had won three in a row for the first time in three seasons until Saturday, and still they have won five of seven. I want to see Joel Embiid in the All-Star Game — yes, I know about the minutes restrictions and all the time he missed, but in an exhibition that should be about entertainment, Embiid needs to be front and center. (As an aside, if you’re basing you HOF voting on ASG appearances, you’re doing it wrong.) Right now, this team is just fun to watch.

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Mavericks small icon 26. Mavericks (13-27, LW 25). This is the best Dirk Nowitzki has played all season, and not coincidentally it’s the best Mavs have looked all season as well (though they are not going to get up to .500 this season, first time they will fall below that line since Marc Cuban bought the team). It’s still strange to see all the Dirk sets we’ve seen run over the past decade now run for Harrison Barnes (who continues to score well in isolation but is a work in progress on the playmaking part of the game).

 
Suns small icon 27. Suns (13-27, LW 27). Devin Booker would like the Suns to play more games south of the border — he had 78 points in the two games in Mexico City. Those games included a quality win over the Spurs. It’s welcome back to reality north of the border with the Jazz, Cavaliers and Raptors all on the schedule this week.

 
Lakers small icon 28. Lakers (15-30, LW 23). They have lost four games in a row, and it’s all about the defense — they remain a mess on that end. Also, note to Lakers fans: Yes, D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram are up-and-down this season, that’s what happens to young players learning on the job. It’s part of development. Don’t blow things out of proportion, look at the overall arc of where they are headed. Russell said he just started a game-day routine, that’s a step toward being a pro. That’s what matters. In other words, listen to Aaron Rodgers and R-E-L-A-X.

 
Heat small icon 29. Heat (11-20, LW 29). They were 1-5 on a recent road trip and the only question remaining around this team is how aggressive Pat Riley is moving guys around at the trade deadline. This is a point-guard heavy draft so if the Heat want to roll the dice a little they may be able to get a good package for Goran Dragic. If not, they are tanking just fine with him then can trade him on draft night.

 
Nets small icon 30. Nets (8-32, LW 30). Losers of 10 in a row, and before you use the word “tank” remember Boston has their pick next draft unprotected. Jeremy Lin told a Chinese television network he hopes to be back in the next couple of weeks. Looking for a bright spot? Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has been playing better of late.

Wesley Matthews leads Mavericks to 98-87 win over Timberwolves

Wesley Matthews, Dwight Powell, Dirk Nowitzki
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DALLAS (AP) Wesley Matthews scored 19 points and Dirk Nowitzki added 17 and the Dallas Mavericks beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 98-87 Sunday.

J.J. Barea scored 15 points for Dallas, and Deron Williams had 13 points and 10 assists.

Gorgui Dieng scored 21 points and Andrew Wiggins had 19 for the Timberwolves, who had their three-game winning streak snapped.

Dallas broke open a two-point game by closing the third quarter on an 11-4 run, then Barea scored his team’s first nine points of the fourth quarter. His bank shot in the lane with 8:01 to go extended the Mavs’ lead to 88-76.

Seth Curry then scored the next five points with a 3 and a fast-break layup to give Dallas its largest lead of the game.

Seeking their first four-game winning streak since December 2012, the Timberwolves closed a 14-point, third-quarter deficit to as little as two. Dieng scored nine points in the quarter, making all four of his field-goal attempts.

Nowitzki scored 10 points in a 17-4 run at the start of the second quarter, including seven straight to finish the run. His 3-pointer as the trailer on a Mavericks’ fast break gave Dallas its biggest lead of the half at 44-29. They led 56-47 at the break.

The Mavericks moved up the game time to 1 p.m. Central time to accommodate the Dallas Cowboys’ late afternoon kickoff.

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: Zach LaVine had missed the past two games with a hip bruise, but warmed up before the game and coach Tom Thibodeau declared him ready to go. He scored 11 points.

Mavericks: The Mavericks announced the signing of guard Pierre Jackson to a 10-day contract. Jackson played for the Mavericks from Dec. 27 to Jan. 6, averaging three points, before being waived. … Dallas also recalled forward Nicolas Brussino from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League, where he was averaging 16 points and eight rebounds.

PEER RECOGNITION

As head of the National Basketball Coaches Association (NBCA), Dallas coach Rick Carlisle talked about the association’s announcement of the Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award. The award will be the only one chosen by an NBA coach’s peers and will be announced at the end of the regular season. Goldberg was the first executive director of the NBCA.

“Michael Goldberg is a beloved figure in the coaching world,” Carlisle said. “We felt it was time to honor the work that he’s done. This is a unique award because it’s going to be voted on by peers only. It will have a little extra meaning for coaches. It’s really time for something like this to happen.”

UP NEXT

Timberwolves: Stay in Texas with a visit to San Antonio on Tuesday.

Mavericks: Visit Chicago on Tuesday for the first of a two-game road trip.

Chronically undervalued Zaza Pachulia key cog and sudden ‘star’ for Warriors

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2004: Magic general John Weisbrod called Zaza Pachulia into his office and told Pachulia his value to the team.

It wasn’t necessarily much, but Pachulia had just finished his rookie season and was on a minimum contract. Charlotte was entering the NBA that summer, and Pachulia said Weisbrod assured him Orlando would protect him in the expansion draft.

The Magic didn’t. Charlotte picked him.

2016: Warriors coach Steve Kerr called Zaza Pachulia on the phone and told Pachulia his value to the team.

Golden State couldn’t offer much, just the room exception, but the team wanted Pachulia badly. Kerr assured him he’d start at center to complete a star-studded lineup that just added Kevin Durant to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

“I just told him, I knew that he could make more money elsewhere and that we were lucky that he was even considering coming here,” Ker said, “but that we had a real need for him.”

After being misled earlier in his career, Pachulia trusted.

“That was a deal-maker for me,” Pachulia said. “I kind of feel like I always wanted to go somewhere where I’m wanted.”

*****

Pachulia, who has spent about half his career as a starting center and most of the rest as a prominent backup, has never earned more than $5.3 million in a season. His salary this year: $2,898,000.

He won’t say how much he left on the table to join Golden State – he was reportedly discussing a two-year, $20 million deal with the Wizards – but calls it a “pretty significant amount” between repeatedly saying it doesn’t matter.

“The decision I made, I told myself, and I told my wife and close people who I’m with and my family members, that we’re not going to look back and say I wish,” Pachulia said. “Because it’s a risk. There’s nothing guaranteed. So, we’re never going to look back and say I wish we’d taken the other offer. I thought about it. I had time to think about it wisely, make the right decision.”

Pachulia will be a free agent next summer, and the Warriors will be squeezed to re-sign Curry, Durant and maybe Iguodala. Fitting in Pachulia will be a challenge, and the offseason could become another referendum on his value – if he chooses to test the market.

There are at least indications he’ll have suitors. Zach Lowe of ESPN:

But if those executives valued Pachulia so greatly, why did they never pay him more or trade for him? All those years as an undervalued commodity opened the door for the Warriors to poach him.

Pachulia is glad they did.

It helps that he spends most of his minutes with the Curry-Thompson-Durant-Green foursome on the floor, but Pachulia is doing his part. He plays sound positional defense, crashes the glass, sets effective screens and passes well out of the high post. He’s a little sloppy with the ball and his subpar athleticism limits him, but the Warriors will gladly take the entire package. Their starting lineup has been about as good as their vaunted death lineup (with Andre Iguodala in for Pachulia).

Pachulia does all the little things a super team needs, playing the role that never receives enough credit.

Except, paradoxically, Pachulia is getting outsized credit in All-Star fan voting.

With help from his native Georgia (the country), he ranks second to Durant among Western Conference frontcourt players. In previous years, Pachulia would be on track to start the All-Star game. But, likely with an eye on Pachulia’s stunningly strong finish in last year’s voting, the NBA changed its process this season. Now, players and media also have a say, making Pachulia a huge longshot to start.

“I respect it,” Pachulia said of the format change.

The league never appeared bothered by fans voting in Kobe Bryant years after he declined far below star production. Dwyane Wade getting similar, though far less pronounced, treatment now doesn’t cause an uproar.

Yet, a little recognition for Pachulia turns the system on its head – and he doesn’t complain.

Pachulia doesn’t gripe about any of the times he’s received the short end of the stick.

Immediately after picking him in the expansion draft, Charlotte flipped Pachulia to the Bucks, and he embraced it.

“Milwaukee is a perfect place,” Pachulia said. “Nothing much to do there. It’s cold, so you’re thinking about basketball. You can spend as much time as you want in the gym.”

After one year with the Bucks, he signed in Atlanta and played a supporting role in the Hawks’ rise. He eventually signed back with Milwaukee and was quietly instrumental in the Bucks’ breakout 41-41 season two years ago. They outscored opponents by 6.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and got outscored by 3.1 per 100 when he sat – hardly a coincidence. Pachulia’s basketball intelligence boosted that team.

Yet, Milwaukee essentially gave away Pachulia, trading him to the Mavericks for a top-55-protected second-round pick – or, as new teammate Dirk Nowitzki joked, for “a case of Gatorade.”

Does Pachulia hold a grudge about the trade or feel insulted by the return? Nope. He still raves about Bucks coach Jason Kidd – “I learned so much from that guy. Genius” – and appreciates Kidd sending him to Dallas, where Rick Carlisle (who previously coached Kidd) taught Pachulia even more.

Pachulia stresses how badly he wants to keep improving, even at age 32. He finds the Warriors’ players and coaches to be a wealth of knowledge, and his fifth-Beatle status allows him to fly under the radar and enjoy Golden State’s strong basketball culture.

It’s a long way from Orlando and Weisbrod, who – seemingly to Pachulia’s delight – now works for the Vancouver Canucks (yes, the hockey team). Pachulia takes a rare moment to gloat about his staying power in a league that has only lately – and still reluctantly in important corners – revered him.

“The guy was obviously doing his own things,” Pachulia said. “Not necessarily was the smartest thing to do, I think about it looking back.”

Three things we learned on Thursday: One strong Warriors quarter enough vs. Pistons

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) is congratulated by forward Draymond Green (23) after scoring against the Detroit Pistons during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Oakland, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Associated Press
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It was an international day for the NBA, with games in London and Mexico City. If you missed it because you were trying to decide what to do with a giant inflatable Trump rooster balloon, we’ve got your back, here’s the big takeaways from the day.

1) When the Warriors play at their peak — even if only for one quarter — it is a thing of beauty. And the Pistons can’t stop it. So far this season, the Warriors are beating teams by a league-best 11.6 points per 100 possessions — the exact same net rating they had last season. But it doesn’t feel the same. Golden State hasn’t played with the consistent focus we saw the last two seasons from this team, they have tended to “flip the switch” more. Of course, two years ago they were just bursting on the scene, and last season they were pushing for 73 wins. This season they are trying to integrate Kevin Durant (which certainly hasn’t always been smooth) and focused more on being right for the postseason. It hasn’t seemed the same, but they are still blowing teams out.

Case in point, Thursday night against the Pistons at Oracle Arena. The Warriors seemed to coast through the first half, then they turned it on in the third and won that quarter 41-19. From there, Golden State coasted in for the win, 127-107. The Warriors ball movement was phenomenal, beautiful to watch, and left the Pistons’ defense scrambling. Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson combined to score 72 points.

Of course, the Warriors are not going to be judged on regular season wins, all that matters is how they play in June. To that point, Golden State has the weekend off, then will face Cleveland at home on Martin Luther King Day Monday.

2) Knicks pick up a needed win at the expense of Bulls. It was the second night of a back-to-back after having blown a late 10-point lead to the Sixers, and Kristaps Porzingis was sitting out with a sore Achilles. The Knicks had lost 9-of-10, and this set up to be another “L.”

So, of course, they beat the Bulls. Comfortably.

This game lacked star power — no Jimmy Butler, no Porzingis — but the Knicks role players stepped up, with Mindaugas Kuzminskas scoring 19 and Kyle O'Quinn adding 12 points and 11 boards. The Knicks seemed to get whatever they wanted in the paint, and that started with Derrick Rose drives.

The Knicks need more wins like this, they currently sit two games out of the playoffs in the East. The Bulls are one back of the eight-seed Wizards. These are both teams where the front office made win-now moves this summer bringing in pricey veterans, and both of these teams need to string together some wins or they will be able to book early tee times this spring.

3) London gets to see the Nikola Jokic show. Mexico City saw the Devin Booker show but a Mavericks’ win. Remember, the NBA makes a healthy chunk of its revenue overseas — broadcast rights, merchandise sales, etc. — so it’s going to keep taking the product to foreign lands when it can. Enter the international slate of games Thursday: Nuggets and Pacers in London, then Mavericks and Suns in Mexico City.

In London, it was the Nikola Jokic show as he dropped 22 points, grabbed 11 boards and dished seven assists to lead Denver to a comfortable 140-112 win. Also, this may have been Danilo Gallinari‘s best game as a Nugget this season, he had 18.

In Mexico City, Devin Booker dropped 39 points for the Suns, but it wasn’t enough in the battle of Western Conference lottery-bound teams, the Mavericks got the 113-108 win behind 23 from Deron Williams.

Fan in Mexico City tries to take selfie with TJ Warren mid-game (VIDEO)

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The NBA was international on Thursday night, with one of the games being played in Mexico City between the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns.

It’s got to be exciting for non-NBA countries to get an up-close, live taste of professional basketball of this caliber. One fan was so excited, in fact, that he tried to take a selfie during the game when Suns forward TJ Warren fell next to him.

Via Twitter:

Dude, take the selfie if you have time, but you can’t pin down players during play. Come on.