NBA power rankings

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nba_james1_250.jpgThe Association from top to bottom.

1. Cavaliers (41-11) Best record in the NBA and on an 11-game win streak. Going into All-Star weekend they are the team to beat. Didn’t we say that last year, too?

2. Nuggets (34-17) They’ve beaten the Lakers twice, that has to boost Denver’s confidence going forward. Although, doing the same thing in the playoffs is another matter.

3. Jazz (31-18)
Eight straight wins. Jazz are in the middle of their annual “we’re playing like contenders mid-season” stretch.

4. Lakers (39-13) Denver and Utah are hotter right now, and the Lakers have a few issues to resolve (hello Derek Fisher), but who you going to pick when the playoffs start? Exactly.

5. Magic (34-17) The comeback win over Boston means they may be putting it all together post Hedo, finally. If so, watch out.

6. Hawks (32-17) They keep getting overlooked as a contender in the East. Do that at your own peril.

7. Thunder (29-21) OKC is 7-3 in their last 10 games, and Kevin Durant is filling it up. Man is that fun to watch.

8. Suns (31-21) They have won five in a row and are climbing fast. Why do they want to trade Amare Stoudemire again?

9. Spurs (29-20) San Antonio crushes bad teams like the Clippers, but they need to beat some good teams before we buy in.

10. Celtics (32-17) This team needs to get healthy, the All-Star break couldn’t come at a better time. But the problems look deeper than that.

11. Mavericks (31-19) They are 5-5 in their last 10, which in the deepest division in basketball will have them out of the lead quick if they can’t turn it around.

12. Raptors (28-23) When they play a little defense, like the fourth quarter against the Kings, they become a dangerous team.

13. Bucks (23-26) They have found their rhythm again and have won 7 of the last 10.

14. Blazers (30-23) Any more injuries and they will be pulling guys out of the stands to play.

15. Bobcats (24-25) While the franchise is in flux, Larry Brown has quietly done a great job getting Charlotte to play defense.

16. Rockets (27-23) This team is not going to win a title, but nobody in the West wants them in the first round.

17. Heat (24-27) It’s not just that Miami is 3-7 in their last 10, but that the schedule has been pretty soft at the same time.

18. Bulls (24-25) Chicago is 6-4 in its last 10, and if they can put to Thomas situation behind them and get Noah back healthy in a couple weeks, they are playoff bound.

19. Hornets (27-24) Has anyone in New Orleans even thought about the Hornets the last two weeks? They may not for two more after the Super Bowl.

20. Grizzlies (24-26) Hallmark of a young team is thinking you are through a touch stretch, letting your foot off the gas and getting beat by Minnesota.

21. Sixers (19-31) Hey, Allen Iverson is an All-Star. There’s your bright spot.

22. Clippers (21-29) New coach Kim Hughes wants to run, but outside Baron Davis who on that team do you want handling the ball on the break?

23. Knicks (19-31) Nate Robinson is back to the bench, Chris Duhon is starting again. That should solve all their problems.

24. Timberwolves (13-38) Don’t look now, but Minnesota is 5-5 in their last 10 and beat Memphis the other day. They may be fitting the pieces together.

25. Pacers (18-33) With the loss by the Colts, the fans of Indianapolis can turn to the Pacers to brighten their… maybe not.

26. Kings (16-24) Can Kevin Martin and Tyreke Evans play together well? If not, now is the time to move Martin.

27. Wizards (17-32) If Bull Durham taught us one thing, it’s that every once in a while a team needs a rain out. Or a snow out, in this case.

28. Pistons (17-32) Chuck Daly used to get death threats. At least back then the Pistons got noticed.

29. Warriors (13-36) I’ve given up trying to figure out Don Nelson’s rotations. They give me a headache.

30. Nets (4-46) I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find something to write to pick up the spirits of Nets fans. I’ve given up.

After Zion Williamson injury, Donovan Mitchell notes risk without reward

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Hype for rival North Carolina visiting Duke on Wednesday night was near an all-time high — secondary ticket prices were pushing Super Bowl prices. It was on national television. A lot of people were making money off of this, starting with the two universities.

Then Duke star and lock No. 1 pick Zion Williamson had to leave the game with a knee injury (later described as a knee sprain).

Utah Jazz wing Donovan Mitchell wanted to remind everyone Williamson was not among the people making money.

Luka Doncic then reminded everyone there is another path.

The NCAA makes its money off the archaic notion of amateurism, that myth fuels the profits major universities rake in off their revenue sports. Keeping that myth alive creates the underground market where players are bribed with shoe money or by boosters (or coaches) to come play at specific universities. It’s that myth that needs to die for the system to change. The issue of paying players is not a simple one — college softball players spend just as much time perfecting their sport and face the same restrictions, shouldn’t they be compensated as well? That said, there’s enough money for everyone if done right. A first step might be to allow Williamson and other stars to be able to profit from their name and likeness while in college without losing their eligibility.

Or, more basketball players may just start choosing Europe or other paths.

76ers coach Brett Brown says he doesn’t expect rookie Zhaire Smith to play in NBA this season

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Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons.

Zhaire Smith?

A few recent 76ers first-round picks missed their entire first professional season due to injury. Smith, the No. 16 pick in last year’s draft could join them.

Smith has missed the entire season so far with a broken foot then allergic reaction. He just returned to practicing with the 76ers, but maybe not in time to play for them this season.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

If the 76ers clinch their playoff seed before the regular season ends, I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith plays for them. But meaningful minutes seem unlikely.

Philadelphia is trying to win now, and a rookie who entered the NBA relatively raw then missed so much time is unlikely to help.

That said, backup wings James Ennis and Jonathon Simmons aren’t exactly reliable options. If everything breaks right for Smith – essentially the opposite of his season to date – maybe, just maybe, he plays for the 76ers this season.

Warriors vs. Bucks or Raptors betting favorite to be NBA Finals matchup

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Who will we see in the NBA Finals come June?

The West looks cut and dried — if the Warriors are healthy, it’s hard to imagine any other team in that conference giving them too much trouble.

The East? That’s wide open. A good case can be made for Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, or Milwaukee finding their way in. (For a more detailed breakdown, listen to the latest PBT Podcast where Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports and myself break down the East in more detail.)

The bookmakers over at BetOnline put together these odds on potential Finals matchups, and after the first four options the odds get pretty long.

Milwaukee Bucks vs Golden State Warriors 9/2
Toronto Raptors vs Golden State Warriors 9/2
Boston Celtics vs Golden State Warriors 5/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Golden State Warriors 5/1
Indiana Pacers vs Golden State Warriors 28/1
Brooklyn Nets vs Golden State Warriors 33/1
Boston Celtics vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Milwaukee Bucks vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Toronto Raptors vs Houston Rockets 40/1
Charlotte Hornets vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Detroit Pistons vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Miami Heat vs Golden State Warriors 50/1
Orlando Magic vs Golden State Warriors 66/1
Washington Wizards vs Golden State Warriors 66/1
Boston Celtics vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Milwaukee Bucks vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Philadelphia 76ers vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1
Toronto Raptors vs Oklahoma City Thunder 80/1

A few quick thoughts on that list:

• Interesting that the Sixers and Celtics are just a little behind the Bucks and Raptors in the minds of the bookmakers.

• I don’t know that I’d have Houston in front of Oklahoma City as the second-best option in the West. Not this season. The Thunder have the defense and star power to do playoff damage.

• If you’re thinking about putting money on Washington or Orlando to make the Finals — against anyone — just donate that money to charity instead. That way it will do some good.

Likely No. 1 pick Zion Williamson leaves Duke-North Carolina game with knee injury

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Zion Williamson will probably be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

He’s a generationally good prospect. The rest of this draft also looks relatively weak.

In fact, Williamson has such a stranglehold on the top pick, some have suggested he sit out the rest of his freshman season.

His injury during Duke’s game against North Carolina tonight will only heighten those calls.

Duke:

Hopefully, Williamson is OK.

And hopefully, the system changes. The NCAA is a cartel in which schools conspire to cap compensation for athletes at a scholarship plus some expenses. In a free market, Williamson would earn far more.

Unfortunately, it probably can’t be both. If Williamson escapes this without major injury, the status quo will likely endure.

But, if this injury even allows him to play again this season, it might be a warning shot that causes him to sit until he can enter the NBA draft.

Again, I hope he’s healthy enough to make that decision for himself.