NBA power rankings

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Thumbnail image for nba_bryant2_250.jpgRanking all 30 NBA teams, even the ones that deserve relegation (if only we had the English soccer system). Everybody at the top of the standings had had a recent loss, so the question becomes, whose loss bothers you the least?

1. Lakers (42-14) They lost to the Celtics at home, but they can play the “we didn’t have Kobe” card for that one after the ugliness that was Derek Fishers last shot. Kobe comes back Tuesday, time to see if LA reverts to old, bad habits.

2. Magic (38-19) They drop one to Dallas but the win against Cleveland Sunday was bigger. If Orlando gets that Jameer Nelson to start showing up on a regular basis, the East just got a lot more interesting.

3. Jazz (36-19) They have won four in a row, and showed something coming back from 25 down in Portland Sunday. The Jazz usually have a mid-season hot streak then go cold in March, we’ll see if that trend continues.

4. Nuggets (37-19) Denver beats Boston and Cleveland, but loses to Washington in between those wins? Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

5. Cavaliers (43-14) I hear the complaints coming about this one… but they have lost three straight, including to two teams above them. The Cavs will get it right with Jamison soon and start climbing back up, but as of this week they fall.

6. Thunder (33-21) A nine-game winning streak, and Kevin Durant is destined for Mount Olympus. We’d move them up higher, but does anyone think they could beat any of the top five on this list in a seven game series starting tomorrow?

7. Mavericks (35-21) Three straight wins, including an Orlando/Miami back-to-back. Not sure how far the Butler/Haywood trade takes them in the playoffs, but it did energize a slumping team.

8. Celtics (35-19) Great back-to-back wins over the Lakers and Trail Blazers, but the loss to Denver has me still questioning if this team is elite.

9. Suns (34-23) The team just kept playing through the trade
deadline rumors and aftermath, with wins against Memphis and Atlanta.
Very professional team.

10. Hawks (34-20) Losses to Phoenix and Golden State on this road trip — wouldn’t you think the Hawks would thrive when forced to run?

11. Raptors (31-24) Good test for Toronto this week — Portland, Cleveland and Oklahoma City. We’ll see how real their recent play has been.

12. Spurs (30-21) Two straight losses and now Tony Parker out for a few games. People are drinking away their sorrows on the Riverwalk. (Of course, if they were celebrating they’d be drinking to that, too.)

13. Bulls (29-26) Four straight wins since last week. All against bottom feeders, still, four straight wins. Chicagoans should not look at a gift horse like that.

14. Blazers (33-26) Well they did beat the Clippers this week. And they beat Utah for three quarters. Turns out that’s not enough.

15. Heat (29-28) Wade is willing this team to wins and a playoff spot.

16. Bucks (26-28) They have won two in a row, seven of their last 10, and are just one game out of a playoff spot. And John Salmons is going to help them.

17. Bobcats (27-27) The Bobcats better hope if they make the playoffs they don’t face New Jersey in the first round — they Nets lead the season series 2-1. Okay, maybe that’s not going to be a problem.

18. Hornets (30-26) Daren Collison may be the mid-season fantasy steal of the season.

19. Grizzlies (28-27) They steal Ronnie Brewer from the Jazz, then the fates strike him down with a hamstring injury. Life is not fair.

20. Rockets (28-27) Kevin Martin is 8 for 28 from the floor in his first two games in Houston.

21. Sixers (21-34) Is Jodie Meeks worth a second-round pick?

22. Kings (18-28) Carl Landry is going to be a great fit by the Delta, but this team has lost four in a row.

23 Pistons (20-35) Detroit is actually 5-5 in their last 10 games.

24. Clippers (22-33) The Clippers have gone 2-8 in their last 10, but they have enough cap space to sign LeBron… ha, I know, I just get a laugh every time I type that.

25. Warriors (16-39) When Monta Ellis and Steph Curry are both shooting like they did Sunday, Golden State can topple Atlanta. It’s just not a regular occurrence.

26. Pacers (19-36) They still have Troy Murphy to kick around.

27. Wizards (19-34) Al Thornton and Andray Blatche are having good games together. Yea, that will last.

28. Knicks (19-35) The team that may have been the happiest at the trading deadline? The Utah Jazz. They have the Knicks first round pick this summer.

29. Timberwolves (13-34) They have lost six games in a row….

30. Nets (5-51) But no matter how bad the T-wolves are playing I can’t take the Nets out of last.

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

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There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

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What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

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It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

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We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.