NBA power rankings

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Thumbnail image for James_dunk.jpgOur weekly NBA rankings, where we wonder where would we would rank Kentucky on this list?

1. Cavaliers (52-15) Is beating the Celtics a statement win anymore? Frankly, the only statement game left for the Cavaliers to win is the one that closes out the NBA Finals. Everything else shouldn’t matter.

2. Magic (47-21) We’re going to overlook that loss to the Bobcats (second night of a back-to-back). Sort of. It’s why you’re not number one this week. But overall this team should make Cleveland nervous.

3. Nuggets (45-21) Their coach is missing games due to cancer, their front line gets injured as easily as if it were made of paper mache — and they keep on winning. Six in a row now.

4. Lakers (48-18) Pau Gasol tries to prove he’s tough on Amundson, which can actually decrease your toughness quotient.

5. Mavericks (45-22) I can hear the cries: “It’s not fair! One loss and you drop all the way from first to fifth?” Yes, when it’s the Knicks that beat you.

6. Hawks (42-23) Another team that lost to the Knicks this week. They should have fallen father, but redeemed themselves with a couple wins to follow.

7. Spurs (39-25) No Tony Parker? No problem, two wins. Of course, those were against the Timberwolves and Clippers, which combined should really only count for one win. Let’s see how it goes against Orlando.

8. Thunder (41-24) Remember how last year Portland came into the playoffs the hot young team, only to lose in the first round because they found out that playoff hoops is a different animal? The Thunder may learn that lesson this year.

9. Bucks (36-29) Six wins in a row, nine in their last 10. Bogut and Salmons are playing well. Nobody wants this team in the first round. 

10. Jazz (42-24) Still playing very well over the last month or more, but the losses to the Thunder and Bucks (due in part to injuries) drops them down the ladder a little.

11. Suns (41-26) The loss to the Lakers was a reminder they while they are good they are on the second tier in the West.

12. Blazers (41-28) Portland has won four in row, but against the dregs of the league. No style points earned.

13. Bobcats (34-31) If the playoffs started today, Bobcats and Hawks in the first round. Tell me you don’t want to watch that one.

14. Celtics (41-24) Three losses in last four. Can the Celtics get out of the first round of the playoffs?

15. Heat (35-32) Jermaine O’Neal is playing better and better as the season wears on. Didn’t see that one coming.

16. Rockets (33-31) After a heaping of softies, things get a little tougher this week with Denver, Memphis and the Celtics.

17. Grizzlies (35-32) I still am amazed when I watch Z-Bo play this well game-to-game.

18. Hornets (32-35) Chris Paul is working out before games, doing some shoot around, and looking good. How do you get both him and Collison minutes?

19. Raptors (32-33) Jose Calderon as starter does not fix the defensive woes.

20. Warriors (18-47) Don Nelson is chasing Lenny Wilkins to be the winningest coach in NBA history, yet if he does it with this team does that seem just?

21. Kings (23-44) Just about every other team on the bottom of this list has packed it in for the season mentally. Not the Kings, they bust it every night, still. That is saying something.

22. Pistons (23-43) You’d say this is when the team needs to start rebuilding, but last off-seasons mistakes make that impossible now.

23. Bulls (31-34) New promotion at the United Center — fill out a form in the lobby and you could be chosen to be a starting guard for the Bulls. Injuries have reduced them to this. In fact if you win the contest, you may want to make sure your health insurance is up to date.

24. Knicks (23-43) The beatdown of Dallas would normally move them up higher, if they hadn’t looked so bad the rest of the time.

25. Sixers (23-43) Eddie Jordan may well be toast after the season, but the shakeup needs to be bigger than that to really change things.

26. Pacers (21-45) More than any other team this season, I just don’t like watching them play basketball.

27. Wizards (21-43) I wanted to believe they could find a way to win more, but seven losses in a row reminds you this league is about talent. And the Wizards have none.

28. Clippers (25-42) They have set themselves up for a fast rebuilding. Which they will blow, because they are the Clippers.

29. Timberwolves (14-53) I’m close to moving them back to 30, they have just quit on the season.

30. Nets (7-59) You keep thinking — hoping — that they get some more wins and not set the record, but they keep blowing leads and losing close ones.

Markell Fultz takes ugly pump-fake free throw

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A key question after the 76ers traded for Jimmy Butler: How would the demanding star affect Markelle Fultz‘s confidence?

Butler isn’t even playing for Philadelphia yet, but this isn’t an encouraging sign.

Kyle Neubeck of The Philly Voice:

Maybe the ball just slipped out of Fultz’s hands on the way up, and he had to continue pushing it toward the rim to avoid a violation. That could happen to anybody.

But given everything we know about Fultz’s shooting woes, it’s impossible to take this as anything other than a ghastly low point in an ongoing problem.

LeBron James: ‘I almost cracked’ with Lakers’ slow start

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LeBron James has played in eight straight NBA Finals.

How’s he handling reduced expectations with the Lakers, who started 2-5 before rising to 7-6?

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

‪“I haven’t changed anything outwardly, but you know me. You know how I am. I almost cracked [last week]. I had to sit back and remind myself, ‘[Expletive], you knew what you were getting yourself into,’” James told Yahoo Sports while laughing after Saturday’s win in Sacramento. “This process has been good for me. I just have to continue being patient.”‬

LeBron warned everyone to stay clear when he loses his patience, but he has never sounded close to losing it this season. He signed a four-year deal with the Lakers, said he doesn’t feel urgency to win quickly before his prime ends and seems content to wait for a co-star.

If anything, it seemed LeBron might be too relaxed, enjoying the Los Angeles lifestyle and focusing on showbusiness.

So, this is a welcome sign of his competitiveness.

Also kudos to LeBron for harnessing it unlike others in the organization. These Lakers need time to determine how these oddly shaped pieces fit together – unless a star becomes available. Then, all bets are off.

Dwyane Wade: Making Carmelo Anthony ‘fall guy’ doesn’t address the ‘real problem’

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LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul – the banana-boat buddies – comprise the NBA’s most famous friendship group.

With Anthony nearing his end with the Rockets, that puts Houston teammate Paul in an awkward place. But Wade and LeBron are speaking up. So are the Trail Blazers’ Evan Turner and Damian Lillard.

Wade:

LeBron:

Evan Turner:

Damian Lillard:

It’s unclear whether Wade is scolding the Rockets or fans/media. That comment is far more loaded if he’s referring directly to the organization. I wonder what he sees at the “real problem” in Houston.

A struggling team waiving a minimum-salary player is rarely viewed as making that player the scapegoat. But Anthony has an outsized reputation due to his long, star-level career. With that in mind, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tried to defend Anthony.

But Anthony is a part of Houston’s problems. He’s awful defensively and shooting poorly. There is mounting evidence he’s washed up. Downgrading his role, whether or not that includes waiving him, is a step in the right direction for the Rockets.

It won’t solve everything, and Anthony – after all that he has done in the NBA – should be treated with respect. But there’s no way around his substandard current level of play.

Report: Jimmy Butler planned to hold out from Timberwolves unless traded, informing team during Friday’s game

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According to one narrative, the Timberwolves decided after Friday’s loss to the Kings to trade Jimmy Butler.

But he might have forced their hand, resulting in his trade to the 76ers.

Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Butler decided he would play on Friday night, but he viewed it as the fork in the road. If the Timberwolves didn’t find a deal to fulfill his long-simmering trade request after that, he would begin to sit indefinitely, league sources told The Athletic.

The Kings defeated Minnesota 121-110 to push the Timberwolves to 4-9 and a winless road trip; Butler had 13 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 41 minutes. He had played almost 124 minutes in the last three games, all losses, and at halftime of the final one, the Wolves were informed that this was it for Butler, sources said.

Butler reportedly held out for a game a couple weeks ago, though he and Minnesota both denied it. It’s quite believable he would’ve held out again if not traded. Still, informing the team during a game he’s playing would have been quite bold.

I’m not sure who actually blinked first. This could be an I-quit, no-you’re-fired (or vice versa) scenario. Both Butler and Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau are stubborn.

But the most important thing is Butler is gone and both sides can move on – whatever ugliness preceded the trade.