NBA power rankings, where the Nets are up to 28th

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ilgauskas_return.jpgThis week, each of the top teams have a loss they regret, so we balance things out by not tinkering with the top… but the Spurs and Suns are climbing fast. And the Nets are 28th.

1. Cavaliers (58-16) The true sign of a quality team – they get a little bored this time of year and just want the playoffs to start. That would be your Cavaliers most nights.

2. Magic (52-22) The dramatic last second loss to the Hawks because nobody put a body on Josh Smith stung. But better to learn the hard lessons now rather than the second round of the playoffs.

3. Lakers (54-19) Last week’s drubbing at the hands of Oklahoma City does not mean the Thunder would win a first-round playoff matchup with Los Angeles. That said, the Lakers would prefer to avoid OKC in the first round.

4. Suns (47-26) The way he’s playing lately Amare Stoudemire could have won the Space Jam game all by himself. Seven wins in a row for Phoenix, but this week’s victims were Golden State, New York and Minnesota. Can’t read much into those.

5. Mavericks (48-26) Dirk has great footwork — would he be better on Dancing With The Stars than Mark Cuban?

6. Hawks (47-26) They sandwich the dramatic win over the Magic with losses to the Sixers and Bucks. I expect in the playoffs you see the more focused Hawks, but who knows if they can’t build momentum now.

7. Nuggets (48-26) A couple bad games this week, but nobody in Denver noticed because sports fans there are all still walking around muttering, “Brady Quinn? He’s the answer to our problems?”

8. Spurs (48-26) Kevin Garnett said Manu Ginobili imposed his will on the game Sunday. Manu’s been imposing his will on a lot of games lately.

9. Bucks (40-32) Everyone keeps saying the scramble between the Hawks and Celtics for third in the East is about avoiding Cleveland in the second round. It really should be about avoiding the hot Bucks in the first.

10. Blazers (45-29) Quality wins over Dallas and Oklahoma City this week. It has taken all season, but they may be putting it all together at the right time.

11. Celtics (47-26) What is it about the Celtics and third quarters? San Antonio’s 12-0 run to start the third quarter Sunday was just the latest in a long line of bad third quarters by Boston.

12. Jazz (48-26) Carlos Boozer hints he might stay in Utah next season. Yea, we can certainly believe everything he says about free agency.

13. Heat (40-34) Wade plays in Chicago, he sees the Bulls roster up close, and I’m willing to bet checked Chicago off the list of possible free agent destinations.  

14. Thunder (44-28) So young, so talented. The question is: Under the bright lights of the playoffs will they finally be a little dazed and take a step back? They haven’t all season.

15. Bobcats (38-34) Three game win streak! They’ve turned it on and are playing great! Oh, all the wins were against the Wizards or Minnesota? Never mind.

16. Bulls (35-38) They’ve won three of four. But that’s not the reason they are just half a game out of the last playoff spot, Toronto’s utter collapse is.

17. Grizzlies (38-35) Welcome to the Western Conference — Memphis would be three games ahead of a Bulls team almost in the playoffs, instead they are 6.5 games out and going nowhere.

18. Rockets (36-36) Injuries continue to ravage this roster in an unfair way.

19. Hornets (34-40) Chris Paul returns, and they drop two game in a row. Just been that kind of year for the Hornets/

20. Raptors (34-34) This team is just falling apart. It’s hard to watch. Especially if you’re Chris Bosh.

21. Sixers (26-47) Wins against the hot Bucks and Hawks — are the guys playing for Eddie Jordan’s job? Nah.

22. Pacers (27-47) You should watch this team for Danny Granger. Actually, he may be the only reason to watch this team.

23. Warriors (21-52) Golden State is the best D-League team playing in the NBA.

24. Clippers (27-46) Among the things shown on the video board at Clippers home games to entice season ticket holders to renew was a big picture highlight package from the draft lottery party the team threw. Go with what you know.

25. Kings (24-50) The players are trying, but this team is hard to watch without Tyreke Evans.

26. Knicks (26-46) Incoming Nets owner and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov said he wanted to buy the Knicks first, but were told they were not for sale. That sound you hear is the wailing of Knicks fans upon learning this news.

27. Pistons (23-50) Congratulations on being the team the Nets beat for their ninth win.

28. Nets (9-64) It’s amazing how much better they’ve looked once truly desperate to get a win. Not good, mind you, but better.

29. Wizards (21-54) Fifteen straight losses. No, they don’t get to count Gilbert Arenas avoiding jail time as a win.

20. Timberwolves (14-60) Two separate 15-game losing streaks in one season. Damn. That’s hard to do.

D’Angelo Russell drops 40 on Magic including shot that put Nets up for good

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D'Angelo Russell is playing like a guy in a contract year. And that’s just fine with Brooklyn.

Russell tied his career best with 40 points Friday night against the Magic, including hitting the shot that put the Nets up for good on the night with 27 seconds remaining. Russell was 16-of-25 shooting, including 8-of-12 from three, and he was an analytics dream — Russell took all but one of his shots either in the paint or from three.

The Nets — now 24-23 on the season and the sixth seed in the East — came from 21 back to get the win and that included their guards hitting the big shots at the end.

First up was Spencer Dinwiddie.

Then came Russell’s shot that proved to be the game winner.

With the Nets extending Dinwiddie during the season, it’s unlikely Russell returns to Brooklyn next season, but a number of teams are interested in him as a free agent (restricted, the Nets can match if the offer is low).

Report: Isaiah Thomas could return to Nuggets right before All-Star break

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The Denver Nuggets have shown off their depth this season. Three starters — Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap — have missed a chunk of time and yet until a few days ago the Nuggets were the top seed in the West, and they are still a clear second.

And all of that without Isaiah Thomas, their biggest name reserve. He has been recovering from hip surgery last March.

The Nuggets are hoping Thomas will make his debut next month, right before the All-Star Break, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Thomas has been gathering momentum in his rehabilitation process from hip surgery in March, and there’s hope among Thomas and the Nuggets organization he could return as soon as a Feb. 11-13 homestand against Miami and Sacramento, sources said.

There’s strong confidence that he will return no later than the first game after the All Star break on Feb. 22 in Dallas, league sources said….

The final hurdle for Thomas remains playing full 5-on-5 scrimmages. He is expected to start that process soon.

Thomas was playing well and playing through pain in Boston, becoming a fan favorite and pulling that team into the postseason, before his hip injury caught up with him. He tried to recover without surgery playing for the Cavaliers and Lakers last season, but that never really worked like he hoped. He had the surgery and signed a one-year deal with the Nuggets.

Thomas could provide a playmaking guard off the bench, although Monte Morris has filled that role for the Nuggets so well he gets mentioned as a most improved player candidate. Coach Mike Malone will need to finesse the minutes to get both of them touches and involved. How much Thomas can help the Nuggets in the playoffs depends on how he recovers (he has always been a defensive liability because of his size, which factors in as well).

If Thomas can show he would have value as a bench player he will have teams calling next July about a much bigger contract. He has motivation, and he’s popular around the league — people want to see him succeed. But is he fully healthy and does he still have the lateral explosiveness that made him so hard to stop on drives to the rim? We should find out the final couple months of the season.

Report: Kings’ Buddy Hield in 3-point contest

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Players who’ve attempted more than seven 3-pointers per game while making more than 40% of them this season:

Sharing company with only the greatest shooter of all-time will earn Hield a spot in the 3-point contest.

Carmichael Dave of KHTK Sports 1140:

Sacramento getting three players into the Rising Stars Challenge for the second straight year speaks to the team’s nice collection of young talent. Bogdan Bogdanovic (who won MVP last year) and De'Aaron Fox return to the game. No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III replaces Hield, who ages out.

Hield has a chance in the 3-point contest, though the league is better from beyond the arc than ever. He’ll certainly have plenty of competition.

PBT Extra: Five players to watch heading into the NBA’s trade deadline

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It’s going to be a slow NBA trade deadline this year.

The reason it will be relatively quiet on Feb. 7 (the deadline day) this year is reflected in the five players to watch talked about in this PBT Extra. The bottom line: There are far more buyers than sellers.

Take Trevor Ariza in Washington, for example. A number of playoff teams are looking for wings on expiring contracts to help them out — the Rockets and Lakers are at the front of that line — but Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has said the team the team will not tank, so is Ariza even available.

Or, what about Terrence Ross in Orlando? Another wing a lot of teams have interest in, but is Orlando selling?

And while the Dallas Mavericks have made public overtures about reconciliation with Dennis Smith Jr., sources tell me the plan on both sides is still to find a trade, it’s just right now the offers are lowball ones (because the Mavs have no leverage and there will be good young point guards such as Terry Rozier and D'Angelo Russell available in July as restricted free agents, and teams like them better).

Still, there will be trades. These are the guys to watch.