NBA power rankings, where the Magic almost pass the Cavs. Almost.

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It is your penultimate NBA Rankings. Then in a couple weeks we dispense with these thing and start a playoffs to determine who is best. As God intended. Yes, college football, I’m looking at you.

1. Cavaliers (60-17) We all feel like Cleveland did for the first three quarters in Boston Sunday, “Are the playoffs here yet?” Let’s just get to the Cavs and Magic Eastern Conference Finals.

2. Magic (54-23) Name the only team in the league to beat each of the other 29 teams at least once? They are playing as well as anyone right now.

3. Lakers (55-22) I hate having the Lakers ranked third. Hate it because they don’t deserve it. They dropped three of four last week. But then I look around the West and think, “Who can beat them in a best of seven?” And so here were are.

4. Spurs (47-29) They beat the Lakers and the Magic in the same week. Matt is right, the Spurs may want the Lakers in the first round, best chance of the upset

5. Suns (50-27) Let the parade of 50-27 teams begin — there are four in the West. Just five games left for them to shake out the seedings.  

6. Hawks (49-27) Joe Johnson being out for two games doesn’t help. Avoiding the Bucks in the first round not as big a priority now, but avoiding Cleveland in the second round should be.

7. Heat (43-34) Eight wins in a row for the Heat moves them up the rankings, and with Wade it makes them the new team Atlanta and Boston may want to avoid in the first round.  

8. Nuggets (50-27) With Kenyon Martin, they are contenders in the West. Without…. Not so much.

9. Mavericks (50-27) Everyone asks what happened to Caron Butler, but I want to know what happened to the Maverick’s defense? It’s been terrible, inside and out. They are fouling a lot, on top of everything else, and are 5-5 in their last 10.

10. Jazz (50-27) They’ve beaten everybody in front of them. Except the Lakers when LA was rested and focused.

11. Blazers (47-30) Greg Oden decision time is coming.

12. Celtics (48-28) Ray Allen is starting to step up his game for the playoffs. He and Rondo may have to carry this team on offense in the playoffs, Pierce is just not the player he was two years ago.

13. Thunder (48-28) I love to watch Russell Westbrook play. Makes me wish Ben Howland didn’t put him in such a tight box in college, the guy needs to run free.

14. Bucks (42-34) Ouch. Just, ouch.

15. Bobcats (40-36) We’d be screaming “playoff sleeper alert, look for upset” if they weren’t likely to get Orlando in the first round. Still a tough out for the Magic.

16. Bulls (37-39) One game back of Toronto (two, really, with the tiebreak), the game Sunday night becomes huge. But Bulls are looking like a playoff team now that they are healthy.

17. Raptors (38-38) It would be four wins in a row if Chris Bosh hit that layup. That is a kick in the gut for a team trying to stay in the playoffs.  

18. Grizzlies (39-37) A few injuries, a slow start, a lot of blown leads and you have a team that should be in the playoffs looking in from the outside.

19. Pacers (29-48) Indiana is 7-3 in its last 10 — way to play yourselves out of the lottery odds. Well done.

20. Warriors (23-53) Congratulations to Nellie. This team is playing for him to get the record, 5-5 in their last 10. And a few cupcakes ahead (as much as any team is a cupcake if you have 23 wins).

21. Rockets (38-38) What happened to the Rockets commitment to defense?

22. Hornets (35-43) Chris Paul comes back and they drop five of seven. That is a team that has packed it in for the year.

23. Knicks (27-49) David Lee is putting up monster numbers. But yes, by all means, let him go so you can bring in more guys from the outside in the next couple years.

24. Knicks (27-49) David Lee is putting up monster numbers. But
yes, by all means, let him go so you can bring in more guys from the
outside in the next couple years.

25. Sixers (26-50) Donovan McNabb is traded, the Phillies start their season. Fortunately, the fine folks of Philadelphia don’t have to pay attention to the Sixers anymore. If they still were.

26. Clippers (27-50) There is no timeline for the Clippers to screw up the selection of their next coach.

27. Wizards (23-53) At least they broke the losing streak.

28. Nets (11-66) They went 2-2 last week. For the good of the franchise, they are lucky there is no way they can catch the Timberwolves.

29. Pistons (23-53) That is 11 losses in a row, currently the worst streak in the NBA. They are trying to finish the year on the bottom.

30. Timberwolves (15-62) Trying to come up with a reason to move them up… nope. Nothing good.

James Harden reiterates it was “false talk” he and Chris Paul were at odds

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The Houston Rockets — not in an anonymous way, but in a “we are putting our names on this, quote me” kind of way — have pushed back hard on the narrative that there was tension between Chris Paul and James Harden that led to the Rockets trading CP3 for Russell Westbrook this offseason. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has denied it, team leader P.J. Tucker called it fake news, and Paul himself has pushed back.

Harden has done that again, speaking at his camp on Saturday.

The counter-argument to this: Chris Paul is in Oklahoma City right now.

People will believe what they want to believe, but the Rockets guys have all gone on the record about this. Nothing leaked and anonymous.

From the Rockets’ perspective, they made a trade for Westbrook that is a roster upgrade. Houston has a dynamic duo that can compete with the Los Angeles teams and the other contenders around the league, and whatever questions fans and the media may have about the ultimate fit of Harden and Westbrook the talent level is not in question.

Do the Rockets make that trade if everything is great between Harden and Paul? Probably, if they saw CP3 as in decline and Westbrook as a talent upgrade (which they did). The Rockets can be a cold, business-like organization in terms of their pursuit of a title.

We will see next season if that calculation paid off. Whether or not Harden and CP3 got along.

Report: Kyle Korver reaches one-year deal to join Milwaukee Bucks

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The Bucks can never have enough shooting around a driving Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Enter Kyle Korver. The veteran sharpshooter will be headed to Milwaukee on a one-year contract, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a quality pickup at the minimum (it is a veteran minimum contract). Korver averaged 8.6 points per game last season, taking 72 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and knocking down 39.7 percent of them. The man has gravity and pulls a defender because even at age 38 defenders cannot leave him. Shooting is a skill always in demand.

The Bucks will start Wesley Matthews at the two and have Sterling Brown behind him. They have Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton at the three. Now they have some reliable veteran depth at those spots and a guy who can hit the big shot for them.

James Harden buys piece of MLS Houston Dynamo

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NBA players being minority owners in a soccer team is not new, LeBron James owns a small piece of Champions’ League winner Liverpool, for example.

James Harden is keeping it closer to home — he bought a share of the Dynamo, Houston’s MLS franchise.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to join the ownership group of the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash and proud to be a part of a club with tremendous history and a great future,” Harden said in a statement. “Houston is my home now, and I saw this as a way to invest in my city and expand my business interests at the same time. Soccer in general, and especially MLS, have exploded in this country throughout my lifetime. I’ve been a fan of the game for several years, and I know that Houston has a massive soccer fanbase, so it was an easy decision for me when this opportunity arose.”

Harden reportedly purchased a five percent stake in the team.

The Dynamo — a former MLS cup champion and a franchise that has consistently been strong — is primarily owned by Gabriel Brener, and it has boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya as one of its minority owners.

Harden has earned more than $141 million in NBA salary in his 10 NBA seasons and has four years left on the $228 million contract extension he signed with the team in 2017. In addition, he has a large shoe contract with Adidas and other endorsements.

Report: R.C. Buford moving on from Spurs GM role, Brian Wright taking over

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For 15 years, through championships and an unparalleled run of playoff berths and success, R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich seemed to work as one brain. Popovich was the coach but also team president, Buford the GM, and together they built an NBA powerhouse.

Buford is moving on from that role. Or, more precisely moving up into a new management role, and assistant GM Brian Wright is taking over as GM, reports Jabari Young of The Athletic.

After a little more than 15 years serving as GM, Buford is getting prepared to bequeath the role to assistant GM Brian Wright, league sources have confirmed to The Athletic. Wright will report directly to Buford, who will officially get a new title that some around the NBA believe will be a role helping to oversee Spurs Sports & Entertainment.

When the Spurs initially hired Wright in 2016, he stayed behind the scenes and focused mainly on scouting. But sources have informed The Athletic over the last year Wright has been more involved, even fielding calls and packages for the trade of Kawhi Leonard the previous summer.

Wright came to the Spurs from the Pistons a couple of years ago. That said, don’t expect a big change in how things are done in the Spurs front office. For one thing, Popovich is still there. Also, Wright has an excellent reputation around the league as being smart and a straight shooter. On top of all of that, Buford will remain his ultimate boss, although Buford’s role will change into one of more of a business manager for Spurs Sports & Entertainment.

Young hints there could be more changes coming. Obviously, the biggest would be when Popovich decides to step back in his dual roles as coach and president, but there could be shifts in the assistant GM ranks as well.

Just don’t expect the Spurs to stop being the Spurs.