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.

Report: Nets’ Kenneth Faried charged with marijuana possession

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The Nuggets traded Kenneth Faried to the Nets this summer.

Now, Faried is feeling the consequences of moving from Colorado – where recreational marijuana is legal – to New York.

Valerie Gordon of 27East:

Southampton Town Police said Kenneth Bernard Faried Lewis, 29, known as Kenneth Faried, of Denver, Colorado, was arrested on Montauk Highway at 1:30 a.m. and charged with fourth-degree criminal possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor.

Police said that Mr. Faried was the rear passenger of a vehicle that was stopped during a sobriety checkpoint and was found to be in possession of more than two ounces of marijuana.

According to the police report, Mr. Faried’s money was seized and he was released on $500 bail.

We shouldn’t outlaw marijuana. That is getting fixed incrementally, but not quickly enough for Faried and many others who just happen to be in the wrong jurisdiction in the wrong year.

The forfeiture of Faried’s money is another evil that must be curbed. Why should he lose his money just because he possessed a small amount of marijuana? I doubt Faried – who will earn $13,764,045 next season – was carrying more cash than he can afford to lose. But police often seize money from people who can’t afford to lose it and who then face insurmountable legal hurdles to getting it returned – even if they’re never convicted of a crime. That is the egregious behavior that should be outlawed.

Speaking of fixes: Why does the NBA still punish players for marijuana? The first violation comes with a warning, the second with a $25,000 fine unannounced publicly and the third with a five-game suspension. If Faried is convicted of possession, that counts as a violation.

Faried is now caught in multiple backward systems.

With Dennis Schroder trade, Trae Young knows Hawks have bet big on him

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The Atlanta Hawks bet big on Trae Young — they traded away the rights to EuroLeague MVP Luka Doncic to land Young on draft night.

But that’s not the time it really sunk in on Young how much the club was banking on him. Instead, it came a month later, when the Hawks traded former starting point guard Dennis Schroder to Oklahoma City. Here is what Young told Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Obviously when they move the point guard they’ve had for a while, their starting point guard, it definitely opened my eyes,” Young told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from New Jersey, where he was taking part in the Rookie Transition Program. “It shows how much they are committed to me. Bringing Jeremy (Lin) in as well is a good fit for us. I know there is a lot on my plate. I’m looking forward to it.”

Young showed some of the potential Atlanta is betting on at Summer League. Certainly not in his first couple of games in Salt Lake City, where he struggled, but in how he grew and adapted. By the time the Hawks were playing in Las Vegas Young was putting up numbers, looking more comfortable with the athleticism and what he needed to do at the Summer League level.

For new Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce, those summer games were just a benchmark, and the fact Young improved fast was promising, but only a start.

“The conversation is, ‘There’s a lot of work to be done.’ For all of us, myself included,” Pierce told NBC Sports. “And then you got to perform 82 nights, so how do we help you get better? How do we help you understand what you’re going to need at this level? That’s the starting point that we have.

“The conversation is for (the rookies) to understand, and to hear it from me. I know what we’re trying to get across, I know it’s going to take a while, but we’ve got to start somewhere and that’s what I’m doing with this summer.”

It’s also what he’ll do this fall and winter. The Hawks are rebuilding, it’s not going to be about wins this season as much as steps forward. Particularly for Young, who will face a lot of scrutiny and comparisons because of the draft-night trade.

Young at least understands everything expected of him.

Kawhi Leonard’s “preference” reportedly still to sign in Los Angeles

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The Raptors are going to make a season-long pitch to Kawhi Leonard — they have already brought in a friend of his to the coaching staff, they have a passionate fan base, and they should win a lot and be a serious threat to make the Finals out of the East.

Right now, however, Leonard is still leaning toward Los Angeles, something reported by Adrian Wojnarowski in an Ian Begley story at ESPN.

The Raptors would be able to offer Leonard a five-year, $190 million contract next summer. If Leonard leaves the Raptors, he could sign a four-year, $141 million deal with a team with the available salary-cap space.

So far, Leonard’s preference is to sign in Los Angeles with either the Lakers or Clippers next season, sources told Wojnarowski.

This is not new news or a surprise, but here are few thoughts anyway:

• I know Lakers’ fans are convinced he is coming to join LeBron James at Staples Center, but there are legitimate reasons I’ve heard from sources as to why the Clippers must be included in that mix. The Lakers are still the favorite according to most, but the Clippers cannot be left off the list, it is possible he lands there.

• If the Raptors are going to win Leonard over, it won’t happen this quickly. It’s going to be a process.

• How much might the money factor into Leonard’s decision, if at all? What about winning?

• The biggest difference between Leonard and the Paul George situation in Oklahoma City — where his people let it be known before the trade he wanted to go to Los Angeles, but after a season in OKC he decided to stay — is George came in with an open mind. Convincing Leonard to stay is going to be more difficult.

Raptors hire Spurs video coordinator, who just happens to be Kawhi Leonard friend

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Jeremy Castleberry played his high school ball in Riverside, California, on the same team as Kawhi Leonard. When Leonard went on to San Diego State for college, Castleberry went too and was a walk-on for that team.

When the Spurs drafted Leonard, it was not long before Castleberry was a video coordinator and on the staff in San Antonio. Now Leonard is a Raptor so… you know what’s coming. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN explained it well.

The Toronto Raptors are hiring San Antonio Spurs staffer Jeremy Castleberry — a close friend of Kawhi Leonard — to a position on their coaching staff, league sources told ESPN.

Castleberry has worked with Leonard as a Spurs staffer and played with Leonard in high school and at San Diego State, where he was a walk-on.

Is this alone going to keep Leonard a Raptor next summer when he’s a free agent? No. But this is how the game is played — make the star player you’re recruiting feel comfortable, wanted, a key part of everything. Bringing in a friend to a new city for him fits right into that plan.

The smart money is still on Leonard bolting next summer to go to Los Angeles, but if the Raptors are able to change his mind — ala Paul George — it will not be one big thing but a thousand little ones. And a lot of wins. But hiring Castleberry is a start.