NBA Power Rankings, where the preseason games don’t matter. Sort of.

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Here are our rankings to start off the season. Preseason games do not matter, which is why the Lakers are still on top of this poll. Then again, we bounced the Magic up to No. 2 because of their undefeated preseason. So we’re not consistent. We’re clearly not in midseason form yet.

1. Lakers. Former champions get the top spot, but no Andrew Bynum and a gimpy Kobe Bryant may see them move down a few notches quickly. Meanwhile Sasha Vujacic is set to marry a once-great tennis star who had a series of injuries and now can’t get her grove back… Lakers hope that is not an omen.

2. Magic. Preseason games are meaningless, but Orlando certainly looked good in them, going 7-0. Do not sleep on this team, it’s a contender.

3. Heat. Dwyane Wade is back, so the team we saw in the preseason — the team that looked like last year’s Cavaliers basically — is gone. That team chemistry better happen fast with Boston and Orlando on the docket the first week.

4. Celtics. They went 7-1 in the preseason but now the games get serious and they have Shaq likely the starting center. They’ll need to prove their defense is the same with him in.

5. Thunder. They enter this season with serious expectations — second best in the West, Durant an MVP candidate, everybody getting up for them. This feels like a team that gets it, that is professional, that can handle what is coming. But we will see.

6. Jazz. Lots of changes this season and we are not sold that Al Jefferson will be better than Carlos Boozer, but an 8-0 preseason moves you up a few notches.

7. Spurs. The Big Three are healthy to start the season, but Tiago Splitter is not. Starting DeJuan Blair at center may hurt their defense. A lot.

8. Mavericks. Mark Cuban is convinced the depth in Dallas makes them a threat to the Lakers. No, it doesn’t but it might make them second best in the West during the regular season.

9. Blazers. They want to bounce back and remind everyone that just a couple seasons ago they were the up and coming young team in the west. Which will be hard to do until they get a healthy center.

10 Bulls. Killer offseason, big expectations. But Derrick Rose hit just 23.8 percent of his threes in preseason, so nobody is going to respect his jumper yet. And Boozer is out.

11. Rockets. Yao Ming is on a time limit, 24 minutes a game. We’ll see what he can do in those limits. That and if he stays healthy.

12. Bucks. We have the Bulls ahead of them this week, which may change fast. The Bucks could be the fourth best team in the East. This is a good team that made nice offseason moves.

13. Hawks. They had a bad offseason if you are thinking about winning a championship this year or what this team will look like in five years. But for this year, they will once again be pretty good.

14. Grizzlies. I’m skeptical about teams that don’t make moves in the offseason and instead count on growth from players not likely to get better. But an 8-0 preseason record shows me this team may be better than expected. If Marc Gasol misses serious time it could be a real setback.

15. Suns. They haven’t looked great this preseason, by their own admission. But they still roll Steve Nash out there every night and as long as his back holds up they will be fun to watch and dangerous to play.

16. Nuggets. If they can ignore the Melodrama they are a good team and will move up the rankings. Big if. Also, Sheldon Williams is the starting four as Al Harrington is injured (but expected to play some in the opener), which is not good.

17. Bobcats. D.J, Augustin has had a very good preseason as the starting point guard. If he can keep it up when the games matter and the defenses are focused, the Bobcats are back on their way to the playoffs in the east.

18. Kings. It’s going to be fun to see just how good Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins will be together.

19. Warriors. They have a great guard combo, but it may take a while for this team to meld under Keith Smart. On the bright side — new owners any day now!

20. Knicks. They have a great power forward, one who may have to play some center. Do they have a good enough point guard is the real question?

21. Pistons. They have good talent right now. Will they still have good talent after the trading deadline?

22. Hornets. Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, David West. Good add with Jerryd Bayless. But a 1-7 preseason has to give you pause.

23. Cavaliers. Expect the total collapse if you want, but they went 6-2 in preseason. They won’t be that good in the regular season, but maybe they are better than we think.

24. Wizards. John Wall is fun to watch. How well that translates into wins remains to be seen. But we’ll be watching.

25. Pacers. They shot 40.3 percent as a team in preseason. The Nets were the worst shooting team in the regular season last year at 42.9 percent. It’s preseason, so we let it go, but just something to watch.

26. Sixers. They shot the exact same percentage as a team as the Pacers did this preseason. How they will overcome it — more Iguodala.

27. Clippers. Blake Griffin was very impressive this preseason. The Clippers (1-7) were not.

28. Nets. They looked a little better this preseason, but they had so far to come that they’ll have to prove they deserve to move up the rankings.

29. Timberwolves. Kevin Love looked good this preseason. That’s one.

30. Raptors. Their defense looked actually worse than last year, and if that is the case this is going to be a long cold winter in Toronto.

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

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CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.