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.

Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart will be Team USA captains in World Cup

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Team USA is just about ready to get underway for the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China. The United States beat Australia on Wednesday night in a tune-up game, 102-86.

Several big-name NBA players have dropped out of participating with the Team USA roster this summer, but it appears that things have solidified as we enter late August. To that end, we now have confirmation about who Team USA’s captains will be moving forward.

According to Kemba Walker, he and fellow Boston Celtics teammate Marcus Smart will be the captains for the international squad in this year’s World Cup.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“We have a bunch of guys who don’t mind being the underdogs,” Walker told reporters. “We are hungry, and we are going to go out there to try and win a gold medal…I take pride in being a leader and guys looking to me and I’m here to set the tempo and bring my experience and energy.”

This is a point of pride for Celtics fans, and Walker and Smart appear to be two excellent choices as captains of this young Team USA roster.

It’s not going to be easy for Team USA to win the World Cup. Leadership and camaraderie has often been the deciding factor in the USA’s performance in international play. The team rallied around a strong locker room after their poor performance in the 2004 Olympics, coming together to win the gold in the 2008 Beijing games.

Walker and Smart should provide leadership and calmness for a team that will have many challengers who view them as vulnerable.

Minnesota’s Gersson Rosas says Andrew Wiggins must be “main contributor” to T-wolves

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Last season in Minnesota — with Jimmy Butler torpedoing the team and ending the Tom Thibodeau era — was pretty much the figurative definition of a train wreck.

Out of that wreckage, the Timberwolves think they found some positives. Ryan Sunders was thrown into the fire as a young coach but bonded with Karl-Anthony Towns. Robert Covington sparked the defense before his injury. Josh Okogie emerged as a player. This summer the team drafted a player with a lot of potential in Jarrett Culver.

Minnesota also brought in the aggressive Gersson Rosas out of Houston to take over as team president and start reshaping the franchise into one that can live up to the promise of Towns’ potential. For that to start to happen, meaning a return to the playoffs, Rosas pointed to a couple of things needing to go right this season. First and foremost, they need more — and more consistency — out of Andrew Wiggins. Via Timberwolves writer/podcaster Dane Moore.

Most Timberwolves fans, and the rest of the league, have moved on from Wiggins, who has four years, $122 million left on his max contract. While he averaged 18.1 points per game last season, he doesn’t get those buckets efficiently nor consistently, and the result is an average/slightly below-average wing whose contract is an anchor on the franchise. We’ve learned no contract is untradable in the NBA, but this is as close to that line as it gets — the sweeteners Minnesota would have to throw in right now make a deal are prohibitive.

The only thing Minnesota can hope for is that in year six Wiggins takes some steps forward he did not take in the last five. Maybe continuity helps, but we’re all going to need to see it before we believe it.

The other thing Rosas said Minnesota needs: More consistent defense from Towns.

Saunders seemed to connect with Towns and got him to defend, and Covington played MIC linebacker calling out coverages and getting guys in position before his injury. Rosas said Covington would be good to go at the start of the season, if so that gives the Timberwolves real hope that the defense will improve.

Whether all of that will be enough to get them into the playoffs in a deep West is another question, but at least Minnesota seems to be moving in the right direction now.

President Donald Trump awarding Medal of Freedom to NBA star Bob Cousy

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WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump is set to present basketball legend Bob Cousy (KOO’-zee) with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The award is being handed out Thursday. It celebrates individuals with a wide range of achievements and is the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The 91-year-old Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame member played for the Boston Celtics from 1950 to 1963. He won six league championships and the 1957 MVP title.

Cousy is also known for speaking out against racism. He was an ardent supporter of black teammates who faced discrimination during the civil rights movement.

Cousy will be the second person to receive the award this year from Trump. Golfer Tiger Woods received the honor in May.

Report: Shelly Sterling, members of Clippers organization heard Donald Sterling audio in advance and didn’t act

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In 2014, published audio of a racist rant by then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling rocked the country.

It shouldn’t have. Sterling’s racism and sexism were well-established by then. But few cared. The audio poured gasoline on the fire and moved people to act. I wish it didn’t require that. But it did.

What if the audio didn’t become public through TMZ? Apparently, there might have been opportunity for another outcome.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The fact is Shelly and several people in the Clippers organization heard the recording and decided not to act on it or weren’t appalled enough to act on it. Maybe they didn’t understand how big a splash this tape could make.

It’s unclear when Shelly Sterling (Donald’s wife) and other members of the Clippers organization heard the audio. Maybe it was while TMZ was doing due diligence. If so, it was probably too late to change the course of history.

But perhaps it was when V. Stiviano – Donald’s girlfriend who made the original recording and was being sued by Shelly – was still the only one in possession of it. Stiviano was clearly upset with how things were going financially between her and the Sterlings. For the right price, maybe the audio would have gone away before becoming public.

I’m glad it didn’t happen that way. The world is better off knowing exactly who Donald Sterling is.

Yet, this leads to an incredible “what if?” What if the people who heard the audio in advance understood the magnitude, acted in Sterling’s best interest and paid to have the audio kept secret? Would Sterling still own the Clippers today?