NBA Power Rankings, where the Hornets are all the buzz

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, where we are starting to believe in the Hornets but not the Hawks. Oh, and just bench Baron Davis.

1. Lakers (7-0). Best offense in the NBA so far, defense is solid (10th in league in defensive points given up per possession) and all that without Andrew Bynum. The schedule is pretty soft, but the Lakers are destroying it.

2. Celtics (6-1). Wins this week against the Thunder, Bulls and Bucks — good week for old men.

3. Hornets (7-0). Sure, Chris Paul is a god and all but the Hornets are doing it with defense. How? David West is really playing hard on that end of the floor, meaning Emeka Okafor doesn’t have to help as much, and everything keeps its form.

4. Heat (4-2). Losses came to the Celtics — a very big, long front line — and the Hornets, who got a huge night out of Okafor. Sensing a pattern here? Are big front lines going to be an issue for the Heat?

5. Hawks (6-1). Pardon us if we are not terribly impressed with this record — the six wins come against the Grizzlies, Sixers, Wizards, Cavs, Pistons and T-Wolves. This week the Magic, Jazz and Bucks are better tests.

6. Magic (4-1). The defense is getting it done, but they are going to have to shoot better than 35.7 from three to keep winning games. They are a little banged up with Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter sore but likely to play.

7. Spurs (4-1). Richard Jefferson has been the best player on the team. Didn’t think we’d be typing that sentence.

8. Nuggets (4-2). Thing to watch: How the Bulls fans welcome Carmelo Anthony to the United Center Monday night. The Nuggets look pretty good considering how Chauncey Billups has not shot the ball well at all.

9. Mavericks (3-2). Dirk Nowitzki is playing his best basketball in a few years. The rest of the Mavericks are off their offensive game (Brendan Haywood, two points of fewer in four of the last five), and the team is 20th in offensive efficiency. Expect that to improve.

10. Blazers (5-3). Don’t read much into the blowout at the hands of the Lakers, second night of a back-to-back, sixth game in nine days. Still, they have got start rebounding the ball better — they are grabbing just 66.8 percent of opponent missed shots, third worst in the league.

11. Warriors (4-2). We’re not convinced they are really better than the next few teams below them, but they are playing better right now so they get the love. Best thing Keith Smart is done? The Warriors are 11th in defensive efficiency right now. The Jazz scored just 78 points on them.

12. Thunder (3-3). Turnovers killed them against Boston. The offense is stagnant and relies too much on isolation. The defense isn’t creating turnovers that lead to fast break points. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are good enough to win them some games, but the Thunder are not yet right.

13. Jazz (3-3). They have not found their footing and this week head out on the road to Miami, Orlando and Atlanta. Tough spot.

14. Suns (3-3). Steve Nash’s assist percentage — percent of team field goal he assists on when he is on the floor — is down to 40 percent, lowest it has been since he came to Phoenix. You get the feeling that is more about his teammates than Nash.

15. Bulls (2-3). Chicago is 18th in defensive efficiency in the league, not what we expected from a Tom Thibodeau coached team. The return of Carlos Boozer is not going to help at that end of the floor, either.

16. Grizzlies (3-4). Rudy Gay is on fire and the Grizzlies are about to start a home stand. Things could be looking up in Memphis. Whether or not that brings people to the gate is another issue.

17. Knicks (3-3). We told you Knicks fans, you were going to love Ronny Turiaf.

18. Kings (3-3). DeMarcus Cousins, welcome to the NBA. You have the skills, but it is not going to be easy.

19. Cavaliers (3-3). If the playoffs started today, they would be the four seed in the East because they lead the division.

20. Bucks (2-5). Their offense is just terrible (29th in league in offensive efficiency) and while their defense can keep them close they’ve got to put the ball in the peach basket to win.

21. Sixers (2-5). After a terrible first week they had a decent second one, winning two and hanging in two others. Maybe they aren’t as bad as we thought.

22. Pacers (2-3). Thought Darren Collison was going to fix this, but he hasn’t — the Pacers are 28th in the league in offensive efficiency. Not good.

23. Nets (2-4). Paging the real Brook Lopez, please report to Newark. Whoever is filling in for the real Lopez is not nearly as good.

24. Pistons (2-5). A 2-2 week despite benching Rodney Stuckey and starting Tracy McGrady for a game. The problems here are deep and systemic, but Rip Hamilton can still win you some games.

25. Bobcats (1-5). It seems like every year we write about the Bobcats slow start. Why is that?

26. Rockets (1-5). You can be glass half full — all five losses are to quality teams. But this team has struggled when Yao is in the game, and now for the next month they will be without Aaron Brooks.

27. Raptors (1-5). Remember when last week we said the Raptors were playing good defense. Scratch that.

28. Wizards (1-4). Gilbert Arenas is back and with John Wall this team should get better. Have yet to see it on the court, but they should.

29. Clippers (1-6). Put me in the “keep Baron Davis on the bench, play Bledsoe and Gordon more” camp. It may mean more losses short term but Baron is not the future. And more Eric Gordon is good for everyone.

30. Timberwolves (1-6). Yes Orlando and Miami are good, but to lose by a combined 74? Wolves fans, not sure how much your team will move out of this spot this season.

Lakers crush Heat with Anthony Davis only center on floor

Lakers star Anthony Davis
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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Anthony Davis dislikes playing center.

The Heat let him get away with it.

The Lakers’ victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals turned on the six minutes where Davis was the only center on the floor. No Dwight Howard, Markieff Morris or JaVale McGee for Los Angeles. No Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk or Meyers Leonard for Miami.

The Lakers outscored the Heat by 18 points in those six minutes!

Davis dominated. He scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting, blocked dunk-contest champion Derrick Jones Jr. at the rim and passed to a wide-open Alex Caruso for a 3-pointer during that first-half stretch.

Davis wasn’t too shabby the rest of the game, either. He finished with 34 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks and was a team-high +23.

Davis’ 34 points rank among the among the highest-scoring NBA Finals debuts since the NBA-ABA merger:

  • 48 points by Allen Iverson in 2001
  • 36 points by Michael Jordan in 1991
  • 36 points by Kevin Durant in 2012
  • 34 points by Adrian Dantley in 1988
  • 34 points by Anthony Davis in 2020

Especially deep in the playoffs, teams have mastered using small lineups to flummox lumbering centers. But that’s not Davis. He’s mobile and skilled like a wing. And he still has size advantages at 6-foot-10.

Some shorter players can at least bother Davis, who prefers to avoid banging inside against stronger opponents. See de facto Rockets center P.J. Tucker. But a frontcourt featuring three of Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala, Jimmy Butler, Solomon Hill and Jones lacks the brute force to compensate for its height shortcomings against Davis.

Adebayo’s lingering shoulder injury hangs over Miami’s ability to match up. Though he has size, Olynyk is far from an ideal defender. Leonard, who got a DNP-CD tonight, might have to play in Game 2 Friday.

Lakers go on 75-30 run, blow out Heat in Game 1 of NBA Finals

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All-season long, one of the first things opposing coaches would say after facing the Lakers was, “it was so hard to adjust to their length and physicality.”

The Miami Heat learned that lesson the hard way Wednesday.

The Heat raced out to a 13-point lead early in Game 1 of the NBA Finals as they forced the Lakers to become jump shooters. Then those shots started falling, Miami started missing, the Lakers started running, and everything came apart for the Heat. The Lakers closed the first quarter on a 19-3 run.

That run became 75-30.

“It’s been that way all year long, whenever we start to miss a couple shots, we don’t do what we’re supposed to do on the other end,” Jimmy Butler said.

That was the ballgame.

The Lakers were physically dominant, shot 15-of-38 from three (39.5%), and blew the Heat out of the building in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, 116-98. LeBron James finished with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists. Anthony Davis added 34 points and added three blocked shots — Miami had no answer for him inside.

The Lakers led by as many as 32 before some good garbage time play from Miami — 18 points from Kendrick Nunn — made the final score look more respectable than the game itself was.

Game 2 of the Lakers vs. Heat Finals is Friday night.

“You know, from that moment when it was 23-10, we started to play to our capabilities,” LeBron said. “We started flying around. We started getting defensive stops. We started sharing the ball a lot better offensively and just got into a really good groove.”

“The Lakers set the tenor, the tone, the force, the physicality for the majority of the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said afterward.

More disturbing for the Heat are the potential injuries to critical players.

Goran Dragic did not come out of the locker room for the second half and had X-rays on his foot. While there is nothing official, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports he tore his plantar fascia. He is officially TBD, but it will be a difficult injury to play through. It’s devastating blow for Miami.

With Dragic out Tyler Herro got the second-half start, and in Game 1 he tied an NBA Finals record being -35 for the game (Kobe Bryant, Game 6 of 2008 Finals against Boston).

In addition, Bam Adebayo went back to the locker room in the third quarter, appearing to have aggravated the shoulder issue he had against Boston. The team said X-rays were negative, but he did not return to the game.

This game turned on Adebayo. On media day Tuesday he said, “You got to be smart about ticky-tacky fouls.” He knew he couldn’t get in foul trouble, and yet he did, picking up a second foul in the first quarter, sending him to the bench. Up to that point the Heat were up three, but when he went to the bench the Laker run started.

“Our guys are just hustling their tails off, flying around on the defensive end, and then playing effort offense, as well,” Laker coach Frank Vogel said of the Lakers’ run through the second and third quarters. “Really pushing the tempo on the break, attacking the paint, and crashing the boards. Just the pace of the game really picked up in those two quarters, and obviously, they were the difference makers.”

The Lakers got 13 points from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and 11 from Danny Green (who hit three from beyond the arc).

Miami’s defensive game plan was to double LeBron when he drove, make him pass out, and dare the other Lakers shooters to beat them. The Lakers role players did and that was a key difference.

Miami got 23 points on 13 shots from Jimmy Butler, but he also tweaked his ankle during the game. Herro had 14 points but on 6-of-18 shooting, and as a team the usually sharp-shooting Heat shot 31.4% from three.

Because of the rapid pace of games in the bubble, the Heat have just two days to regroup and try to make this look more like a series — Game 1 looked like the varsity vs. the JV.

“We talk about how damn near perfect that we have to play, and that was nowhere near it,” Butler said. “There’s nothing to be said. We can watch all the film in the world, we understand, we know what we did not do, what we talked about we were going to do, we didn’t do. We didn’t rebound, we didn’t make them miss any shots, we didn’t get back, all of those things led to the deficit that we put ourselves in.”

Miami guard Goran Dragic doubtful to return to game with foot injury

Goran Dragic injury
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Goran Dragic, like seemingly every member of the Miami Heat, couldn’t find his rhythm in the first half — 3-of-8 shooting, three assists, but some missed defensive assignments as the Heat started to fall behind.

Part of that may have been a foot injury — Dragic did not come out for the second half and his return is doubtful with a left foot injury, the Heat announced.

There are no other details on the injury as of yet.

Tyler Herro started the second half for Miami in his place.

The Heat has struggled with the Lakers length — and Los Angeles can’t miss from three — with that has the Heat down 26 early in the third quarter.

L.A. Lakers will stay big, start Dwight Howard at center

Dwight Howard start
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While it is easy to say the Lakers’ best lineups have Anthony Davis at center, the numbers say the Lakers are best playing big with another player at center and Davis at the four.

That’s how the Lakers will start the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat on Wednesday — and Dwight Howard gets the call, the team announced.

This start was expected, especially after how well Dwight Howard played in the Denver series against Nikola Jokic.

It creates an interesting defensive choice for Erik Spoelstra and the Heat: Do they start Bam Adebayo on Davis and have Jae Crowder on Howard, or reverse that. Adebayo is an All-Defensive Team player who may be the best one-on-one matchup in the league for Davis,  but does Spoelstra want to risk early foul trouble for his star center, and would it wear Adebayo down to have to work so hard on both ends. Expect Crowder to start on Davis and Adebayo to get the key minutes later in the game.

The challenge for the Lakers: Howard fouls a lot.

“Probably fouling,” Laker coach Frank Vogel said when asked what was at the top of the team scouting report for the Heat. “I think they are great at getting to the free throw line. If we can play with discipline, not give them opportunities to shoot free throws, set their defense, that will help us win games, because they are great at getting to the free throw line.”

Howard can’t mess that plan up for Los Angeles. But he’s going to get the chance.