NBA Power Rankings, ones that will make Mark Cuban smile

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings. Dallas, Boston and Denver all on seven-games or longer winning streaks… and the Knicks could join them this week.

1. Mavericks (16-4). Winners of nine in a row, they are getting fantastic play from Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd… which makes you wonder if they can keep it up as the season drags on. They aren’t really doing anything different during this streak, they are just hot.

2. Celtics (16-4). Winners of seven in a row and getting it done with Rajon Rondo missing games and other assorted injuries. They are the best shooting team in basketball right now — highest eFG% in the league — and if you can shoot and defend you win. A lot.

3. Spurs (17-3). They slip down two spots not because of anything they did — well, they did lose to the Clippers — so much as two hotter teams leapfrogged them. Tony Parker looked like his aggressive self again Sunday.

4. Magic (15-5). I got the flu just watching one of their games — they were down to eight healthy players on Sunday, a loss that ended a six-game win streak.

5. Jazz (15-6). Overlooked in all the “damn Chris Paul is good” talk is the fact Deron Williams is having probably his best season so far. His is getting to the line more, turning the ball over less all while taking on more of the offense. Highest PER of his career.

6. Lakers (14-6). Sometimes you just need a slump-buster. A win no matter how it looks or who it was with. The Lakers got theirs against the Kings. We’ll see if that turns them around.

7. Nuggets (13-6). Winners of seven in a row. Nene is averaging 15 and 7 shooting 62 percent in the last 10 games. Denver heads out on the road this week for what should be some good tests.

8. Heat (13-8). They have a point differential that is much better than their record, one of those will catch up with the other in the coming months. Good test against Utah on the road this week.

9. Thunder (14-7). Russell Westbrook is to be feared.

10. Hawks (13-8). The Hawks are getting along just fine without Joe Johnson so far — if that continues you have to ask again about that contract he got this summer.

11. Bulls (10-8). The next couple weeks are the Carlos Boozer adjustment period, and then we should be able to get a better picture of where this team really stands.

12. Knicks (12-9). Winners of four in a row and eight of their last nine. You can note they have played the easiest schedule in the league so far (opponents winning 41.5 percent) but the fact is they are beating the teams they are supposed to. This team is pretty good.

13. Hornets (13-7). They have lost six of their last eight. Teams undergoing an ownership change — even one that should be for the better, as George Shinn was one of the worst in the league — always give me pause. Winning comes from the top down.

14. Suns (11-9). Earl Baron is no Robin Lopez in the paint, but he’s an improvement as the Suns rattled off three wins last week. Hakeem Warrick had a good weekend off the bench as well.

15. Pacers (9-9). Great wins followed by bad losses. Pretty much what we can expect all season.

16. Blazers (9-11). Clippers win breaks the losing streak, but did the Blazers solve any of their underlying problems? That said, Nate McMillan is safe as coach for now.

17. Grizzlies (8-13). Every time I watch them play I think “shouldn’t they be better than this?”

18. Raptors (8-12). If the playoffs started today, this is your eight seed in the East. They’ve won 6 of their last 10.

19. Warriors (8-12). On tap this week is Dallas, San Antonio, Miami and Utah. Rough stretch of the schedule. David Lee didn’t look great this week upon return.

20. Rockets (7-13). Beat the Lakers this week (didn’t everyone) and have a schedule they can hold their own against for a few weeks until Aaron Brooks and Yao Ming are back.

21. Bucks (7-12). Andrew Bogut had 31 and 18 in his first game back against Orlando — who cares if Dwight Howard was playing or not. The Bucks need Bogut to be right.

22. Bobcats (7-13). Last season a very good defense made up for a lackluster offense. This season the defense has been average (13 in league in points allowed per possession) and here we are.

23. Sixers (6-14). They quietly have won three of their last four, and their defense has looked better lately. Also, their point differential (-1.6) is that of a 9-11 team. Look for them to keep winning more.

24. Pistons (7-14). Detroit heads out on a tough road trip this week with four games in five days. But that’s a lot of cities to write new “we should trade for Tayshaun Prince/Rip Hamilton” stories.

25. Cavaliers (7-13). It wasn’t the roll-over-and-die loss to Miami that cause the Cavaliers to fall down the rankings this week, it was getting crushed by the Timberwolves and Pistons.

26. Clippers (4-17). Baron Davis is back, but is that a good thing?

27. Wizards (5-10). They head out on the road this week, where they are 0-10.

28. Nets (6-15). Four straight losses and they are dead last in the East. Mikhail Prokhorov learning turning an NBA team around is not a fast process.

29. Timberwolves (5-15). Darko Milicic was +41 the other night, best single-game +/- number in the league this season. Let’s focus on that and not what the Spurs did to this team.

30. Kings (4-14). They are 1-9 in their last 10, but had a chance against the top-rated Mavericks Saturday. This team has some talent but right now they are just terrible to watch.

Doc Rivers says he wants Harden to be ‘a scoring Magic Johnson’

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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We’re not in Houston anymore.

James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.

“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”

Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.

Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.

Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.

A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.

As he chases record, LeBron says he has ‘no relationship’ with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
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Later this season, health permitting, LeBron James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Kareem has said LeBron has earned it, but also has called out LeBron on COVID issues (something Abdul-Jabbar apologized for). Have the two legends started to build a relationship as LeBron marches toward the record? Not so much.

“No thoughts, no relationship.”

This question was asked of LeBron days after Abdul-Jabbar slammed former LeBron teammate Kyrie Irving in a Substack newsletter, calling him a “comical buffoon” and saying he is a poor role model. Abdul-Jabbar has been a vocal proponent of getting the vaccine, Irving remains unvaccinated, and LeBron has posted on social media questioning the severity of the virus and the response. Plus, LeBron and Irving are friends, which could have sparked LeBron’s terse response (as could the fact he was ready to get out of the arena after a dull preseason game).

A week earlier at media day, LeBron had been kinder when discussing Abdul-Jabbar and chasing his record.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well,” LeBron said. “I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Abdul-Jabbar has been more of a public persona in recent years, both around the game of basketball and discussing social justice issues through his writings. The NBA named its new social justice award after him. With that has come new relationships around the league.

One of those is not with LeBron. Will Abdul-Jabbar be in the building when LeBron does break the record?

We’ve got months for this relationship to evolve — if it does — before that big day.

 

Watch Zion Williamson score 13 in return to court for Pelicans

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Zion Williamson is back.

He certainly looked in better shape and flashed his insane explosiveness on his way to 13 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes Tuesday night against the Bulls, his first game after missing all of last season following foot surgery.

There was some rust, and the Pelicans are wisely bringing him along slowly and not breaking out the entire playbook for a preseason game, but in the moments we saw Zion looked like he was all the way back.

The questions now are can he sustain it, and how to the Pelicans mesh him with other scoring options in CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram.

And maybe we shouldn’t leave rookie Dyson Daniels off that list, he looked good in his first NBA preseason game.

The Pelicans are one of the most intriguing teams this season, a team that made the playoffs last season with a push after McCollum arrived, and now they add the elite interior scoring and athleticism of Zion to Ingram’s outside shot and slashing, not to mention and a solid core of role players. This team has top six potential if it can get stops. But in a deep West, nothing will be easy.

Wembanyama scores 37, Scoot Henderson 28, as both make case to go No.1

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The NBA league office hates tanking — the action, the word, the mere suggestion of it.

But there is going to be some serious tanking in the NBA this season, and anybody who watched the Victor Wembanyama vs. Scoot Henderson game Tuesday (also known as the G-league Ignite vs.  Metropolitans 92 from France) knows exactly why.

What. A. Show.

Victor Wembanyama, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, showed why he is a true 7’4″ unicorn who can do seemingly anything. He finished the game with 37 points, hitting 7-of-11 from 3, with five blocks, showed off some handles and even brought the ball up court a couple of times.

This play sums him up well: at 7’4″ Wembanyama is the ball handler in a pick-and-roll, looks smooth, and when the defender goes under the pick casually drains a 3.

Scoot Henderson, expected to go No.2 in the next draft, flashed his explosive athleticism to the tune of 28 points, nine assists, and five rebounds.

Ja Morant was impressed.

There was a lot for fans, scouts, and GMs to be impressed with.

For all his shooting an offensive game, Wembanyama was just as impressive on defense. His length and mobility forces players to change their driving angles to the rim. He also showed a fearlessness in going after the big block.

Henderson showed high-level athleticism and an ability to get to the rim at will, but he also set up teammates and an improving shot. Henderson is a dynamic athlete and a season playing against the men of the G League is only going to sharpen his skills.

Henderson made his case Tuesday to be the No.1 pick — scouts say he has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone point guard, a top-10 player in the league, and he looked it in this game. He showed no fear, even going at Wembanyama a few times.

However, Wembanyama will go No.1 because he just breaks the mold, there is nobody like him. Anywhere. He looks like a generational talent, even if there is some work to do to realize it. Wembanyama started to show that Tuesday night.

These two teams face off again on Thursday night in Henderson, Nevada.