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.

Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett Hall of Fame induction pushed back to May

Kobe Hall of Fame
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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Kobe Bryant and the rest of this year’s Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class won’t be inducted in 2020 – or at the birthplace of basketball.

The Hall announced Friday that the enshrinement ceremony will be held May 13-15, 2021, and the entire festivities will be moved to Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.

This year was to be a highlight for the Hall of Fame, located in Springfield, Massachusetts. Bryant, killed in January in a helicopter crash, headlined a decorated class featuring Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett that would have been enshrined in the recently renovated museum.

But the coronavirus pandemic scuttled those plans and hit the Hall so hard that it eliminated several full-time positions and cut senior management pay in the 25-40% range.

“These are people who have been a big part of the Hall’s success in recent years; it hurts deeply,” said John Doleva, President and CEO of the Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “The decision to reschedule Enshrinement into May of next year, along with diminished museum guest visitation and a very uncertain future regarding our multiple collegiate and high school basketball events this fall, has forced us to make these very difficult decisions. Our goal now is to conserve resources so that we may stabilize in 2021 and return to our growth trajectory in 2022 and beyond.”

“For this single event, and only because of the pandemic, we will relocate the entire event one time to Mohegan Sun which has been a long-time marketing partner of the Hall. Mohegan Sun has shown they can effectively operate a ‘near-bubble’ for our event which provides a more secure environment for our guests,” Doleva explained. “In making this announcement today, our goal is to provide this date and location change with ample notice for our network broadcast partners, nationally and internationally traveling guests and the many basketball constituents the Hall serves.”

Mohegan Sun is a long-time partner of the Hall. Doleva says it can operate a “near-bubble” to provide a secure environment for guests.

 

Vlade Divac steps down as Kings GM; Joe Dumars takes over in interim

Vlade Divac out
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Days after the Kings’ playoff drought reached 14 seasons — second-longest in league history and only one year behind the Donald Sterling Clippers — the repercussions hit GM Vlade Divac and he is out.

Divac has stepped down as the Kings’ general manager, the team announced Friday. Joe Dumars, the former Pistons GM who had been working as a consultant with the team, will step in during the interim while the search for a new GM takes place.

“This was a difficult decision, but we believe it is the best path ahead as we work to build a winning team that our loyal fans deserve,” Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé said in a statement. “We are thankful for Vlade’s leadership, commitment and hard work both on and off the court. He will always be a part of our Kings’ family.”

While there are legitimate questions about the job Luke Walton did in his first season in Sacramento, his job is safe, something first reported by Sam Amick of The Athletic and since confirmed by James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area. The Kings also said there will be no other major roster moves made until a new GM is in place.

“Joe has become a trusted and valued advisor since joining the team last year, and I am grateful to have him take on this role at an important time for the franchise,” said Ranadivé.

Divac was a member of the best Kings’ teams ever (during the Chris Webber era) and is in the Hall of Fame as a player. Playing and being a GM, however, are two very different skill sets. Divac did sign a contract extension with the Kings a year-and-a-half ago.

The NBA restart bubble was not kind to the Kings, and that ultimately doomed Divac.

After a promising finish as the ninth seed a season ago, playing a fast-paced style that suited young star De'Aaron Fox, Divac made a move to switch coaches last off-season and fired Dave Joerger to hire Walton. However, under Walton the Kings played slower and were much easier to defend. The Kings did get healthy and start to find a groove right before the league was shut down, going 7-3 in those last 10, but once in the bubble Sacramento was a mess again with a bottom-10 defense in Orlando, and they finished 3-5 in the seeding games.

The salt in the wound in Orlando — and what really eats at Kings’ fans — was the elite play of Luka Doncic in Orlando, and all season long.

Divac — who had scouted in Europe and has deep connections there — chose to use the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on Marvin Bagley out of Duke instead of Doncic. While the Kings had scouted Doncic extensively (Ranadive even went to Europe to watch him play and backed taking Doncic), Divac and the front office staff thought the athleticism of Bagley gave him a higher upside than Doncic. (Scouts were often divided on Doncic: Nobody thought he would be bad, but some questioned his ceiling because he already had so much polish to his game and he’s not an explosive athlete by NBA standards. Divac and the rest of the Kings’ front office fell into this camp.) Plus, Divac liked the idea of a big man to pair with their point guard Fox, rather than bringing in another ball handler in Doncic.

Doncic almost certainly will make an All-Seeding Games team out of the bubble in Orlando, and in his second NBA season is an MVP candidate (he will get bottom of the ballot votes). Bagley did not play in any seeding games due to another injury, this one to his foot.

Moving on from Divac may be the right move for the Kings, but it begs the question: Who are they going to hire to replace him? What is the new GM’s basketball philosophy and what kind of team does he want to build? And, will he have the power to do it, or will Ranadive keep his reputation as an owner who likes to meddle in basketball operations?

The Kings need a change — but they need the right change. That will be the tricky part.

Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. taken off court on stretcher after collision

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It was the kind of play that happens countless times a game: Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. was trying to chase Doug McDermott over an off-ball (and moving) screen when collided with pick-setting 6’11” center Goga Bitadze.

This ended up being no standard collision — Jones’ head and neck whipped back, and he instantly went to the ground.

Jones was grabbing his neck at first and was on the ground for about 10 minutes — in the eerie silence of a fanless bubble arena in Orlando — before being taken off the court on a stretcher.

The good news is Jones has just suffered a neck strain, the team announced. There is no timeline for his return, but this could have been much worse.

The Heat and the Pacers, who already have tension between them thanks to a beef between Jimmy Butler and T.J. Warren, will face each other in the first round of the playoffs starting Monday.

Jones, who tested positive for the coronavirus before coming to Orlando (and was quarantined), will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He has been making the NBA minimum since coming into the league and was in line for a life-changing payday this summer after playing strong defense while averaging 8.6 points per game — and some spectacular dunks — in nearly 23 minutes a night for Miami. Our thoughts are with him after this incident.

The time Shaq peed in Suns teammate Lou Amundson’s shoes – and worse!

Suns players Lou Amundson and Shaquille O'Neal (Shaq)
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Gilbert Arenas has earned a reputation as the NBA player who relieved himself in a teammate’s shoe (Wizards forward Andray Blatche’s).

But Arenas’ tactic wasn’t unique.

Shaquille O’Neal got into a prank war with Suns teammate Lou Amundson during the 2008-09 season. It got intense as Phoenix, coached by Alvin Gentry, reached the final game of its season.

ESPN’s Amin Elhassan on “The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz” local hour, hosted by Mike Ryan:

Shaq is the big prankster, the big joker. But if you do something against him, there’s no tit for tat. There’s tit for nuclear war.

He goes to Lou’s locker, grabs his sneakers, pees in them.

That’s the start, right? He then goes and let’s just say “messes with” some of Lou’s haircare devices, like his brush and his comb and stuff. Messes with them. Let me put it this way: Messes with them in a way that – I was comfortable telling you he peed in the shoes. I’m not comfortable telling you what he did to the hair stuff. And then this part, I will tell you: He tampers with Lou’s mouth guard.

He tampers with it.

He tampers with it.

Lou shows up at like 8 or whenever he usually shows up. And he’s skittish and nervous. And Suns.com is there like, “What do you think Shaq is going to do?” “I don’t know. I think he’s going to do something, though.”

So, I’ll never forget this. He’s sitting at the locker, and he opens – he starts to reach for the sneakers and then looks at them and says, “Nah, something doesn’t feel right.” Opens the door up, pulls out a fresh pair of sneakers for the last game of the year, right? Again, this is irregular behavior. Usually, you have a couple of sneakers. You break them in for the year, and you switch between two or three or three or four, whatever. So to break out a whole brand new pair … was weird.

Most of the time when you’re an NBA player, you don’t put on the mouth guard immediately. You have it in a case, and you give the case to the trainer. Then, you go out to the bench. Then, when you’re about to come into the game, that’s when you grab your mouthpiece.

There’s no funnier image than Alvin drawing up a play, kneeling down, coaches standing around him. Lou is sitting there, because now he’s in the game. The guys who are in the game are usually seated. Sitting there just staring at the clipboard, like, “OK, coach. I got you.” And everyone else is just staring at Lou. No one’s paying attention.

Puts the mouth guard in. One, two [sounds of disgust], takes the mouth guard out and flings it with tremendous accuracy at the bench. Everyone starts dying. I remember going back and watching the broadcast, “Oh, Suns bench seems to be getting a lot of fun.” They had no idea what’s happening.

What did Shaq do to Amundson’s mouth guard? My imagination is running WILD.

Elhassan also explains why Grant Hill took 25 shots – his most in four years – in that game. Hill needed to score 26 points to average 12 points per game for the season, which would trigger a large bonus in his shoe contract. Hill’s gunning got him 27 points.

It’s a good podcast with other fun anecdotes and worth a listen.