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.

Rumor: Raptors trying to trade up in draft for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

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The Raptors have major problems in the playoffs annually.

Is a coaching change enough to fix them?

Toronto already fired Dwane Casey and promoted assistant Nick Nurse after a highly successful regular season. Perhaps, major roster turnover could follow.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be a late lottery pick. The Raptors have no selections in this draft. So, acquiring one high enough to pick the Kentucky point guard would take plenty.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are stars. Toronto’s bench is stocked with solid young players. O.G. Anunoby is very promising.

So, the Raptors have pieces to move. The only question how much they’d package for a draft pick.

Toronto already has Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright at point guard. But Lowry is 32, and VanVleet will be a restricted free agent this summer. If they really believe in Gilgeous-Alexander, the Raptors should try to get him.

All that said, this is the time of year rumors – both credible and not – fly. So, it’s worth remaining skeptical while still considering the validity of what reputable reporters like Stein convey.

Luka Doncic, Donte DiVincenzo, Jerome Robinson among NBA draft invitees

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Of course DeAndre Ayton will attend Thursday’s NBA draft. The Suns will likely draft him No. 1 overall.

But what about more marginal first-round prospects?

The NBA’s draft invite list is an important tool in judging their stock. The league wants to avoid players sitting in agony until their names are called. So, the NBA works to invite only the prospects most likely to get picked high in the draft.

The full list of invited players (which the league notes is subject to change):

Luka Doncic will go high in the draft, and though how high is still uncertain, his inclusion on this list says nothing about his stock. It just speaks to whether we’ll see him Thursday night. His attendance will depend at least on when Real Madrid’s season ends, though the NBA is apparently confident enough to list him.

Jerome Robinson has climbed draft boards since the season ended. He must be impressing in workouts and interviews.

Donte DiVincenzo is a bit of a surprise selection, as he’s not widely viewed as a first-round lock. Perhaps, the league is looking to capitalize on his popularity stemming from a breakout NCAA tournament championship game.

This will only reinforce the idea Chandler Hutchinson received a promise. Otherwise, he’s a surprise invitee.

Among the top players not attending: Kevin Huerter (Maryland), Jacob Evans (Cincinnati), Troy Brown (Oregon) and Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech). Though they could go higher than players listed here, that says something about Huerter’s Evans’, Browns’ and Okogie’s stock, too.

Report: Rudy Gay opting out of Spurs contract

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants to leave the Spurs, but he’s at their whims.

This doesn’t mean Rudy Gay will depart San Antonio, but he’s taking control of his future.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

Gay’s option-year salary was $8,826,300.

I doubt Gay, who turns 32 this summer, will draw such a high starting salary on his next contract – though I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. He could likely get a multi-year deal with a higher total value.

Or he could chase a ring elsewhere.

Remember, Gay gave up money to leave the Kings last summer. No matter how much the Leonard situation should make us rethink the Spurs’ culture, San Antonio probably isn’t “basketball hell.” Still, the Spurs clearly don’t look as appealing as they once did, and Gay has shown how much he values team quality.

Gay is coming off a nice season, and San Antonio might try to re-sign him. Danny Green has a $10 million player option for next season, which will swing whether the Spurs have the flexibility for a bigger move this summer.

Report: LeBron James’ camp likes Collin Sexton

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In 2014, LeBron James tweeted his fondness for Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier. The Heat traded up to get Napier in the draft, but LeBron left for the Cavaliers that summer, anyway.

Could history repeat itself, this time in Cleveland?

LeBron has already talked up Oklahoma point guard Trae Young, but maybe LeBron and his camp want the Cavs to take a different point guard – Alabama’s Collin Sexton – with the No. 8 pick.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, via Jordan Zirm of ESPN Cleveland:

The Cavaliers should take the best prospect available. Worrying about what LeBron might want makes a mistake only more likely.

LeBron might stay in Cleveland, but as 2014 showed, it won’t be because of a draft pick. If he stays, it very well could be by opting into the final year of his contract. His player-option salary ($35,607,968) is slightly higher than his projected max salary as a free agent (about $35.35 million). If LeBron opts in, the best chance of keeping him long-term is building a better team around him.

That means taking the best prospect at No. 8 or trading the pick for someone who can help LeBron win now. If the top prospect is Sexton, that’s fine. But the Cavs are fare more likely to appease LeBron by getting the pick right in the long run rather than choosing the prospect he wants now.