NBA Power Rankings: There are some long winning streaks out there

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, where if it were a seven-game series we’d take any of the next three teams below Dallas to come out on top, but when you win 12 in a row you get to keep the top spot.

1. Mavericks (19-4). They’ve won an even dozen in a row now. In the last 10 Dirk Nowitzki is shooting a ridiculous 62.5 percent overall, 46.2 percent from three. Second best shooter among the Mavs’ starters by percentage in the last 10? Tyson Chandler, of course (54.5 percent).

2. Celtics (19-4). Winners of 10 in a row and they are doing it with reduced practices to keep the team fresh. They are still suffering injuries but without Rajon Rondo they went 3-1. They went 6-1 without Shaq.

3. Spurs (20-3). After they beat the Blazers Sunday Nate McMillan called the Spurs the best team in the NBA right now. Hard to argue that, there may be a couple teams hotter right now but better?

4. Heat (17-8). They have won 8 in a row, and most importantly they are getting out and running now, getting out in transition where they have the most unstoppable players on the planet.

5. Jazz (17-8). Utah has been consistently beating the weaker teams in the league but have lost to the teams above them on this list (and the Thunder). Can they win when it matters?

6. Lakers (17-7). Los Angeles is in the middle of a six-game road trip with every game left against teams under .500. The Lakers often sleepwalk through these kinds of trips, just something to watch. They lost the only meaningful game, to the Bulls, because Derrick Rose got inside on them, but Andrew Bynum returns this week and that may change things.

7. Knicks (16-9). They are red hot right now, looking good against the softest schedule in the league… wait, they beat Denver, right? Pretty good team they topped Sunday and they held on to do it. Boston and Miami on the schedule this week will be a tougher test.

8. Thunder (17-8). Um, did you see what James Harden did to JJ Hickson?

9. Bulls (14-8). Carlos Boozer and Derrick Rose are still figuring it out — Boozer is putting up numbers a lot of nights but the flow isn’t right — but the Bulls are winning with defense. Yes, with Boozer and Rose in the lineup. Tom Thibodeau is a magician.

10. Magic (16-8). They are dropping like a stone down the rankings and down the standings if things don’t turn around. The recent bout with the flu for half the team hurt, but the questions about if this squad can really get it done or if a move should be made persist.

11. Hawks (16-9). They are 5-2 since Joe Johnson went down, and the losses are to the Heat and Spurs. This team is still plenty solid right now.

12. Nuggets (14-9). They have lost three of four and have the Magic, Thunder and two against the Spurs in the next five. And at some point, don’t the Anthony rumors wear on this squad?

13. Pacers (11-11). Bulls, Lakers, Celtics and the Heat this week. This team has had some big wins this year but that is a tough order.

14. Blazers (12-12). The definition of a .500 team? When you’re 14th in the league in offensive efficiency and 15th in defensive efficiency.

15. Hornets (14-9). They are 3-7 in their last 10, because their offense is just so ineffective. Which is hard to believe with Chris Paul on the team but there you are.

16. Suns (11-12). Robin Lopez is set to return this week, which will help in the paint on defense, but the Suns also need a more consistent offense.

17. Grizzlies (10-14). Last season this was just about when the Grizzlies figured it out and put together a nice little run that got them close to the playoffs. The schedule gets easier the next few weeks, do we see it again?

18. Rockets (9-14). The Rockets are 6-4 in their last 10, but how do they adjust when Aaron Brooks and Yao Ming return?

19. Bucks (9-13). They have won three of their last four now that Andrew Bogut is back. Not exactly pretty basketball but they are getting it done — as of right now they are the 8 seed in the East.

20. Bobcats (8-15). They had a quality win against Denver last week, but the thumping Saturday by the Celtics tells you where they stand in the East right now.

21. Sixers (8-15). They are 5-2 in their last 10 and we said last week this is a team whose numbers are better than their record. It is starting to turn around.

22. Raptors (9-15). Their terrible defense is really starting to catch up with them.

23. Pistons (7-18). Four losses in a row on the road last week, because the Pistons are just not a good road team.

24. Wizards (6-16). They have yet to win on the road. If there was a way to get the Pistons and the Wizards to play a game where they were both on the road then somebody would have to win.

25. Warriors (8-15). They have lost six in a row, but the schedule lightens up for them after Monday against Utah.

26. Clippers (5-20). We’re giving them moral victories for the one-point losses to the Lakers and Grizzlies last week. We shouldn’t but if they’re doing that with this owner, it should count for something.

27. Cavaliers (7-17). Changes to the lineup don’t help — if you move the guys scoring (Daniel Gibson, Antawn Jamison) from the bench to the starting lineup then your bench stinks. Doesn’t matter where the deck chairs are on the Titanic. Eight losses in a row.

28. Timberwolves (6-18). I kind of liked the new black uniforms. I may well be alone there.

29. Nets (6-18). Seven losses in a row. They tried to make a game of it with the Lakers but this team needs more offense, and their best answer to that plays in Denver.

30. Kings (5-16). No Tyreke Evans this week. They got a win against the Wizards last week but looking forward it only looks worse for this squad.

Terry Rozier on Celtics’ challenge: “Too talented, yeah. Too talented.”

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Too many mouths to feed.

Among the many “what is wrong with the Celtics?” theories the idea that there are too many players who want touches and shots had a lot of traction around the league. Last playoffs, then rookie Jayson Tatum, second-year player Jaylen Brown, and “scary” Terry Rozier had increased roles — and thrived. They were the alphas (along with Al Horford), the guys with the ball in their hands leading a team to the conference finals, and they liked it — these are young players trying to carve out a role (or, in Rozier’s case, prove to other team’s he’s a starting point guard) and they didn’t want to take a step back. But that’s what had to happen with the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to the rotation. The result was a lack of a pecking order on offense, uncomfortable sacrifices, and precious little of the fluid play that got them within a game of the Finals a year ago.

Rozier seems to agree with that theory, speaking to Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports in a story about Kyrie Irving’s adjustment to being a leader.

“I don’t think we’ve all been on a team like this,” Rozier told Yahoo. “Young guys who can play, guys who did things in their career, the group that was together last year, then you bring Kyrie and Hayward back, it’s a lot with it.”

When asked if the roster was too talented, Rozier didn’t back down.

“Too talented, yeah. Too talented.”

If everyone buys in, if everyone sacrifices (including Irving), if guys are willing to accept a role, all that talent can make the Celtics versatile and the team everyone expected. The team to beat in the East.

To get there will require Irving to be a leader — in words and actions. That’s more than just calling out the young core, it’s getting them involved and feeling like contributors so they are willing to make sacrifices. It’s doing the little things yourself. Can Irving do all that and turn Boston into the conference favorite we expected.

Or were Nets fans right, he is going to get frustrated and leave this summer?

The second half of this season in Boston is going to be fascinating.

Philadelphia signs Corey Brewer to 10-day contract in effort to add depth

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The Philadelphia 76ers remain a step behind Toronto and Milwaukee — and maybe Boston — in the Eastern Conference, despite adding Jimmy Butler to form a “big three” with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. One issue is getting those three to make sacrifices to their games and meld together. The second big issue is depth: J.J. Redick is their fourth best player, then things drop off a cliff.

Enter veteran Corey Brewer.

For at least 10 days, anyway.

The 76ers signed Brewer to a 10-day contract, the team announced Tuesday.

“For me, I love playing basketball. I just wanted another opportunity,” Brewer told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I feel like I did enough last year that I should be on a team. But sometimes things don’t work out the right way … you can’t look it like that. An opportunity is an opportunity. I get to come here, and I gotta prove myself…

“I’m like a glue guy,” he said. “I do all the little stuff. I play hard, I’m going to run hard, and I feel like the way Ben [Simmons] pushes it, that’s right up my alley.”

Brewer is the king of the leak out and may benefit from some Simmons passes that way.

Brewer split time last season between the Lakers and Thunder, and in OKC he showed he could play a role on the right team and shot 34.3 percent from three. That fit was not evident on the young Lakers, Brewer looked out of place and struggled with his shot, which is likely why he was not able to land a guaranteed contract this past offseason.

This is a 10-day contract, the Sixers can sign him to two of those before having to either let him go or commit to him for the rest of the season. This is likely the first in a series of roster moves over the next few weeks as Elton Brand looks to find the right pieces to go around his big three stars so the team can make a push this offseason.

Warriors, Nuggets battle for first in West

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Playing in big games has become the norm for the Golden State Warriors.

Not so much for the Denver Nuggets.

Tuesday’s matchup between the top two teams in the Western Conference is new territory for Denver. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, the Nuggets have been rebuilding and retooling, not competing for titles, but they have arrived this year and are challenging to be the best team in the Western Conference.

The winner of Tuesday’s game in Denver will sit atop the conference standings. Denver (29-13) has been up there for a while now, but the Warriors (29-14) might yet find another gear in the second half of the season as they pursue a third consecutive NBA championship.

They are about to get a new, big piece when DeMarcus Cousins returns this week.

The center, who signed a one-year deal in the summer, tore his Achilles almost a year ago. His season debut is projected to come on Friday at the Los Angeles Clippers. Golden State is expecting it will take time for Cousins to get fully immersed and integrated into the offense.

“We’re excited, but it’s a little daunting, too,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said in the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s not going to be simple just to plug him in. There’s going to be an adjustment period. He knows that, but it’s a fun challenge.”

The Nuggets have a big enough task stopping Golden State’s other stars. Guard Steph Curry, a two-time league MVP, hit 11 3-pointers in a 48-point effort to beat Dallas on Sunday, and then there’s Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to worry about.

And the Warriors have a revenge factor to use. The Nuggets beat them 100-98 in Denver on Oct. 21 when Juancho Hernangomez blocked Damian Jones‘ layup at the buzzer.

The Nuggets have been playing at a high level lately, especially at home, where they are 18-3 and have won their last 12. The latest was a grind-it-out 116-113 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, which might have been a perfect tune-up for the Warriors.

Denver has its own star power in center Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray. Jokic, averaging team-highs with 19.7 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, had consecutive triple-doubles last week and then clocked in with 40 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists against Portland.

With or without Cousins, Golden State will have a tough time handling the Serbian. But the Warriors are best when they force teams to adjust to them, and they come at teams from different angles. One night it could be Curry, the next Durant. When tuned in, Golden State is hard to beat.

The Nuggets are ready for the challenge after getting everyone’s best this season.

“As teams give us their best shot because we’re No. 1 in the West right now, everybody gives the Warriors their best shot,” said Murray, who is averaging 18.5 points. “We just know we have the home court, and we beat them last time here.”

PBT Podcast: Breaking down the MVP race, other NBA mid-season awards

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Patience is not the NBA community’s strong suit — we were talking MVP race the first week of the season.

Now, however, it’s time. Teams are more than halfway through the season and we have seen enough games, we have enough data to start discussing who is the frontrunners for all of the league’s end-of-season awards.

Is it James Harden or Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP?

Can anyone challenge Luka Doncic for Rookie of the Year?

It’s a deep field for Coach of the Year, but is Mike Budenholzer the front-runner and can Doc Rivers, Dave Joerger or someone else catch him?

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports talk about their picks at this point of the season and who is in the running long term.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.