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.

Jimmy Butler says his meeting with Thibodeau, Timberwolves is Tuesday (today)

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There are a lot of questions surrounding Jimmy Butler‘s meeting with Tom Thibodeau and the Minnesota Timberwolves brass: Can the Butler/Karl-Anthony Towns relationship be repaired? Is Thibodeau the guy who could repair it, or is he entrenched on one side of that battle? Will the situation be resolved enough for Towns to sign the max extension to his rookie contract that has been sitting on the table since July? Will Butler asked to be moved?

That meeting had been reported to be Monday, but Butler said on Twitter it’s Tuesday, and did so in a snide way.

Who cares if the reporting (by Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania of The Vertical) on the day was one off if the substance of the meeting is the same? It’s not some massive error that throws the entire reporting into question. This feels like a high school history teacher testing about the date for the battle of Gettysburg and not why it was a turning point in the Civil War — the substance is what matters more.

Butler doesn’t deny or get into the substance of the meeting, which is what matters.

What comes out of that meeting will have a significant impact on the Timberwolves one way or another this season. Minnesota won 47 games last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004, but it’s hard to see how they take a step forward if the locker room remains this fractured (and in a very deep West they need to take a step forward to make the playoffs again this season).

USA rolls past Panama in World Cup qualifying, 78-48

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PANAMA CITY (AP) — U.S. coach Jeff Van Gundy came into the start of this second round of qualifying for the FIBA Basketball World Cup cautioning his players that they would face enormous challenges.

They clearly heeded his words, and the Americans are now closing in on a trip to China next year.

Reggie Hearn scored 12 points, Dwayne Bacon added 10 and the U.S. easily got past Panama 78-48 in a qualifying game Monday night. The Americans have won both of their second-round qualifying games so far, winning them by a combined 87 points.

“It’s just an honor to be able to go to another country and wear this jersey,” said U.S. forward Henry Ellenson of the Detroit Pistons. “It’s just something really special and I love doing it. I was so excited to get the invite. This was a blast and a hell of an experience.”

The U.S. outrebounded Panama 50-34, held the hosts to 31 percent shooting and trailed for only 67 seconds in the early moments. Van Gundy went to his bench early and often, rotating players throughout in part because of a steamy feel inside the arena named for Panama’s boxing legend Roberto Duran.

“I think our greatest strength is our depth,” Van Gundy said. “Again, we’ve pretty much done this throughout. We play 10 or 11 guys, anywhere from 10 or 11 minutes up to the low 20s. We try to take advantage of our depth. Tonight, the crowd was good, but it was warm in there.”

And now, Nov. 29 – the next day of qualifying games in the Americas Region – sets up as enormous.

The U.S. and Argentina are tied atop Group E with 7-1 records and will play that day with outright control of first place in the group standings up for grabs. Uruguay and Puerto Rico will meet that same day, each entering with 5-3 records, meaning the loser there will be three games behind the U.S.-Argentina winner with three games left in qualifying.

The top three teams in Group E are guaranteed spots at the World Cup, which starts in China on Aug. 31.

After the way they played Monday, it seems like only a staggering collapse would keep the Americans from qualifying.

The U.S. used a 16-0 run – needing only about two minutes – in the fourth quarter to turn what was a relatively one-sided game into an even bigger rout. Chasson Randle, Hearn and Travis Trice all made 3-pointers to get that spurt going, and Ben Moore‘s layup with 6:30 left gave the Americans a 73-40 lead.

“It feels great. It moves us that much closer to qualifying,” Hearn said. “It moves us that much closer to the U.S. getting to the World Cup and getting the whole thing.”

The U.S. got an ideal start in a hostile arena, running out to a 16-3 lead as Panama opened 1 for 11 from the field.

The Americans were in control throughout, though there was a brief stretch late in the first half where the U.S. grip on things seemed to slip ever so slightly. Panama got within 31-23 with 2:04 left in the half on a jumper by Tony Bishop Jr. before Hearn and White combined to score the final five points before the break and send the Americans into intermission with a 13-point lead.

When the second half started, the U.S. resumed pulling away. Frank Mason, Dakari Johnson and Bacon scored the first six points of the third quarter, and the Americans’ lead was quickly pushed out to 42-23.

 

Report: Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins to take front office job with Clippers

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Selfishly, this makes me sad because I’m not going to get to read more of his work now.

Lee Jenkins is more than just one of the best NBA writers out there, he is one of the best sports journalists out there. A fantastic reporter with a great eye, Jenkins is an artist of a storyteller. He’s the guy other NBA writers are in awe of. He’s the man who co-authored LeBron James“I’m Coming Home” about his return to Cleveland, and more great in-depth stories than there is room to mention here.

And he’s about to leave Sports Illustrated for the Los Angeles Clippers, a true WojBomb from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Jenkins commented to Sports Illustrated.

“Sports Illustrated called on my 30th birthday, the greatest gift of my professional life,” Jenkins says. “I was one of those kids who grew up running to the mailbox on Thursday afternoons. SI taught me to read, and then, to write. With dream jobs, reality often disappoints, but everything about SI only exceeded my imagination. I’ve worked alongside my idols, Tim Layden, Tom Verducci and S.L. Price, and with my friends, Michael Rosenberg, Chris Ballard and Greg Bishop. There is no honor in this business like sharing a page with them.

“SI remains the ultimate platform for sportswriting and I would not leave for another media outlet. But I was offered an extraordinary opportunity to work in the front office of an NBA team and see the league I cover from a different angle. I’ve been privileged to tell a lot of triumphant basketball stories over the past decade. With Steve Ballmer and Jerry West, Lawrence Frank and Michael Winger, Doc Rivers and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, I’m going to try to help build one.”

I’m not sure exactly how they will define Jenkins’ role with the Clippers, but I have no doubt he will do it well. Plus, inter-office emails for the Clippers are about to take a ridiculous leap in quality.

 

League sends out updated salary cap projections, jump coming in future years

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The past two seasons, the free agency market has been tight. Following the drunken-level spending spree of 2016 — the year that gave us the Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and so many more anchor contracts — teams were cautious and out of money.

That’s about to change, because the salary cap is about to jump next summer, and some of those terrible contracts are starting to come off the books. This week the NBA updated its salary cap projections to teams, and Shams Charania of The Vertical got ahold of the memo.

For comparison, the cap is at $101.9 million, with the luxury tax is at $123.7 million.

With nearly half the players in the NBA as free agents next summer — did you notice all the one-year contracts this summer? — and the jump in cap space, about 20 of the NBA’s 30 teams could have cap space for a max player. Next summer is going to be wild.