NBA Power Rankings: Dallas sweeps through Florida, right to the top

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, where the top four teams are all 9-1 in their last 10 and probably could be ranked in any order.

1. Mavericks (23-5). They move into the top spot on the strength of their sweep of Miami and Orlando on back-to-back nights. That depth Mark Cuban touted really helps them in the regular season

2. Spurs (26-4). Wondering if these Spurs are for real? We say they are but the next five games — Lakers, Mavericks, Thunder, Knicks and Celtics — will be a real test of that.

3. Heat (23-9). That domination of the Lakers was a good confidence boost. The game will be meaningless if these teams meet again in June, but right now it is a validation — especially of their defense. And couldn’t we all use a little validation?

4. Celtics (23-5). The one loss to Orlando was not that bad, but they miss Rondo when the game is tight and that is going to hurt them until he is back. Whenever that is.

5. Thunder (21-10). We’re discounting the loss to New York — second night of a back-to-back, fourth game in five days and then you have to run with the Knicks? That was a schedule maker’s loss. They are still 7-3 in their last 10.

6. Jazz (21-9). Congrats to Jerry Sloan for moving past Pat Riley on the all-time wins list. That guy does it year after year — it’s time to give him Coach of the Year.

7. Lakers (21-9). Last year after LeBron thumped the Lakers on Christmas on national television the Lakers won five of their next six. Just something to watch, to see if that really was a wakeup call.

8. Magic (18-12). Orlando beat Boston and San Antonio this week. We are pretty skeptical how much better the big trades make them long term, but right now they look pretty good, don’t they?

9. Knicks (18-12). They ran the Thunder off the floor then played one quarter of pretty good defense against the Bulls and that was enough. Two big wins in one week, plus Spike Lee is back doing NBA commercials. It’s all good.

10. Bulls (19-10). Loss to the Knicks then needed overtime to get by the Pistons. The numbers say their defense has been better without Noah but it doesn’t feel like it when you watch them.

11. Hornets (18-12). Chris Paul is really, really good. That can never be said enough. Dude is shooting 45.5 percent from three this season. Remember when he couldn’t hit the three?

12. Hawks (19-13). In his five games since returning, Joe Johnson is shooting 40.7 percent overall and 32.1 percent from three. Not good.

13. Blazers (15-15). A very good team at home in the Rose Garden that struggles on the road. This week they are on the road a lot.

14. Nuggets (16-13). They expect to have Carmelo Anthony back on Tuesday, which would be a big boost. The Nuggets have lost three in a row despite good play from Chauncey Billups.

15. Rockets (14-15). Four straight wins. All against pretty soft competition but the fact is they are beating the teams they are supposed to.

16. Sixers (11-16). They had a 2-2 week — wins over Orlando and Denver, losses to Boston and Chicago. That’s a tough week, so 2-2 is pretty darn good.

17. Pacers (13-15). I thought Darren Collison would have a bigger positive impact on this team than he has. And Danny Granger is shooting 39 percent in his last 10 games.

18. Suns (13-16). They may get Vince Carter back next weekend. When you’ve lost three in a row and are in danger of not making the playoffs you look forward to Vince Carter.

19. Bucks (10-15). They are going to need more wins like the impressive one over the Lakers, because the schedule gets brutal the next couple weeks.

20. Grizzlies (13-17). January means a lot of time on the road for a team that needs to find a groove if they are going to get in the playoffs.

21. Warriors (11-18). Monta Ellis is a stud. Flat out scoring machine. Just fun to watch.

22. Clippers (9-22). If you stop watching Blake Griffin dunks for a few minutes you notice the Clips are 5-5 in their last 10.

23. Raptors (10-19). The Raptors are out of Toronto a lot next month, on the road and missing some Canadian winter. They’d like to thank the schedule maker for that, but they’ll need to find a way to win some of those games.

24. Pistons (10-20). No team’s fans were more convinced we had this team pegged wrong before the season — and they let us know it. This was a team that could make the playoffs they said. Some people don’t like to gloat about being right. I’m not one of those people.

25. Nets (9-21). Sasha Vujacic is averaging 11 points a game and the Nets have played some decent defense lately. Not that it has meant a lot of wins or anything.

26. Bobcats (9-19). Paul Silas is a fine replacement for Larry Brown, but until the roster is fixed the coach won’t really matter.

27. Timberwolves (7-24). They beat Cleveland and are now 2-8 in their last 10. Which is enough to move up two spots.

28. Cavaliers (8-22). If you look at their point per possession differential they are the worst team in the league. Which is saying maybe this ranking is generous, but it is Christmas time and we’re feeling generous still.

29. Wizards (7-21). It would be nice for Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee to show some fight on the court, too.

30. Kings (5-22). They actually hang in games then lose them in the fourth quarter — they came from ahead to lose twice last week. Which is just a little more salt in the wounds of Kings fans. Sorry.

Giannis Antetokounmpo 29 points, 12 rebounds lead Bucks past Nuggets, 104-98

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Milwaukee Bucks have been plagued lately by sluggish first-half performances.

They got away with it again Monday night.

The Bucks fell behind by 17 points before rallying to down the Denver Nuggets 104-98. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 29 points and Eric Bledsoe added 23, including two late 3-pointers.

Antetokounmpo added 12 rebounds for Milwaukee, which came from 22 down in the first half to beat the Chicago Bulls on Friday night. The Bucks also fell behind by double digits in the first quarter in a loss to Memphis on Wednesday.

“We’ve got to do a better job to try to set the tone,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think we did a better job this game, but we can do a lot better. I think our talent saves us. I feel like we are so talented that even when we are down 10, down 15, we can always get back into the game.”

The Bucks swept the two-game season series against the Nuggets for the first time since 2009-10.

Jamal Murray had 17 points, eight rebounds and a season-best nine assists for Denver, which has lost six of its last seven games.

“We still have confidence. We just aren’t winning games,” Murray said.

Nikola Jokic had 20 points, Gary Harris 14 and Malik Beasley chipped in with a season-high 12 points off the bench.

“I was really pleased with the fight and the competitive spirit. We gave ourselves a chance against a very good basketball team on the road,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “But there are no moral victories. We’ve got to start winning these games.”

The Bucks led 78-77 heading to fourth quarter. The teams exchanged leads until Milwaukee went on a late 8-0 run that featured a pair of 3-pointers by Bledsoe.

“I think Eric is in a really good place,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He is understanding what we need in different moments.”

Denver pulled within two points with less than a minute left on Jokic’s 3 but Khris Middleton, who had been 0 for 7 from deep, answered with a 3-pointer to put the Bucks up 103-98 with 27 seconds left.

After trailing by 10 to start the third quarter, the Bucks grabbed the lead late in the period on a slam dunk by Antetokounmpo.

Denver used a 17-4 to start the second quarter to build a 17-point lead and held a 56-46 advantage at the half. Milwaukee closed the half on a 10-3 run.

The Nuggets led 29-25 after the first quarter, sparked by nine points from Gary Harris.

 

Joel Embiid has 33 points, 17 rebounds as 76ers beat Suns 119-114

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid scored 19 of his 33 points after halftime and added 17 rebounds to help the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Phoenix Suns 119-114 on Monday night.

Ben Simmons added 19 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists for Philadelphia, which won its third straight while improving to 9-0 at home, remaining the only team in the league unbeaten at home. The 76ers play five of their next six in Philadelphia.

Devin Booker had 37 points and eight assists for the Suns, who started a four-game road trip with their sixth loss in seven games. Phoenix, which fell to 3-13 overall and 0-7 on the road, has the worst record in the West and is one of three winless road teams in the NBA.

Strong first-half shooting helped Phoenix to a surprising 62-57 halftime lead. The 76ers took control in the third, going up for good on Embiid’s three-point play 3:45 into the quarter. They ended the period ahead 92-86 and led by as many as 12 early in the fourth on J.J. Redick‘s runner.

The Suns hung around and T.J. Warren‘s 3-pointer with 3:06 remaining cut it to 109-104. But Embiid’s follow layup with 58 seconds left made it 114-106 and was the clincher.

Rookie Deandre Ayton had 17 points and nine rebounds in his first matchup against fellow 7-footer Embiid.

Embiid scoffed at analysts’ comparisons of Ayton to him made on draft day, saying on Twitter: “Don’t compare Ayton to me either.I play DEFENSE.” The boisterous 76ers center then told ESPN in a preseason interview that Ayton was “about to get his (butt) kicked.”

To his credit, the Suns rookie responded to questions about Embiid by saying he would let his game do his talking.

And the 7-footer did just that in the first possession on Monday night, finishing Booker’s pass with an alley-oop dunk for an emphatic start to the game. Then, he forced Embiid into a turnover in the 76ers star’s first touch on offense.

But Embiid got the better from that point.

Four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler, in his fourth game with the 76ers after last week’s trade with Minnesota, had 16 points after hitting a 3-pointer as time expired in overtime to lead Philadelphia to a 122-119 win at Charlotte on Saturday.

Philadelphia native and Villanova product Mikal Bridges had 13 points in 23 minutes for Phoenix. The rookie was drafted 10th by the 76ers before being shipped to the Suns for the No. 16 pick, Zhaire Smith, and a 2021 first-round pick. Smith has yet to play due to a left foot injury and an allergic food reaction that will sideline him at least until January.

Kemba Walker drops 21 in fourth, 43 overall on Celtics to take down Boston 117-112

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Often when fans are chanting MVP for their favorite player, it’s laughable. The guy’s not close to the conversation.

Kemba Walker is in that conversation, maybe on the fringes of it but in the conversation. He deserves those chants.

And he got them, scoring 43 against Boston Tuesday night in the game after he scored 60 (in a loss to Philly). Walker was on fire. Again.

The Boston Celtics have issues, rebounding and otherwise, but for now let’s celebrate Walker.

New Hornets coach James Borego has brought Spurs-like spacing to the Charlotte offense, there’s no Dwight Howard clogging the lane either, and Walker is eating up that space and destroying teams. And if you lay back on him to take away the drives it will rain threes down on you.

Walker might be the most entertaining player in the NBA this season.

Josh Richardson fined $25,000 for throwing shoe into stands (video)

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Josh Richardson signed a four-year contract extension worth nearly $42 million — the most the Heat could offer him at the time — last year. He said he deliberated for weeks whether to sign or risk going for more in free agency, but ultimately, it was too much money for the former second-rounder to pass up.

In hindsight, it was a mistake. Richardson is an emerging star who would have drawn far more on the open market.

That extra money would have come in handy right now.

NBA release:

Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson has been fined $25,000 for throwing his shoe into the spectator stands, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident, for which Richardson was assessed a technical foul and ejected from the game, occurred with 6:31 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Heat’s 113-97 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 18 at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Standard fine for throwing something into the stands. This situation just came with the added comedy of Richardson walking around with only one shoe.