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.

Report: Hornets rookie Miles Bridges to compete in dunk contest

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Want to see more dunks like this and this?

Watch the dunk contest during All-Star weekend.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Miles Bridges, the No. 12 pick in last year’s draft, has quickly proven himself as belonging in the Hornets’ rotation. He’s active, capable of getting to the rim and picks up defensive concepts quickly.

But like most rookies picked in the middle of the first round, he hasn’t yet earned a national profile.

The dunk contest will be his opportunity to change that.

Bulls’ Wendell Carter reportedly out 8-12 weeks following thumb surgery

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Wendell Carter Jr. has had a strong rookie season in Chicago: 10.3 points a game, 7 rebounds, showing real strength and touch inside and getting 67 percent of his shot attempts in the paint. The advanced stats like him: He’s got an above average PER and Value over Replacement Player, something very rare for a rookie. He looks like a key part of the future in Chicago.

And he’s out for the next two-to-three months.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune first reported that Carter might have ligament damage in his left thumb requiring surgery, and that coach Jim Boylen said Carter was seeing a specialist. Shams Charania of The Athletic took it to the next step.

That’s a blow to his development but doesn’t really change the trajectory of a Bulls team that will pick high in next June’s draft.

This does not change the Bulls’ plans heading into the trade deadline — big man Robin Lopez is still available (but likely will end up a buyout candidate) reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Bobby Portis will get more run with Carter out.

The young Bulls have been hit hard by injuries this season.  Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Portis have all missed time, and Denzel Valentine has yet to play a game for Chicago this season.

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis: ‘We will never, ever tank’

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Before the season, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis stated his goals: 50 wins and the conference finals.

Washington is 19-26 and 11th in the Eastern Conference.

Time to shift priorities?

NBC Sports Washington:

Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington:

The Wizards are too talented to tank right now. Led by Bradley Beal, they have a roster of capable veterans. They just traded for Trevor Ariza, making that even more true.

As bad as they’ve been, the Wizards are just 2.5 games and three teams out of playoff position. They will likely miss the postseason, but there’s no alternative better than trying to get there. They’re too far down the road toward winning now to simply pivot into a rebuilding.

But what about if the Wizards get eliminated from playoff contention with games left in the season? They won’t tank down the stretch to improve their draft position? What’s the point of that?

And what about future seasons? Washington will have a tough time building a satisfactory winner after signing John Wall to a super-max extension that kicks in next season. That difficult-to-move contract almost mandates the Wizards prioritize the present. A healthy Wall is good enough to ensure Washington can’t bottom out – for now.

Wall be 32 in the final year of that deal. The Wizards could be in ruins by then. Taking the option to tank off the table would be a mistake.

To be fair, I’m not totally sure Leonsis is doing that. Owners almost never admit to tanking. Most deny it.

But this goes a level beyond. This is far more forceful than Leonsis had to be, which makes me believe it’s actually his plan.

That’s fine right now. Eventually, it could make a futile situation far worse.

Agent: LeBron James would play if it were playoffs

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LeBron James‘ agent, Rich Paul, gave a 3-6-week recovery timeline for LeBron’s groin injury, which the Lakers superstar suffered just over three weeks ago.

Chris Broussard on Fox Sports 1 on Wednesday:

I was in contact with Rich Paul this morning, and he told me, if this were the playoffs, that LeBron would be playing.

The Lakers have gone 5-7 without LeBron, slipping into a tie for eighth place in the Western Conference. What if LeBron feels Los Angeles could miss the playoffs without him? Would he return before fully healthy? That’s the big question.

Ideally, LeBron rests until fully recovered. Groin injuries can worsen and linger longer if played through. The only way for LeBron to get this completely behind him is sitting.

But this is also apparently an injury he could play through. It’d be hard for LeBron to watch from the sideline as the Lakers’ playoff odds drop precipitously.

Right now, they’re hanging in the mix. But any slump over the next few weeks will immediately turn attention to LeBron and how he’ll respond.