NBA Power Rankings: Who said the Spurs were over the hill?

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, where that Spurs/Celtics game Wednesday is looking like the game of the week.

1. Spurs (29-4). They beat a suddenly reeling Mavericks team as well as the Lakers this week. By the way, Tim Duncan has put up an average of 16 points and 10 rebounds a game in the Spurs last 10, plus anchored their defense. Every team could use an over the hill guy playing like that.

2. Heat (26-9). Five wins in a row and they are playing the best ball in the East right now. Why? Because their big three have got it going and are starting to play like we expected, and carrying that supporting cast along.

3. Celtics (25-7). They had lost two in a row due to injuries before Rajon Rondo returned to the lineup Sunday. What does that mean? That the Celtics are not easily cruising to the Eastern Conference’s top seed. But Boston knows it’s about being healthy starting in late April that really matters.

4. Magic (21-12). Five wins in a row because the offense is a little better. And so is the defense — didn’t see that coming. We still question the trades and taking on all that extra salary long term, but in the short term we’re starting to believe.

5. Mavericks (25-8). Three losses in a row with Dirk Nowitzki out and while he may be back soon now Caron Butler may be done for the rest of the season. That could mean a lot more Shawn Marion, which raises depth questions.

6. Lakers (23-11). You see flashes of better play from the Lakers then they get blown out at home by Memphis (and the Grizzlies were on the second night of a back-to-back). Go ahead and say they are bored right now, but because of that they are not developing good habits they will need later. Their offense was best in the NBA but has fallen to fourth.

7. Bulls (22-10). Chicago is 8-2 in their last 10 and it’s because they’ve held opponents to 41 percent shooting in that stretch. Without Noah for some of it (they are 6-2 without him).

8. Thunder (23-12). The Thunder are being held back by being an average defensive team (17th in the league in defensive efficiency). That will cost them in the playoffs, too, if they can’t right that ship.

9. Jazz (23-11). Mehmet Okur was back, and then his back (and back pain) took him out again. The Jazz are a Jekyll and Hyde team from game-to-game and even quarter-to-quarter.

10. Hornets (20-14). They play at the fourth slowest pace in the league — if you had Chris Paul on your roster wouldn’t you run more?

11. Nuggets (19-13). I know it’s not going to matter, ‘Melo is gone no matter what, but I’d like to see this team play at full strength for a few weeks just to see what they would have been like.

12. Knicks (19-14). Some tough games coming up, starting with the Spurs Tuesday followed by a West Coast road swing. Still, solidly a playoff team right now, and that was all you could really hope for with this roster. And it’s a step in the right direction.

13. Blazers (18-16). Call it the Ewing Theory if you wish, but the Blazers are 8-3 without Brandon Roy this season and just beat a hot Rockets team Sunday.

14. Hawks (22-14). Great note from Hoopinion: At 19-5 against sub-.500 teams and 3-9 against teams above .500 the Hawks are currently the perfect gauge for NBA quality.

15. Rockets (16-17). After playing well of late on Sunday the Rockets lost to the Blazers and looked like a team that needed a star to take over for them. Daryl Morey would love to get in the Carmelo Anthony talks for that reason.

16. Grizzlies (15-19). This team just brings it against the Lakers. And the OJ Mayo move to the bench seems to have sparked him personally. When the Grizzlies bring the consistent defensive effort they can beat a lot of teams, but about half the time they don’t bother.

17. Sixers (13-20). A long road trip without Andre Iguodala for much of it has been tough, but the Sixers are still 5-5 in their last 10. They head home Monday night.

18. Bucks (13-18). They only play the Heat and Magic this week, as the Bucks are in the brutal point of their schedule.

19. Pacers (14-18). Here’s the Pacers problem in a nutshell — they shot 37 percent against the Knicks on Sunday. The Knicks. It was a sloppy shooting game both ways but the Pacers should be better than that.

20. Warriors (13-20). Monta Ellis in the All-Star game? I can see that. Just tough to be a guard in the West and get in because who are you going to leave out? Deron Williams? Steve Nash? Tony Parker? Russell Westbrook?

21. Suns (14-18). They are 3-7 in their last 10 and lost to the Kings this week. The Suns are in real trouble.

22. Bobcats (11-20). Paul Silas and the faster pace have the Bobcats looking better than they have all season. But Gerald Wallace injuring his ankle, again, will not help.

23. Clippers (10-24). Blake Griffin for the All-Star game? I can see that, but forward in the West may be the single deepest spot on the ballot. So do you leave of Tim Duncan? Dirk Nowitzki? Pau Gasol?

24. Raptors (11-22). During Summer League we were hyping DeMar DeRozan as a guy who could have a breakout year, and he’s finally staring to show it.

25. Pistons (11-22). They caught the Celtics at the right time, but if you thought maybe they were turning a corner we hope you didn’t watch the Suns game.

26. Timberwolves (9-25). The Wolves are on fire from three-point range — 48 percent as a team in the last five games — and that has got them on a little hot streak (3-2 in those five games).

27. Kings (7-24). Even if you don’t watch the whole game, tune in for the end of Kings games to see dramatic endings. The Kings got two wins in one week, a legitimate one over the Suns and a lucky one over the Grizzlies.

28. Nets (9-25). Well, at least they are not in the running for the worst record in NBA history this year. But this is a long, slow and painful rebuilding process.

29. Wizards (7-21). Soft part of the schedule for the next couple weeks, including road games in Philly, Charlotte and Minnesota. Win one of those and the Wizards will have one road win this season.

30. Cavaliers (8-22). They are 1-9 in their last 10 and that one win was in overtime against the Knicks. They are bad at both ends of the floor and watching their trade wire will be more interesting than their games.

Watch best of Klay Thompson’s nine threes, 35-point night

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Stephen Curry is a better shooter. Kevin Durant is a better scorer with a bigger toolbox.

But no Warrior can get as white-hot as Klay Thompson.

He did that on Saturday night helping the Warriors to a Game 6 win, getting his rhythm and becoming a scoring machine in the second half, finishing with 35 points including hitting 9-of-14 from three, and having six rebounds. He was just as important on the other end of the floor.

“I thought Klay was amazing tonight, not just for 35 points and the nine threes, but his defense,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “The guy’s a machine. He’s just so fit physically. He seems to thrive in these situations. But he was fantastic.”

Thompson will need to bring some of that Heat in Game 7 on the road if the Warriors are going to head back to the NBA Finals.

Backs against wall down 17, Warriors crank up defense, rain threes, force Game 7

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Warriors’ fans have been asking one question since the season tipped off in October:

What is it going to take to get Golden State to truly focus and play up to their potential?

Apparently, the answer is going down 17 to the Houston Rockets in a playoff elimination game.

Houston entered Oracle Saturday night playing smart and with energy, defending as they had the previous two games and then turning that into transition buckets and threes — 11 of them in the first half. Houston was up 17 in the first quarter and 10 at the half.

However, Golden State had started to defend better in the second quarter and they cranked up the intensity to the level fans had hoped to see in the second half — Houston scored 39 points in the first quarter and 47 combined in the final three. Houston had 25 points in the second half and shot 2-of-9 from three in the third quarter.

At the same time, Klay Thompson led an onslaught of threes for Golden State (Thompson had 9 threes on the night). The Warriors defense turned into offense.

The result was a dramatic turnaround and a 115-86 Golden State win, tying the Western Conference Finals at 3-3.

Game 7 is in Houston Monday night. Winner advances to the NBA Finals.

“Effort. Intensity. Passion,” Thompson said of the Warriors’ second-half surge. “When we do that, and we rotate, and we help each other we’re the best defensive team in the league.”

While it was their defense that sparked everything, the Warriors also found an offense that worked against the Rockets’ switching defense — more Stephen Curry with the ball in his hands. There are a few ways to counter a switching defense and one is a creative ballhandler who can still make plays — not just isolation plays, but who can create a little space and find guys moving off the ball despite the pressure. Curry was that guy, he was the Warriors best all-around player on the night. He had a high IQ game and added 29 points. With the offense not running through Kevin Durant isolations, it just flowed better (the Warriors best lineup of the night was Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, and Nick Young, +13 in just more than eight minutes).

It just took a lot of pressure from a Rockets team to get Golden State into that mental frame of mind.

Houston opened this game with the same defensive energy they had the last two games, and once again it flustered the Golden State offense. Except, this time the Rockets did a much better job of turning those misses and turnovers into transition points (the Rockets averaged two points per possession on the break in the first half). Throw in some terrible defensive communication errors by the Warriors, and the Rockets were raining threes in the first half — 11-of-22, with Gordon going 4-of-4.

The Warriors had some success with an ultra-small lineup that unleashed Curry, but as soon as non-shooters were on the floor — Kevon Looney, Jordon Bell, and the Rockets were daring Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston to shoot — Houston shrunk the floor and took away passing lanes, plus contested every shot.

In the second half, the Warriors used that Curry energy and hit their threes to pull away. The Warriors were at their best with Bell as the fifth man with the four All-Stars, he brought an energy and athleticism that made things flow on both ends. Don’t be shocked if he starts Game 7 for Golden State.

If the Warriors pack up that second half energy with them and take it to Houston, there is not much the Rockets will be able to do. But do not expect these gritty, feisty Rockets to go quietly into that good night.

Rockets were draining threes in the first half against Warriors in Game 6

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The Rockets were feeling it the first half in Game 6.

Playing with an energy the Warriors lacked at least in the first quarter), Houston defended well, pushed the ball in transition, and then they just drained three after three after three.

Eric Gordon started 4-of-4 from three and the team was 11-of-22 in the first half, which made up for the 11 turnovers and had them up 17 at one point and ahead by 10 after the first half.

Warriors’ Andre Iguodala out for Game 6

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Steve Kerr has been searching for a couple of games now for his fifth guy.

With Andre Iguodala out there is no Death/Hamptons 5 lineup and Kerr is looking for a fifth guy to partner with his four All-Stars. Kevon Looney is starting, Jordan Bell is showing potential but also makes some rookie plays, Nick Young has been bad enough that Kerr trusted Quin Cook more at the end of the last game (and Cook missed his looks).

Kerr is going to have to keep searching for a guy in Game 6 because Iguodala is out again.

The Warriors are not the team heading into Game 6 with the most significant injury woes, the Rockets are without Chris Paul. That and the fact the Warriors’ backs are against the wall is the reason they are heavy favorites in Game 6.

However, the Warriors have not been the same without Iguodala. He is a playmaker who can control the ball and settle things down, makes the right decision, get the player and ball movement the Warriors have strayed too much from back, plus is one of their best defenders on James Harden. Nobody else on the roster can do that.

And if Game 6 gets tight late, the Warriors are going to miss those skills. As they have in the last two games.