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.

Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett Hall of Fame induction pushed back to May

Kobe Hall of Fame
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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Kobe Bryant and the rest of this year’s Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class won’t be inducted in 2020 – or at the birthplace of basketball.

The Hall announced Friday that the enshrinement ceremony will be held May 13-15, 2021, and the entire festivities will be moved to Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.

This year was to be a highlight for the Hall of Fame, located in Springfield, Massachusetts. Bryant, killed in January in a helicopter crash, headlined a decorated class featuring Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett that would have been enshrined in the recently renovated museum.

But the coronavirus pandemic scuttled those plans and hit the Hall so hard that it eliminated several full-time positions and cut senior management pay in the 25-40% range.

“These are people who have been a big part of the Hall’s success in recent years; it hurts deeply,” said John Doleva, President and CEO of the Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “The decision to reschedule Enshrinement into May of next year, along with diminished museum guest visitation and a very uncertain future regarding our multiple collegiate and high school basketball events this fall, has forced us to make these very difficult decisions. Our goal now is to conserve resources so that we may stabilize in 2021 and return to our growth trajectory in 2022 and beyond.”

“For this single event, and only because of the pandemic, we will relocate the entire event one time to Mohegan Sun which has been a long-time marketing partner of the Hall. Mohegan Sun has shown they can effectively operate a ‘near-bubble’ for our event which provides a more secure environment for our guests,” Doleva explained. “In making this announcement today, our goal is to provide this date and location change with ample notice for our network broadcast partners, nationally and internationally traveling guests and the many basketball constituents the Hall serves.”

Mohegan Sun is a long-time partner of the Hall. Doleva says it can operate a “near-bubble” to provide a secure environment for guests.

 

Vlade Divac steps down as Kings GM; Joe Dumars takes over in interim

Vlade Divac out
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Days after the Kings’ playoff drought reached 14 seasons — second-longest in league history and only one year behind the Donald Sterling Clippers — the repercussions hit GM Vlade Divac and he is out.

Divac has stepped down as the Kings’ general manager, the team announced Friday. Joe Dumars, the former Pistons GM who had been working as a consultant with the team, will step in during the interim while the search for a new GM takes place.

“This was a difficult decision, but we believe it is the best path ahead as we work to build a winning team that our loyal fans deserve,” Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé said in a statement. “We are thankful for Vlade’s leadership, commitment and hard work both on and off the court. He will always be a part of our Kings’ family.”

While there are legitimate questions about the job Luke Walton did in his first season in Sacramento, his job is safe, something first reported by Sam Amick of The Athletic and since confirmed by James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area. The Kings also said there will be no other major roster moves made until a new GM is in place.

“Joe has become a trusted and valued advisor since joining the team last year, and I am grateful to have him take on this role at an important time for the franchise,” said Ranadivé.

Divac was a member of the best Kings’ teams ever (during the Chris Webber era) and is in the Hall of Fame as a player. Playing and being a GM, however, are two very different skill sets. Divac did sign a contract extension with the Kings a year-and-a-half ago.

The NBA restart bubble was not kind to the Kings, and that ultimately doomed Divac.

After a promising finish as the ninth seed a season ago, playing a fast-paced style that suited young star De'Aaron Fox, Divac made a move to switch coaches last off-season and fired Dave Joerger to hire Walton. However, under Walton the Kings played slower and were much easier to defend. The Kings did get healthy and start to find a groove right before the league was shut down, going 7-3 in those last 10, but once in the bubble Sacramento was a mess again with a bottom-10 defense in Orlando, and they finished 3-5 in the seeding games.

The salt in the wound in Orlando — and what really eats at Kings’ fans — was the elite play of Luka Doncic in Orlando, and all season long.

Divac — who had scouted in Europe and has deep connections there — chose to use the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on Marvin Bagley out of Duke instead of Doncic. While the Kings had scouted Doncic extensively (Ranadive even went to Europe to watch him play and backed taking Doncic), Divac and the front office staff thought the athleticism of Bagley gave him a higher upside than Doncic. (Scouts were often divided on Doncic: Nobody thought he would be bad, but some questioned his ceiling because he already had so much polish to his game and he’s not an explosive athlete by NBA standards. Divac and the rest of the Kings’ front office fell into this camp.) Plus, Divac liked the idea of a big man to pair with their point guard Fox, rather than bringing in another ball handler in Doncic.

Doncic almost certainly will make an All-Seeding Games team out of the bubble in Orlando, and in his second NBA season is an MVP candidate (he will get bottom of the ballot votes). Bagley did not play in any seeding games due to another injury, this one to his foot.

Moving on from Divac may be the right move for the Kings, but it begs the question: Who are they going to hire to replace him? What is the new GM’s basketball philosophy and what kind of team does he want to build? And, will he have the power to do it, or will Ranadive keep his reputation as an owner who likes to meddle in basketball operations?

The Kings need a change — but they need the right change. That will be the tricky part.

Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. taken off court on stretcher after collision

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It was the kind of play that happens countless times a game: Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. was trying to chase Doug McDermott over an off-ball (and moving) screen when collided with pick-setting 6’11” center Goga Bitadze.

This ended up being no standard collision — Jones’ head and neck whipped back, and he instantly went to the ground.

Jones was grabbing his neck at first and was on the ground for about 10 minutes — in the eerie silence of a fanless bubble arena in Orlando — before being taken off the court on a stretcher.

The good news is Jones has just suffered a neck strain, the team announced. There is no timeline for his return, but this could have been much worse.

The Heat and the Pacers, who already have tension between them thanks to a beef between Jimmy Butler and T.J. Warren, will face each other in the first round of the playoffs starting Monday.

Jones, who tested positive for the coronavirus before coming to Orlando (and was quarantined), will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He has been making the NBA minimum since coming into the league and was in line for a life-changing payday this summer after playing strong defense while averaging 8.6 points per game — and some spectacular dunks — in nearly 23 minutes a night for Miami. Our thoughts are with him after this incident.

The time Shaq peed in Suns teammate Lou Amundson’s shoes – and worse!

Suns players Lou Amundson and Shaquille O'Neal (Shaq)
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Gilbert Arenas has earned a reputation as the NBA player who relieved himself in a teammate’s shoe (Wizards forward Andray Blatche’s).

But Arenas’ tactic wasn’t unique.

Shaquille O’Neal got into a prank war with Suns teammate Lou Amundson during the 2008-09 season. It got intense as Phoenix, coached by Alvin Gentry, reached the final game of its season.

ESPN’s Amin Elhassan on “The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz” local hour, hosted by Mike Ryan:

Shaq is the big prankster, the big joker. But if you do something against him, there’s no tit for tat. There’s tit for nuclear war.

He goes to Lou’s locker, grabs his sneakers, pees in them.

That’s the start, right? He then goes and let’s just say “messes with” some of Lou’s haircare devices, like his brush and his comb and stuff. Messes with them. Let me put it this way: Messes with them in a way that – I was comfortable telling you he peed in the shoes. I’m not comfortable telling you what he did to the hair stuff. And then this part, I will tell you: He tampers with Lou’s mouth guard.

He tampers with it.

He tampers with it.

Lou shows up at like 8 or whenever he usually shows up. And he’s skittish and nervous. And Suns.com is there like, “What do you think Shaq is going to do?” “I don’t know. I think he’s going to do something, though.”

So, I’ll never forget this. He’s sitting at the locker, and he opens – he starts to reach for the sneakers and then looks at them and says, “Nah, something doesn’t feel right.” Opens the door up, pulls out a fresh pair of sneakers for the last game of the year, right? Again, this is irregular behavior. Usually, you have a couple of sneakers. You break them in for the year, and you switch between two or three or three or four, whatever. So to break out a whole brand new pair … was weird.

Most of the time when you’re an NBA player, you don’t put on the mouth guard immediately. You have it in a case, and you give the case to the trainer. Then, you go out to the bench. Then, when you’re about to come into the game, that’s when you grab your mouthpiece.

There’s no funnier image than Alvin drawing up a play, kneeling down, coaches standing around him. Lou is sitting there, because now he’s in the game. The guys who are in the game are usually seated. Sitting there just staring at the clipboard, like, “OK, coach. I got you.” And everyone else is just staring at Lou. No one’s paying attention.

Puts the mouth guard in. One, two [sounds of disgust], takes the mouth guard out and flings it with tremendous accuracy at the bench. Everyone starts dying. I remember going back and watching the broadcast, “Oh, Suns bench seems to be getting a lot of fun.” They had no idea what’s happening.

What did Shaq do to Amundson’s mouth guard? My imagination is running WILD.

Elhassan also explains why Grant Hill took 25 shots – his most in four years – in that game. Hill needed to score 26 points to average 12 points per game for the season, which would trigger a large bonus in his shoe contract. Hill’s gunning got him 27 points.

It’s a good podcast with other fun anecdotes and worth a listen.