NBA Power Rankings: Where the Spurs just keep on keeping it on

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, not many changes at the top this week… or on the bottom.

1. Spurs (37-7). You’ve been wondering when you’ll see a kink in the Spurs armor. Well, they have just one home game between now and Feb. 23. That might be the time. Or, they might grow tighter and better.

2. Celtics (33-10). We’re just going to pretend we didn’t see that Wizards game, every good team is allowed a few of those. Already a buzz around the Lakers game this Sunday.

3. Lakers (32-13). How are the Lakers going to do in the playoffs when they struggle during the season? Well, the Lakers play their best when the game slows down and they get more rest. What happens during the playoffs? Exactly.

4. Magic (29-15). They are 7-3 in their last 10 and clearly are still struggling with fit and rotations some now. This is a team still finding its footing with this lineup. I also could have sworn I saw Hedo Turkoglu dunk this week… nah, must have been the Jack talking.

5. Heat (31-13). Lots of time off (one game over seven days) but they get back at it Thursday at Madison Square Garden. Mike Miller had a big breakout game but we want to see more than one game before we say he’s all the way back.

6. Bulls (30-14). In their last 10 games, opponents are shooting just 39.6 percent against the Bulls overall and 32 percent from three. Tom Thibodeau can coach.

7. Hornets (29-16). Just like they were hot at the start of the season, they are hot again with eight straight wins now and just two losses since the start of the year.

8. Thunder (28-15). Two losses last week and it could have been three save for Kevin Durant’s dramatic game winner (which was well defended by Gallinari). The Laker one was the most painful because it exposed old, unsolved problems.

9. Hawks (29-16). They are 8-2 in the last 10 and are getting great play out of Joe Johnson and Al Horford. I really had high hopes for Jeff Teague this season, those have been crushed.

10. Mavericks (28-15). In his five games since returning, Dirk Nowitzki is shooting just 38 percent overall, 33 percent from three.

11. Blazers (25-20). More injuries — Marcus Camby, come on down! — and this team just keeps on winning and even when they lose you have to fight them for it.

12. Nuggets (25-18). They have the best offense in the NBA (on points per possession), but until they learn to defend it’s still hard to really see them as a serious playoff threat.

13. Jazz (27-17). Four straight losses and with it the associated grumbling out of Utah. They have to look at what Carmelo Anthony is doing to Denver this year and just fear their future with Deron Williams.

14. Clippers (17-26). It’s not just Blake Griffin dunking on everything that moves (although we do enjoy that). This is a good team right now with Eric Gordon playing well (though an injured thumb) and D’Andre Jordan. But the Clippers are about to head out on a Grammy road trip and the road has not been kind to the Clips this season.

15. Suns (20-22). Over the next month you are going to hear countless Steve Nash trade scenarios. That’s great. Right now, the Suns still say they are not moving him.

16. Grizzlies (21-23). I keep waiting for this run of good play that pushes them into playoff contention, I keep seeing blown leads and spotty play.

17. Knicks (22-21). Six straight losses as the offense has not been able to carry them past the fact their defense sucks. They really need a steady big man in the paint, and as much as we are fans of Ronny Turiaf he is not that guy as a starter.

18. Sixers (18-25). Andre Iguodala has played fantastically since his return, but it remains Jrue Holiday and Elton Brand they need to play well at the end of games to win a few more.

19. Bobcats (17-25). Don’t look now, but Boris Diaw has been playing pretty well lately: he’s averaged 12.4 points and 7 boards a game shooting 49 percent overall and 34.4 percent from three in his last 10.

20. Warriors (19-24). Three tough home games this week — San Antonio, New Orleans and Utah — but you know Golden State will have dramatic win in one of those.

21. Bucks (16-25). I kept thinking the Bucks offense was going to turn around at some point. That dream is now dead for me.

22. Rockets (20-25). Kevin Martin is filling it up but not efficiently — he’s shooting 43 percent overall and just 30.4 percent from three in his last 10. He’s just not a number one offensive guy, he needs a playmaker or post player to balance things out.

23. Pistons (16-28). Free Rip Hamilton! And Tayshaun while you’re at it!

24. Wizards (13-29). Nice win over the Celtics, but being winless on the road remains the anchor on this team.

25. Pacers (16-25). An 0-4 road trip raises a lot of questions about this team. It just feels like a franchise that needs to be shaken up somehow.

26. Kings (9-32). They keep getting leads then blowing said leads (they were ahead in the fourth quarter of all their losses this week). The Kings are learning but the lessons are starting to hurt.

27. Timberwolves (10-33). Kevin Love is averaging 23 points and 15.9 boards on 51.6 percent shooting (45.7 percent from three) in his last 10. Spare me the “somebody has to get the stats on a bad team” junk, this guy is flat out balling. Not that it’s enough to make him an All-Star.

28. Nets (12-32). They have played better since owner Mikhail Prokhorov ended the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors. Wonder how the team will respond when they start up again in about a week.

29. Raptors (13-31). Losers of seven in a row because they aren’t playing any defense.

30. Cavaliers (8-35). Up to 13 losses in a row. They play New Jersey Monday, might be the best chance to break it this week.

Heat play their game — hit 3s, grind, own fourth — to even series with Nuggets

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DENVER — It was a recipe familiar to Heat fans (and one that kept Bucks and Celtics fans up at night):

The Heat hit their 3-pointers at a seemingly unsustainable rate, 17-of-35 (48.6%). They got physical on defense and mucked up the Nuggets’ offense for stretches. Nikola Jokić was a scorer (41 points) but the Heat didn’t let him get the ball moving, allowing just four assists. The Heat were relentless and took advantage of their opponents’ undisciplined plays. The Heat owned the fourth with 36 points (to the Nuggets’ 25).

It was the recipe that got Miami to the NBA Finals and it won them Game 2 in Denver, 111-108. The NBA Finals are now tied 1-1, heading to Miami for Game 3 on Wednesday.

That familiar recipe included Miami’s role players stepping up as they have all postseason. Gabe Vincent scored 23 with 4-of-6 from 3, Max Strus started hot and finished with 14 points and six assists, and Duncan Robinson came off the bench for a hot start to the fourth quarter and scored 10 points that helped change the game.

Their stars made plays too, both Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo scored 21. Butler had nine assists, Adebayo nine rebounds, and both made critical defensive plays. Everyone on the Heat stepped up when they had to.

“It’s just part of our DNA, for one. You know, everyone on this team has battled through adversity in some manner and been knocked down and had to get back up,” Vincent said when ask how the Heat keep having these kinds of games. “And for number two, we have a lot of experience in these close games. So when it comes down to the wire, we are strangely comfortable.”

While Heat culture makes a good story, this is ultimately about the 3-point shooting — the Heat shot better than 50% three times against the Celtics, and they have been having games like this all postseason (nine games of 40%+ from 3). This was a game they shot their way to a win with those 17 threes. The Heat had 11 shots in the restricted area in Game 2, half of their regular season average — they just hit their jumpers.

For the Nuggets, it was about the mental and effort lapses they avoided in Game 1 that caught them in Game 2. The Nuggets played with the arrogance of a team that believes it’s the better one in the series and can flip the switch.

“Let’s talk about effort. This is NBA Finals, we are talking about effort; that’s a huge concern of mine,” a fuming Nuggets coach Michael Malone said postgame. “You guys probably thought I was just making up some storyline after Game 1 when I said we didn’t play well. We didn’t play well. Tonight, the starting lineup to start the game, it was 10-2 Miami. Start of the third quarter, they scored 11 points in two minutes and 10 seconds. We had guys out there that were just, whether feeling sorry for themselves for not making shots or thinking they can just turn it on or off, this is not the preseason, this is not the regular season. This is the NBA Finals. That to me is really, really perplexing, disappointing.

“I asked the team, I asked them, ‘you guys tell me why they lost.’ And they knew the answer. Miami came in here and outworked us, and we were by far our least disciplined game of these 16 or 17 playoff games, whatever it is now. So many breakdowns. They exploited every one of our breakdowns and scored.”

The Heat got what they wanted from the opening tip. On offense Max Strus was hitting — 4-of-7 from 3 in the first quarter alone — but it wasn’t just him. Heat midrange shots that clanged out in Game 1 dropped through the net Sunday. More importantly, having Butler start the game defensively on Jamal Murray along with Adebayo on Jokić slowed the Nuggets’ go-to pick-and-roll. Miami got the lead all the way to 11 as they pulled the game into the mud they needed to win.

However, in the final five minutes of the quarter the Nuggets started to find their legs and their offense — all thanks to their bench.

Christian Braun made two hustling defensive plays in a row, the second turning into a Jeff Green breakaway (where Haywood Highsmith fouled him). Then a Bruce Brown 3. Then a Jeff Green 3. Then a Murray 3. Then an Aaron Gordon 3. It was a Rocky Mountain avalanche of 3-pointers and the Nuggets started to pull away.

Denver’s run stretched out to 29-8 and the Nuggets led by as many as 15. However, as the teams returned to their starting lineups, the Heat got their groove back — Strus, Gabe Vincent and Butler were all in double digits in the first half. More telling, Kevin Love (inserted into the starting lineup for Game 2) was +15 and Strus +10 as all the Heat starters were in the positive. On the other end, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was -14, highlighting a rough night that eventually led to him fouling out.

Their bench had Nuggets were up 57-51, and it helped they won the non-Jokić minutes at the start of the second quarter by 14.

The start of the second half again saw the Heat increasing their defensive pressure, doing better in transition, and doubling Jokić in a way that bothered him. This slowed the Nuggets down and had them getting into their offense late, and it was back to a slow, grinding, Heat style of game.

That kept most of the third quarter tight, but in the final minutes of the half — when Bam Adebayo went to the bench — Jokić made plays, he finished with 18 points in the third alone, and the Heat entered the fourth ahead 83-75.

Then the relentless Heat made their run, with Robinson going on a personal 7-2 streak that grows into a 13-2 Heat run that puts them up by three.

From there, the Heat did their thing — they hit threes and played intense defense. The Nuggets didn’t match that energy until they tried to flip the switch in the final couple of minutes. They almost got it, Murray had a 3 to tie the game at the buzzer that bounced off the rim.

But the Nuggets lost the game much earlier.

Edwards, Brunson, Reaves reportedly among commitments to play for USA at World Cup

2023 NBA Playoffs - Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
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Steve Kerr will be coaching a roster filled with some of the most engaging young stars of the NBA at the World Cup this summer.

Names are starting to leak out of who has accepted invitations to play for USA Basketball this August and September, and it feels like a who’s who of the best young players in the league: Anthony Edwards, Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Haliburton, Mikal Bridges, Austin Reaves and Bobby Portis.

This is just the start of the roster, but it is a young and athletic group that can shoot, move the ball and play at pace — deep wells of athleticism have long been one of the USA’s biggest strengths in international competitions.

The World Cup will feature 32 teams around the globe in an almost three-week competition. The USA is in Group C with Greece and Giannis Antetokounmpo (assuming he plays), New Zealand (Steven Adams, if he plays) and Jordan.

The USA will be coached in this World Cup by Kerr, Erik Spoelstra of Miami, Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers and Mark Few of Gonzaga. The USA will meet for a camp in Las Vegas and play Puerto Rico there as a tuneup before heading to Abu Dhabi and eventually on to the World Cup in the Philippines. The World Cup starts Aug. 25 and continues through Sept. 10, and the U.S. will play all of its games in Manila.

The World Cup is the primary qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics (the USA does not automatically qualify as the reigning gold medalist). USA Basketball President Grant Hill has said that playing in the World Cup is not a prerequisite for playing in the Olympics.

Phil Knight says he still wants to buy Trail Blazers, still waiting for team to be available

Phil Knight Legacy Tournament - Mens Championship: Duke v Purdue
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Phil Knight — not a man known for his patience — is waiting.

The Nike founder still wants the chance to buy the Portland Trail Blazers to ensure they stay in Portland, reports Rachel Bachman of the Wall Street Journal. However, the team remains unavailable. More than a year ago Knight and Dodgers co-owner Alan Smolinisky reportedly offered more than $2 billion to buy the Trail Blazers. Jody Allen, who currently runs the team on behalf of her late brother Paul Allen’s estate, said there is no plan to sell the team right now, and it could be years.

Knight continues to try and buy the team, the Journal reports.

So Knight and Smolinisky tried again, according to a person familiar with their plans. On numerous occasions, including earlier this year, they made it clear to Jody Allen that they still wanted to make a deal. They indicated that they realized the price had gone up and that they were willing to pay more than their initial offer, this person said. Again, Knight’s calls to Jody Allen were diverted to Kolde [Bert Kolde is the Executive Vice President of Sports Strategy at Vulcan Inc., which owns the Blazers and Seahawks], and nothing came of the brief discussions.

A few months ago, Smolinisky even sent a handwritten letter to Jody Allen seeking common ground and saying he and Knight would love to discuss the Blazers with her, according to a person familiar with the matter. In response, Smolinisky received an email from someone replying on Jody Allen’s behalf with a familiar message: Paul Allen’s sports teams aren’t on the market.

Paul Allen died of cancer in 2018 and some reports say his will requires the Trail Blazers — as well as the NFL’s Seahawks — must be sold within 10 years of that date, with the money from the sales going to a variety of charitable causes. We are halfway into that window.

In the case of the Trail Blazers, it would be wise to wait until the new national broadcast rights deal — which is expected to double, at least, the league’s television revenue — is locked in, raising the franchise value. Values have already gone up, with the Phoenix Suns being valued at $4 billion when Mat Ishbia bought them last December.

In the short term, the Trail Blazers and their fans are focused on the NBA Draft, where they have the No. 3 pick but are reportedly open to trading that for the right veteran to put next to Damian Lillard.

Coaching updates from around NBA: Stotts to Bucks, Young paid to stay with Suns

2021 NBA Playoffs - Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets
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In the 24 hours since the last time we put together a list of coaching updates from around the NBA a lot of things transpired, some expected, some not.

Here’s an update on the NBA coaching carousel.

• As was rumored to be coming, former Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts will join Adrian Griffin’s staff with the Milwaukee Bucks. This is a smart hire, putting an experienced coach known for creative offense next to the rookie coach on a contending team. With the Bucks getting older and more expensive quickly — 35-year-old Brook Lopez is a free agent this summer — the Bucks don’t have time for a rookie coach to figure things out on the job.

• Kevin Young will stay in Phoenix on Frank Vogel’s staff after new owner Mat Ishbia made him the highest-paid assistant in the league at $2 million a year, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Devin Booker reportedly backed Young to get the head coaching job, although how hard Booker pushed is up for debate. Keeping Young on staff — likely in an offensive coordinator role — next to the defensive-minded Vogel could be a good fit.

• Former Hornets coach James Borrego was in the mix for several jobs but has settled in New Orleans, where he will be on Willie Green’s staff. This team is stacked with offensive talent — Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum — if they can just stay on the court.

• There is now just one head coaching vacancy open around the league, the Toronto Raptors, and they are entering the final interview stages, reports Josh Lewenberg of TSN. Among the finalists for the job are Kings assistant coach Jordi Fernandez and highly-respected European coach Sergio Scariolo (the head coach of the Spanish national team and Virtus Bologna of the Italian league).

• The makeover of the Celtics coaching staff could go even deeper than expected because Ben Sullivan, Mike Moser and Garrett Jackson are all leaving Boston to join Ime Udoka‘s staff in Houston, reports Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

• Former Pacers player Shayne Whittington is now a part of Rick Carlisle’s coaching staff in Indiana.