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.

Pistons present themselves as Eastern Conference heavyweights with Dwane Casey

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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DETROIT – Pistons spokesman Mark Barnhill, introducing new coach Dwane Casey, said he tucked his notes for today’s press conference into his jacket pocket. Then, as he pulled them out, he discovered an old Pistons playoff ticket in the same pocket.

“It’s a bit of an omen and a bit of a challenge,” Barnhill said.

The ticket was for the Pistons’ best playoff performance in a decade.

“No pressure,” Casey said.

Actually, really, no pressure.

Detroit lost by only two points in Game 4 of the 2016 first round, getting swept by the Cavaliers in the game Barnhill referred to. The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in the last 10 years and reached the postseason only twice in that span. A two-point loss was their best result.

They’re starving for only moderate success. The 59 wins and second-round loss that got Casey fired by the Raptors? That’d be a dream season in Detroit. Even just making the playoffs next year would be welcomed.

“Our time is now,” Casey said. “…The talent level on the roster is there.”

It better be.

The Pistons are too close to the luxury-tax line to use most of the mid-level exception. They surrendered their first-round pick in the Blake Griffin trade. They’re left with only the No. 42 pick in the second round.

“Whatever player we get, that would be great. But we don’t need another one,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “Like, we’re good. That’s why Dwane is here.”

That and $35 million.

The Pistons presented Casey with a favorable contract, a front-office head he knows (more on that later) and a solid roster. Detroit is probably better off trying to win now, because the alternative would be even trickier to pull off. With so many highly paid players stained by losing, the Pistons can’t easily switch paths and rebuild. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are close enough to their primes that the present should be the priority, even if this team maxes at pretty good.

Yet, Detroit’s brass couldn’t help but raise expectations even further.

“We have three very – we have a great roster – but very special players,” Gores said of Griffin, Drummond and Jackson.

That’s an overstatement. Besides, how much noise can Detroit make with the Celtics and 76ers rising the Raptors still hanging around?

“I feel very comfortable that we’ll have a product that will compete with the teams that you just said,” Gores’ advisor, Ed Stefanski, said. “We have to win games, as Tom said. But you don’t usually get to an organization and have three core guys like we have.”

Again, they’re talking about Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

Griffin hasn’t made an All-Star team in three years, a drought players rarely escape. Drummond is a borderline All-Star in the East (and a tough fit with Griffin). Jackson has only once even sniffed the All-Star discussion.

Casey also praised those three – and Detroit’s last three first-round picks: Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard. Johnson particularly drew attention from Casey, whose Raptors got swept by LeBron James‘ Cavaliers the last two years and lost the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history to Cleveland the previous year.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, what happened to Toronto in the playoffs? ‘Well, I said, ‘It’s about matchups,'” Casey said. “And Stanley Johnson is the best match up for 23 in Cleveland that there is, physically.”

Maybe Casey, with his strong record of player development, will help Johnson eventually compete at those high levels.

“We’re not developing,” Casey said. “We’re not two or three years away. We want to win right now.”

The Pistons are so confident in their current roster, they haven’t even hired a general manager or equivalent. For now, Stefanski – advisor to the owner with the title of “senior executive” – is running the show. It sounds as if that could continue for a while.

“We could make Ed GM tomorrow,” Gores said. “That’s easy. If you guys want a title, that’s kind of easy.

“That’s not the point. The point is we’re building an organization, not around one person, but around what our vision is.”

Stefanski said, no matter how the front office is assembled, Casey will report to him. And Stefanski will report to Gores.

After giving Stan Van Gundy massive control, the Pistons are dispersing power.

Casey is a good coach, and he’ll help. Stefanski has plenty to prove as a front-office head. Gores is still learning as an owner, a failed experiment (keeping Joe Dumars) and unfulfilling tenure (Van Gundy’s) behind him. The roster is solid, though unexciting, when healthy.

They’re now all in it together, awaiting a chance to deliver. Considering how modest external expectations are, maybe they will.

But as the Pistons overstate their standing, it gets harder to take them seriously.

PBT Extra: Dwight Howard traded to Brooklyn, does anybody win?

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Dwight Howard is on the move. Again. Leaving a wake of unhappy teammates behind him. Again.

The trade can’t be consummated until the NBA free agent moratorium ends on July 6, but a deal has been struck where Charlotte sends Howard to Brooklyn for Timofey Mozgov, two second-round picks, and cash.

I don’t love this trade for the Nets — it’s going to get awkward with Howard being asked to come off the bench behind Jarrett Allen (and he should come off the bench). But it frees up an extra $17 million for the Nets in the summer of 2019 as they start to reshape their roster.

The Hornets get away from the luxury tax with this move but tie up their cap space next year with Mozgov still getting paid off the contract former-Laker-now-Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak gave him years ago. It was a short-term move that isn’t great for the long term. Unless Kemba Walker wanted Howard gone and the Hornets want to re-sign their point guard. A lot of unanswered questions still about this team.

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard directly told Gregg Popovich he wanted to leave Spurs

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Kawhi Leonard and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich met in San Diego yesterday.

How did the discussion go? Reports have been mixed about even the nature of the meeting, let alone a resolution from either side.

But here’s an update with a reportedly direct conclusion.

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

From what my sources told me, Kawhi Leonard met with Gregg Popovich face-to-face, looked him dead in his face and told him “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be in San Antonio any longer.”

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers, last week. There was some hope Popovich could mend the relationship, but that seems to running thin. There is so much bitterness between both sides.

The next question: What do the Spurs do about it?

Do they keep trying to ease tension with the 26-year-old superstar? Do they trade him? If so, when? Before or during the draft?

No matter what Leonard told Popovich yesterday, San Antonio has big decisions to make and soon. Leonard firmly stating a desire to leave would be clarifying, but it’d hardly make this situation easy to handle.

Brendan Haywood: Former Hornets teammates ‘sick and tired’ of Dwight Howard’s act

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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It has become an annual tradition – Dwight Howard getting traded then his former teammates celebrating his exit.

It happened with the Hawks last year. Now, it’s happening with the Hornets, who sent Howard to the Nets.

Brendan Haywood, via Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

Now retired, Haywood played with current Hornets Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist his final season. He also knows many other players throughout the league.

Howard went to Charlotte and declared himself team leader – despite the presence of Walker, the franchise player. Howard’s immaturity and ego have rubbed teammates and coaches the wrong way for years.

But at least this is progress. Howard’s time with the Magic, Lakers and Rockets devolved into interpersonal strife well before he left those teams.