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.

Pacers’ Myles Turner shuts down Bradley Beal at the rim (VIDEO)

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Myles Turner owned the paint in the first half — the Pacers’ center had five blocked shots in the first 24 minutes.

The big shut down was on Bradley Beal, this is how a big man recovers and goes after it.

Then later there was this play leading to a bucket on the other end.

Turner has had a strong defensive season in the paint so far for the Pacers, a big step for him. He’s sixth among centers in ESPN’s defensive real plus/minus stat (which has its flaws but is a good snapshot).

Washington learned that the hard way.

 

Report: Houston kicking tires on J.R. Smith trade with Cavaliers

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The Houston Rockets desperately need help on the wing (among other things, but wing is the personnel focus). The Rockets would also like to have less salary on the books next season, giving them some flexibility and lowering the tax bill.

J.R. Smith fits both of those bills, so Houston and GM Daryl Morey are at least taking a look at a potential trade, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

While there is some logic to this, we are a long way from it being a reality. Smith does not exactly have a positive trade value, at least as a player right now.

Smith was part of the rotation that helped the LeBron-led Cavaliers reach the NBA Finals last season, but he will be best remembered for the Game 1 blunder in the Finals that deflated the Cavs. Without the playmaking of LeBron, Smith struggled to start this season, shooting 34 percent for the Cavaliers in limited minutes, before going on hiatus from the team. That said, in a better situation where he was asked to play a small and specific role, maybe he could still help.

Smith is guaranteed $18.59 million this season but only $3.87 million of his $15.68 million salary for next season is guaranteed.

Houston seems a logical fit. Money wise, a Brandon Knight for Smith trade works, but the Rockets will have to throw in picks or other sweeteners to get the Cavaliers interested. Cleveland also likely will be patient, hoping that as the deadline gets closer there is a little bidding war for Smith.

Still, the Rockets are active on the trade market (as always), and they need wings, so this is worth keeping an eye on.

Lakers’ Rajon Rondo has fluid drained from hand slowing his recovery from surgery

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Rajon Rondo has been out more than three weeks following surgery to repair the third metacarpal bone in his shooting hand (his right hand), and while there has been no official timeline he was expected back in the next week or two. He’s been out on the court before recent Lakers’ games getting in some work.

But he has now hit a bit of a setback, Lakers’ coach Luke Walton said on Wednesday. Here is what Walton said, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“There’s a little bit of swelling,” Walton said at Lakers shootaround on Monday in advance of his team’s game against the Miami Heat. “We’re going to shut him down for a few days then get back out after it again.”

It’s not clear when Rondo will return. He was averaging 8.5 points, 6.5 assists, and 4.5 rebounds a game before the injury.

The Lakers have gone 8-4 since Rondo went to the bench with his fractured hand. Without the veteran point guard, LeBron James has had the ball in his hands more as a playmaker (to Magic Johnson’s frustration at times), paired with Lonzo Ball (who has started to show some real chemistry with LeBron). The Lakers offense hasn’t been particularly good in these past dozen games, bottom 10 in the league, but they have balanced that with a top 7 defense. The Lakers are getting wins thanks to that defense and enough LeBron shot creation to get it done.

The Lakers are going to have to keep getting it done and now without Brandon Ingram, too, who is expected to miss a few more games with a sprained ankle.

Report: Bulls execs John Paxson and Gar Forman backing Jim Boylen

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Bulls players have made clear their thoughts on new coach Jim Boylen’s abnormally frequent and lengthy practices, his harsh public critiques, his five-man substitutions:

They don’t like it.

Not every player feels the exact same way, but enough were fed up to refuse to practice yesterday – the day after a back-to-back, a time teams almost never practice. Everyone compromised on a team meeting, though players reportedly also complained to their union.

But Boylen says he isn’t backing down – and it sounds as if his superiors support him.

Boylen, via Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago:

“My job…is to try to push our guys to a place they can’t take themselves,” he said. “That’s pushing them outside their comfort zone. That’s what my job is. That’s what the Reinsdorfs are paying me for.

“I explained that to them – ‘Hey guys, everybody wants it comfortable, everybody wants it safe. Well, I don’t think you become great in that.’ So it’s going to be a little raw for a while, it’s going to be a little rough for a while. And maybe there’s a point where it gets not as rough but all of a sudden it’s got to be rough again.”

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

The fact Boylen cited ownership is telling. Phil Jackson praised Boylen to Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf after Boylen met with the Hall of Fame coach last summer. And according to team and league sources, executive vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman raved to ownership about Boylen’s message during Sunday’s meeting, which Paxson and Forman attended.

I wonder whether Paxson and Forman actually believe in Boylen or just feel as if they have no choice but to support him. Their last coaching hire, Fred Hoiberg, flopped to the point questions emerged about Forman’s job security. Paxson already declared a plan to keep Boylen for next season. Maybe Paxson and Forman can’t dump Boylen without bringing too much scrutiny upon themselves.

But the status quo isn’t sustainable. Boylen can’t keep belittling his players and running them into the ground without inciting a rebellion. He must ease up at least a little.

A theory that gives the Bulls the benefit of the doubt (that they don’t necessarily deserve): They already know this is a lost season, and playing for a higher draft pick is their best strategy. Boylen’s harsh practices will both help them lose and instill good long-term habits. Plus, his presence ensures players will welcome Chicago’s next coach. Even someone more demanding than Hoiberg would now suddenly be a reprieve.