NBA Power Rankings: How would you feel about a Spurs/Celtics NBA finals?

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, where we’re thinking that the finals could be Spurs and Celtics because no teams are executing anywhere near their level right now in crunch time.

1. Spurs (40-7). They are now 7.5 games ahead of the second place Lakers in the Western Conference (and 4 ahead of Boston for the best record overall). They will be the West’s top seed. Here is the real question: Can they beat the Lakers in a seven-game series? They certainly can beat the Lakers team that played Sunday.

2. Celtics (36-11). Boston looked pretty disinterested in Portland and Phoenix last week, but when they took the court against the Lakers Sunday they were ready. That win was about the team that executed better in the final six minutes, and it was all Boston.

3. Heat (33-14). They actually had everyone healthy for a game this weekend, the first time for that in a while. Some interesting rematches for them this week against the Magic and Clippers.

4. Bulls (33-14). Kurt Thomas is playing much better than I thought possible. He’s averaging 8 points and 8 rebounds a game, shooting 63 percent, over the last 10 Bulls games. Chicago is 8-2 in that stretch.

5. Magic (31-17). They are just 1-4 against teams over .500 in January. Is this team still figuring everything out with the new pieces of Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson, or are they just not good enough to be contenders?

6. Lakers (33-15). The schedule is about to get really tough for the Lakers — lots of road games and they have 23 games left against teams over .500 and only 11 against teams under that mark. Either their execution is going to come together against those better teams or they are going to slip. And if they slip at all against these Spurs they are not getting back to the finals.

7. Mavericks (31-15). Before the season Mark Cuban raved about the depth of the Mavericks. Last week they got wins thanks to big offensive games from Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea. Cuban was right.

8. Hornets (31-18). Chris Paul is clutch, but the Hornets lost a couple of heartbreakers last week.

9. Thunder (30-17). Their recent run has been all about Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who have averaged 58 points a game combined over the last 10. The rest of the team is scoring 56.8 per game in that same stretch.

10. Hawks (30-18). If Josh Smith wanted to make an All-Star push, his play against the Bucks was not how to go about it. He tried to take over that game late and tanked. Good news is Joe Johnson has found his groove.

11. Nuggets (28-19). They have found balance — in their last 10 games seven players have averaged double digits in scoring. They are 7-3 in the last 10.

12. Jazz (28-20). It just feels like the wheels are starting to come off. Deron Williams has missed two games with a wrist injury and they need him back fast if they are going to turn this thing around.

13. Blazers (25-22). At least the two guys who had MRI’s last week didn’t suffer major injuries. Really, when was the last time the Blazers had a couple good MRI results in a row?

14. Knicks (25-22). The win over Miami was a statement win, as much as you can really have one of those in January. More and more they look like a playoff lock — and if they don’t pick up Donnie Walsh’s contract they deserve what befalls them.

15. Grizzlies (24-24). No O.J. Mayo for 10 games is not as huge a loss as he was only giving them 9.2 points a game on 40.5 percent shooting in the last 8 he played.

16. Sixers (21-26). There is just no way this team trades Andre Iguodala as they fight for a playoff berth. The rumors will circulate but the Sixers are currently the seven seed and just one game up on the nine seed Bucks. They are not going to throw in the towel unless the offer is just too good to ignore.

17. Suns (22-24). Don’t look now but they are 7-3 in their last 10. So why did they slide down in the rankings? Because they lost to the Sixers and the Knicks snapped their losing streak and jumped them. It happens.

18. Bobcats (20-26). D.J. Augustin is like a new player under Paul Silas, and it changes who the Bobcats are in a good way.

19. Bucks (20-26). They have a three-game winning streak and have outscored their opponents 101.7 to 93.7 in that stretch.

20. Clippers (18-28). They are really going to miss Eric Gordon. Randy Foye is a nice enough replacement but it’s not the same.

21. Rockets (22-27). They are four games out of the final playoff spot in the West. The only way they are making that ground up is if Carmelo Anthony falls to them.

22. Warriors (20-27). We’d like to think Golden State turned a defensive corner against the Jazz Sunday, but that really was a lot more about how bad Utah is right now on offense.

23. Pistons (17-31). Free Rip Hamilton! (We’re just going to keep writing that every week here until it happens.)

24. Kings (12-33). Wins over the Lakers and the Hornets in the same week — and the Kings looked good doing it. They are playing their best ball of the season.

25. Pacers (17-27). Look for them to have a little bump in performance under interim coach Frank Vogel — mid-season coaching changes often do that.

27. Nets (14-34). Two wins this week moved them past last season’s win total (12) before the All-Star Game.

27. Wizards (13-33). Still no road wins (and they almost got one by knocking off the Thunder of all teams). John Wall is shooting 38.2 percent in his last 10. Maybe he should eat something other than Doritos.

28. Timberwolves (11-36). I think Kevin Love should be an All-Star reserve.

29. Raptors (13-35). The losing streak is up to 11, and that sad excuse for a zone defense is not the answer.

30. Cavaliers (8-39). No team has ever gone from the best record in the league to the worst in one season. That’s about to change. Sadly with 20 losses in a row now, teams are getting up for the Cavs because they fear being the team that loses to them and ends the streak.

Three Things to Know: Who’s your MVP? James Harden drops 50-point triple-double on Lakers

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) LeBron is your MVP? James Harden drops 50-point triple-double on Lakers. It’s early in the season, but the narratives for the race for MVP are taking shape, and right now LeBron James — having a season similar in many ways to the ones he had recently in Cleveland, just now doing it in a much brighter spotlight — is near the top of a lot of lists, with a compelling narrative around him that he has turned around the worst run of Lakers’ basketball in franchise history. (If the vote were taken today Giannis Antetokounmpo would win, but LeBron would be in the mix… just my sense talking to other voters and what one straw poll found.)

James Harden, who is the reigning MVP, has put up very similar offensive numbers to last season — 30.8 points, 8.3 assists, and 5.5 rebounds a game with a 61.8 true shooting percentage and a 27.3 PER — yet his name is not mentioned in the race.

Thursday night on TNT he threw his hat back in the ring with a 50-point triple-double (10 rebounds, and 11 assists) pushing the Rockets to a 126-111 win over the Lakers, the kind of win that makes you think maybe the Rockets can turn it around.

That was Harden’s fourth 50-point triple-double, an NBA regular season record (moving him past former teammate Russell Westbrook).

It was a vintage Harden performance — he only had 26 shot attempts to get to 50 points, and he got to the free throw line for 18 shots. Lakers coach Luke Walton joined the long list of coaches who picked up a technical foul yelling at the referees that Harden was getting all the calls while his team didn’t get those same whistles (Harden is the master and drawing contact, then when he feels it throwing back his head, flailing his arms, and essentially flopping for the call… it works). LeBron and Lonzo Ball actually tried defending with their hands behind their backs for a stretch, trying to make a point to the officials. But what Harden does is just smart and practiced — he’s the master at it, and if you don’t foul he’s good enough to still put up ridiculous numbers.

Harden’s offensive skills have never been in question. However, he’s not mentioned in the MVP race because of the other end of the court — Houston is 13-14 with the second worst defense in the NBA, and Harden is part of the problem on that end. Last season the Rockets were a top-10 defense and they switched everything with the hope that the other team would then try to exploit the mismatch of Harden (or Chris Paul) guarding a big man, post up said big up and let him go to work. Except, Harden is very strong, especially in the lower body, and it’s difficult to back him down in the post and go to work. Harden is a good post defender.

This season, teams have largely abandoned that approach, they are working to exploit Harden in space or his help defense, both of which are terrible. Again. Harden is playing defense this season like the meme-worthy guy of 2014-15. Harden is not the only problem on the Rockets’ defense (Clint Capela looks a step slower, as does Chris Paul, and they miss the switchable wings they let walk last season in free agency, the communication is lacking, and much more) but he is a part of the problem. And it’s obvious.

That said, if the Rockets start to turn it around, string together some wins, get into a playoff position in the West, and Harden keeps putting up these numbers, he’s going to get some MVP votes. For now, the Rockets need more games like this from Harden to get them back into the West playoffs.

2) Dirk Nowitzki is back on the court, but the Mavericks suffer an ugly loss to Phoenix. For the 21st season in a row, Dirk Nowitzki — the future Hall of Famer, the best European player in NBA history, the talisman of the franchise — was back on the court in a Mavericks uniform. He was limited, playing just 6 minutes and scoring only one bucket, but it was good to see (just ask Mark Cuban).

Nowitzki is not why this game was a national TNT broadcast on one of the league’s showcase nights: they wanted Deandre Ayton vs. Luka Doncic. A 2018 NBA Draft showdown.

This was not vintage Doncic (the current clear leader in the Rookie of the Year race), who had 13 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists but added 4 turnovers. A couple of reasons for that, but at the top of the list is something the league tries to avoid on Thursday night showcases: it was Dallas’s third game in four nights, the second night of a back-to-back, and Doncic looked dead-legged (as did all the Mavericks). Also, Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. seemed to take turns, trading off who would attack, rather than letting the more skilled Doncic just take over.

Ayton was not himself either, scoring 7 points on 3-of-13 shooting, matched up with the athletic veteran DeAndre Jordan. Ayton usually puts up good counting stats — he’s averaging 15.5 points and 10 rebounds a game — but his offense is limited, half his shots come right at the rim and 75 percent of his shots are set up by someone else, and his defense is dreadful. He’s got potential as an NBA big man, but he also has a lot of work to do to live up to being a No. 1 pick.

Phoenix snapped it’s 10-game losing streak with a 99-88 win.

3) The NBA tries to win over Mexico by sending them… Orlando and Chicago? If you’re an NBA fan living Mexico City fan and you get to see a couple of games in person a year, you can’t be faulted for thinking Nikola Vucevic is a legend.

The NBA put its best foot forward in Mexico City Thursday night… okay, it put a foot forward, giving them a regular season game between the Magic and Bulls. Vucevic, who is playing at an All-Star level for the Magic this season, was the best player on the court, dropping 20 points and 10 boards, leading the Magic to a 97-91 win.

The most interesting news out of Chicago is that Bulls new coach Jim Boylen will be allowed to so something Fred Hoiberg was not — bench Jabari Parker. Despite Chandler Hutchison being out, Parker got four first-half minutes and that’s it. He’s not going to be part of the regular rotation going forward. This was one of the front office’s big moves this summer, spending $20 million to bring in Parker (when no other team was offering near that much), but with Lauri Markkanen back there just shouldn’t be minutes for Parker. (Hoiberg didn’t really get to coach Markkanen this season due to injury, so he had to play Parker, even starting him a lot at the four.)

Bulls management has made some smart moves the past 18 months, but there have been a few head-scratchers, too. Parker is at the top of that list.

Report: Jabari Parker is ‘no longer expected to see regular minutes’ in Bulls’ rotation

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The Chicago Bulls inexplicably outbid everyone in the market this past offseason for Jabari Parker. Gar Forman and John Paxson decided to pay the Chicago native a whopping $20 million per season for two years when it didn’t appear anyone else was willing to go that high for a middling player coming off two ACL tears in the same knee.

Needless to say, it has not worked out.

Parker started the season inauspiciously by the saying that he wasn’t paid to play defense, and things devolved from there. Set aside all of the locker room issues in Chicago — Parker has simply not played well on the floor. Despite a potential bigger piece of the pie off offensively, Parker has seen his percentages dip and his advanced statistics are horrifying. Entering his fifth season in the league, Parker has a negative win share for the season, his 3-point shooting is down seven percent, and his turnovers rate has gone up by 36 percent despite having the same usage.

On Thursday, a report surfaced from ESPN before Chicago took on the Orlando Magic that said Parker would be taken out of the Bulls rotation, and that after the Magic game, Parker would “no longer see regular minutes”.

Just to reiterate, Parker is Chicago’s highest paid player.

The response online was immediate, and our compatriots over at NBC Sports Chicago had a particularly great reaction.

Via Twitter:

How soundly would Adam Silver sleep if Jerry Reinsdorf, Jim Dolan, and Robert Sarver all decided to simultaneously sell their teams? The NBA’s BRI since the lockout has continued to climb but if the Bulls and the Knicks were well-run organizations there’s no telling where the league could expand.

I don’t know where Chicago is headed, but it’s nowhere good.

Report: Lakers unwilling to give up youth in exchange for Trevor Ariza

AP
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The Los Angeles Lakers would like to have Trevor Ariza back in the Forum blue and gold. However, it might not be that easy.

Ariza is due a significant amount of money from the Phoenix Suns this season, and in order to make a trade work the Lakers would need to get rid of some players of their own. Their preferred current roster member would be Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, although several teams are reluctant to take him. Of course, teams want something in return if they are going to help facilitate any deal between the Lakers and the Suns, which has helped put a stop on any movement.

According to a recent report, the Lakers are unwilling to include any of their young core in a trade for a reason. That apparently means Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, and Brandon Ingram are unavailable in a deal with Ariza as currently constructed.

Via LA Times:

The Lakers have informed teams that have called about trade proposals that they will not give up any of their young core unless it’s for a superstar player, one person said.

The Suns were turned down when they sought to get one of the Lakers’ young players in exchange for Ariza, and Phoenix also rejected a three-team deal that was discussed with the Lakers.

The Lakers and Suns have continued to pursue trade scenarios that make sense for both teams.

Phoenix and Los Angeles are still reportedly trying to get a deal done for Ariza, but nothing is imminent. It does make sense that LA wouldn’t want to give up some of their younger players for an aging Ariza, who would fit well next to LeBron James but whose value has declined as we’ve seen the variance in his play between last season with the Houston Rockets and this year with the Suns.

I would still put my money on Ariza playing as a member of the home team at Staples Center this season. Typically when LeBron wants to add a veteran he likes around him, a deal gets done. For right now, we don’t know what a potential trade might look like, unless someone decides to relent in their asking price.

Phoenix woman roasts Suns owner Robert Sarver at city council meeting, calls him “so tight he squeaks” (VIDEO)

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The Phoenix Suns aren’t going to move. Owner Robert Sarver made a poorly-calculated threat to relocate the team to either Seattle or Las Vegas this week, something that was quickly walked back.

On Wednesday the Phoenix city council decided to postpone a vote on whether to help renovate Talking Stick Resort Arena, where the Suns play. Sarver has been lobbying for the renovations for some time, and wants public funding to do it.

But this is 2018, and people are wary of that sort of thing. The public is less likely to fork over the kind of unfettered public funds that most owners want, and people want a better return for their tax dollar these days.

Greta Rogers, a local area resident, voiced her concerns Wednesday night to the city council about them dealing with and potentially bending to Sarver’s will. Rogers’ comments to the council quickly became the thing of legend, with her calling Sarver “so tight he squeaks when he walks”.

Via Twitter:

That’s the right call in today’s day and age. Owners have far too much sway, and their stewardship of a public trust like a sports team shouldn’t allow them to influence taxpayers in the manner Sarver is attempting. In fact, it should be much the opposite.

Thanks to TV deals, Big 4 sports franchises are basically a license to print money. People don’t even need to show up to the stadium anymore — just look at most MLB parks. Owner-favorable tax deals, at least on the scale most cities hand out, are just bad business at this point.

On Thursday Sarver issued a video via the team Twitter account that didn’t say much of anything, despite the intention. In it, Sarver said he was committed to keeping the Suns in downtown Phoenix, building a new practice facility, and renovating the stadium. He didn’t mention anything about paying for it himself, which you would think he could do with a rumored net worth of $400 million. Or the team could just do it, since it’s a billion-dollar enterprise that can take out loans like any other business. Because, you know, that’s how capital expenditures work.

Sarver’s clumsy attempt to bully money out of the city of Phoenix in a post-SuperSonics NBA was pretty laughable. Hopefully more folks like Greta Rogers keep the council’s feet to the fire.