NBA Power Rankings: Spurs still sitting pretty, Heat slip

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings, every team seemed to have a nice win and an ugly loss, balancing the karmic scales.

1. Spurs (45-9, Last Week #1). They are 5-2 on the rodeo road trip so far (still to come the Nets and Bulls). Their one loss this week was just one of those game where nothing falls (sorry Sixers, wasn’t all your defense).

2. Celtics (39-14, LW #2). Losses to the Bobcats and Lakers, a rash of injuries piled up, and then they go out Sunday and remind the Heat they are still the team to beat in the East. Injuries or no, don’t expect the Celtics to rush guys back, they are thinking about June not February.

3. Mavericks (38-16, LW #4). One loss in the last 13 and that by one point. Peja Stojakovic has shot 40 percent overall and 29 percent from three since joining the Mavs, but did drop 22 on Houston so maybe he is figuring it out. The real question, how much better does this team become when Roddy Beaubois returns soon?

4. Lakers (38-17, LW #6). What was more telling, the win over Boston, or the loss to Orlando? Still, they are 4-1 so far on the Grammy road trip with the Nets and Cavaliers left on the tour.

5. Heat (39-15, LW #3). After Sunday’s loss you would think Pat Riley would be looking for some help along the front line to combat the Celtics, but does he really have any trade options?

6. Bulls (36-16, LW #5). If he wasn’t already in your “best point guard in the game” conversation, Derrick Rose outplayed Deron Williams and Chris Paul last week. They have the Spurs this Thursday and the Heat the following Thursday, which will start to give us a real grasp of how good this team really is.

7. Magic (35-21, LW #8). They have not wowed in recent weeks with losses to elite teams, but the win Sunday over the Lakers gives some hope. Still, we need to see this over a stretch of ground to be convinced.

8. Thunder (34-19, LW #7). Some sloppy losses to the Grizzlies and Warriors this week, which would have dropped them if every team below them didn’t have some sloppy losses, too. The defense isn’t good enough for the offense to have an off night.

9. Hawks (33-20, LW #9). Two ugly losses for the Hawks last week. Not likely any late trade activity, not a lot of parts they can move, but if this is the team that goes to the playoffs it’s a repeat of last season. At best.

10. Hornets (33-23, LW #10). They are not right without Emeka Okafor in the paint (2-5 without him). Got a nice win over Orlando this week, though.

11. Blazers (30-24, LW #13). Nice wins this week, including over the Bulls, in part because LaMarcus Aldridge is on a tear. And please, rest Brandon Roy longer, for the sake of his knees. For the sake of basketball fans everywhere who want to see him right.

12. Grizzlies (30-26, LW #14). They are 8-2 in their last 10 and that includes wins over Orlando, Oklahoma City and Denver. They are currently the 9 seed in the West, one game back of the Blazers and one-and-a-half behind the Jazz and Nuggets. One of those teams is going stumble and Memphis will catch them.

13. Nuggets (31-24, LW #11). At least we know in the next 10 days the ‘Melodrama will end. One way or another.

14. Jazz (31-24, LW #12). Teams often get a little boost from a mid-season coaching change. And we’re rooting for Tyrone Corbin, but he can’t make Al Jefferson into Carlos Boozer, or make Mehmet Okur healthy. Which is what the Jazz really need.

15. Sixers (26-28, LW #16). Big wins over the Spurs and Hawks this week. Remember this team started this season 3-13, they are 20-14 since.

16. Pacers (24-28, LW #19). They are playing faster since Frank Vogel took over, but they are rebounding better two. And they re 7-1 for Vogel.

17. Knicks (27-26, LW #15). They really are a Mike D’Antoni team — if they can’t outscore you in spite of their defense they can’t beat you.

18. Suns (26-26, LW #17). Unlike the Knicks they are trying to play some defense. But they are three games out of the last playoff spot in the West and it’s going to be tough to make that ground up unless they become more consistent fast.

19. Warriors (24-29, LW #18). There was a David Lee sighting Sunday. While Monta Ellis is carrying the load the Warriors need Lee for balance.

20. Bobcats (23-31, LW #20). Few things make us smile like seeing Shaun Livingston doing well. With D.J. Augustin nursing a sore wrist he may get more run (and against the Lakers he could destroy Derek Fisher).

21. Rockets (25-30, LW #22). They want to move Aaron Brooks, and to pick up the scoring slack there is… Chuck Hayes? He’s been a scoring machine lately.

22. Bucks (20-33, LW #21). Brandon Jennings’ return has pumped no life into the moribund Bucks offense, mostly because he is shooting 33 percent since coming back.

23. Pistons (20-35, LW #23). Rodney Stuckey is back to starting, but that has not made Jon Kuester happy. Although, is there anything that makes him happy?

24. Nets (17-38, LW #25). Two wins this week, and we’ll even count the one against Cleveland.

25. Wizards (15-38, LW #27). They got a road win (over Cleveland), which prompted John Wall to say, “We’re a great team. We just got a lot to learn.” John, I think you and I have different definitions of “great.”

26. Clippers (20-34, LW #24). Losses to the Cavaliers and the Raptors in one week — that is impressively bad. Who said this team would make the playoffs again?

27. Timberwolves (13-41, LW #29). Kevin Love has 40 consecutive double-doubles, just four shy of the NBA record.

28. Raptors (15-40, LW #28). Rookie Ed Davis seems to be figuring some things out, like how to rebound at the NBA level.

29. Kings (13-38, LW #26). Long term this franchise needs to figure out how to get DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans to coexist as one unit, or make a drastic move.

30. Cavaliers (9-46, LW #30). They broke the streak. Then they came out the next game with no effort whatsoever and lost to the Wizards. Model of the inconsistent effort: J.J. Hickson.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.

Dallas Mavericks near agreement to sign Kemba Walker

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
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Looking for help spacing the floor and with secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks are turning to Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein was first with the news the sides were close to a deal, but since then multiple reports — plus comments from team owner Mark Cuban — confirmed it is happening.

This will be a veteran minimum contract (all the over-the-cap Mavericks can offer). To create the roster spot, the Mavericks will waive Facundo Campazzo, who was signed a few weeks ago and has barely touched the court for the team.

Walker averaged 11.6 points and 3.5 assists a game playing solidly in stretches for the Knicks last season, but the concern was his staying on the court — he appeared in just 37 games due to ongoing knee problems. Walker spent the offseason working on getting past those, but the Knicks traded him to Detroit for picks, but the Pistons were stacked at the point guard spot (at least before the season and injuries hit Cade Cunningham), so they bought out his $9.2 million for this season.

Walker worked to convince teams he still had plenty in the tank, but it was always going to take a situation where a team reached a certain level of desperation. Enter the Mavericks.