NBA Power Rankings: The Lakers are on top, the Cavs are out of the cellar

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Changes at the top and bottom of the roster, and we wonder who can coach Kwame Brown?

1. Lakers (45-19, LW #4). It’s not the seven wins in a row that vault them to the top (well, it was in part). It wasn’t just wins over Boston and the Spurs recently. It’s the defense with Andrew Bynum as the anchor. When the Lakers are focused on that end they are a ridiculous matchup.

2. Celtics (46-15, LW #3). No Shaq, no Kendrick Perkins, trying to integrate Jeff Green into the offense, it’s nice to have a soft spot in the schedule to do that. They have won five in a row.

3. Mavericks (45-17, LW #2). They are still hot, but the loss Sunday to the Grizzlies makes you wonder how they will deal with long front lines in the playoffs. The battle between them and the Lakers for the two seed in the West is on, and the teams face off Saturday in Dallas. Big game.

4. Spurs (51-12, Last Week #1). They beat the Heat like a drum, but then get the exact same thing done to them by the Lakers. It doesn’t mean the Spurs are bad, but the Lakers are a brutal matchup for them.

5. Bulls (43-18, LW #5). They beat Miami this week, but everybody is doing that now. They beat the Magic, too. I’ve still got questions about if they have enough offense come the playoffs, but they are a contender now, make no mistake. And Tom Thibodeau is the coach of the year. (Sorry Pops.)

6. Magic (40-23, LW #7). The Magic are kind of locking themselves in as the four seed in the East. Which means a second round matchup against Boston (we’re assuming they get out of the first round). That will be interesting.

7. Thunder (38-22, LW #8). They are waiting on Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to get healthy. Mostly Perkins. They are pretty locked in at the four seed in the West, which would mean the Spurs in the second round. As we said with the Magic, that will be interesting.

8. Heat (43-20, LW #6). The blown lead to Orlando, the inability to close out in big games, four game losing streak. I don’t care if they cried or not, I care a lot more about seeing some kind of consistent execution. On both ends.

9. Grizzlies (34-29, LW #11). That was a big win in Dallas Sunday, with Zach Randolph hitting the dramatic shot shot. This is a good team folks that is 7-3 in their last 10. And we take it all back, Mike Conley is a good NBA point guard.

10. Blazers (35-27, LW #9). Brandon Roy isn’t really the story, the Blazers defense of late is. They dominated what’s left of Charlotte and are 7-3 in their last 10, with a tough stretch ahead of them.

11. Sixers (32-30, LW #13). They have won 8 of their last 10 and now you’ve got Evan Turner going off for 20 and Andre Iguodala with back-to-back triple doubles. Doug Collins is in my top three for coach of the year (with Thibodeau and Popovich).

12. Nuggets (37-27), LW #14). This is like a complexly different team after the trade — all defense and inconsistent offense. But it’s working, they are 5-2 since the deal.

13. Hornets (37-28, LW #10). We’re just glad Chris Paul is going to be alright. We’ll forgive him for missing Monday’s showdown against Derrick Rose.

14. Knicks (32-29, LW #15). Since he’s come over, Carmelo Anthony is averaging 24.7 points per game on 42.1 percent shooting and 30 percent from three. At the end of games, they still should have Stoudemire option No. 1.

15. Hawks (37-26, LW #12). Nice win against the Bulls, then they get smacked by the Knicks. And that is the Hawks in a nutshell.

16. Suns (32-29, LW #16). They are 1.5 games out of the playoffs, 3.5 out of the five seed. But does anyone not named Nash think they can catch either the Grizzlies, Trail Blazers, Hornets or Nuggets?

17. Rockets (32-32, LW #18). Another scrappy team that is just going to have a hard time catching any of the more talented scrappy teams ahead of them in the playoff chase.

18. Jazz (33-30, LW #17). They are about to head out on a tough road trip, but that might not be all bad as they have lost 7 in a row at home.

19. Pacers (27-35, LW #19). The Frank Vogel offensive boost has flamed out and the Pacers have been dreadful on offense again. Yet, they remain your eight seed in the East. Charlotte should concern them, except they may be playing worse.

20. Warriors (27-35, LW #21). In the last 10 Warrior games, Monta Ellis is putting up an inefficient 24.2 points a game shooting 43.7 percent overall and 26.9 from three. In that same stretch Stephen Curry is putting up 17.9 shooting 50.8 percent overall and 45.5 percent from three. David Lee is averaging a double-double in that stretch.

21. Bobcats (26-36, LW #20). Paul Silas trying to be the fourth coach to lead a team with Kwame Brown on it to the playoffs. The other three: Eddie Jordan, Phil Jackson (twice) and Michael Curry.

22. Clippers (23-40, LW #24). Without Eric Gordon this team struggles to find offensive balance, to see him go down with another wrist injury takes some of the fun out of watching this team. Not all of it, just some.

23. Bucks (23-38, LW #22). How different would they be if Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut were 100 percent healthy all season?

24. Nets (19-43, LW #26). They are the best NBA team ever to play in England.

25. Pistons (23-41, LW #23). John Kuester freed Rip Hamilton and he has shot 31.6 percent in three games.

26. Timberwolves (15-49, LW #25). Kevin Love will break the double-double record Monday night with his 51st consecutive. He has four 20-20 games in his last five.

27. Raptors (17-46, LW #27). The worst NBA team ever to play in England.

28. Kings (15-45, LW #28). Marcus Thornton is really fitting in there, once again getting a green light to shoot and taking advantage of it (averaging 21.2 points per game in his last 5).

29. Cavaliers (12-50, LW #30). They are 4-6 in their last 10 — and that gets them moved out of the cellar. They keep playing as they have and they’ll pass a couple more teams.

30. Wizards (16-46, LW #29). They have been dreadful since the All-Star break, going 1-7. But Trevor Booker can sure dunk. So there’s that.

Reports: Nets to buyout Kenneth Faried, who will sign with Rockets

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He seems to have found it in a guy the Brooklyn Nets are ready to let go — Kenneth Faried. The Nets are buying him out and “the Manimal” will instantly sign in Houston.

Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the story and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN filled in the details.

Faried would step in instantly in Houston and get the kind of run he was not in Brooklyn, where he appeared in just a dozen games this season for a total of 118 minutes. When he did play for the Nets Faried has looked solid — 59.5 percent shooting, strong on the boards — but it was hard to read much into his limited run. Faried will bring hustle and effort to Houston, we’ll see how much skill he has left.

The Rockets need to clear a roster spot to sign Faried. While the team does have Carmelo Anthony on the roster but in limbo, the more likely solution is letting go of the just signed James Nunnally.

Everything big and small goes right for DeMarcus Cousins in Warriors debut

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LOS ANGELES — It was the little things.

Not that DeMarcus Cousins’ overall line — he fouled out with 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting, 3-of-4 from three, six rebounds, three assists, one block, and he was +21, all in 15 minutes — was bad at all. In fact, it was pretty damn good. In his first game in nearly a year, Cousins looked like a slightly rusty version of himself. All the trademarks were there, from hitting threes to complaining about calls.

Cousins made the Warriors better from the moment he stepped on the court, and while the big things were obvious it was the little things should worry any challenger to the crown. For example:

• Cousins’ ability to not just score but to be a playmaker out of the midpost adds a new dimension to the Warriors offense.

• Cousins provides versatility to sets the Warriors already run regularly. For example, in the third quarter, he was the guy making the entry pass on the double-screen play the Warriors like, with Draymond Green in the post and Klay Thompson curing off the screens. Cousins set a hard screen that freed Thompson up for a clean look.

• He gives them another three-point shooter, one that creates matchup problems for defenses. The Clippers chose to chase Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson over picks and play on top of them, but that means the big has to drop back and protect against backcuts and drives. Do that with Cousins off the ball and he’s wide open for threes.

“I want to know what the scouting report is on me,” Cousins joked about how open he was from deep.

• Cousins is strong on the offensive glass and that’s going to lead to more kick-out threes for Golden State’s shooters.

• Cousins also gives the Warriors some defense. He’s a big body in the paint who knows how to get in the way. At one point on back-to-back plays Cousins drew a charge on Tobias Harris, then on the next trip down stripped Harris when he drove.

“Like a kid on Christmas,” Cousins said of how he felt on the night. “It’s been a long journey… this was probably one of the best days of my life, just being out on the floor again and playing the game that I love.”

Cousins was part of the Warriors picking up their seventh straight win, beating the Clippers 112-94. Curry led the way with 28 points.

Everything went Cousins’ way — he even got a standing ovation from the bench when he fouled out.

“Hopefully that’s the last time we give him a standing ovation when he fouls out, but it was great to see him out there,” Durant said.

“Probably all the fakest love I’ve received in my life,” Cousins joked.

The NBA world shook when Cousins signed with the Warriors last July. Everyone knew it was going to take him a long time to get healthy and right, but Golden State was a team that could be patient and wait for him, not rush him back, and when he did play it would be another weapon to punish switches or just use in their existing sets.

“I thought, good for him. It’s a good spot for him,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said of his reaction when he read about the Cousins signing. “And then I thought, wow, that’s not right.”

Cousins started the game with Curry, Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green, which meant nobody could really double him.

“This is a first, like in my entire basketball career,” Cousins said of the lack of doubles thrown at him. “I definitely can get used to this.”

Cousins’ first bucket as a Warrior was a thunderous dunk, one created because his man had to focus on Durant (and Danilo Gallinari was late with the rotation).

“I’m just glad to know I can still dunk,” Cousins joked.

Cousins said he was nervous before the game but his girlfriend sent him a picture of himself in the hospital, sitting in a wheelchair the day after his surgery. That helped put the journey in perspective.

“It’s been a year since his injury, he’s gone through a long rehab process…” Kerr said before the game. “This is not the end of the story, this is sort of the middle of the story and it’s a milestone but there is a long way to go.”

Cousins is going to get better at things big and small as that journey continues.

Which should scare the rest of the NBA.

DeMarcus Cousins’ first bucket as a Warrior is a monster jam

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LOS ANGELES — DeMarcus Cousins sure looked his hops are back on this throw down.

Cousins started for the Warriors Friday night after missing almost a full year with a torn Achilles, and on the Warriors first possession they fed him the rock in the post. Cousins faced up on Marcin Gortat, drove baseline with a nice first step, but got caught under the basket and couldn’t power it up through the Clipper big, getting his shot blocked.

Nobody was blocking his next shot.

It was a side pick-and-roll where Gortat had to cut off Durant’s drive, but Danilo Gallinari didn’t tag into the middle to cut off Cousins’ roll (or, made the business decision not to). The result was an impressive first bucket for DeMarcus as a Warrior.

Cousins’ first shift was three minutes long. He’s on a minutes restriction for a while.

D’Angelo Russell drops 40 on Magic including shot that put Nets up for good

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D'Angelo Russell is playing like a guy in a contract year. And that’s just fine with Brooklyn.

Russell tied his career best with 40 points Friday night against the Magic, including hitting the shot that put the Nets up for good on the night with 27 seconds remaining. Russell was 16-of-25 shooting, including 8-of-12 from three, and he was an analytics dream — Russell took all but one of his shots either in the paint or from three.

The Nets — now 24-23 on the season and the sixth seed in the East — came from 21 back to get the win and that included their guards hitting the big shots at the end.

First up was Spencer Dinwiddie.

Then came Russell’s shot that proved to be the game winner.

With the Nets extending Dinwiddie during the season, it’s unlikely Russell returns to Brooklyn next season, but a number of teams are interested in him as a free agent (restricted, the Nets can match if the offer is low).