NBA Power Rankings: How about a Spurs vs. Bulls NBA finals?

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It still feels like with the top six teams you could flip a coin week to week on who is playing the best at any given moment. This week the coin came up Spurs.

1. Spurs (54-12, Last Week #4). After a loss to the Lakers a week ago Sunday they put together three nice wins, now comes a more interesting showdowns with the Heat Monday and Mavericks Friday.

2. Bulls (47-18, LW #5). Their defense has them 9-1 in their last 10 games and a real threat to come out of the East. And as long as they win the Derrick Rose for MVP train will keep picking up steam.

3. Lakers (47-20, LW #1). They lost to the Heat with poor execution at the end of the game. They solved that problem against the Mavericks by making sure it wasn’t close late. Lakers still 9-1 in their last 10. Lakers/Magic — and Andrew Bynum vs. Dwight Howard — will be interesting Monday night.

4. Mavericks (47-19, LW #3). They keep winning, the remain a contender, but then you watch the Lakers handle them with ease and you wonder if that is a playoff preview with this squad. Again.

5. Celtics (47-17, LW #2). The Celtics, with losses to the Clippers and Sixers last week, seem to be slumping toward the playoffs. They did that last year, too. More losses could be on the way — the banged up Celtics have five games in seven days starting Sunday night.

6. Heat (45-21, LW #8). They beat the Lakers and the hot Grizzlies in one week. They can beat good teams. They can prove it again this week with a lineup of Spurs, Thunder, Hawks and Nuggets.

7. Thunder (42-23, LW #7). No Jeff Green has meant more James Harden, and that’s a good thing as he is stepping up. He’s shooting 50.4 percent in the team’s last 10 games.

8. Magic (42-25, LW #6). They are your four seed in the East, almost certainly. The question is, do they want to match up with in the second round: the Celtics, Bulls or Heat?

9. Grizzlies (36-21, LW #9). Carmelo Anthony beating you at the buzzer, that happens. But the beat down from the Knicks was more concerning. The Griz can get revenge on the Knicks Thursday night.

10. Nuggets (39-27, LW #12). They are 7-2 since trading Carmelo Anthony and doing that against quality opponents. They are joining the Grizzlies as the team top squads would prefer to avoid in the first round.

11. Sixers (34-32, LW #11). You want to bump them up after beating the Heat, you want to drop them after they lose to the Bucks. So they stand pat, but they are still one of the better teams in the East since the All-Star break.

12. Blazers (37-29, LW #10). They start their road trip with wins over Miami and Orlando, then lose to the Bobcats and Heat. Brandon Roy is back, we’ll see if that steadies them.

13. Hornets (39-29, LW #13). Nice win over the Mavericks without Chris Paul. CP3 came back with big numbers against the Kings… but it was against the Kings. Please take with salt.

14. Knicks (34-31, LW #14). They beat a hot Mavs team and lose to the struggling Pacers. They remain wildly unpredictable.

15. Hawks (38-28, LW #15). Lately it is their offense that has gone into hibernation right as spring started.

16. Suns (33-21, LW #16). They remain just 1.5 games out of the last playoff spot in the West, but who are they going to catch? And the Suns need Nash back to have any shot, they are terrible without him.

17. Rockets (33-34, LW #17). Three games out of the last playoff spot in the West, but nobody above them is faltering. They are going to have to get very hot to have a shot.

18. Warriors (30-36, LW #20). The Warriors got wins last week with enough defense in the paint to slow Dwight Howard and Kevin Love. Did not expect that. The Warriors also had great passing from Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry in that Magic win.

19. Jazz (34-33, LW #18). Sorry Al Jefferson, but you guys are not making the playoffs.

20. Clippers 26-41, LW #22). Don’t look now but they are actually playing well again, and not just because of Blake Griffin. And they are doing it without Eric Gordon.

21. Bobcats (28-38, LW #21). The next three teams are within 1.5 games of each other fir the final playoff spot in the East. We rank them in order we think they will finish. They have Stephen Jackson and D.J. Augustin so we give them the edge, but they face some tough road games (Rockets, Thunder, Spurs) this week.

22. Bucks (26-39, LW #23). Before getting just destroyed by the Celtics Sunday they were playing the best of the three. They have to make up 1.5 games on the other two but if Brandon Jennings can spark they offense they can climb into that last spot

23. Pacers (28-38, LW #19). They looked terrible all week then found their shot and energy in Madison Square Garden. The bad news — Boston and Chicago on the schedule this week.

24. Nets (21-43, LW #24). Kris Humphries is going to make some money as a free agent next summer (or whenever the lockout ends), he is ballin’.

25. Timberwolves (17-51, LW #26). Kevin Love may actually play a little better with the pressure of the streak now gone.

26. Pistons (23-44, LW #25). I think the rotations are set by random lottery. They need to complete the sale of this team so some needed shakeups can happen.

27. Raptors (18-48, LW #27). Having Reggie Evans back soaking up rebounds helps. Not enough to get a few wins in a row but it helps.

28. Kings (15-49, LW #28). Just 8 home games left in Sacramento.

29. Cavaliers (12-53, LW #29). No Baron Davis for part of this week, and without him they really lack any threatening scorer on the floor that can consistently create his own shot.

30. Wizards (16-48, LW #30). They still just have one road win this season and 11 road games left on the schedule. They also have just one win in their last 11 overall.

Jeremy Lin says “at times it kind of sucks” being only Asian-American in NBA

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When Jeremy Lin landed in Toronto — after being bought out and waived by the Hawks, clearing the way for him to sign with the Raptors for the playoff push — the number of cameras and reporters in the Raptors locker room instantly ballooned. Lin remains one of the most popular players worldwide in the NBA, he’s a social media phenom, and there are cameras there to track his every move and send it around the world, particularly back to Asia.

Lin isn’t in the NBA because he’s famous and sells tickets — he’s a quality guard who can help a team, there’s a reason the contending Raptors picked him up — but he inhabits the role of both player and groundbreaker.

Lin talked about that (and Asians in popular culture) with Cary Chow of the Undefeated in an interesting Q&A at The Undefeated, where he said being the only Asian-American in the NBA is not easy.

At times it kind of sucks. At other times it’s amazing. Amazing because you get to challenge everyone’s viewpoints and perspectives. I’m rooting for so many more Asians to come in. Last year, when I was with Brooklyn and we had Ding [Yanyuhang] on the summer league team, I was like, ‘Dude, please make the team. We’d have so much fun together during the season.’

On the feeling that he has to represent an entire race.

Yeah. At first it was something I ran from and really struggled with. Now I embrace it way more and am more equipped to handle it. I’m not perfect, but I kind of know who I want to be at this point in my career, so I keep trucking along and doing things the right way and stay above all the distractions.

Lin has handled his fame deftly over the years. He has challenges and opportunities not open to other players, and that’s the balancing act. It takes someone smart, but also grounded and balanced to pull it all off. The Raptors got all that, along with the extra cameras around the team.

Mostly, though, the Raptors got a player who is going to help them make a deep playoff run.

 

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

Associated Press
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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.