NBA Power Rankings: Mavericks start out season on top

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Welcome to our inaugural power rankings for the 2011-12 NBA season (a regular Monday feature at PBT). These are fun if ultimately meaningless — in the NBA we have a playoff system to decide who is best (are you listening college football?). This is a preseason ranking, so remember that when you get mad about where your team is ranked.

1. Mavericks (last season 57-25). The defending champions always get to start out on top. The Mavericks are going to be a very good regular season team again — Lamar Odom gives them some real versatility — but how much will they miss Tyson Chandler in the playoffs?

2. Heat (58-24). They made it to the finals and added Shane Battier. In the playoffs last year this team seemed to really figure out how to play together, expect that to carry over to the regular season.

3. Bulls (62-20). Best regular season record in the NBA and they added Richard Hamilton. No team went harder in the regular season last year, but when it got to the playoffs they didn’t have another gear. Will that change this time around?

4. Thunder (55-27). This is a team that won 18 of 22 down the stretch last year and went to the Western Conference finals. Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka make them able to match up with the big front lines in the West and they have that Kevin Durant guy.

5. Lakers (57-25). They will miss the depth of Lamar Odom off the bench, but this is still a team that boasts as good a front line as there is in the league with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, plus they have Kobe Bryant on the wing. Look for L.A. to be a more physical defensive team this year.

6. Knicks (42-40). They won free agency by signing Tyson Chandler, who will turn them from a bad to average defensive team. Plus, he will change their pick and roll game because he sets a mountain of a pick and then rolls hard. Not that Toney Douglas knows what to do with it.

7. Celtics (56-26). Amazing starters but not a lot of depth here, we’ll see how that impacts them as the season wears on. I’m expecting a big year for Brandon Bass.

8. Grizzlies (46-36). Expectations are high. After Rudy Gay went down last season the Griz found an identity working the ball inside out, can they now integrate Gay into that or will it throw off their system?

9. Spurs (61-21). They were the best team in the West last regular season, but they didn’t have the size up front to stop a team with a big front line in the playoffs. A team like Memphis. That hasn’t changed.

10. Clippers (32-50). This honestly may be too high a ranking for them, but like everyone else we are excited to see the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin pick-and-roll. The real question is how well this team defends.

11. Blazers (48-34). This is a good team that added Jamal Crawford. They lack the superstar to get them over the top, but you underestimate them at your own peril.

12. Magic (52-30). They still have the single best big man in the league in Dwight Howard. At least for now. I’d say the swirling trade rumors around the team will hurt them on the court, but really it’s their roster that does that more.

13. Nuggets (50-32). They are fielding the best team in China (J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Wilson Chandler are all still there). Keeping Nene was huge for this team.

14. Sixers (41-41). They took steps forward last year under coach Doug Collins, but can they do that again? Will the roster let them take that step forward?

15. Hawks (44-38). No Jamal Crawford is going to hurt them. But at least with Mike Bibby gone Jeff Teague finally gets to be the point guard here.

16. Rockets (43-39). The best team not to make the playoffs last season. They should be about the same. GM Daryl Morey is looking under every rock for a big man to sign.

17. Pacers (37-45). Great pick up with David West, if he is back anywhere near his old form the Pacers move up in the Eastern rankings.

18. Bucks (35-47). Last season it seemed everyone on their roster was injured. This team defends like mad, if they can stay healthy they are a team you don’t want in the first round of the playoffs. Good center, good point guard, good defense.

19. Suns (40-42). They were able to keep Grant Hill and pair him with Steve Nash in a remake of the Over The Hill Gang.

20. Warriors (36-46). Hands down, man down. Momma, there goes that man. They just gotta come out and compete.

21. Jazz (39-43). The Derrick Favors and Al Jefferson front line is worth watching.

22. Kings (24-58). There is so much potential on this roster, and I am in no way convinced they can bring it all together. Do you trust the Tyreke Evans/DeMarcus Cousins combo to bring it every night?

23 Wizards (23-59). I expect John Wall to have a monster, breakout sophomore campaign. But it is JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche that decide how good this team is and how far it goes.

24. Nets (24-58). How will the trade rumors that will surround this team all season impact them on the court? This team looks better on paper than it does on the court, and I don’t love it on paper.

25. Pistons (30-52). I like the Lawrence Frank hiring, but he has a mountain of work ahead of him.

26. Timberwolves (17-65). They could be this year’s Clippers — entertaining to watch but not going to win a lot of games.

27. Hornets (46-36). They got some nice building blocks from the Clippers, but there is a lot of building to do. And until they have an owner none of that building really starts in earnest.

28. Raptors (22-60). How big a step forward can DeMar DeRozan take this season?

29. Cavaliers (19-63). Kyrie Irving is going to be thrown to the wolves this season, but there is not a whole lot around him.

30. Bobcats (34-48). Sorry MJ, but this is not a good team that has had a rash of injuries and has a disgruntled star.

Gordon Hawyard admits he’s frustrated by latest injury

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Following a gruesome leg injury that robbed him of a couple of years of his career, Gordon Hayward was finally starting to look and feel like himself — like the All-Star from Utah the Celtics thought they were signing. Hayward averaged 18.9 points per game, shot 43.3 percent from three, pulled down 7.1 rebounds, and dished out 4.1 assists per game. He was a playmaker Brad Stevens could lean on.

Then Hayward fractured the fourth metacarpal bone in his left hand on a fluke play. Hayward had surgery to repair it and will be out for six weeks.

Of course Hayward is frustrated. Via NBC Sports Boston:

“Like I said, happy that it shouldn’t be that long. Obviously frustrated — it sucks watching and not being able to go out there and play, especially with the start that we’ve had. I think this time around, I’ll be able to run around, use my legs still, maintain my conditioning, which I’m very thrilled about and then be around the team, too. And kinda stay involved, which is good…

“I think we’ll take it, as cliche as it sounds, we’ll take it day by day and week by week and it’s one of those things that, once the bone is healed, then it’s kind of how much can you tolerate and how well does my body handle with the swelling, kind of how well it takes ramping up activities and doing different basketball things,” said Hayward. “Honestly, looking at the plan that we set up today and just kind of attacking each day. Hopefully, I’ll be back sooner rather than later.”

The 9-1 Celtics can afford to be patient bringing him back. No need to rush it. They are a deep and talented team, but they need Hayward at his playmaking and scoring best to be a real playoff threat. Hayward should be back around New Year’s Day, why risk his hand issues becoming chronic so he can play in games in December?

Hayward, a competitor, is not going to want to be patient. After everything he’s been through with injuries, hard to blame him.

 

Russell Westbrook on Patrick Beverley: ‘He don’t guard nobody, man. He just running around doing nothing’

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Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley have a history.

After his Rockets beat Beverley’s Clippers last night, Westbrook fanned the flames.

Mark Berman of FOX 26:

Westbrook ripping someone else for phony defensive effort? That’s rich. Westbrook is the king of that style.

Beverley is one of the NBA’s best defensive guards. Sure, he has antics. But there’s an underlying effectiveness behind all his bark.

James Harden scoring 47 points hardly disproves Beverley’s defensive ability. Harden’s output by defender:

  • Beverley: 4 points on 1-of-9 shooting
  • Other: 43 points on 11-of-17 shooting

Three Things to Know: Trash-talking Rockets get 47 from James Harden, beat Clippers

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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) Trash-talking Rockets get 47 from James Harden, beat Clippers. Dear basketball gods: Can you please arrange a Clippers vs. Rockets playoff series? We’d all appreciate that down here. Thanks.

There are no statement games in November, but after the Rockets 102-93 win against the Clippers Wednesday a lot of statements were being made. An intense, emotional game led to a lot of trash talk on the court that spilled over into the locker rooms afterward. These teams do not like each other — and that makes it fun. The basketball gods need to give us more of this.

Everyone was getting in on the act.

Russell Westbrook trash-talked Patrick Beverley’s defense.

Let’s put aside the irony of Westbrook calling out another players’ defensive effort for a second, he’s just wrong. It’s just not factually accurate. Beverley is a good defender and ESPN’s stats guys have the proof

The best trash-talking of the night came from Austin Rivers.

The younger Rivers should forever be grateful to his Dad for that oversized three-year, $35 million contract, but when Doc Rivers got into it with the officials, the younger Rivers urged quick-trigger Tony Brothers to go over and toss his dad out. And Brothers did. That’s when Austin waved off his dad and made the call-me gesture

(Just for the record, Doc had a point. After a failed attempt to call a challenge — Rivers took longer than 30 seconds to do so — he said two referees told him the Clippers had two timeouts. After he used one, Rivers was told that was his last one. If the officials indeed screwed up his timeouts, he should have been pissed.)

There was basketball, too — and James Harden was better at it than anybody.

Harden’s 47 pushed his per-game average over his last five to 41.6 per game. More importantly, he got his buckets when his teams needed them — he scored 17 points in the final six minutes (and did it against Kawhi Leonard and Beverley). Even with elite defenders to match up the Clippers started throwing double-teams at Harden, it just didn’t matter.

Thanks to Harden, the Rockets executed down the stretch. The Clippers did not. Los Angeles’ first half was sloppy and listless, their worst half of the season. They missed bunnies and open threes all night. Los Angeles climbed back with a good third and led at 83-80, but the Clippers offensive execution and shot selection down the stretch was poor.

Leonard finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists, but P.J. Tucker did an excellent job keeping him in check — Leonard 4-of-10 for 10 points with Tucker as the primary defender, according to the NBA.com matchup data.

If these teams meet in the playoffs next spring, this November meeting will be ancient history. Both teams will have evolved and be different by then (the Clippers will be different on Thursday night in New Orleans when they get Paul George back). However, the tone was set. And we want more of it.

2) Ja Morant does not play like a rookie, hits game-winner against Hornets. Sure, Ja Morant brings some freakish athleticism to the point guard position in Memphis. But what is really impressive is the poise he brings — he does not look like a rookie coming out of a small college.

He looks like a beast who can hit game-winners – which he did against Charlotte.

Morant finished with 23 points and 11 assists.

He did all that in 30 minutes — the Grizzlies wisely continue to manage his workload this season, limiting him to 30 minutes a game (with some nights off). This is absolutely the right thing to do. When we talk about the science of “load management” what we’re talking about is the cumulative impacts of numerous seasons of running up and down a hardwood floor — starting in AAU/High School and running up to the NBA — and how that wears a body down and leads to injury.

Ja Morant is getting plenty of minutes, plenty of chances to learn and make mistakes, and he is closing out games (obviously). But he’s still thin and his body’s still adapting to the grind of the NBA. If you have a franchise cornerstone player — and the Grizzlies believe they have one in Morant — why wouldn’t you take steps early to lengthen his career and effectiveness? Why would you ramp up the miles on his odometer during a 24-win season? The Grizzlies are making the right long-term play (especially after watching their prized rookie from a season ago, Jaren Jackson Jr., have to miss the end of the season with an injury).

3) Is Orlando interested in DeMar DeRozan? Makes sense. Are the Spurs going to trade him is another question. An interesting early-season trade rumor popped up via our friend Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer:

The Orlando Magic have interest in trading for the Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan.

For Orlando, this makes a lot of sense. The Magic’s offense has been dreadful this season, scoring less than a point per possession so far. They need a guy who can get buckets, and DeRozan can do that. From the midrange, sure, but the guy scores efficiently and raises the floor of your team —get DeRozan the rock and your team will have a respectable offense. Orlando needs that.

The question becomes, what do the Spurs want to do? Good luck with that one. DeRozan can opt out of the $27.7 million he is owed next season and become a free agent next July, and the Spurs talks with DeRozan about an extension went nowhere. Conventional wisdom in that kind of situation is to trade the player and at least get something for him before he walks. The Spurs, however, do not follow conventional wisdom. The Spurs are going to be a fringe playoff team in the West and may want to keep the band together and make a push for the postseason. Maybe they want to start rebuilding around a young backcourt of Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, and Derrick White, but would they really trade DeRozan to jump start that? Maybe. Maybe not.

Just consider this the start of what will be a lot of trade rumors this season — with a very down free agent class next summer, teams will be turning to trades to upgrade their rosters.

Adrian Wojnarowski: Knicks firing David Fizdale ‘inevitable’

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Knicks president Steve Mills is reportedly laying the groundwork to fire coach David Fizdale.

One step: Mills and general manager Scott Perry addressing the media after Sunday’s loss to the Cavaliers while Fizdale was still in the locker room. Mills and Perry stressed that the team wasn’t meeting expectations, seemingly a veiled shot at the coach.

Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN:

The dismissal of David Fizdale is inevitable, and there was, I think, a bond broken between management and their head coach with how they handled things after that loss Sunday night.

Coaches are hired to be fired, but this sounds far more urgent than that.

As long as Fizdale has his job, he has a chance to save it. If the Knicks start playing better, they could keep him.

But that seems unlikely with this underwhelming roster.

Which is why New York is reportedly also considering a front-office change.