NBA Power Rankings: Mavericks fall, Heat race into top spot

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Only one third of the teams in the NBA have played a game, but it was enough to move some teams around and give us a new No. 1.

1. Heat (1-0, last week ranked No. 2). They had 100 possessions in their opening game, nine more than they averaged last season. If they do that for a full season they will be a much better team.

2. Bulls (1-0, LW 3). It was all Derrick Rose and defense — so the same as last year — but a dramatic comeback win over the Lakers on the road is a fantastic way to start the season.

3. Thunder (1-0, LW 4). Durant dropped 30 on the Magic, but the real key was Kendrick Perkins defending Dwight Howard one-on-one and throwing him off his game.

4. Knicks (1-0, LW 6). I’m still not sold on Carmelo Anthony as a point forward, and I don’t love how they are using Amare Stoudemire, but a win over Boston to start the season is a nice win.

5. Clippers (1-0, LW 10). Make no mistake, this is Chris Paul’s team. Blake Griffin is now the No. 2 guy. And note to DeAndre Jordan: Loved all the blocked shots but your chasing the blocks is a key reason the Warriors were so strong on the offensive glass. Pick your spots.

6. Lakers (0-1, LW 5). They showed some grit, but this team needs Andrew Bynum back (Dec. 31 is his return).

7. Celtics (0-1, LW 7). Brandon Bass had a very nice debut with 20 points and 11 boards. They are going to need big number from him nightly.

8. Mavericks (0-1 LW 1). That was not pretty, but we’re going to assume it was a one-off for now and think things will improve fast.

9. Grizzlies (0-0, LW 8). They only move down because the Clippers played and moved up.

10. Spurs (0-0, LW 9). Antonio McDyess has retired. It was time, but that leaves the Spurs front line very thin.

11. Blazers (0-0, LW 11). This is one of the two teams we may well be under-rating right now. They could climb fast.

12. Nuggets (0-0, LW 13). This is the other team we are underrating. Still a lot of talent on this roster despite how much of last year’s team is in China.

13. 76ers (0-0, LW 14). If Evan Turner’s reworked jumper is ready to roll the 76ers are improved. But I need to see it in real action to believe.

14. Hawks (0-0, LW 15). I want Jeff Teague to blow my doors off this season. He has the skills. I’m just not sold it will happen.

15. Magic (0-1, LW 12). Man that was ugly, but the Thunder are able to follow the book on the Magic — Kendrick Perkins can cover Dwight Howard one-on-one, which means other guys can stay home on the shooters. Worked for the Hawks last playoffs, worked for the Thunder Sunday.

16. Rockets (0-0, LW 16). Samuel Dalembert may not play in the opener, and if he does minutes will be limited.

17. Pacers (0-0, LW 17). How healthy is David West and that surgically repaired knee? If it’s all the way back the Pacers will finish this season much higher up this list.

18. Bucks (0-0, LW 18). Stephen Jackson does have back problems but is back with the team after an epidural. That means he’ll be dealing with the injury all season. Something to watch.

19. Suns (0-0, LW 19). No, they have not traded Steve Nash yet and are not planning to. So stop asking.

20. Jazz (0-0, LW 21). This is the kind of team that may not win a lot of games but they are not going to get blown out much — they are a hard out.

21. Warriors (0-1, LW 20). Stephen Curry was 4-of-12 shooting with five turnovers in the first game. Chris Paul is not that good a defender, makes you wonder about the ankle (if it’s not right they should be resting him). That said, I don’t think he looked off on his cuts or movement.

22. Kings (0-0, LW 22). Getting Chuck Hayes back is big for the Kings, especially if his game starts to rub off on DeMarcus Cousins.

23 Wizards (0-0, LW 23). Jan Vesely probably will not play on opening night due to a sore hip. Not good, we’re looking for reasons to watch the Wizards other than Wall.

24. Pistons (0-0, LW 25). Rodney Stuckey is going to get the start at the point. But eventually Brandon Knight is going to get that job.

25. Timberwolves (0-0, LW 26). This may be one of the most fun teams to watch in the league this season. Not one of the best (although Rick Adelman makes them better), but if they really run one of the most entertaining.

26. Nets (0-0, LW 24). How do you fall two spots without playing a game? Lose Brook Lopez for a couple months and replace him with Mehmet Okur.

27. Hornets (0-0, LW 27). Newly acquired point guard Greivis Vasquez is going to get some run in New Orleans. That’s not really going to change anything.

28. Raptors (0-0, LW 28). Going into opening day, nobody is really sure what the starting lineup for Toronto will be. That’s not a good sign.

29. Cavaliers (0-0, LW 29). Kyrie Irving will be thrown to the wolves be the Cavaliers starting point guard and learn on the job beginning day one — he got the starting job.

30. Bobcats (0-0, LW 30). Just to add to the fun, Tyrus Thomas will not start in the opener Monday due to injury. This team is snake bit right now.

Watch Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard score first buckets in returns

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It’s only preseason. But if you’ve sat out an entire season with an ACL injury,  just getting on the court feels like a milestone.

And getting your first bucket back feels memorable.

That happened for the Nuggets Jamal Murray and the Clippers Kawhi Leonard on Monday night.

For Murray, the bucket came on a corner 3 in transition.

Murray also showed flashes he’s getting his handle and wiggle back, something that made him a great fit with Nikola Jokic.

Leonard wasted no time, scoring the Clippers’ first bucket by lulling his defender to sleep and then shooting the pull-up 3.

I feel we’re going to see a lot more of that this season.

The NBA is just better with these two back on the court.

 

Cavaliers Evan Mobley out 1-2 weeks with sprained ankle

2022-23 Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day
Nick Falzerano/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Cleveland Cavaliers might have the best frontcourt in the East this season with All-Star Jarrett Allen and the emerging star Evan Mobley, but it may be a few weeks before we see them together.

Mobley is out 1-2 weeks with a sprained right ankle, the Cavaliers announced a couple of days before their preseason opener. Mobley stepped on a teammate’s foot and rolled his ankle during practice, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

Mobley, who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in his first campaign, but his more significant impact was on the defensive end. Mobley earned All-Defensive Team consideration as a rookie — an incredibly rare feat — and with Allen formed an impressive backstop for teams trying to drive the paint.

Reports out of Cavaliers training camp rave about the improvements made in Mobley’s offensive game, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see that for ourselves now. Mobley, with a more consistent face-up game and jumper, has the potential to develop into a top 15, maybe even top-10 player in the league. The Cavaliers are banking on the young core of Mobley, Allen, Darius Garland and the just acquired Donovan Mitchell to be able to take the team far in the next few years, with Mobley’s improvement key to just how far they can go.

It sounds like Mobley will be good to go for the start of the season.

Karl-Anthony Towns just cleared to walk Saturday following non-COVID illness

Karl-Anthony Towns Offseaon Workout
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
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Karl-Anthony Towns has not been in camp with the Timberwolves, sidelined by a non-COVID illness. Beyond that, there were not a lot of details other than his girlfriend Jordyn Woods saying on social media that she had taken him to the hospital.

Towns spoke to the media for the first time this season on Monday and said he was just cleared to walk again on Saturday, but did not get into detail about whatever illness he is dealing with.

First, it is Towns’ right if and when to disclose what he went through. This is not an on-court injury leading to a loss of playing time, and it is his call to talk about.

Towns has been sidelined before by illness, including COVID. After losing his mother and other family members to the disease, he also had a long battle with it. Fortunately, this is not that virus, but whatever it was it sidelined him for a couple of weeks.

That missed training camp is a setback as the Timberwolves try to get used to a two-big lineup with KAT and Rudy Gobert, plus some other new faces. Still, Towns and Minnesota should be good to go by the start of the season, a team thinking playoffs and much more after spending big this offseason.

Lakers reportedly ‘seriously considered’ Westbrook trade for Hield, Turner

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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it. So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That was Lakers GM Rob Pelinka on media day talking about the possibility of the Lakers trading the only two first-round picks they control this decade — 2027 and 2029 — to upgrade this roster around LeBron. Pelinka was clear the Lakers were committed to building a winner around LeBron, “We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game, and he committed to us on a long-term contract, a three-year contract… He committed to our organization. That’s gotta be a bilateral commitment, and it’s there.”

But should that include a Russell Westbrook trade to Indiana for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner? Shams Charania of The Athletic updated and added to the extensive previous reporting on this trade, saying the Lakers kept the door open right up to the start of training camp but didn’t pull the trigger.

Vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, owner Jeanie Buss and senior basketball adviser Kurt Rambis seriously considered sending Westbrook and unprotected first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 to the Pacers for center Myles Turner and guard Buddy Hield, sources said. They held a series of meetings in the days leading up to camp to analyze the possible Pacers deal from every angle, with the views of Ham and Lakers executives Joey and Jesse Buss also being strongly considered in the process. The organization even delayed the midweek news conference for Pelinka and Ham as the debate continued…

If they were going to gamble on a make-or-break move of this magnitude, the thinking went, then everyone had to have confidence in the same vision. But when that wasn’t the case, sources say, the choice was made by Pelinka to remain patient and see, yet again, if Westbrook might find a way to make this imperfect fit with the Lakers work.

Hield and Turner would absolutely improve the Lakers. Turner can play the five, is an elite shot blocker who could provide a strong defensive back line next to Anthony Davis, and is a respectable 3-point shooter who can space the floor. He’s a natural fit. Hield brings shooting that the Lakers have coveted for years and need more of now.

That trade would have moved the Lakers up the ladder to a solid playoff team in the West. Would that trade make the Lakers contenders? Probably not. It still would have come back to the bubble version of Davis and LeBron being ready for the final 16-game sprint to have a puncher’s chance (that may be the case regardless of other moves). Also, it would have messed with future free agency plans in Los Angeles — the Lakers can have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase Kyrie Irving (although Shams reports that’s not in their plans) or other name players, Hield is owed $19.3 million next season and Turner will be a free agent the Lakers would need to re-sign. This deal would end the dream of a free agent taking a little less than the max to come to the Lakers (a dream not likely to come to reality anyway).

As Pelinka said, the Lakers have one shot with trading their two picks to upgrade the roster — they have to hit a home run, this can’t be a solid single. The Lakers were not convinced Hield and Turner could be that home run tandem.

So Los Angeles will go into the season with a starting five of Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn, LeBron, Davis, and Damian Jones, with a bench of Patrick Beverley, Thomas Bryant, Austin Reaves, and Dennis Schroder. The Lakers will see if it fits, how far it looks like this group can take them under new coach Darvin Ham, and watch the market to see what other stars could become available.

The Lakers aren’t done dealing, but it looks like a deal with Indiana is now in the rearview mirror.