NBA Power Rankings: Heat on top, Blazers best in West

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A little shifting up at the top but nothing too dramatic. Your big movers this week is the 76ers, who are playing well and moving up the rankings, and the Hornets dropping like a rock.

1. Heat (8-1 last week ranked No. 1). Chris Bosh drops 33 on the Hawks and wants you to remember that he is pretty dang good, too. As are the Heat — they won three games without Dwyane Wade last week. Make sure you tune in Wednesday because Heat vs. Clippers is appointment basketball.

2. Bulls (7-2, LW 3). Look for the Bulls to go on a little run — Boston on Friday is the only team over .500 they play the next two weeks.

3. Blazers (6-2, LW 5). Best team in the West so far. Beat the Thunder and Lakers, but then looked tired against the Suns (we’ve chosen to ignore that game, good teams are having ugly losses do to the schedule this year). Interesting game against the Clippers Tuesday in a matchup of the West’s new guard.

4. Thunder (8-2, LW 2). They fall after losses to Dallas and Portland but they are the first team to win all three of a back-to-back-to-back, so they don’t fall far. Kevin Durant is going to put on show in Madison Square Garden next Saturday, just watch.

5. Pacers (6-2, LW 8). Lost to Miami and won an ugly one against Boston as their schedule gets tougher (Philly Monday will be interesting). Don’t expect them to fall apart — the Pacers are going to be solid all season because they are doing it with defense.

6. Hawks (6-3, LW 7). They had the Bulls and Heat twice each last week and went 2-2 (and had a 19 point lead over the Bulls in the game they lost). That’s not bad, not bad at all. Still don’t believe in this team long term, but they had a good week.

7. Spurs (6-3, LW 4). They are now 3-1 without Manu Ginobili. They are also 6-0 at home and 0-3 on the road, falling Sunday to a Thunder team playing its third game in three days.

8. Nuggets (6-3, LW 10). The Nuggets blow up the statistical myth — they are playing at the fastest pace in the league and have a top-10 defense (giving up just 98.1 points per 100 possessions, seventh in the league). To sum up Knicks fans, you can run and defend.

9. 76ers (5-2, LW 15). They are running more and with it their offensive numbers are much improved. Their differential of points scored versus given up per 100 possessions is best in the league — better than the Heat. On the schedule this week are the Pacers and Knicks — two teams they will be fighting for playoff positioning all season. Heavy home schedule ahead for Philly.

10. Lakers (6-4, LW 9). Andrew Bynum is a beast this season and the Lakers remain tough because you can’t handle him and Pau Gasol on the same front line. Oh, and that Kobe guy. Note that Matt Barnes has secured the starting job at the small forward and Metta World Peace is seeing him minutes drop.

11. Clippers (4-2, LW 13). Just two games last week and only three this week — but they are the Trail Blazers, Lakers and Heat. Yikes. Started to see some defense from them this week but that is going to have to get much, much better.

12. Magic (6-3, LW 6). The thumping by the Bulls led Stan Van Gundy to admit they are not on that level. They are beating who they should but are not knocking off the elite.

13. Celtics (4-4, LW 12). We’re going to have a better feel for the Celtics after this week where the play Dallas, Chicago and Indiana.

14. Knicks (4-4, LW 11). Losses to the Bobcats and Raptors last week — those are games that good teams win. The Knicks are wildly inconsistent. Knicks fans are counting on the eventual Baron Davis and Iman Shumpert starting backcourt to save them. That’s trouble.

15. Mavericks (4-5, LW 20). Nice win against the Thunder as they are starting to find a regular season groove (even if they have to do it without Jason Kidd for a few games). That said, they have lost the intimidating aura a defending champion should have.

16. Jazz (5-3, LW 24). They went 4-0 last week and move up, but they did it all at home save for beating Golden State. They look good — Derrick Favors in particular — and seven of their next eight are in Salt Lake City.

17. Suns (4-4, LW 21). The Steve Nash of old is back and the Suns looked pretty good last week.

18. Cavaliers (4-4, LW 23). They are playing better than we thought, and Kyrie Irving has figured out how to fit his game into the NBA in a way the more explosive John Wall has yet to realize. Still not sold, but they’re playing pretty well.

19. Grizzlies (3-5, LW 19). The Grizzlies were 2-2 this week but will struggle without Zach Randolph, as they did against the Lakers Sunday. The good news is the next four are at home for Memphis, the bad news is the Thunder, Bulls and Knicks are in that mix.

20. Timberwolves (3-5, LW 22). A 2-2 week with a win over San Antonio. Sunday started a three games in three nights stretch, which brutally ends against the Bulls.

21. Bucks (2-6, LW 14). They go 0-5 on West Coast swing, playing while missing a couple starters (including Andrew Bogut)… which is about what you’d expect. They are a better team than this but we’re going to have to wait to see it.

22. Rockets (2-6, LW 16). They went 0-4 last week, but with a brutal schedule (OKC and both Los Angeles teams made up the schedule). They will look better beating weaker teams but they struggle with the upper echelons.

23. Raptors (3-5, LW 25). Dwane Casey has them playing slower and better defense. You see flashes of potential, then you seen them get crushed by the Sixers and fall to the Nets and it makes your eyes bleed. Going to be that kind of season.

24. Warriors (2-6, LW 17). Really tough schedule so far and their next seven are against the East (including a road swing through Florida).

25. Kings (3-6, LW 27). We feel for Keith Smart — how do you implement real changes dropped into a condensed schedule with far fewer practices? DeMarcus Cousins has put up good numbers after being freed from the Paul Westphal shackles.

26. Hornets (2-6, LW 18). Tough winless week and its hard to be optimistic with Eric Gordon still sidelined.

27. Bobcats (2-6, LW 26). They actually have the worst defense in the league right now, giving up 111.8 per 100 possessions per Basketball-Reference.com. The good news is Hoopdata says they are only 29th in the league (with Houston worse).

28. Pistons (2-6, LW 28). Got the win against Orlando because Greg Monroe could single cover Dwight Howard and when you can do that you beat the Magic. Aside that they got crushed by everyone else.

29. Nets (2-7, LW 29). Their differential of points scored versus given up per 100 possessions is worst in the league (-13.4) — even worse than Washington.

30. Wizards (0-8, LW 30). Last week owner Ted Leonsis essentially said that Flip Saunders job was not in danger. He asked him to play a lot of young players and with that comes losses. Okay. But if those young players aren’t improving…..

Report: NBA planning to start next season on Christmas

NBA Christmas
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The current NBA season – interrupted by coronavirus – could extend as late as Oct. 12. That means the league must delay next season. How long past the normal mid-October start? December was the popular notion, but that’s still a wide timeframe.

Now, we can pinpoint it.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

If the N.B.A. can successfully complete the 2019-20 season under this structure, it is expected that the 2020 N.B.A. draft would be moved to October, with free agency to follow shortly thereafter and a tentative plan to establish Dec. 25 as opening day for the 2020-21 season.

Coronavirus can ruin the best-laid plans. Though NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said play would continue around a positive test, it’s unclear whether that would delay this season’s schedule – then the offseason then next season. It’s also unknown how the country will be handling coronavirus in December. The cold weather, pushing people indoors, could increase cases.

But it’s still interesting to know the plan, even if it’s tentative.

People fondly recall the NBA season starting on Christmas in 2011. Many have pointed to Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin’s idea of permanently opening in December to avoid overlap with the NFL, though he suggested mid-December – not Christmas.

That’s quite late.

This year, coronavirus has forced radical changes. A Christmas start might be totally reasonable for the 2020-21 season.

What about beyond?

If the NBA wants to begin each season on Christmas, this is the simplest time to shift. A different start date for future seasons would require altering the calendar to get on track.

There are plenty of issues with opening on Christmas in normal times, though:

  • Historically, TV viewership is down during the summer. That might be changing, but people might find other activities while it’s warm rather than attending or watching an indoor NBA game.
  • Would people really watch more NBA games just because fewer of them would compete with the highly popular NFL? The NBA regular season might just be too long to capture attention, no matter when it’s held.
  • By starting on Christmas, the NBA would reduce two marquee regular-season dates – opening day and Christmas – to one.
  • Many regional TV networks that carry NBA games also carry MLB games. Many of those networks already carry NHL games. But with baseball teams playing more games, there would be more conflicts.
  • With schools out, the American system is built on summer being more of a vacation time. People within the league – including players, especially those with children – might object to working during that time.

Projecting schedules for all 22 returning NBA teams

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The NBA will recall 22 teams to each play eight games.

How will the schedule work?

The new structure will reportedly be based on teams’ existing schedules, teams playing their next eight originally scheduled games against the continuing 22 teams. Of course, that doesn’t work cleanly. Some teams would reach eight games more quickly than other teams. So, whenever a team arrived at an opponent that already reached eight games, I just continued to that team’s next game.

With that assumption, here are the remaining opponents for each team:

  • Boston Celtics: Bucks, Wizards, Raptors, Nets, Wizards, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Heat
  • Brooklyn Nets: Clippers, Kings, Wizards, Celtics, Magic, Clippers, Magic, Trail Blazers
  • Dallas Mavericks: Suns, Clippers, Kings, Trail Blazers, Suns, Rockets, Jazz, Bucks
  • Denver Nuggets: Spurs, Lakers, Clippers, Thunder, Raptors, Heat, Spurs, Thunder
  • Houston Rockets: Lakers, Trail Blazers, Kings, Bucks, Mavericks, Pacers, 76ers, Raptors
  • Indiana Pacers: 76ers, Heat, Suns, Magic, Rockets, Kings, Clippers, Lakers
  • L.A. Clippers: Nets, Pelicans, Mavericks, Nuggets, Suns, Nets, Pacers, Thunder
  • Los Angeles Lakers: Rockets, Nuggets, Jazz, Jazz, Raptors, Pacers, Trail Blazers,* Heat or Magic*
  • Memphis Grizzlies: Trail Blazers, Jazz, Spurs, Thunder, Bucks, Pelicans, Pelicans, Celtics
  • Miami Heat: Bucks, Pacers, Thunder, Nuggets, Suns, Celtics, Raptors, Lakers or Trail Blazers*
  • Milwaukee Bucks: Celtics, Heat, Grizzlies, Wizards, Rockets, Wizards, Mavericks, Raptors
  • New Orleans Pelicans: Kings, Jazz, Clippers, Spurs, Grizzlies, Kings, Grizzlies, Magic
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: Jazz, Wizards, Grizzlies, Nuggets, Heat, Nuggets, Suns, Clippers
  • Orlando Magic: Pacers, Kings, Nets, Nets, Pelicans, 76ers, Raptors, Lakers or Trail Blazers*
  • Philadelphia 76ers: Pacers, Wizards, Raptors, Trail Blazers, Suns, Rockets, Magic, Spurs
  • Phoenix Suns: Mavericks, Pacers, Clippers, Mavericks, 76ers, Wizards, Heat, Thunder
  • Portland Trail Blazers: Grizzlies, Rockets, Mavericks, 76ers, Celtics, Nets, Lakers,* Heat or Magic*
  • Sacramento Kings: Pelicans, Nets, Mavericks, Rockets, Magic, Pelicans, Pacers, Spurs
  • San Antonio Spurs: Nuggets, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Jazz, Jazz, Nuggets, Kings, 76ers
  • Toronto Raptors: 76ers, Celtics, Nuggets, Lakers, Bucks, Rockets, Heat, Magic
  • Utah Jazz: Thunder, Pelicans, Grizzlies, Lakers, Lakers, Spurs, Spurs, Mavericks
  • Washington Wizards: Celtics, Thunder, 76ers, Nets, Bucks, Celtics, Suns, Bucks

*To reach eight games for each team, I had to create three games not on the schedule:

  • Lakers vs. Trail Blazers
  • Lakers vs. Heat or Magic
  • Trail Blazers vs. Heat or Magic

Los Angeles would face whichever of Miami and Orlando that Portland doesn’t face (and vice versa).

The Lakers could also play the Trail Blazers twice, and the Heat could just play the Magic. But that’d mean five Lakers-Trail Blazers games and five Heat-Magic games this season. Generally, teams play each other four or fewer times.

I wouldn’t get too caught up in the order of the games. That almost certainly must be adjusted. Otherwise, teams would finish at significantly different times. For example, the Bucks’ eighth game in this format is against the Raptors. But that’s just Toronto’s fifth game.

The NBA might also use a different method altogether. Again, the reported plan can’t work exactly as reported.

But want the best guess at each team’s remaining games? This is it.

*Thanks to Kevin Pelton of ESPN for providing a handy spreadsheet of originally scheduled games.

LeBron James to Drew Brees: You still don’t understand why Colin Kaepernick kneeled

Colin Kaepernick and New Orleans Saints Drew Brees
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Colin Kaepernick’s protest worked.

Just by kneeling during the national anthem, Kaepernick shined a light on racism – specifically through police brutality – plaguing the United States. Whether or not you agreed with his methods, Kaepernick made it difficult to avoid discussion of the very important issue. Kaepernick’s simple demonstration made society far more sensitive to police misconduct, particularly toward black people. That set the stage for these incredible nationwide protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.

Of course, work remains. Kaepernick suffered far too great of personal cost to deliver his message. Racism and police brutality continue.

So, expect some people – including NFL players – to keep kneeling during the national anthem.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees explained why he objected to that. Lakers star LeBron James then objected to Brees’ explanation.

LeBron:

I do think not standing for the Star Spangled Banner disrespects the United States. The societal norms are clear: Standing is the way to show respect during the national anthem.

But know what else disrespects the United States? Police brutality, which disproportionately harms black people.

At some point, you have to decide which disrespect bothers you more – racism that damages and ends lives or symbolic protest of a song and piece of cloth.

Brees also brought up the military, on which I share LeBron’s disagreement. The Star Spangled Banner represents our entire country, not just our military. It’s weak to use the military as a shield while criticizing Kaepernick. In fact, Kaepernick specifically altered his protest – from sitting to kneeling – to honor the military.

Brees can ignore Kaepernick’s message on that.

But Kaepernick’s larger message rings loudly.

Report: NBA restarted season to follow existing schedule, with tweaks

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It’s been one of the big questions for the NBA’s 22-team restart at the Walt Disney World complex in Orlando:

How would the schedule be put together for those eight regular-season games?

It turns out, the answer is modifying the old schedule, reports Vincent Goodwill at Yahoo Sports. The idea is just to use the old schedule, taking out the teams not in Orlando.

This provides a starting point for the league’s schedulers.  For example, the Pelicans schedule would be: Kings, Jazz, Clippers, Spurs, Grizzlies, Kings, Grizzlies, Magic. The Pelicans would play the Grizzlies twice in this format, giving them a real chance to make up ground toward the eighth seed. Portland also is well positioned to make a playoff push.

The challenge with following the old schedule becomes this: the Thunder’s eighth game in this scenario is the Clippers, except L.A. already played eight. Next for the Thunder then is the Lakers, except they will have played eight. Then the Nets, but again they have played eight. Multiple teams face this scenario, so the league will need to schedule some “made up” games just to balance things out.

While there would be tweaks to be made, using the existing schedule as a base makes sense.

The teams most interested will be the teams battling for the nine seed, particularly in the West. New Orleans had a particularly soft remaining schedule and the Grizzlies had the hardest one in the league, which is why fivethirtyeight.com gave the Pelicans a 60% chance of making the playoffs. With the eight worst teams in the league out of the picture, how does that change and how much do the schedules flatten out?

Considering everything that has gone on with the league this year and the great lengths needed to start up games again, don’t expect teams to complain about the schedule. They’re just happy to be playing.