NBA Power Rankings: Streaking Heat, Spurs land on top

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Miami has looked dominant the last week, while Tony Parker may be the best player in basketball the last two weeks so the Spurs climb. At the bottom, things look familiar.

1. Heat (24-7, last week ranked 1). They became the third team in the NBA to sweep a back-to-back-to-back (Bulls, Thunder), but they did it absolutely dominating their opponents — six wins in a row, all by double digits. Bill Clinton came to them on Sunday, but keep playing like this and they will be going to the president. Heat play the Knicks Thursday, that should be fun.

2. Spurs (22-9, LW 5). Winners of 10 in a row. This is the opposite of you’re father’s Spurs — they are winning with offense. We all marveled at Jeremy Lin dropping the game winner on Toronto, but Jose Calderon pushed Lin around most of that game — Tony Parker came in the next night and put up 34 points and 14 assists on Calderon. Can they keep it up with Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter out?

4. Thunder (24-7, LW 4). What a display by Kevin Durant (51) and Russell Westbrook (40) on Sunday. They are 7-3 in their last 10, outscoring opponents by an average of 6.6 per game. Should be fun Thursday night when they take on the Lakers.

4. Bulls (25-8, LW 2). They are treading water without Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton, which is about all you can ask. Chicago almost fell further after that ugly effort against the Nets.

5. Mavericks (20-12, LW 7). Brutal schedule last week and they came out looking good with wins over the 76ers, Clippers and Nuggets (the lone loss was to Linsanity on Sunday). When Dirk Nowitzki is clicking this whole offense comes together.

6. Clippers (19-10 LW 3). You will not see Chris Paul make mistakes at the end of games often, like he did against Dallas. But you wonder if in the playoffs when all the games are tight how much they will  miss Chauncey Billups.

7. Magic (20-12, LW 11). They keep on winning mostly, but the Sunday loss to Miami shows how far this team is from elite. As the Dwight Howard rumors ramp up heading into the All-Star Weekend, will it start to weigh on this team?

8. 76ers (20-12, LW 6). They have lost five of seven as the schedule has turned hard and their guard play has struggled.

9. Lakers (18-13, LW 12). Veteran teams are supposed to be able to ignore and play through trade rumors, but the Lakers struggle with it (especially on the road). The drop off on this team after their three stars is dramatic.

10. Pacers (19-12, LW 8). Five losses in a row, but that turned around thanks to the patsies that are the Nets and Bobcats. With the Hornets and the Bobcats left before the break, they could find their footing after the All-Star Game.

11. Knicks (16-16, LW 15). Jeremy Lin bounced back from his off game and had spearheaded a quality win over the Mavs Sunday. With J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony they have the talent to be the third best team in the East, but can they bring it all together and keep playing good defense?

12. Grizzlies (18-14, LW 19). Four straight wins, including over the Nuggets and Rockets. They have played well without Zach Randolph and will be a lower seed to be feared come the playoffs. Just like last year (ask the Spurs).

13. Rockets (18-14, LW 13). Good wins over Oklahoma City and Utah, but fell to Memphis and Minnesota last week, been that kind of up and down your for the Rockets. They are a playoff team and Kevin McHale deserves a lot of credit for that.

14. Hawks (19-12, LW 9). They are doing better than expected without Al Horford thanks to great play from All-Star snub Josh Smith. But will they make a move at the trade deadline to improve their playoff chances? History says no.

15. Nuggets (17-15, LW 10). They have lost seven of their last 10 and fallen out of the playoffs in the West. Their defense has gone missing. That said, the return of Wilson Chandler would be a big boost (he is meeting with them Monday).

16. Blazers (17-15, LW 16). Getting LaMarcus Aldridge back should help, and it should help open things up for the unhappy Raymond Felton. But the Blazers are fighting it right now.

17. Celtics (15-15, LW 14). They are a .500 team defined by an inconsistent offense. Doc Rivers is desperately searching for the right combination, but the only answer may be a time machine.

18. Timberwolves (16-16, LW 18). Nikola Pekovic has been a beast of late — 18.8 points per game on 63.1 percent shooting, plus 10.4 rebounds per game. Paired with Love that is a powerful front line.

19. Jazz (15-15, LW 17). This team is rivaling the Lakers (and the couple teams at the bottom of this ranking) for worst point guard play in the league. Devin Harris and Earl Watson are not getting it done. Al Jefferson is.

20. Suns (13-19, LW 20). The trade rumors are going to start ramping up again around Steve Nash for the first three weeks. Could he and Jeremy Lin co-exist in New York?

21. Cavaliers (12-17, LW 21). A couple nice wins last week over Indiana and Sacramento, showing there is some young promise in Cleveland. And can we stop talking about LeBron coming back now? Thanks.

22. Pistons (11-22, LW 25). Don’t look now, but they are 7-3 in their last 10 and getting good play from Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey. It’s a process, but there are signs of hope.

23. Bucks (13-18, LW 21). They need to get Stephen Jackson off the roster, the tension around the team is palpable, but nobody wants to take on the $10 million he is owed next year and give up anything of value.

24. Warriors (11-17, LW 24). There is no team in the bottom 10 here that is more fun to watch or more dangerous on any given night because Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry can just win games when hot.

25. Kings (10-21, LW 23). DeMarcus Cousins’ made two great plays against the Cavaliers down the stretch Sunday to give his team a chance, but he balanced it out with a dumb foul that gave the Cavaliers a chance. Story of his career so far. But it wasn’t as bad as Tyreke Evans’ reach in that cost them the game. Isaiah Thomas has been a find.

26. Nets (9-24, LW 27). Brook Lopez is back and that should help the Nets defense a little. It’s not going to help the rebounding, however.

27. Hornets (7-23, LW 29). A three game winning streak, including handing Jeremy Lin his only loss. Pardon us if we are not on the bandwagon yet.

28. Raptors (9-23 LW 26). They lost to the Bobcats. With that, they should consider this ranking generous. What happened to their defense that was at one point this season respectable?

29. Wizards (7-24, LW 28). Washington is statistically the worst defensive rebounding team in the league. That with a very long front line. Just sayin’.

30. Bobcats (4-26, LW 30).
The losing streak is over at 16! But the way they played Sunday against the Pacers shows you why they remain on the bottom.

PBT Extra: Can Rockets take Game 2 energy, execution on the road?

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Houston found its blueprint to beating Golden State in Game 2: Strong defensive pressure on the ball, quick switches and communication on defense, getting out in transition when possible, and starting sets earlier in the shot clock and attacking downhill with James Harden and Chris Paul.

Now can they do that on the road? Against a more focused and sharper Warriors’ team?

That will be the question in the next two games of the Western Conference Finals, and it’s what I discuss in this latest PBT Extra.

Cavaliers cruise past Celtics in Game 3, change complexion of Eastern Conference finals

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The Cavaliers were heavy favorites over the Celtics entering the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James has dominated the East for years, and Cleveland appeared to hit its stride in a sweep of the Raptors last round. Boston was shorthanded and inexperienced.

Were the Celtics’ two wins to open the series, as impressive as they were, really enough to override everything else we knew about these teams?

The Cavs walloped Boston in Game 3, 116-86, Saturday. Cleveland now has four of the NBA’s last five 30-point playoff wins – two against the Celtics last year, one over Toronto last round and tonight. (The Cavaliers lost the league’s only other 30-point game between, to the Pacers in the first round.)

Boston still leads the series 2-1, and teams up 2-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 80% of the time.

But the team up 2-1 is usually the one seen as better entering the series. That isn’t the case here, not with LeBron on the other side. And the leading team usually isn’t so woeful on the road, which will remain a major storyline entering Game 4 Monday in Cleveland.

The Celtics bought themselves margin for error, but they blew a lot of it tonight.

It’d be an oversimplification to say the Cavs just played harder, but they did, and it went along way. They chased loose balls, tightened their defense and moved more off the ball offensively. Cleveland jumped to a 20-4 lead, led by double digits the rest of the way and spent most of the game up by at least 20.

LeBron (27 points, 12 assists, two blocks and two steals) dazzled as a passer and locked in as a defender. He received help from several players:

In a low-resistance effort, Boston didn’t goon up the game at all.

The Cavaliers still have plenty of work ahead to reach their fourth straight NBA Finals, but tonight, they showed a path to advancing. Climbing out of their early series deficit now looks far less intimidating.

Luka Doncic named EuroLeague MVP at age 19

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Luka Doncic, the likely top two pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has led his Real Madrid team to the EuroLeague finals at age 19.

Now he has been named the youngest player ever win the EuroLeague MVP.

For those unfamiliar, EuroLeague is the equivalent of the Champions League in soccer — the very best club teams from around the continent face off against each other. On this biggest of European stages, Doncic has been a force. He is a gifted passer with great court vision. He can take his man off the dribble. He can hit threes. And he knows how to be a floor general and run a game. Did we mention he’s just 19?

Doncic said before the start of EuroLeague that he hasn’t decided what he is going to do about coming to the NBA or going back to Real Madrid. Don’t buy it. This is like asking a major college basketball star right before the NCAA Tournament if he is coming back to “State U” next year, they don’t want to say “no” right before the tourney so they give a non-committal answer. Same here. He’s not leaving millions on the table, he’ll be in the NBA next season.

And he’ll bee good.

Playoff losses wearing on LeBron James: ‘I lose sleep’

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Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost one game before reaching the NBA Finals. The season before that, two. The season before that also two. In Miami before that, the last couple of years they went to the Finals the Heat lost three and four games before reaching the Finals.

This year, the Cavaliers have lost five games already and find themselves down 0-2 to the Boston Celtics heading into Game 3 Saturday night in Cleveland.

The losses do weigh on LeBron, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“I mean, I lose sleep,” James said after shootaround Saturday morning. “I mean, at the end of the day, when you lose any game in the postseason, [you lose sleep], so it’s never comfort. Playoffs is never comfort. There’s nothing about the playoffs that’s comfortable until you either win it all or you lose and go into the summer.

“So, for me, it’s always [a] day-to-day grind to figure out ways that you can be better.”

Cleveland has a lot to figure out to win the next two games because if they don’t and go down 3-1 in this series, it’s hard to envision how LeBron can drag this roster back to the Finals (what would be his eighth straight trip).

Offensively Cleveland has to get consistent play from guys other than LeBron (and to a lesser extent, Kevin Love) — J.R. Smith has been awful and needs to find a rhythm at home, George Hill needs to make some plays, Kyle Korver needs to get open and knock down some looks, and some help from the bench is needed.

But that’s not even the end of the floor that is the Cavs real problem. Defensively the Cavaliers recognition and communication has been dreadful, and the passing and player movement of the Celtics has carved them up. Cleveland has outscored teams and not defended all that well for a long time now — that’s how they made the Finals a season ago — but it’s not enough now. The offense and LeBron can’t carry them all the way.

We’ll see after Game 3 if LeBron is going to be able to get any sleep Saturday night.