NBA Power Rankings: All-Star Weekend edition

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With no games after Thursday, we don’t have a lot of movement in the standings this week, but we tie in some All-Star Weekend notes and look ahead at the second half for teams.

1. Heat (27-7, last week ranked 1). LeBron James’ All-Star performance is what fans seem to expect from him — 36 points and looking dominant at times, the East would not have made that comeback without him. However, his intercepted pass with 1.9 seconds left is all anyone talks about, further proof he is “not clutch.” As Zach Lowe of Sports Illustrated noted, Dwyane Wade fumbled a ball out of bounds when the East had a chance to take the lead with 1:15 left, but somehow that is forgotten and LeBron is the goat.

2. Thunder (27-7, LW 3). Kevin Durant was your All-Star Game MVP and Russell Westbrook had a monster night with 17 points in the first half. Those gentlemen the two key reasons the Thunder are still the team to beat in the West.

3. Bulls (27-8, LW 4). Derrick Rose had a relatively quiet All-Star Game, but I loved the look on his face when the East starters were introduced — LeBron, Wade, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony were all dancing, Rose just looked annoyed with them.

4. Spurs (24-10, LW 2). They went 8-1 on the Rodeo road trip and the only loss was when Gregg Popovich decided to rest Tony Parker and Tim Duncan on the same night. This is a very good team but the question remains: If they run into the Grizzlies or Lakers in the playoffs (a team that scores a lot out of a big front line) can the Spurs stop them?

5. Mavericks (21-13, LW 5). Don’t expect them to make a big trade as the deadline comes up, unless someone wants Shawn Marion. But, if Dwight Howard is still in Orlando on March 16 the Mavericks may be poised to be the big winners this summer.

6. Clippers (20-11 LW 6). Chris Paul and Blake Griffin put on a fun show at the All-Star Game, like they have all season long. In the arena they showed some bits like the old “password” game where Paul had to describe something to Griffin and get him to guess the word — some of the funniest stuff in the arena all weekend.

7. Magic (22-13, LW 7). Dwight Howard was everywhere all weekend — except he was a virtual no-show for the All-Star Game itself. His pre-game speech about loving Orlando is heartfelt, but don’t confuse that with him wanting to stay. He is about to be in the center of a storm for a couple weeks.

8. Lakers (20-14, LW 9). Dwyane Wade broke Kobe Bryant’s nose in the third quarter of the All-Star Game. Which Kobe will play through because he is Kobe. But take note — the Heat and Lakers play Sunday.

9. Pacers (21-12, LW 10). They had an All-Star in Roy Hibbert. If I had written that sentence before the season you would have thought me mad. Same if I had said they would be 21-12 at the All-Star break.

10. 76ers (20-14, LW 8). Andre Iguodala just seems to be having fun every time he steps on the court, including an All-Star Game. It’s weird to say this, but this team really misses Spencer Hawes and they need him to facilitate their ball movement.

11. Rockets (20-14, LW 13). Doug Collins may be the front-runner for Coach of the Year, but Kevin McHale needs to be in that conversation. If there is one team to watch at the trade deadline, it seems Houston always makes a smart move or two.

12. Grizzlies (19-15, LW 12). Mark Gasol had a nice All-Star Game and deserved to be there. He also told he Memphis needs to get Zach Randolph back — and get him peaking like he did in the playoffs last year — for this team to make another big run in the playoffs.

13. Knicks (17-18, LW 11). The league found a way to get Jeremy Lin into All-Star Weekend. The interest in him from the International media is insane, I mean I knew it but until I saw it the enormity of the thing was hard to grasp. Now comes the hard work for the Knicks of fitting all those pieces together — if they do it they could be the third best team in the East come the playoffs.

14. Hawks (20-14, LW 14). No All-Stars, but Josh Smith should have been one. If Smith were playing in another system that suited him better, people might realize just how good he really is and he would be an All-Star every year.

15. Blazers (18-16, LW 16). LaMarcus Aldridge seemed to enjoy his well-deserved turn as an All-Star. Good for him. The Blazers have got to get better play out of the point guard spot to get their mojo back, either from Raymond Felton or Jamal Crawford. Or anyone, really.

16. Nuggets (18-17, LW 15). They lost their mojo from the start of the season and they lost Danilo Gallinari (who should have been an All-Star if healthy). They also lost four of five to good teams recently, which says a lot.

17. Timberwolves (17-17, LW 18). Kevin Love got his turn as an All-Star and was the West’s leading scorer in the fourth quarter with eight points. Also, he won the three-point contest. They have the pieces to really build something good in Minnesota, if David Kahn can be trusted to put good role players around his stars.

18. Celtics (15-17, LW 17). They are not a contender, they may well not get out of the first round of the playoffs, but you can bet this is a team the elite would like to avoid in the first round. Well, that is unless Danny Ainge decides to blow the whole thing up at the trade deadline (and he would do it, too). Watch them this week, I bet the rest for their older players does them good.

19. Jazz (15-17, LW 19). Gordon Hayward played well in the Rising Stars Challenge Friday night and I’ll admit it — he’s better than I thought he’d be coming out of college.

20. Suns (14-20, LW 20). Steve Nash played just four minutes in the All-Star Game, and you can bet that was at his request, trying to rest his body. But sure, he should have been there over the Rockets Kyle Lowry.

21. Cavaliers (13-18, LW 21). Kyrie Irving can shoot the rock if you leave him open — he was 8-for-8 from three in the Rising Stars Challenge on his way to the MVP. Tristan Thompson had maybe my favorite line of the weekend, “We’ve been hearing about Ricky Rubio since like 400 B.C.” There are some pieces to start rebuilding with there.

22. Warriors (13-17, LW 24). Stephen Curry’s foot injury — don’t call it an ankle, it’s not an ankle — kept him from defending his Skills Challenge title. Mark Jackson’s promise of making the playoffs this season looks unlikely, which goes to show it’s not him or Keith Smart that is the issue, it’s the talent on the roster.

23. Pistons (11-24, LW 22). Greg Monroe got in the Rising Stars game but he could challenge Roy Hibbert as one of the All-Star centers in the East for years.

24. Bucks (13-20, LW 23). I was disappointed Bango wasn’t one of the mascots at the All-Star Game. What, he’s too big time for that now?

25. Kings (11-22, LW 25). They have got a new stadium — that is the biggest win this team could get this year. Congratulations to the Sacramento fans.

26. Nets (10-25, LW 26). Deron Williams said he thinks the Nets are going to weather the storm of trade rumors that are coming the next couple weeks. I think that storm is going to be a lot stronger than he thinks.

27. Raptors (10-23 LW 28). The Dunk Contest sure could have used DeMar DeRozan. Again Raptors fans, this is a deep draft coming up — if you’re going to suck, this is a good year to suck.

28. Hornets (8-25, LW 27). It looks like they are getting close to getting an owner. When the Louisiana legislature reconvenes on March 12, and if they approve a new lease deal with the league and team, things may come together quickly. If group one from California falls through, a second group is waiting in the wings, David Stern said.

29. Wizards (7-26, LW 29). If they are going to make this work with John Wall, they are going to have to rework the roster. That may well not start at the trade deadline, however — it will be hard to find anyone to take players not named John Wall off this roster and give anything of quality back.

30. Bobcats (4-28, LW 30). Well, their mascot was at All-Star Weekend. That’s may be more than they deserved.

Report: Heat tried to trade Goran Dragic away in Jimmy Butler deal

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The Miami Heat are not in control of the Eastern Conference Finals — just two wins from the NBA Finals — without the combination of Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. They are the shot creators, the two penetrating into the paint, breaking down the Celtics’ defense, then kicking out to shooters. Butler is an All-NBA player, and Dragic is playing like the All-NBA player he was six years ago.

That pairing almost never happened.

Michael Lee at the Athletic told the story.

What’s hilarious about the Dragic-Butler partnership – a bromance that has found them bonding in the bubble over bottles of Michelob Ultras, cups of Big Head coffee, and singing the “Bad Boys” theme song from “Cops” – is it nearly didn’t happen. The initial three-team trade [Heat president Pat] Riley facilitated to get Butler involved sending Dragic to Dallas. Dragic would’ve teamed up with his Slovenian little homie, Luka Doncic, but would’ve said farewell to what he intended to do with the Heat.

The Mavericks had no interest in taking on Dragic – a 30-something hobbling on a surgically-repaired knee whose best years were way in the rearview – so the Heat had to get more creative, while remaining stuck with seemingly damaged goods. Again, nothing went according to plan.

Don’t blame Dallas on this one. Dragic played 36 games last season, had knee issues, and had looked like a shell of the All-NBA player he used to be, and on top of it he was getting paid $19.2 million. There were not a lot of teams looking to get in the Dragic business before this season started.

Instead, Dragic stayed, got healthy, accepted a sixth-man role (until the playoffs, before that Kendrick Nunn started and Dragic was the change of pace off the bench), and found his stride.

In the bubble, Dragic has taken off as the second scoring/shot-creating option in the Heat offense. Erik Spoelstra, as he does, has put Dragic in positions to succeed.

And, after these playoffs, get paid this offseason when Dragic is a free agent.

Brad Stevens hosts late night meeting with Smart, Brown, Celtics’ leadership

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A frustrated Marcus Smart yelled and vented at teammates after Boston’s come-from-ahead loss to Miami to go down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Jaylen Brown reportedly snapped back that the team needed to stick together and not just point fingers. Things reportedly were thrown around in the Celtics’ locker room.

Boston coach Brad Stevens knew he had to get everyone back on the same page before Game 3 on Saturday, so he had Smart, Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Kemba Walker meet and talk through their issues, reported Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

It was a smart move by Stevens, and it apparently worked. The Celtics have moved on from the incident, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

But one source within the bubble told NBC Sports Boston that the emotions of Thursday night are “water under the bridge now” as the team prepares for a must-win Game 3 on Saturday.

The Celtics need to match the Heat’s “do whatever it takes to win” intensity on Saturday. It would be a help if Gordon Hayward plays, which appears possible (he is officially listed as questionable but seems to be moving toward playing.

Everything that happened before to Boston needs to be a lesson on what it takes to win at the highest level. Miami is confident and rolling, plus they have the relentless Jimmy Butler in their corner.

One of the four players in Stevens’ room Thursday night — Boston’s leaders — has to be the one to step up and match that intensity. If not, the Celtics will be watching the Finals from home like the rest of us.

Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo: Agents will position me to succeed ‘with the team or another team’

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s moment has arrived.

He won Most Valuable Player, yes. But he’s also the center of speculation as he approached 2021 unrestricted free agency. He could head that off by signing a super-max extension with the Bucks this summer.

In the meantime, every word he says will be scrutinized for clues about his future.

That includes grainy video today from Greece, where – because Milwaukee already got bounced from the playoffs – Antetokounmpo conducted a conference call with reporters and an interview on NBA TV about his award.

The Bucks’ season is so far in the rearview mirror, Antetokounmpo already met with Bucks ownership and returned home. Now, attention turns to his long-term outlook.

Antetokounmpo:

I have two great agents that help with that, and I know they’re going to put me in the best situation to be successful with the team or another team. But at the end of the day, I had a great conversation with the owner. And as I know so far, we’re on the same page. And I want to be in Milwaukee for the rest of my career. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to want the same thing, which is a championship.

As long as everybody is on the same page and as long as everybody is fighting for the same thing … every single day, which is to be a champion, I don’t see why not be in Milwaukee for the next 15 years?

I believe Antetokounmpo prefers to find a way to stay with the Bucks. But even while professing his loyalty, Antetokounmpo had made clear he doesn’t hold blind allegiance to Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo’s agent, Alex Saratsis, said in February, “Everything is open.”

Yet, this is the first time I recall Antetokounmpo himself so directly mentioning the possibility of joining “another team.”

The other time he supposedly said something like that, he claimed he was misquoted.

Of course, you could focus on other portions of his responses today like: “I want to be in Milwaukee for the rest of my career.” Yet, there’s that “we’ve got to want the same thing, which is a championship” caveat.

Two major questions:

1. How willing are the Bucks to pay the luxury tax to maximize Milwaukee’s title chances?

2. Even with a financial commitment from ownership, how equipped are the Bucks to win after a couple years of shortcuts?

Antetokounmpo must evaluate.

But he’s not just putting the onus on the organization. He spoke about working to continuing to improve, doing his part to achieve his main goal.

When talking about his 2019 MVP, Antetokounmpo said at the time, “Please, after this day, don’t call me MVP because until I win it again next year.”

Is he ready to be called MVP now?

Antetokounmpo:

Don’t call me MVP. Don’t call me two-times MVP until I’m a champion.

LeBron James surpasses Michael Jordan in career MVP voting shares

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Giannis Antetokounmpo won MVP.

As for the rest of the voting?

Here are the results with first-, second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-place votes and total voting points (10-7-5-3-1 points from first to fifth):

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks): 85-16-0-0-0-962

2. LeBron James (Lakers): 16-84-1-0-0-753

3. James Harden (Rockets): 0-1-64-10-10-367

4. Luka Doncic (Mavericks): 0-0-14-36-22-200

5. Kawhi Leonard (Clippers): 0-0-9-31-30-168

6. Anthony Davis (Lakers): 0-0-5-14-15-82

7. Chris Paul (Thunder): 0-0-3-1-8-26

8. Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers): 0-0-1-4-6-23

9. Nikola Jokic (Nuggets): 0-0-2-2-2-18

10. Pascal Siakam (Raptors): 0-0-2-1-4-17

11. Jimmy Butler (Heat): 0-0-0-2-3-9

12. Jayson Tatum (Celtics): 0-0-0-0-1-1

No, LeBron didn’t win. Nor should he have.

But the only other player in the top eight of voting still alive in the playoffs? His Lakers teammate, Anthony Davis. LeBron has a prime opportunity to bolster his legacy with another championship.

In the meantime, LeBron also boosts his resumé even with his runner-up finish.

LeBron received 753 voting points. A unanimous MVP would’ve received 1,010 voting points. So, with 75% of that total, LeBron gets .75 MVP voting shares.

That puts him ahead of Michael Jordan on the career MVP-voting-shares leaderboard:

Getting a vote every year of his career, LeBron also tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most seasons receiving an MVP vote:

A big caveat: MVP ballots had just one or three slots prior to 1981, when they went to the current five-player format. So, LeBron has had more opportunities to get lower-ballot votes.

Another caveat: LeBron’s lone fifth-place vote last season came from NBA.com fan voting.

But he didn’t just sneak onto the back end of ballots this year – even at age 35. Only Karl Malone, who won 1999 MVP at 35, has finished top two while so old.

And LeBron has been receiving MVP votes since he was a teenager.

He didn’t get the trophy that will endure. But this silver-medal finish still reflects just how incredible his career has been – and continues to be.