NBA Power Rankings: Thunder move up to second spot

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Some shifting around near the top as the Thunder go up, the Heat drop down and the Spurs hold steady. So do the Bobcats at the bottom. It’s not March Madness, but it is March setting up for a run to the playoffs.

1. Bulls (40-10, last week ranked number 1). With an undefeated week playing with Derrick Rose the Bulls become the first team to mathematically clinch a playoff berth. Big game Sunday when they face the Thunder, but only interesting if Rose plays.

2. Thunder (37-12, LW 4). The best offense in the NBA this season and it showed in an impressive win over Heat on Sunday. Tough tests ahead with the Lakers Thursday, the Bulls Sunday and the Heat again the following week.

3. Spurs (33-14, LW 3). Three games in three nights and the Spurs sweep them all, including wins over Dallas and Philadelphia. Not bad at all. If Manu Ginobili is healthy these Spurs can make it all the way to the Western Conference finals (remember they were without him in loss to Grizzlies last season). And the Spurs are a matchup problem for Thunder.

4. Heat (35-12, LW 2). They are coasting and not looking very impressive doing it of late. They are not building good habits toward the playoffs right now. We know they have another gear or two, the question is can they find it?

5. Lakers (30-19, LW 5). They are still trying to figure out who they are with Ramon Sessions in the lineup. Of course, for Lakers fans that kind of experimentation leads to a crisis mode. Too early to worry. Big test coming Thursday against the Thunder.

6. Magic (31-18, LW 6). They’ve got a relatively soft schedule to close out the season, which likely means they are going to be your three seed in the East.

7. Hawks (30-20, LW 9). Does anybody really fear the Hawks come the playoffs? They have won five of seven and have been one of the hotter teams of late, but they still just don’t strike fear into anyone. Mostly because their offense is average.

8. Mavericks (28-22, LW 10). The Lamar Odom situation in Dallas is getting worse by the day — he got a DNP-CD against San Antonio then played poorly against Houston. Mark Cuban said they were not going to buy him out, but they may have to sit him a lot.

9. Pacers (28-19, LW 14). Nice wins over the Clippers and the Bucks last week, two teams trying to stay in the playoff race. For the Pacers now it’s all about scoreboard watching and seeing who they face in the first round.

10. Clippers (27-21 LW 8). Vinny Del Negro watch is on, but it can only be a serious watch if you think owner Donald Sterling would be willing to pay for two head coaches at once. I’m not convinced. Four straight games at home could help Vinny’s cause this week.

11. Grizzlies (26-21, LW 7). Three straight losses — including to the Kings and struggling Blazers — until they picked up a nice win over the Lakers Sunday night. Still think they are struggling to fit Zach Randolph back in the rotation. Did you notice Gilbert Arenas got a DNP-CD against the Lakers?

12. 76ers (27-22, LW 11). They beat the Celtics and still hold on to that valuable Atlantic Division lead (meaning the four seed and avoiding the Heat and Bulls in the first round) but with a lot of road games to close out the season (11 of 17) they are by no means a lock at that spot.

13. Jazz (26-23, LW 16). Six wins in a row until they ran into the Hawks and four overtimes. Then they have to fry to New Jersey for another game Monday? If they win that I’ll be really impressed.

14. Celtics (25-22, LW 15). They are just half a game back of the 76ers again for that top spot in the Atlantic, but they have a much harder schedule the rest of the way. How hard to they push for that crown vs. resting for the playoffs?

15. Suns (25-24, LW 13). If I were Houston — the current 8 seed in the West — and I were worried about one team catching me, right now it would be the Suns.

16. Nuggets (26-23, LW 12). It’s going to be a hard slog the rest of the way with Rudy Fernandez out and right how Danilo Gallinari out as well. Plus, you know, trading Nene away for JaVale McGee. I don’t see them making the playoffs.

17. Knicks (24-25, LW 18). Key game Monday night against the Bucks. They are 5-1 in the Mike Woodson era but the schedule gets harder and they may have to go a stretch without Amare Stoudemire who is having back issues.

18. Bucks (22-26, LW 17). They are scoring a lot of points with the Monta Ellis/Brandon Jennings back court, but can they play enough defense to catch the Knicks for the final playoff spout in the East? They need that game Monday in New York.

19. Rockets (26-23, LW 19). If this team could get Kyle Lowry back from his bacterial infection I’d like their chances better to stay in the playoffs. That said, is there a team that gets as much out of the talent it has on the roster than Houston?

20. Timberwolves (24-26, LW 20). Kevin Love is in full on beast mode — three games last week he had at least 30 points and 14 rebounds.

21. Blazers (23-26, LW 21). They have started out 3-3 under interim coach Kaleb Canales. Apparently their young coach thinks they are supposed to be winning, not tanking. He didn’t get the memo.

22. Warriors (20-27, LW 22). Part of the thinking behind the Monta Ellis trade was to get more run for Klay Thompson, and he scored in double digits every game this week, has looked solid and is growing into an NBA two-guard before our eyes.

23. Kings (17-31, LW 24). Picked up a nice win over Memphis last week. And we like Isaiah Thomas. And we like Keith Smart. So, that’s three nice things (and you thought I couldn’t get to three).

24. Cavaliers (17-29, LW 25). They are talking about bringing Antawn Jamison back next season. At age 35. We need to discuss the concept of rebuilding with them again.

25. Pistons (16-32, LW 23). They have lost five in a row (Rodney Stuckey is injured, coincidence?) but to get beat by JaVale McGee making a smart play is just bad luck. And painful.

26. Nets (16-34, LW 26). Well, they got a win over the Bobcats last week. And just one more month until they are born to run out of the swamps of Jersey.

27. Raptors (16-33, LW 27). Don’t tell anyone, but the Raptors are playing pretty good defense again. Dwane Casey is a good coach if they give him some talent.

28. Hornets (12-36, LW 28). New Orleans threw a wild party in the French Quarter after they beat Chris Paul and his Clippers last week… wait, you mean it’s like that there every night?

29. Wizards (11-37, LW 29). The sign of how much better they are with Nene in the lineup is how bad they were with him gone against Boston Sunday.

30. Bobcats (7-39, LW 30). Dreaming of Anthony Davis….

Adrian Wojnarowski: Jacque Vaughn likely to coach Nets next season

Nets coach Jacque Vaughn
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The Nets have two stars in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and the ammo to get a third star. Expectations are rising quickly in Brooklyn. Merely qualifying for the playoffs isn’t enough. Nobody felt that more than Kenny Atkinson, who got ousted historically late in the season for a postseason-bound team.

The next logical step: Hiring a blue-chip coach.

Former Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, Irving’s reported preferred choice, was considered favorite. Jason Kidd, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy were also high-profile candidates.

Or maybe the Nets will just keep Jacque Vaughn, who took over for Atkinson.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

People sometimes are treating Jacque Vaughn like he was named the interim coach when Kenny Atkinson and the Nets split up. But he’s not. He’s the head coach. They didn’t make him interim coach. And while I think the Nets are considering the possibility of a search, I would still give Jacque Vaughn, I would take Jacque Vaughn against the field right now to keep that job.

“Interim” is just a label. The Nets can call Vaughn whatever they want. He’s coaching the team right now, and no job is permanent.

But unless hearing otherwise, there’s an expectation a team will conduct a coaching search the offseason after an in-season coaching change.

This might be the otherwise.

Vaughn reportedly has a legitimate opportunity to win the job. But Brooklyn will be without Durant, Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Wilson Chandler, Nicolas Claxton and maybe Spencer Dinwiddie as the season resumes in Disney World. That’s not a recipe for impressing.

That’s especially true because Vaughn doesn’t fit the marquee image the Nets were reportedly seeking. In his only previous head-coaching position, Vaughn went 20-62, 23-59 and 15-37 with the Magic before they fired him in 2015.

One thing Vaughn has going for him: He reversed Atkinson’s strategy of starting Jarrett Allen over Jordan, who’s close with Durant and Irving. It’s practically impossible to see Brooklyn picking a coach – especially Vaughn – without the support of Durant and Irving.

The Nets should conduct a full coaching search. If Vaughn emerges as the best choice, great. But he hasn’t done enough to warrant Brooklyn ignoring other candidates.

Report: Eight non-restart teams near deal for second NBA “bubble” in Chicago

NBA bubble Chicago
https://twitter.com/NYPost_Berman/status/1278800196361576448
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The eight teams with the worst records in the NBA, the ones not invited to Orlando for the NBA’s restart — Warriors, Timberwolves, Cavaliers, Hawks, Pistons, Knicks, Bulls, and Hornets — have been asking the NBA to organize workouts and games for them, so they don’t lose ground to the teams in the bubble.

ESPN’s Jackie MacMullen reports that is close to coming together in the form of a second NBA bubble in Chicago.

The details are still being hammered out, and teams continue to push for an alternative plan that would enable them to hold mini-camps within their local markets and to explore the idea of establishing regional sites where teams could scrimmage against each other.

This second bubble likely would take place in September, while the playoffs take place down into Orlando. Not every team is fully on board.

 

The eight teams had been concerned that going from March to December without meaningful games — while the other 22 teams had training camps and played at least eight games — would put the development of their young players and cultures behind. Teams pushed for practices and some organized games, although some franchises have pushed harder than others.

Michelle Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, reportedly is insistent that if the eight teams get together in Chicago the players be protected by the same protocols in place in Orlando.

“Unless we could replicate in every way the protocol that’s been established for Orlando, I’d be – I’m being tame now – suspicious,” Roberts said last week in a conference call with reporters. “I think there are conversations that could be had if there’s anything we can do with the other eight teams. I know there are some players, particularly young players, that seem concerned they’re not getting enough [opportunities]…

“But I am very concerned and frankly, my concern aside, our players, our teams are very concerned about any — in terms of play that doesn’t have the same guarantees of safety and health that we’ve provided for the teams in Orlando. So yeah, never say never, but there’s a standard. It’s a standard that’s got to be met.”

Mark Tatum, the NBA’s deputy commissioner, quickly agreed with Roberts.

Expect an NBA Chicago bubble to come together in some form. Some of the eight teams on the outside — the Atlanta Hawks with their young core, for example — have pushed hard to get their players opportunities for games and workouts. Each of the eight teams are in different spots, however, and have different motivations. Golden State likely will not send Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson, this would be about getting younger players some extra run.

 

Donovan Mitchell on Jazz teammate Rudy Gobert: ‘Right now, we’re good’

Jazz stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert
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Following their coronavirus diagnoses, Donovan Mitchell was clearly upset with Jazz teammate Rudy Gobert.

Gobert said he and Mitchell were good. Jazz executive Dennis Lindsey said Mitchell and Gobert were good.

Now, we’re actually hearing from Mitchell himself.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

This goes WAY further than anyone else speaking for Mitchell.

Mitchell was entitled to carry a grudge for a while. Gobert’s reckless actions made him more likely to contract and spread coronavirus.

At minimum, Mitchell is willing to say publicly he’s on the same page as Gobert. That’s meaningful. Teammates needn’t be best friends to succeed. But they generally perform better when they set their differences aside. However he actually feels about Gobert, Mitchell is setting a tone of putting the team first.

This isn’t surprising. Mitchell has shown he can remain focused and work hard amid adversity. Gobert plays a supportive style that makes life easier for teammates (though he has sometimes drifted from it this season). These are professionals who were always likely to reach this point.

Of course, this coexistence could be fragile. Among the biggest variables: How will Utah perform in the resumption at Disney World? Winning tends to bond teammates more tightly. Losing can exacerbate wounds.

At least the Jazz will enter Orlando with their chemistry – relatively – intact. After all they’ve been through, that’s something.

Report: Kings lead assistant Igor Kokoskov to become Fenerbahce head coach

Kings assistant coach Igor Kokoskov
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The Kings are trying to end their historic playoff drought.

They’ll make that push as lead assistant Igor Kokoskov has one foot out the door.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Jason Jones of the The Athletic:

Kokoskov had a rough go in the NBA spotlight. After working his way up the coaching ladder and becoming the Suns’ head coach in 2018-19, he got fired after only one season. Phoenix gave him an ill-equipped roster, notably passing on Luka Doncic in the draft – perhaps despite the input of Kokoskov, who coached Doncic on the Slovenian national team. Maybe Kokoskov wasn’t a good-enough coach. He didn’t build a strong affirmative case. But getting only season in his first head-coaching job was a tough break.

Fenerbahce (Turkey) is a premier overseas job. Kokoskov will succeed a legend in Zeljko Obradovic, who recently drew attention for this, um, motivational speech.

For Sacramento, the timing is tricky. Luke Walton is still in charge. But with traveling parties limited for the resumption at Disney World, teams need the coaches in attendance to pull extra duty. Maybe Kokoskov is up for it. It’d also be completely natural if he’s at least somewhat distracted by his next job.