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….

Ted Leonsis’ goals for Wizards: Win 50 games, make conference finals

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Wizards’ owner Ted Leonsis is setting the bar high. Incredibly high.

Las Vegas set the under/over on wins for Washington at 44.5, which was sixth highest in the East. That sounds about right (Washington won 43 games last season and did not make big moves this off-season, the team’s hands tied by the salary cap). Three of the past five seasons this team has been solid but not spectacular, winning in the mid-to-high 40s during the season, then reaching the second round before bowing out of the playoffs.

While this team has talent, John Wall and Bradley Beal have never really meshed (and both have battled health issues), now Dwight Howard is the starting center, and a lot of is asked of Otto Porter, Markeif Morris, and other role players. The Wizards have never been more than their parts, they have never added up to as much as it looked like they should on paper.

Leonsis expects that to change this season as they move into a new practice facility. He set the bar for this team higher than it’s been in years, as he told Ben Standig of TheSportsCapital.com (a fantastic site covering Washington D.C. sports).

“Well, we want to make the playoffs. We want 50 wins* and I’d like to set a bar that says if we can’t get by the first round and the second round^ then we didn’t meet our goals. We have to improve upon last year, but this is a really good team practicing in a world-class building. I think it’s the most complete team and we want to focus on everyone’s health. John (Wall) last year missed half the season. Otto (Porter) struggled at the end of the season (with hip, leg injuries). If we can keep them healthy and they’re well-treated and well-tended and well-compensated, we should have high expectations for them.”

(* The Wizards last won at least 50 games in the 1978-79 season.)

(^The franchise hasn’t advanced to the conference finals, the bar now set by Leonsis, since the Washington Bullets lost in the 1979 NBA Finals.)

Beating out all but one of Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, Milwaukee, and Indiana to make the conference finals seems… unlikely. I get that Leonsis sees reaching the conference finals as the next step forward, it’s just hard to see how this roster does it. The Wizards keep changing the pieces around the core — this year it’s Marcin Gortat out, Dwight Howard in — and still coming up short, which suggests maybe it’s not the pieces around the core that’s the problem.

The Wizards are locked into this core for another year after this — Wall will make $38 million the season after this, Beal, and Otto Porter will make north of $20 million, plus don’t forget Ian Mahinmi will make more than $15 million each of the next two seasons. If Leonsis is frustrated with this squad, it will not be easy to change, not for a while.

Report: Tom Thibodeau met with Jimmy Butler Monday, tried to convince him to come to camp

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Tom Thibodeau REALLY wants to keep his job doesn’t want to trade Jimmy Butler. In fact, he was going to refuse to honor Butler’s trade request, but owner Glen Taylor stepped in and told him and GM Scott Layden to get it done. Sooner rather than later.

Butler was not participating in media day Monday and will not take part in camp this week. Thibodeau is still trying to get Butler into camp, hoping that time around the team can fix issues, and said he expects Butler to show up if no deal is struck quickly. More than that, he met with Butler and tried to convince him to show up.

This is not going to work on Butler, who is as stubborn as Thibodeau. Plus, the Timberwolves owner does not want the drama, he wants this resolved. Add to that that Karl-Anthony Towns wanted this resolved, he’s the future of the franchise, and he’s about to sign a massive max extension to his rookie deal.

There are a number of teams at least testing the water on Butler — the Heat have been very aggressive, most sources I talk to around the league like the Clippers’ chances, but the Cavaliers, 76ers, Pistons, Wizards, Blazers, and others have at least checked in on a trade. Teams, however, are being cautious about what they will offer — Butler can be a free agent this summer, and even if a team can re-sign him (the Clippers were on his short list) there is concern from them about how well he will age through that next deal considering Thibodeau has played him heavy minutes for years, and he was already battling some injuries last season.

Still, expect a deal to get done sooner rather than later. Despite what Thibodeau would prefer.

‘He has more to give’: Dwyane Wade’s last dance with Heat begins

Associated Press
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MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade doesn’t know how this whole notion of his final season being called “The Last Dance” even started.

Fun fact: He can’t dance.

But the three-time champion and 12-time All-Star can still play, and the Miami Heat are hoping – and expecting – Wade to still be extremely valuable in this, his 16th and last season in the NBA. And at Heat media day Monday, Wade said that even he doesn’t know what to fully expect from what will be the last months of his playing career.

“I have no idea what I want out of this year,” Wade said. “We’re going to be able to figure this thing out as the year goes on. It’s going to take on a life of its own. … To me, that is the beauty of it, is that I do not know and we do not know.”

Starting Tuesday, the story starts getting told.

Wade and the Heat head about 45 minutes north to Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida for training camp – five straight days of workouts preceding Sunday’s preseason opener at San Antonio. Decisions will have to be made quickly about playing time and roles, and part of that formula is figuring out how Wade best fits into coach Erik Spoelstra’s plan.

“Most pro athletes, unfortunately, they don’t get to know when the end is – or at least they’re the last ones to know and it’s certainly not on their terms,” Spoelstra said. “He has this incredible blessing to know when that finish line will be and be able to have the perspective to make every day matter. It’s the right player, the right organization, the right coaching staff, the right timing for all of this.”

Wade announced his decision on Sept. 16 that he was coming back for a final season, after at one time leaning about “90 percent” toward retirement over the summer. He agreed to a minimum contract worth $2.4 million, or roughly about $200,000 less than he made in his rookie season after the Heat took the Marquette guard with the No. 5 pick in the 2003 draft.

His decision wasn’t about money or role. It was about making sure the right ending to a career gets written.

“At the end of the day, he’s a Hall of Famer,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said. “He still can produce. He showed that last year. He can still take over a game at any time. And just to have him on the court is special. His ability, his aura, his presence on the floor, it influences everyone. It’s contagious, know what I mean? His confidence spreads, his ability, it’s a feeling that’s so good for us.”

Wade returned to the Heat in a trade last February, after spending the 2016-17 season with Chicago and the start of last season with Cleveland. For his career, he’s a 22.5-point scorer and the Heat all-time leader in points, assists, steals and games played.

“He has more to give this game,” Spoelstra said.

Wade enters this season 113 points shy of Clyde Drexler for No. 30 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. The legacy was secured long ago. That’s not why he’s still on the court. Wade has turned much of his basketball attention already to his son Zaire, a rising high school junior who has Division I offers and will surely be getting more.

Before he becomes a full-timer in the bleachers at his kid’s games, there’s the last dance.

“I’m going to continue to be very uncomfortable with this whole thing,” Wade said. “The farewell tour is not something I wanted. I think people around me know I really, really, really didn’t want this. So I just look at it as this is me just saying `goodbye’ more than anything.”

 

Kristaps Porzingis rehabbing conservatively, unsure when he’ll return

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GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — Kristaps Porzingis is a one-of-a-kind player, a 7-foot-3 package strong enough to pound in the paint but with plenty of speed and shooting to play on the perimeter.

That’s ideal for the basketball court.

Not so much for rehabbing a serious knee injury.

Porzingis said Monday his size has necessitated a slow recovery from a torn left ACL and prevents him or the New York Knicks from establishing a timetable for his return to action.

“We’ve done things differently because there is no protocol for a 7-3 guy,” Porzingis said. “There is no timetable for my type of body, my size and all that. So we’ve done things differently. We’ve been really conservative and at the same time I’ve been killing myself working, so we’re just going to have to keep moving forward and keep progressing and then see when is the right time for me to be back.”

Porzingis was injured after a dunk in a Feb. 6 loss to Milwaukee, just before he was set to play in his first All-Star Game. He is doing light running and shooting but is not cleared to do anything serious enough to make an early season return likely.

“It’s already been 7+ months so obviously I’m getting itchy and want to be back on the court as soon as possible, but it won’t happen until I am 110 percent and I’m medically cleared,” Porzingis said.

There is no reason to rush. The Knicks are a young team unlikely to challenge for a playoff spot, so they can prioritize their franchise player’s health even if it means sitting Porzingis for most or all of the season.

He didn’t rule that out, though he wants to play, and it would certainly help the Knicks attract free agents next summer if Porzingis can get back on the floor and show his array of skills that led Kevin Durant – potentially one of those free agents – to nickname him a unicorn.

Porzingis spent most of his summer in Europe so he could be near his home in Latvia, where he was visited by new Knicks coach David Fizdale. Porzingis, who played professionally in Spain before the Knicks drafted him with the No. 4 pick in 2015, did his rehabilitation with Real Madrid, saying those were the best facilities available. He said he’s pleased with where he’s at in his recovery – even though doctors who have worked on similar injuries can’t say where exactly that is.

“Yeah, but they haven’t done it on a 7-3 guy,” said Porzingis, whose weight is listed at 240 pounds. “So I think it’s something new for everybody and as I said we’re trying to just be conservative and doing the right thing without pushing it too much.”

He said all his energy is on his recovery, so he hasn’t thought much about the contract extension he is eligible to sign before the season. It’s unclear if the Knicks even intend to offer one, with both sides possibly feeling it’s better to wait until next summer.

In the meantime, he intends to be around his Knicks teammates as much as possible, though he doesn’t know if he will travel with them. But whenever he is around will be a benefit.

“We know he’s not going to play beginning of the season, but at the same time we know that he’s still going to be out there, giving us his insight, giving us his ideas of what he sees out there on the floor that can help the team throughout the way,” swingman Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “So until he gets back we’re going to hold down the fort.”