NBA Power Rankings: Spurs close out season riding high

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This is it, our final power rankings of the season. Usually I’d have them ranked in the order I would rank championship contenders, but this year any of the top four could win a chip and I wouldn’t be surprised. Hard to rank teams at the end of the season with everyone coasting and resting guys — and at the bottom of the rankings outright tanking. But here is a final rundown.

1. Spurs (47-16, last week ranked number 3). If they are the top seed in the West they could get through to the finals without having to play Memphis or the Lakers — two big challenges because of their front line size. Manu Ginobili is the key for this team.

2. Heat (46-18, LW 4). They need to get the big three healthy, but to me that’s not the real heart of the matter. If they get good production from their role players — Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier — they will get a ring. But if, like last year and large parts of the second half of this season, it is the big three against the world they will fall short again.

3. Bulls (48-16, LW 1). They need to get Derrick Rose back and fully integrated, fortunately getting the struggling Sixers in the first round gives them more time to do just that.

4. Thunder (46-18, LW 2). They need to get James Harden back, but Sunday’s loss to the Lakers was the latest in a string of losses to playoff teams. They need to get right during the first round because the Lakers will not be an easy out in the second.

5. Pacers (41-23, LW 6). Everyone is sleeping on the Pacers, but with George Hill at the point they are a very good team. They win the playoff lottery and get Orlando in the first round, but watch how hard they push the Heat in the second round.

6. Celtics (37-27, LW 5). They have put a lot of confidence in their veteran core — they are resting key guys rather than going after home court. On one hand it makes sense, do you think Kevin Garnett cares where they game is? But Boston is 22-9 at home this season and 15-18 on the road, and they have not been a great road team in recent playoffs. Doc Rivers has taken a risk.

7. Grizzlies (39-25, LW 9). The Spurs and the Thunder are the two best teams in the West this season, but are the Grizzlies the third best entering the playoffs? Maybe. They are going to be a tough out for anyone they face. It looks like Grizzlies/Clippers in the first round and that is going to be the best first round series in either conference.

8. Lakers (41-24, LW 7). Maybe the hardest team to predict entering the playoffs — when focused on defense and running the offense inside out through Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol they can beat anybody. But they are just as likely to get away from what works for them, play hero ball and lose to anyone. Can Matt Barnes fill in well enough for Metta World Peace?

9. Clippers (40-24 LW 8). The Clippers have talked a lot recently about standing their ground and defending Blake Griffin. They are very likely getting Memphis in the first round. They better be ready because that is going to be a black-and-blue series.

10. Hawks (38-26, LW 10). No Al Horford for the playoffs. With him I thought they had a real chance to beat the Celtics in the first round, but without him that is a hard slog.

11. Knicks (34-30, LW 12). The Knicks play defense and have developed into a pretty good team that can defend and put points on the board. The problem is they did it so late in the season they get the Heat in the first round. Ticket prices for this series will be through the roof, but the Heat talent will overwhelm.

12. Nuggets (35-28, LW 13). JaVale McGee in the playoffs. This should be fun.

13. Mavericks (36-29, LW 11). They still have Dirk Nowitzki, they have been playing their best basketball of late, but nobody thinks they are a threat and may not even get out of the first round. Hey, didn’t people think that last year, too.

14. Jazz (34-30, LW 17). Huge game Tuesday night against the Suns. If the Jazz get into the playoffs, Tyron Corbin and Paul Millsap deserve huge kudos.

15. 76ers (33-30, LW 15). Do you think they could win even a game against the Bulls or Heat in the first round the way they are playing right now?

16. Suns (33-31, LW 16). Much like the Jazz, just being in the playoff conversation is a win for this team. Steve Nash deserves all the credit he gets, but don’t overlook Marcin Gortat’s contribution.

17. Magic (36-28, LW 18). They are 3-7 without Dwight Howard. They will be 0-4 against the Pacers in the first round.

18. Rockets (33-31, LW 14). For the third straight year they will have a better than .500 record and miss the playoffs. That stings.

19. Bucks (30-33, LW 19). They actually have a slim chance to still make the playoffs, but when you need things like the Nets to win you are hoping against hope.

20. Pistons (24-40, LW 21). Greg Monroe had a good season but he clearly was worn down in the end. There are some pieces to build on here.

21. Blazers (28-36, LW 20). Losers of five straight. They have LaMarcus Aldridge, what they need is a team president and GM to set a direction for the franchise and for the owner to stay out of the new hire’s way.

22. Raptors (22-42, LW 22). They get Jonas Valanciunas next season plus whoever they get in this draft. With DeMar DeRozan there is something to build on. Especially if Andrea Bargnani can stay healthy.

23. Timberwolves (26-39, LW 23). Of all the teams in the bottom 10, with Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Rick Adelman at the helm, none has a brighter future.

24. Hornets (20-44, LW 25). New stable ownership, now we can see what Dell Demps and Monty Williams can really do.

25. Nets (22-42, LW 24). No team may have a wilder offseason. They could enter Brooklyn with a complete rebuilding project, or they could enter with Dwight Howard and Deron Williams. I kind of think the former is more likely.

26. Cavaliers (21-42, LW 28). Kyrie Irving comes back and the Cavs get a win, no coincidence there. They have their point guard of the future, just four other positions to fill out now.

27. Wizards (17-46, LW 29). A three game win streak… don’t start printing playoff tickets, but when Nene is in the lineup this team plays pretty good defense and can compete a little. Lots of work to do to change the culture, but they made some good first steps.

28. Warriors (23-41, LW 26). If you want to talk about outright tanking… then they go and win a game on Sunday night. They are all about the ankles of Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry being right next season.

29. Kings (21-43, LW 27). DeMarcus Cousins is key to the future of this team. Is Tyreke Evans anymore?

30. Bobcats (7-55, LW 30). Worst. Team. Ever. (That could be official by Thursday if they don’t win any more games.)

Markelle Fultz’s new free throw stroke is… different.

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Philadelphia’s Markelle Fultz is in his own head with his free throw stroke now. (And, likely much more than that, but we’ll stick with the free throws for now.)

Earlier this week Fultz double-clutched a free throw attempt and his stroke was a mess.

Each game that stroke seems to change and the latest one is… different. Very different.

As Vecenie notes, this is actually an improvement in terms of the release, but that doesn’t make it good. Fultz was 1-of-2 in his one trip to the stripe (as of this writing).

Still, I have never seen someone pass the ball back-and-forth between their hands as they go into their shooting motion like that. Very, very odd.

Markelle Fultz’s agent denies rumor shooting woes due to motorcycle accident

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Why is 76ers guard Markelle Fultz‘s shot so screwed up?

Did he suffer an injury? Did he change his mechanics? Does he have the yips? Some combination?

Another theory presented by Brandon Robinson: Fultz got into a motorcycle crash last year.

Fultz’s agent, Raymond Brothers, via Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice:

“Markelle and the motorcycle, I saw the article that was sent, 100 percent not true,” said Brothers. “Quote me on that.”

The Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits players from riding on motorcycles, though this theoretically could have been before Fultz signed his contract with Philadelphia. So, if this is true, there could be even more complications.

But Robinson’s report is too far-fetched to believe. Without more evidence, I’m not buying it.

Judge sounds skeptical of accuser’s arguments in appeal of Derrick Rose case

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Derrick Rose was found not liable during a civil rape trial in 2016.

The plaintiff appealed, and her argument was heard today. It doesn’t sound like it was well-received.

One of the appellate-court judges, Hon. Barrington D. Parker Jr., via Kyle Bonagura of ESPN:

“The main issue in this case is what happened that night between Doe and the three defendants,” Parker told Anand. “And you did a good job of presenting your case that what happened on that evening was nonconsensual, that she was raped.

“The defendants, as I look at the record, had powerful defenses to that presentation, which at the end of the day, the jury bought. You had a nine-day trial and this jury was out in what, 15 minutes? And you lose on every single claim. The jury just didn’t buy your case. No trial is perfect, but your evidence concerning the night in question came in and the jury had an opportunity to hear that.”

Following the trial as it unfolded, it seems the jury made the correct decision. Doe’s case was presented and considered. There wasn’t nearly enough evidence against Rose to find him liable.

That doesn’t mean he didn’t rape Doe. Her accusation counts for something. But at a certain point, if her claims can’t be credibly substantiated, Rose deserves a chance to move on. Police also investigated Rose and didn’t charge him.

The Court of Appeals has not yet ruled on Doe’s appeal, but it sounds like Rose is one step closer to putting this behind him legally.

Mark Cuban on Mavericks’ sexual-harassment scandal: ‘It’s behind us now’

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he erred by not being involved enough in the franchise’s business side, allowing a predatory work environment to fester.

But he also didn’t appear at the press conference after the investigation’s results were released, leaving new CEO Cynthia Marshall to face the public.

Why?

Cuban on 1310 The Ticket, via Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News:

Because it’s Cynthia’s company now to run on the business side.

I’m the owner of a lot of different companies and I have CEO’s who run them. And it’s her’s to run and she’s good. And when you find someone that’s great at what they do, you let them do their job. Now, did I learn and I’ll communicate more with it? Yeah. But I’m not going to go into any of the details other than do say she is phenomenal at what she does and she deserves the respect that she’s earned and the Mavs are a much better organization and will be. And the NBA will be better because other teams and the NBA itself also are using her as a resource.

all the people that were involved are gone. . . The reality is, it’s behind us now. We did what we had to do. We’ve moved immediately. We brought in Cynt. Cynt’s a superstar. She’s changed the culture completely. That’s all you can do.

No organization is perfect. I’ve made my mistakes. The organization made its mistakes and we fixed them. There’s really no reason to suspend me or do a lot of the things people speculated about.

The difference between now and before is I talk to Cynt almost every day. Whereas the previous leadership . . . I talked to Cynt more the first month than I did per year, or five years, than I did in the past, because I was focused on basketball. And I don’t care what anybody writes. I don’t care what anybody thinks. I don’t care what anybody says. Anybody who watched and was there, recognized it.

Cuban clearly trusts Marshall to run the organization well. But he also trusted the previous regime to run the organization well, and look how that turned out.

I hope Cuban talking to Marshall daily creates the appropriate level of accountability. I hope Cuban is correct that the Mavericks’ problems are behind them.

But a new problem – the continued employment of a team photographer accused by multiple women of sexual harassment – arose under Marshall’s watch. The photographer, Danny Bollinger, was still travelling with the team and fired only after his accusers – felt unheard by the Mavericks – went public.

That creates plenty of questions about whether the appropriate mechanisms are in place to protect employees.

Cuban and the Mavericks must prove much more before deserving the benefit of the doubt this is behind them.