PBT Power Rankings: Heat start season on top, Bobcats in cellar

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It’s that time of year — the PBT’s NBA Power Rankings are back.

Power Rankings before a single game is played are admittedly a bit silly, but then again the NBA has playoffs to determine which team is best so really all power rankings are silly and just for the entertainment value. It would take a ridiculous system that would take writer’s votes before the season and have those influence who gets to compete for a championship… oh, sorry college football.

We start the season with the Heat on top and the Bobcats on the bottom, just as we ended last season. The records next to the teams are from last season.

source:  1. Heat (46-20). They are the defending champs, Dwyane Wade seems to be healthy again, they added Ray Allen (who found his stroke the last couple preseason games) and most importantly they have their identity now. Preseason was sloppy for them at times, but does anyone really care?

 

source:  2. Lakers (41-25). It may take them a couple of months into the season to really hit their stride with a new offense and new players in it, but by the first of the year they should be an offensive juggernaut. If they stay healthy. A lack of depth could hurt them some during the regular season (unless you’re a huge Jordan Hill fan).

 

source:  3. Thunder (47-19). Even with James Harden seven hours south (by car) in Houston, Oklahoma City is a threat. Exactly how big a threat this year will be determined in part by if Kevin Martin can bounce back to his form from before last season. Eric Maynor has to do more with the second team.

 

source:  4. Clippers (40-26). If you are looking for an MVP candidate to pull for outside the obvious of LeBron and KD, might I recommend Chris Paul. Look for him to have a monster year, even if it is a contract year. Also, much deeper Clippers team this year.

 

source:  5. Celtics (39-27). Jeff Green has looked great in the preseason, we’ll see if he can carry it over to the regular season. The added depth in Boston this season (Jason Terry leads the way) is going to help them during the regular season.

 

 

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6. Nuggets (38-28). My pick for the most fun team to watch this regular season, they are going to run and Ty Lawson is perfect for what they are trying to do (so extend him, would ya). Also, look for Andre Iguodala to have a monster year.

 

source:  7. Spurs (50-16). Every year we sleep on them, every year they are better than we thought. They slip a little for us to start the season because Manu Ginobili is out for at least the season opener.

 

source:  8. Pacers (42-24). Darren Collison is gone and George Hill is the guy at the point for a team that sees itself as a threat to Miami… except that Hill is banged up with a hip injury. And Danny Granger has been having knee issues. The Pacers were very healthy last season, which helped their cause.

 

source:  9. Grizzlies (41-25). Great news that new owner Robert Pera has been approved and is taking over the team. Not sure how that will trickle down to the court.

 

 

source:  10. Nets (22-44). Preseason didn’t make us think they were going to play any defense, which was the concern looking at the roster They play their official first game at their new home the Barclays’ Center in Brooklyn on Thursday. Against the budding rival New York Knicks. And the question is how many people there will be Knicks fans.

 

source:  11. Knicks (36-30). No Amare Stoudemire and probably no Marcus Camby to start the season due to injuries is not ideal, except that it moves Carmelo Anthony to the four spot and that is a good thing. I think as the season moves on you’ll see a lot of ‘Melo at the four with Tyson Chandler at the five. I think that could be a good lineup.

 

source:  12. 76ers (35-31). Andrew Bynum remains a question mark for the season opener, and maybe a little longer. The Sixers overcame that in the preseason and looked great, but things will be more difficult now.

 

 

source:  13. Bulls (50-16). The Bulls are going to defend, and a pretty soft schedule to open the season means they may be able to score enough to win. They will get off to a solid start.

 

 

source:  14. Jazz (36-30). Utah starts off the season with eight of their first 11 on the road and a gauntlet of Spurs, Grizzlies, Lakers and Nuggets. Still, the injuries in Minnesota and Dallas help their playoff chances.

 

source:  15. Hawks (40-26). This team is still better than people think — Josh Smith and Al Horford are one of the best front lines in the league. At least until trades start happening midseason. Their backcourt is another story, that could be a running experiment.

 

source:  16. Mavericks (36-29). No Dirk Nowitzki to start the season. No Chris Kaman. No Delonte West off the bench. So, a whole lot of O.J. Mayo, with Eddy Curry starting at center. It’s as bad as it sounds.

 

 

source:  17. Bucks (31-35). Welcome to the Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis experiment. Likely with Scott Skiles job hanging in the balance.

 

 

source:  18. Warriors (23-43). There’s a lot to like here when they are healthy, but Andrew Bogut hasn’t stepped on the court yet and when Stephen Curry did he tweaked his ankle again. I like Harrison Barnes though, if you are looking for a dark horse ROY candidate.

 

 

source:  19. Timberwolves (26-40). They played really good defense in the preseason… which is the preseason. If they can carry it over to games that matter and keep their head above water until Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio return, the playoffs are within reach.

 

source:  20. Blazers (28-38). Hey Damian Lillard, welcome to the NBA. Your first three games: Steve Nash and the Lakers, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder, Jeremy Lin and the Rockets. Have fun storming the castle.

 

source:  21. Rockets (34-32). Royce White’s beard and James Harden’s beard on the same team? New League Pass favorite. Now let’s see if they can run the pick-and-roll well with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

 

source:  22. Raptors (23-43). They looked strong in the preseason, but now they start with 15 of their first 22 on the road. We’ll get a sense if they can contend for a playoff spot in the East in the first few weeks.

 

source:  23. Pistons (25-41). Andre Drummond has been fantastic in the preseason paired with Greg Monroe. Add Detroit to the “teams that could be better than we thought” list.

 

source:  24. Cavaliers (21-45). I like Kyrie Irving. We all like Kyrie Irving. But once we get down the roster into Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters we’re all hesitant. Seems another rough year ahead in Cleveland with not a lot of offense.

 

source:  25. Kings (22-44). DeMarcus Cousins looked good in the preseason, except when he was launching threes. Still, the big question here is where does Tyreke Evans fit in? Or does he?

 

 

source:  26. Wizards (17-46). No John Wall, no Nene to start the season. That means no wins. At least not many with A.J. Price at the point and a lot of Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. We’ll see how Bradley Beal develops. I answer more Wizards questions here from friend of this blog Ben Standig.

 

source:  27. Hornets (21-45). Anthony Davis looked good in the preseason, as did the Hornets defense. Play like that now that the games matter and they will move up this list fast.

 

source:  28. Suns (33-33). Steve who? Michael Beasley has the green light and his coach thinks he may be passing too much. Going to be a long year in the Valley of the Sun.

 

source:  29. Magic (37-29). Jameer Nelson is solid and Glen Davis is… well, Big Baby. He’ll make some plays. But the Magic are about the future and that means Andrew Nicholson is the guy to watch.

 

source:  30. Bobcats (7-59). They are not going to be as bad as last season, if for no other reason then Michael Kidd-Gillchrist will hustle for 82 games. Think of them as just average bad now, not historically bad. Hey, it’s something.

Warriors facing elimination but undaunted entering Game 6

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HOUSTON (AP) — If the Golden State Warriors are worried as they head into Game 6 of the Western Conference finals on the brink of elimination, they aren’t showing it.

“We have a chance to tie the series at home. That’s a pretty good position to be in,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We’ve got to win two basketball games and we’ve done that an awful lot, so we’re very confident.”

The defending champions trail Houston 3-2 in the best-of-seven series after consecutive wins by the Rockets, capped by Thursday night’s 98-94 victory. Now the series shifts to Oracle Arena, a place where the Warriors have lost just one time in their last 17 playoff games.

Stephen Curry said the Warriors are encouraged despite falling behind in the series because they believe both games could have gone their way and that a few simple corrections will get them back on track.

“We have an opportunity to re-establish ourselves at home, get a big win, keep ourselves alive, and then roll the dice into Game 7,” Curry said. “Not all is lost.”

Houston’s big win in Game 5 was tempered by a hamstring injury to star Chris Paul which will keep him out of Saturday’s game. It’s a major blow for a team which is looking to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in more than two decades.

The Rockets believe they can absorb this loss and don’t seem daunted by the setback, noting that they found ways to win in the regular season in many games where Paul sat out with injuries.

“I don’t have a doubt,” D’Antoni said. “They see the challenge … whether CP’s there or not, it’s a heck of a challenge, and they’re up to it. They’re looking forward to it.”

James Harden, who has struggled offensively in the last two games and went 0 for 11 on 3s in Game 5, rolled his eyes when asked if Paul’s injury puts more pressure on him.

“Pressure for what? It’s Game 6 of the Western Conference finals,” he said. “There is pressure on everybody.”

While that may be true, the onus is on Harden to step up and deliver an MVP-caliber performance if the Rockets hope to close out this series. Harden has had plenty of playoff disappointments in the last few years and embraces the chance to get Houston back into the finals.

“It’s an opportunity that a lot of people never had and probably won’t ever have,” he said. “It’s our job to go out there and have fun with it and do the same thing we’ve been doing. We want to take advantage of it.”

While the Rockets will be down a starter, the Warriors could get one back if Andre Iguodala can return on Saturday. The Warriors have missed the defensive presence of Iguodala who has missed the last two games with a bruised left knee.

Iguodala is listed on the injury report as questionable for Game 6 and Kerr said he didn’t have an update on his condition on Friday. But he did address what it would mean to Golden State if he’s healthy enough to go on Saturday.

“He’s a great player,” Kerr said. “He’s one of our keys, and we’ve missed him the last two games. But we can’t count on it. Injuries happen, and you’ve just got to play with whoever’s out there. So we’re hoping he’s back, and we’ll see what happens.”

Iguodala’s absence has been magnified in this series that has morphed into a defensive slugfest instead of the high-scoring shootout that most expected when it began. The Rockets take great pride in the fact that they’ve limited Golden State to less than 100 points in the last two games and think continuing to play great defense is the only way they’ll advance.

“It’s something we talked about building up all year,” Houston’s P.J. Tucker said. “To see our defense now be as good as it is, we still think it could be a lot better. We watched film, and honestly … we didn’t play great defense last night. Everybody will talk about how good a defense we played, but we really don’t feel like that. So just keep working and trying to get better.”

Kerr said the experience of his team, which is trying to reach the finals for the fourth straight year, will be valuable as the Warriors try and climb out of this hole and force Game 7. He referenced the conference finals in 2016 when they fell behind Oklahoma City 3-1 before winning the next three to take the series.

“We’ve been here before,” Kerr said. “We’ve faced elimination on the road before – this team has – a few years ago. We faced series deficits before. We’ve won all of those series. Our guys have the ultimate confidence that we can get it done this time, too.”

PBT Extra: Pressure falls on James Harden, Rockets’ bench with Chris Paul out

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Chris Paul is out for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals with a strained hamstring, and that almost certainly will sideline him for Game 7 as well.

That changes the feel of this series.

The Rockets still just have to win one of the next two games to advance to the NBA Finals, and one of those is at home. However, without CP3 a couple of things need to happen. James Harden needs to find his shooting stroke. Gerald Green and the Rockets’ bench needs to step up. And Houston has to keep defending the way they have the last two games.

It’s not going to be easy (especially on the road in Game 6), but the Rockets still have a real opportunity to advance to the NBA Finals.

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

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There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

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What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.