NBA Power Rankings: Spurs and Knicks movin’ on up

22 Comments

The first few power rankings of the year show the most volatility — we don’t have established patterns for teams and so if someone gets hot or cold for a few games there is no context yet to put that in. It’s Small Sample Size Theatre. The Magic are 2-0 but I don’t think they are good, the Nuggets are 0-3 but I don’t think they are bad. It’s just going to take time to see if that’s true.

But the NBA power rankings never stop, they are relentless march forward. So here are the week two rankings.

source:  1. Heat (2-1, last week ranked No. 1). LeBron James has picked up pretty much right where he left off — playing maybe the best basketball we’ve seen since Jordan. One loss this week was on an emotional night in New York so we let it slide, Ray Allen is hitting threes and this is still the best team in the land.

source:  2. Spurs (3-0, LW 7). The Spurs are very good in the regular season. Again. Shocking. And they got Manu Ginobili back on Saturday, so they should start to play better. Just don’t call them happy.

source:  3. Knicks (2-0, LW 11). Maybe the Knicks were playing with a lot of emotion for a home opener following Hurricane Sandy, but it’s still a win over the Heat. Followed a quality win over the Sixers. Carmelo Anthony at the four is working out well for New York, and we’ll leave the “what happens when Stoudemire comes back?” question for another day.

source:  4. Clippers (2-1, LW 4). Jamal Crawford’s tempo and scoring off the bench — combined with Eric Beldsoe’s play this season — is making the Clippers second unit tough to deal with. And they are still without Grant Hill or an in-shape Lamar Odom. This may be the NBA’s deepest team.

source:  5. Pacers (2-1, LW 8). The Pacers offense has been sluggish without Danny Granger in the lineup (and Gerald Green in his place), but they are getting by with defense and balanced scoring. Paul George has put up some nice numbers (14 points, 13 rebounds a game) to start the season.

source:  6. Thunder (1-2, LW 3). It’s going to take a while to adjust to not having James Harden dishing the rock and leading the second unit. That said, don’t think the early chemistry questions will last. This team is just fine. And Durant is starting to develop as more of a point forward, the man can pass the rock.

source:  7. Grizzlies (1-1, LW 9). Welcome to new owner Robert Pera. He’s going to bring change, but unless he brings a steady outside jumper I’m not sure he can keep this team keep winning this season.

 

source:  8. Celtics (1-2, LW 5). The should-be-improved bench of the Celtics has been unimpressive through the first three games. Jeff Green dominated the preseason but started out the regular season looking like Jeff Green. Small sample size alert, this unit should get better.  The other issue is they have to figure out how to defend when Kevin Garnett sits.

source:  9. Bulls (2-1, LW 13). They are exactly what we all expected sans Rose — Chicago is defending like beasts but struggling to score. They seem to have no threat from three and the starters are struggling to stretch the floor. But they win games.

 

source:  10. Nets (1-0, LW 10). They won their home opener. Nice, but not going to read much into it. There are much bigger things to worry about in the city right now anyway.

 

source:  11. Bucks (2-0, LW 17). The question has been where would the offense come from? The answer is Brandon Jennings, who has had 13 assists in both Bucks games, he dropped 21 on Boston and hit the game winner over the Cavaliers. Monta who?

 

source:  12. 76ers (1-1, LW 12). Despite Jrue Holiday’s best efforts, the offense has been unimpressive to start the season in Philly. Meanwhile, nobody speaks of Andrew Bynum lest his knee have another setback.

 

source:  13. Mavericks (2-1, LW 16). Dallas has scored without Dirk Nowitzki thanks to Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo and some balance. We’ll see how long they can keep that up, but the answer is at least a week. If they can hold on until Dirk gets back they are tough to keep out of the playoffs.

 

source:  14. Lakers (1-3, LW 2). They looked strong against Detroit, but can they continue that against a better Jazz team this week (then the Kings and Warriors). No Steve Nash for a few weeks and the Lakers bench has been a disaster. The roller coaster is far from over at Staples Center.

source:  15. Warriors (2-1, LW 18). That Brandon Rush injury was a punch to the gut, we will see how they respond. But we also saw both Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut on the court making plays, and that’s a good thing in the Bay Area.

 

source:  16. Blazers (2-1, LW 20). Damian Lillard, ladies and gentlemen. He has averaged 21.3 points and 9 assists a game in his first week in the NBA — and that was against Steve Nash, Russell Westbrook and Jeremy Lin. This week it’s Chris Paul and Tony Parker. Enjoy.

source:  17. Rockets (2-1, LW 21). So, maybe that James Harden guy is pretty good. That said the Blazers held him in check (8-of-24 shooting) and you can bet defenses will be targeting him, which means Jeremy Lin and others will need to step up.

source:  18. Timberwolves (1-1, LW 19). The injury bug is becoming a plague in Minnesota, where J.J. Barea suffered a concussion and joins Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love on the sidelines. Are you ready for the Alexey Shved show?

source:  19. Nuggets (0-3, LW 6). Wow the Nuggets have looked bad. One week, no panic button hitting in Denver, but it is a little stunning how bad they have looked on both sides of the ball. Losing to a Heat team that wants to run is one thing, but Orlando and a depleted Sixers squad? Ugh.

source:  20. Jazz (1-2, LW 14). Paging Derrick Favors, this is the year you step up and start to lead this team, not slide into the background. Mo Williams and Paul Millsap look good, but the Jazz didn’t look good in two road games so far.

source:  21. Magic (2-0, LW 29). Biggest surprise of the week — two wins, both by double digits, with Glen Davis and J.J. Redick putting up numbers. Yes it’s a small sample size but they are balling for Jacque Vaughn.

source:  22. Hawks (1-1, LW 15). Jeff Teague looked good in the first week, and not only when dunking on Durant — 15 points and 6 assists per game, shooting 59 percent. Tough week ahead for the Hawks with the Pacers, Heat and Clippers on the schedule.

source:  23. Hornets (2-1, LW 27). Impressive wins over the weekend against the Bulls and Jazz without Eric Gordon and with Anthony Davis playing only one half of one of those games. They can’t keep it up, but Monty Williams gets his guys to play hard.

source:  24. Cavaliers (1-2, LW 24). Kyrie Irving looks improved from last year’s Rookie of the Year campaign, and Anderson Varejao averaged 13.7 points and 15 boards a game last week. After that things drop off steep and far.

source:  25. Raptors (1-2, LW 22). Overlooked in the player of the week talk — Kyle Lowry and his 23.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 7 assists per game. He and DeMar DeRozan make a nice backcourt. As for the front court… not so much.

source:  26. Bobcats (1-1, LW 30). They are out of the cellar and deservedly so, beating the Pacers in their season opener. And now they may have Ben Folds Five as a house band. Things are looking up.

source:  27. Suns (1-2, LW 28). They had one of the uglier losses of the week to the Magic (without Jameer Nelson or Hedo Turkoglu). Their defense isn’t bad but it turns out Michael Beasley is an inefficient scorer. Who knew? (Oh, everyone.)

source:  28. Kings (0-3, LW 25). Look for things to turn around a little with Sacramento having a lot of home games the next three weeks, but even DeMarcus Cousins hasn’t looked good the first few weeks.

 

source:  29. Pistons (0-3, LW 23). This pretty much sums up the season so far: Rodney Stuckey is 1-of-23 shooting. And if you look ahead for the next week or so on their schedule you see two games against the Thunder, plus the Nuggets and Rockets. Not good.

source:  30. Wizards (0-2, LW 26). As expected, with John Wall and Nene out their offense has been a mess, and Bradley Beal (2-13 overall, 0-7 inside the arc) hasn’t been a help. It’s going to be a rough start to the season.

Australian NBL pumps breaks on report LaMelo Ball has bought a team

Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It was a stunning headline, especially considering LaMelo Ball is just 18:

He bought a team in the Australian National Basketball League, specifically the Illawarra Hawks, the team he played for some last season. It’s an insane story.

And it’s not quite true. At least not yet. The NBL released a statement that pumped the breaks on the idea of a sale to Ball and his manager, Jermaine Jackson. Part of the statement reads:

“The league can confirm LaMelo Ball and his management had discussions about being involved with the club while he was playing in the NBL last season. At this point we are continuing to work with current licence holder Simon Stratford on a number of options for what we hope will be a fruitful outcome for Illawarra and the NBL.

The NBL has final approval on any transfer of licence and no application has been made to date. The NBL has no further comment at this stage.

Did LaMelo and his manager jump the gun? Or, is this a negotiating ploy by the NBL and Stratford to get more money by jacking up the price on a sale?

Those two follow a host of other questions, including what percentage of the team would Ball and his manager own? What would their involvement be?

Ineligible for college stateside, Ball chose to play in Australia under the NBL’s Next Stars program. It worked, he’s projected to be a top-five, maybe top-three pick. He left the NBL after suffering a season-ending foot injury, although that came under a cloud of criticism from Hawks owner Stratford.

The ultimate revenge would be to buy the team, if that is actually happening.

Doc Rivers’ reaction when Clippers traded for Lou Williams, “I was not having Lou”

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lou Williams is integral to the Clippers’ title dreams.

Since coming to the Clippers, he has averaged 20.6 points a game off the bench, twice winning Sixth Man of the Year, and his pick-and-roll with Montrezl Harrell is as smooth and dangerous a combo as there is in the league. Come the playoffs, while teams are trying to deal with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Lou Williams will be a change of pace scorer with a second unit that can quickly tilt the game towards Los Angeles.

But when Williams first got to the Clippers, Doc Rivers was not thrilled.

Rivers talked about Williams on The Bob Ryan and Jeff Goodman Podcast (hat tip SI).

“When we traded for Lou, I was not having Lou,” Rivers said. “I saw a guy that kept getting traded. And I appreciated his offense, but not nearly, never thought it was this good… When he finally showed up three days before training camp, I was not having him. I was like, ‘We’re not gonna work’, you know?..

“I brought him up in the office and I told him my feelings,” Rivers said. “I said, ‘Lou, you’re one of these guys that wanna do whatever you wanna do, and you don’t want to buy-in. We asked everybody to come in. Everyone did except for you… I don’t know how this is gonna work.’ And he said, ‘I’ve been traded five years in a row. Why would I buy-in to you?’, and I didn’t have an answer.”

Both Williams and Rivers have bought into each other now. Williams has control of the offense when he is in and Rivers said he just wants Williams to “be in the right place” on defense. That defense leads to issues playing Williams at the end of big games, but used as a scorer Williams is tough to deal with.

He can still get buckets with the best of them.

 

For NBA coaches, the new game is a waiting game

David Berding/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MIAMI (AP) — Orlando’s Steve Clifford figures he’s like every other NBA coach right now: Wake up, go to whatever now serves as the office, study his own team, maybe think about possible opponents, and resume planning.

Of course, nobody knows what they’re planning for — or when these plans will get used.

A stoppage in play doesn’t mean vacation time has arrived for NBA coaches, especially those like Clifford in position to take their teams to the postseason — assuming this pandemic-interrupted season is able to resume. They’re all spending more time at home, not able to run practices, but none seem to be sitting idly either.

“Not knowing the restart date is the toughest challenge professionally,” Clifford said. “Obviously, we’re all limited in what we can do, and basketball takes a back seat right now to family and health. But I will say this: When I talk to our guys, the one common question that comes up is ‘When do you think we can start again?’”

And that’s a question with no answer. The waiting game is the only game in town right now.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was coaching the fourth quarter against Charlotte on March 11 when the NBA announced it was suspending the season, a move made once it became known that Utah center Rudy Gobert was the league’s first player to test positive for COVID-19. Spoelstra found out right after the final buzzer, as he walked to the Heat locker room.

He instantly realized that losing to the Hornets that night didn’t ultimately matter much. Spoelstra and his staff are holding Zoom meetings every other day, but he’s also enjoying the benefits of time away — getting more time with his two young sons, his wife and grilling for the family most nights — and is emphasizing to his coaches and players that this is a time to help those less fortunate.

He’s checking the news as well, on a limited basis.

“My routine is checking after dinner, and I usually get on my computer, watch a little bit of what’s going on,” said Spoelstra, who often wears a T-shirt emblazoned with “Stay Positive” and like many coaches he taped a video telling fans the importance of hand-washing and other precautions. “So, I’m staying abreast of the current status of things, but I definitely do not try to start my day that way and I do not obsess about it during the day.”

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle also went the video-message route, doing one for the going-stir-crazy crowd to demonstrate his “Balance, Balance, Shot Drill” that allows players to work on their shooting form even when they don’t have access to a court or a rim.

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan took advantage of downtime to appear on a virtual coaches clinic, and had a safety message for those who attended — online, of course — before spending about an hour breaking down his philosophy.

This is the first in-season stoppage of its kind in NBA history, but Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer is equating the unknown — in terms of when the next game will be — to what the league went through with lockout-shortened seasons in 1998-99 and 2011-12.

His message to his staff: Things may be slow now, but when the suspension ends the pace of everything will be frantic. So while some projects like things in the video room and breakdowns of his roster are being tackled, Budenholzer is also having staff get ready for potential playoff opponents with a first-round series against either Brooklyn or Orlando likely for the NBA-leading Bucks.

“Things happen really fast, whether it’s three games in three nights, or playoff series are shorter or the time between the end of the regular season to the first playoff game, everything can be shorter or can happen quicker,” Budenholzer said. “We can put a little bit of money in the bank now with preparation for first round but also if you go a little bit deeper, the East.”

For 30 teams, 30 coaches, there’s many ways to spend the down time.

And they all know that they’re in the same boat — waiting and wondering.

“It’s hard for all of us,” Clifford said. “It’s hard to set a plan for yourself that will have you ready. But that’s the parallel, not just for us, but for everyone around the world no matter what profession that you’re in.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci was a high school point guard

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

You know Dr. Anthony Fauci as the guy trying to inject facts and reason-based decisions into the federal government’s response to the coronavirus epidemic. You’ve seen him, the guy with the Sisyphean task of standing behind President Donald Trump at press conferences and not reacting with shock or disgust.

It turns out he was a high school baller.

In a profile of Fauci, the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen wrote about Fauci the high school point guard, who led his 1-16 team to a win against Fordham Prep, led by future Knicks executive Donnie Walsh.

Classic point guard, excellent ballhandler, pesky defender. Six of his classmates and teammates described him as a tenacious competitor in short shorts and striped socks whose feistiness on the court defied some parts of his personality and reflected others.

That sounds like a young version of the person he is now.

Dr. Fauci is one of the people the NBA is listening to as it tries to figure out if or when the league can re-start and what its next steps might be. Right now, all of that is beyond the NBA’s control and more in the hands of the rest of us and whether we as a society follow Dr. Fauci’s suggestions.