NBA Power Rankings: Top spot goes walking in Memphis

14 Comments

Memphis has moved into the top spot in the poll this week, but notice the top three are teams we kind of expected to be on the second or third tier in the NBA this season. The question remains can they keep it up. Oh, and at the other end the Wizards still suck.

source:  1. Grizzlies (8-1, last week ranked No. 3). You don’t think they’re for real — they beat the Thunder in Oklahoma City and then knocked the Knicks from the ranks of the unbeaten last week. They beat the Heat this season. They have yet to lose at home this season. They are playing well at both ends of the floor. It’s all about as legit as it gets.

 

source:  2. Knicks (7-1, LW 1). They are 7-1 and its hard to knock much of what they are doing… especially the come from behind win in San Antonio this week (on a Carmelo Anthony off night). You can have concerns about their rebounding and how the Grizzlies picked apart their defense (don’t help off the cutter) but they look for real, too.

 

source:  3. Clippers (7-2, LW 6). They had an undefeated week, highlighted by a sound beating of the Miami Heat. The question coming into the season was defense and while it is very early the Clips have the second best defense in the league in points per possession, which is a drastic improvement. Keep it up and we’ll have to thrown them in the contenders mix.

 

source:  4. Spurs (8-2, LW 2). Manu Ginobili looked like his old self against the Nuggets over the weekend and the Spurs need that to continue. After a tough Monday night game against the Clippers they have a six-game road trip.

 

source:  5. Heat (8-3, LW 4). They have the second best offense statistically in the NBA this young season, but their defense remains 24th in the league. Expect it to improve but it’s something to watch.

 

source:  6. Thunder (8-3, LW 5). Their offense is destroying teams on the pick-and-roll, with the ball handler shooting 50.9 percent in that situation. Of course, it’s often Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant so…

 

source:  7. Bucks (6-2, LW 15). While you weren’t looking they went 3-0 last week. The Pacers are banged up without Danny Granger, the Bulls are banged up without Derrick Rose… could the Bucks win the Central division?

 

source:  8. Nets (6-2, LW 14). They have won five in a row but if you can do that and not be convincing that was the Nets. Tests against the Lakers and Clippers this week should give us a better read.

 

source:  9. 76ers (6-4, LW 8). Doug Collins referred to Nick Young as “swaggy.” I didn’t think Collins knew what that meant… actually, he may not. Oh, by the way, no Andrew Bynum until lord knows when so expect more up and down play.

 

source:  10. Lakers (5-5, LW 11). Their points per 100 differential — the difference between how many points they score and give up per 100 possessions — is fourth best in the NBA. Which suggests they are going to figure this out at some point. Nets and Grizzlies will prove challenges this week.

 

source:  11. Celtics (6-5, LW 10). They were 3-2 last week, continue to be sluggish, have a defense ranked 19th in the NBA and just are not clicking. Big tests against the Spurs and Thunder this week.

 

source:  12. Timberwolves (5-4, LW 13). Some tough losses last week, but Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love were on the court at walkthroughs and Minnesota continues to keep its head above water with its stars out. That’s all you can ask.

 

source:  13. Mavericks (6-5, LW 12). Elton Brand shot 49.4 percent last season, 51.2 percent the season before that, and is at just 35.8 percent this season. He’s still starting but got just 11 minutes last game and Troy Murphy is getting some of his run. Not good.

 

source:  14. Bulls (5-5, LW 7). They’re a .500 team without Derrick Rose… isn’t that pretty much what we all expected?

 

source:  15. Hawks (4-4, LW 17). They are playing better than their record indicates and if they can get Josh Smith back near the rim they might be less streaky. That said, soft schedule the next week (Magic, Bobcats, Wizards) should boost the record.

 

source:  16. Jazz (5-6, LW 19). It took a dramatic triple overtime game, but they got a win on the road in Toronto. Finally this weekend we got to see the Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Al Jefferson front line together… and they were terrible against an awful Wizards team. Don’t give up on it yet, Ty Corbin.

 

source:  17. Pacers (4-6, LW 16). Their defense is good, but the offense is the issue. The Pacers are shooting 33.2 percent on spot up looks, they lack Danny Granger to create in isolation (due to injury) and Roy Hibbert’s shooting (especially a few steps away from the basket, beyond 5 feet) has fallen off. They are a long way from looking like last year’s playoff team last year.

 

source:  18. Warriors (5-5, LW 21). They continue to be in the mix (if the playoffs started today they are the seven seed) and if they can do that until Andrew Bogut returns this may well be a playoff team.

 

source:  19. Nuggets (4-6, LW 9). Their 0-3 week has them pushing the Pacers for the most disappointing team out of the gate this season — and at least Indy has key injuries. Danilo Gallinari has lost his shooting touch and JaVale McGee is still the classic JaVale McGee, not the new and improved version the Nuggets though they were paying for.

 

source:  20. Blazers (5-5 LW 22). They are the winners of three straight now and part of that is some monster numbers from Nicolas Batum — he had 35 in the overtime win over Houston, then 21 against the Bulls. This is the Batum they need.

 

source:  21. Rockets (4-6, LW 18). Omer Asik is averaging 10.8 points and 12.8 rebounds a game so far this season. They need him to be more efficient, shoot a higher percentage, but he could be a good balance to the Jeremy Lin/James Harden backcourt.

 

source:  22. Bobcats (4-4, LW 24). If the playoffs started today they are the seven seed in the East. Give credit to Kemba Walker, who has taken a step forward this season scoring 18.8 points per game, although his 42.3 percent shooting overall and 16.7 percent from three is a concern.

 

source:  23. Hornets (3-5, LW 20). Three straight losses — mostly because their defense struggles, Anthony Davis or no — and now they get the Knicks Tuesday then four straight on the road as they swing West. It’s going to get tough.

 

source:  24. Suns (4-7, LW 23). They were 1-3 last week but against a brutal lineup (Nuggets, Bulls, Lakers and Heat). Still, Alvin Gentry is going to shake up the lineup and Marcin Gortat is not happy. It’s going to be a long, hot season in Phoenix.

 

source:  If you want some bright spots, Jameer Nelson is back and the ball movement looks better. Plus there was the dramatic fourth-quarter comeback against Detroit. It’s not much but at least their losing streak has ended.

 

source:  26. Raptors (3-7, LW 28). The one bright spot in Toronto last year is they defended, it was something to build on. Early this season they are 26th in the Association in defensive efficiency. Can’t build on that.

 

source:  27. Pistons (2-9, LW 30). They got two wins last week — and they came over Boston and Philly. So they move up out of the cellar. With the Magic and Raptors on the schedule this week even more wins don’t seem out of the question.

 

source:  28. Cavaliers (2-8, LW 25). Six straight losses and they have the worst defense in the NBA so far — they are getting destroyed on post ups and in isolation sets. The only bright spot tends to be Kyrie Irving and Jrue Holiday did a number on him Sunday.

 

source:  29. Kings (2-8, LW 26). Five losses in a row, all by at least 9 points. They had a team-only meeting already (the first of the season in the league, the one category you don’t want to lead in). I’d say its karma for the owners, but that’s not fair to a great fan base.

 

source:  30. Wizards (0-8, LW 29). This would be the second consecutive year the Wizards started 0-8. Yes, I know, no John Wall and no Nene, but still. Last season they won their ninth game (it would be against Indiana Monday this year) then lost five more. Something to look forward to, Washington.

Gordon Hayward does not plan to leave bubble for birth of son

Gordon Hayward birth of son
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

When Boston first went to the NBA restart bubble in Orlando, Gordon Hayward was upfront: He was leaving the bubble for the birth of his fourth child.

Hayward ended up leaving the bubble for another reason — he severely sprained his ankle and was out for more than a month. During his rehab, Hayward left the bubble and spent time at home, returning a couple of weeks ago. Saturday he played his first game back for Boston, helping it to a win against the Heat.

Hayward’s wife, Robyn, has yet to have their son, but now Hayward does not plan to leave the bubble for the event, something first reported by Rachel Nichols of ESPN during Saturday’s game.

Hayward confirmed this after the game. So did Robyn in a social media post, adding the reports she was in labor already were not true.

I don’t envy the Hayward family having to make this choice. As a parent, I can’t imagine having missed the births of any of my children, but, like everything else in 2020, this is far from a typical decision at a typical time. The Haywards are making the best of it they can. They deserve support no matter what they choose.

LeBron James, Dion Waiters’ son engage in a little trash talk

Leave a comment

“Yeah, right.”

That was Dion Waiters Jr.’s response to pretty much everything LeBron James during the Lakers’ practice on Saturday before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

LeBron was getting up some corner threes and told Waiters Jr. he would make 100 straight.

“Yeah, right.”

When LeBron missed one, “I missed that on purpose.” 

“Yeah, right.”

“I missed that on purpose, so you’d think I’m human,” LeBron joked.

Got to love Dion Waiters Jr. — he’s got some of his dad’s spunk.

Families have been allowed in the bubble for teams for a couple of weeks, although LeBron’s sons are not there, with LeBron saying it’s not a great place for kids (he’s right, for anyone over about 7 or 8, there would be little to do).

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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

On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game on Saturday night.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

Ja Morant thumb
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.