NBA Power Rankings: Memphis hangs on but Spurs, Heat charging

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If you ask me who was the best team in the NBA was last week, well, it was Denver. But they are fully capable of a winless week now, so we leave Memphis in the top spot this week. And Washington is still trying to find a win and a way out of the cellar (it will take more than one win).

source:  1. Grizzlies (9-2, last week ranked No. 1). Their loss came to a red-hot Nuggets team and they bounced back with a win showing the Lakers — and co-owner Justin Timberlake who was courtside — where the best team in the West is playing right now. You can pick apart things like their defensive rebounding, but they are still playing better than anyone.

 

source:  2. Spurs (11-3, LW 4). Tough loss to start last week but rebounded to start a six-game road trip 3-0 with wins over Boston, Indiana and Toronto — and those three wins are without Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson. Should be fun game against the Heat Thursday.

 

source:  3. Heat (10-3, LW 5). The schedule maker gave the Heat some early-season rest — just two games last week then four-days off until they play again Thursday (against San Antonio). They have time to get their Christmas shopping done early, but you know Mario Chalmers is going to wait to the last minute then try to be the hero.

 

source:  4. Thunder (10-4, LW 6). We’ve been waiting for the Thunder to look like the Thunder, and we saw it last week against the Clippers. But they are doing that despite playing some pretty weak defense the past week or so. That’s a trend that can’t continue.

 

source:  5. Clippers (8-5, LW 3). Their schedule was a test last week — Spurs, Thunder, Nets and Hawks — and they came out 1-3. They lost because their offense took a night off one night and then their defense did the same another. Jamal Crawford has hit a cold streak and the Clippers offense can’t really afford that. But have played the toughest schedule in the NBA so far, so we cut them some slack.

 

source:  6. Knicks (9-3, LW 2). The Knicks defense, particularly on pick-and-rolls and in up-tempo situations, was exposed last week when they gave up 114 points to the Mavericks and 131 to Jeremy Lin and the Rockets. The big battle of New York against the Nets is Monday, and Deron Williams can run the pick-and-roll, too.

 

source:  7. Hawks (8-4, LW 15). They are on a five-game winning streak having taken advantage of a soft spot in the schedule (Kings, Magic, only good win was over the Clippers who were on the second night of a back-to-back). That continues this week with only Charlotte and Cleveland on the schedule.

 

source:  8. Nets (8-4, LW 8). They played defense against the Clippers like they need to come the playoffs if they want to be a real threat. And doing it more in the regular season would be nice, too. Monday night showdown with Knicks should be fun, the rescheduled season opener wiped out by hurricane Sandy.

 

source:  9. 76ers (8-6, LW 9). With Andrew Bynum out until lord knows when, Doug Collins is just turning the offense over to Jrue Holiday, and that has been enough. For now. Defense and athleticism are getting them by but you feel like the bottom could fall out of this any time.

 

source:  10. Lakers (7-7, LW 10). Has there been a more up-and-down NBA team in the Association this season? Three wins by more than 20, but also some ugly losses. Lakers fans, and maybe their coach, seem to think the return of Steve Nash will solve these problems but he’s no cure all, especially to the erratic defense.

 

source:  11. Celtics (7-6, LW 11). They got a quality win last week against the Thunder and more importantly they had a couple games where they got good bench play — if they are going to climb the Eastern standings it will be on the back of the bench. Big tests against the Spurs and Thunder this week.

 

source:  12. Nuggets (8-6, LW 19).  The NBA’s streakiest team is hot again with a four-game winning streak that includes a victory over the Grizzlies. But until they play more consistent defense they will continue to be up and down. And you know that drives George Karl nuts.

 

source:  13. Bucks (6-5, LW 7). An 0-3 week (including a loss to the Bulls) and suddenly they look like a team that could find a way to let Chicago and Indiana hang close until those sides get healthy then steal the division away. They need to be better now. This is their window.

 

source:  14. Mavericks (7-7, LW 13). If you told Dallas they could be 7-7 without Dirk Nowtizki to start the season they would have taken it. But they have a lot of road games the next few weeks and unless Darren Collison starts to play more consistently they could start to fall down the boards.

 

source:  15. Bulls (6-6, LW 14). They went into Milwaukee, played some of their best defense of the season and got Carlos Boozer to show up for a night. They are right there in the Central division now and if they win it with Rose back it means a top-four playoff seed.

 

source:  16. Jazz (7-7, LW 16). I’m going to go out on a limb and predict a 1-3 week next week for the Jazz. Why? They are home for one game (where they are 5-0) and on the road for three more (where they are 2-7).

 

source:  17. Warriors (8-6, LW 18). Still not sold on them, but quality wins over the Nets and Mavericks last week and now they may get Andrew Bogut back come Saturday. By the way, I love watching Harrison Barnes play.

 

source:  18. Bobcats (7-5, LW 22). This record is a bit of a mirage — six of the seven Bobcats wins have come by four points or less and those bounces will eventually go the other way and even out. Still, they have as many wins this season as they did last season, so good on them.

 

source:  19. Timberwolves (5-7, LW 12). They got Kevin Love back early but that hasn’t ended a five-game losing streak. They need to get back to defending better and hold on for Ricky Rubio’s return without giving up much more ground.

 

source:  20. Trail Blazers (6-7, LW 20). They started a seven-game road trip on Sunday in Brooklyn (a loss) and making that swing without LaMarcus Aldridge will be the biggest test for this team.

 

source:  21. Rockets (6-7, LW 21). They got a headline win in New York, but really that feels hollow right now and all we can say is we wish the best to Kevin McHale and his family on the loss of his daughter.

 

source:  22. Pacers (6-8, LW 17). How do you fall in the rankings despite getting a couple wins? When those wins come against the Hornets and Wizards. Go ahead and argue the Pacers are a team built for the playoffs (big, physical, grinding with a good defense), you still have to get there.

 

source:  23. Suns (6-8, LW 24). They have their next five games on the road and that is where teams not playing good defense tend to struggle. Phoenix is 27th in the NBA in defensive efficiency.

 

source:  24. Magic (5-7, LW 25). Magic fans are happy to say they dodged the Andrew Bynum bullet, looking at his current knee injury. Okay, that’s short term (for now). But if you’re thinking that way, you rejected Brook Lopez and he is having a career year.

 

source:  25. Kings (4-9, LW 29). Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but the starting lineup of Aaron Brooks, Tyreke Evans, John Salmons, Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins is playing well. Problem is, no other Kings lineup really is.

 

source:  26. Pistons (3-11, LW 27). This is not a good basketball team, but if you want a silver lining maybe Andre Drummond is starting to find his way in the league. Think big picture with that one.

 

source:  27. Raptors (3-11, LW 26). Four straight losses — including a heart-breaker to the Spurs in double overtime — and now five of the next six games are on the road. Not a recipe for success. Especially if Andrea Bargnani has another 2-of-19 shooting night.

 

source:  28. Hornets (3-9, LW 23). You can blame injuries (Anthony Davis has played in half the team’s games due to a concussion and an ankle issue), and you can blame growing pains (see any part of Austin Rivers’ game). But still seven straight losses. That is not good for your ranking.

 

source:  29. Cavaliers (3-10, LW 28). Credit where credit is due — Jeremy Pargo has been better than we expected leading the Cavs offense with Kyrie Irving out. Still, they steam has one win in their last 9 games. Because while their offense isn’t good their defense is horrific.

 

source:  30. Wizards (0-11, LW 30). If it’s any consolation, they came a lot closer to a win last week… no, that’s not any consolation. But the good news is Nene has been a +31 through two games — when he is on the court good things are starting to happen for Washington. Just not enough of them yet.

USA’s 78-game international win streak ends at hands of Australia, Patty Mills, 98-94

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Gregg Popovich wanted his USA team to face some adversity. For them to be challenged and see how they’d respond.

He got his wish on a Saturday afternoon in Australia and has to be disturbed by the result.

Australia, behind a red-hot Patty Mills who finished 30 points and drained seemingly every big bucket down the stretch, tore up the USA defense and outplayed the Americans when it mattered most, beating Team USA 98-94 in an exhibition match in front of a raucous 52,000 people in Melbourne.

Team USA had won 78 consecutive games — including both friendlies and in international tournaments — before this loss. The last USA exhibition game loss was in the run-up to the 2004 Olympics (when the Americans took home the bronze).

The USA opens FIBA World Cup play in just more than a week, facing the Czech Republic in their first game on Sept. 1. The Americans enter that tournament as the favorites, but the combination of improved international play and a lot of elite American talent staying home has made the USA’s margin for error very slim. Teams such as Serbia have to see this result and gain confidence.

This loss comes just two days after

“They wanted it more than us tonight,” Kemba Walker said after the game. “Lesson learned for us.”

Those lessons include needing to clean up a defense that still has communication issues, and to find more consistent shot creation outside of pick-and-rolls with Kemba Walker or Donovan Mitchell.

Walker, who came off the bench to score 22, was clearly America’s best player. His ability to penetrate was the only thing all night that either forced the Aussie defense to collapse, or it allowed him to get space for a good shot. Donovan Mitchell, who finished with a dozen points including seven straight late in the game, was able to provide a little shot creation, but the Americans lacked much ball or player movement in this one. Harrison Barnes finished with 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

Popovich is clearly still experimenting with lineups and combinations, and that is the silver lining of this USA loss. This was not the American’s best foot forward.

But don’t take anything away from Australia, which played a physical and feisty game all afternoon. They put the ball more in the hands of Utah’s Joe Ingles and he responded with 15 points, seven assists, and he and Andrew Bogut set up the offense and were smart with their passes. Bogut finished with 15 points.

Team USA takes on Canada in a final exhibition game in a couple of days, before heading to China for the World Cup.

Report: Dwight Howard gave back $2.6 million in buyout with Memphis, what he will make in L.A.

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Dwight Howard will get his money, the full $5.6 million he opted into this summer. The man is getting paid.

The checks are just coming from two different teams.

To facilitate a move to the Lakers, Howard is giving back $2.6 million in a buyout with the Grizzlies — exactly how much he makes on a minimum contract with Los Angeles. From Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks of ESPN:

My guess is the Grizzlies will just take the cap hit this season to get Howard off the books.

This is exactly how this was expected to go down financially if Howard came to Los Angeles. The risk for Howard is he will sign a non-guaranteed contract with the Lakers — they can waive him for whatever reason, pay a small buyout fee, and Howard loses out on the $2.6 million.

That’s motivation for him to follow through on what he promised the team.

 

Former NBA, ABA coach Tom Nissalke dead at 87

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Tom Nissalke, who won coach of the year honors in the NBA and ABA, has died. He was 87.

Nissalke passed away at his home in Salt Lake City on Thursday after facing a “series of health-related problems” in recent years, according to the Deseret News.

He was the first coach of the Utah Jazz after the franchise relocated from New Orleans in 1979.

Nissalke was also an NBA head coach in Seattle, Houston, and Cleveland.

Nissalke got his start in the pro ranks as an assistant with Milwaukee and helped guide a team featuring Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to an NBA title in 1971. His work with the Bucks landed him a head coaching gig with the ABA’s Dallas Chaparrals. He led them to a 42-42 record in his first season and was named the league’s top coach.

He was hired the next season in Seattle but was fired after a 13-32 start. Nissalke then coached the Utah Stars and San Antonio before returning to the NBA with the Rockets. He won 124 games in three seasons with Houston, twice taking the team to the playoffs and the 1977 Eastern Conference finals.

Nissalke was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year after going 49-33 in 1976-77.

After retiring, he was active with the YMCA and worked as a radio analyst.

Nissalke is survived by a daughter, Holly, son Thomas Jr, and two grandchildren. His wife, Nancy, died in 2006.

 

How Dwight Howard convinced the Lakers to take a chance on him

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Laker fans Friday sounded like your friends after an ugly relationship and breakup, when you suddenly consider taking that person back. Laker nation took to Twitter screaming “ARE YOU SERIOUS? What are you thinking? Are you even thinking?”

The Lakers, however, are entering a second relationship with Dwight Howard with their eyes wide open — he will sign a non-guaranteed contract to be the team’s center (sharing duties with Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee). Howard will have to prove himself, on and off the court. The Lakers have leverage and can waive Howard and move on to Joakim Noah or someone else quickly if things do not pan out.

But how did it even get to this point? How did Howard — who did his annual summer media tour saying “I have changed, I am taking the game and my conditioning seriously, I just want a chance” and league observers shrugged because they have heard the same thing for years — convince the Lakers to roll the dice on him again? Shams Charania of The Athletic laid it all out.

Howard’s message to [Laker assistant coach Jason] Kidd and the Lakers was the same one he delivered to The Athletic in July from NBA summer league: He’s learned from the past several seasons, learned that, at age 33, he is simply one of the guys now. Howard believes he can contribute at a high level for any NBA team, but the eight-time All-Star also understands he has to focus on rebounding, defense, blocking shots, finishing around the rim and simply playing whenever he is asked… Kidd became convinced about Howard’s newfound awakening…

The Lakers then began setting workouts for free agents, and Howard traveled from Atlanta to Los Angeles on Wednesday. His meeting and workout with the Lakers was set for Thursday, but Howard went to the Lakers’ facility in El Segundo, Calif., on Wednesday afternoon for his own training session. The Lakers were surprised to see him, sources said, and many key decision makers were in attendance…

League sources said Howard had a convincing and emotional meeting with the players and Lakers officials, explaining how he had reached rock bottom a season ago and needed to find a new mindset in his life. On and off the floor. He was not the teammate he needed to be in playing for three teams in the past three years. He did not take the game seriously enough, he did not understand what was needed to turn the corner.

Howard has said all that before. Multiple times. To multiple teams and teammates. Maybe this time he has genuinely figured things out, but whatever he did and said was enough to convince the Lakers to buy in…

To a point.

One could argue — and I would make the case — that Noah would be a better fit on the court for the Lakers’ needs in terms of passing and defense, but he comes with plenty of risks as well (health, getting along with LeBron James, and how much he liked the nightlife as a Knick in New York and what that would mean in L.A.). At least with Howard, the Lakers mitigated that risk with the non-guaranteed contract. If Howard will not accept his role and is disruptive (as he has been in recent stops), if he is still eating candy like a bingeing 10-year-old on Halloween night, if he can’t stay healthy, the Lakers can waive Howard and move on. If the Lakers brought in Noah, they would have been smart to have the same non-guaranteed contract (if Noah would have signed that kind of deal).

For now the Lakers have their man, but he’s basically on probation. Howard has to prove in deeds everything he has said in words.