NBA Power Rankings: Clippers in top spot, which is close to Mayans being right

7 Comments

It’s not the end of the world in a classic way, or even in a “Michael Stipe feels fine” kind of way, but the Clippers being on top of the PBT power rankings are as close to the end of the world as we are getting this week.

source:  1. Clippers (21-6, LW 2). Winners of 13 in a row, but let’s be honest not against the toughest of competition (last week it was the Pistons, Hornets, Kings and Suns). The biggest test in the streak was the Bulls, although Christmas and the Nuggets should be entertaining.

source:  2. Thunder (21-5, LW 1). The Timberwolves snapped the Thunder’s 12-game winning streak, but that was a combination of a good Minny team and a back-to-back. Call it a schedule makers loss. The Clippers top the power rankings this week, but the road to the finals in the West still goes through Oklahoma City.

source:  3. Heat (18-6, LW 4). If you had a Christmas wish for the Heat what would it be? Better play out of Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony? Mario Chalmers to find his three-point touch again? There just isn’t much, they are pretty set. Looking forward to the Christmas day finals rematch.

source:  4. Knicks (20-7, LW 3). Losses at home to Chicago and Houston, in part because their three-point shooting has started to tail off. You knew that would start to come back to earth. But they should get a lot of good looks from three against the Lakers on Christmas Day (have you seen L.A.’s defensive rotations?).

source:  5. Spurs (21-8, LW 5). For Christmas Gregg Popovich asked Santa to keep Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker healthy. Santa looked at Popovich and asked, “Do you really think you’ve been good?”

source:  6. Grizzlies (18-7, LW 7). For Christmas Santa is bringing the Grizzlies and John Hollinger a super computer with a lot more computational power. They’re going to need it.

source:  7. Warriors (18-10, LW 6). They have become my “League Pass favorite” this year — the team I make sure I don’t miss just because I think they are fun to watch play. But the losses to the Lakers and Kings last week were pretty ugly.

source:  8. Hawks (16-9, LW 8). Beat the Bulls but lost to the Thunder and Sixers last week. Still not sold on this team totally but moving Lou Williams into the starting lineup seemed to pump up the offense this week.

source:  9. Bulls (15-11, LW 9). Bulls fans are not getting Derrick Rose back for Christmas, that is going to be more like on Multiple Personality Day (March 5). Maybe they could get some consistent bench play instead, that would be nice.

source:
10. Nuggets (15-13, LW 13). Their three point shooting got a lot of headlines this week with a dreadful 0-22 night, but it is their inconsistent defense that really holds back their running and winning.

source:  11. Pacers (16-12, LW 17). They have won six out of seven. It hasn’t been pretty, but they have win six out of seven. Santa can bring Pacers fans patience as they wait for the return of Danny Granger.

source:  12. Bucks (14-12, LW 11). They are 14-12, but their point differential suggests they should be 12-14. That will catch up with them.

source:  13. Nets (13-12, LW 12). They can run iso sets, flex offense sets, or just pure anarchy on offense, it doesn’t matter if they don’t defend well. And the Nets don’t defend well (21st in NBA in points allowed per possession). Also, when the Knicks came to Brooklyn it sounded like a rivalry in the arena, when the Nets went to Manhattan Knicks fans were bored with them.

source:  14. Timberwolves (13-12, LW 14). They were 1-3 last week, but that one win was a nice one over the Thunder. Their offense should bet better with Ricky Rubio starting to get more minutes, but their solid defense this season is why they are over .500.

source:  15. Celtics (13-13, LW 10). They should get Avery Bradley back soon and that’s good for the defense, good for moving Jason Terry back to the bench as a sixth man, but it is not a cure all. This team has lost four of five and frankly may be ranked too high here.

source:  16. Lakers (13-14, LW 16). If you can have an unconvincing four-game winning streak, the Lakers have it. They have Steve Nash and Pau Gasol back, but Dwight Howard is clearly still bothered by his back and not his old self.

source:
17. Rockets (14-12, LW 19). As I write this the Rockets are the six seed in the West. But you look at the teams below them in the west and you see a Denver team through the hard part of its schedule, a now healthy Timberwolves team, a now healthy Lakers team, plus Dallas that just got Dirk Nowitzki back. It’s going to be a challenge to hold on to that playoff spot.

source:  18. Jazz (14-14, LW 15). The Jazz asked Santa for the ability to play all their games at home this season. David Stern pre-empted Santa (he has that much power) and told them no.

source:  19. Trail Blazers (13-13, LW 20). A team that got Damian Lillard in its stocking last June can’t be greedy asking Santa for much. But expect them to ask other teams for a rebounding/defensive big to pair with Aldridge anyway.

source:  20. 76ers (13-15, LW 18). They have lost six straight games on the road and this week they continue their road-heavy stretch with games at Memphis, Golden State and Portland. You do the math.

source:  21. Magic (12-15, LW 22). Credit where credit is due — I thought the Magic would be one of the NBA’s very worst teams but they have scrapped and clawed on defense to the point they are a top-10 defensive team and that is keeping them in games Jacque Vaughn isn’t going to win coach of the year but nobody is doing a better job than him.

source:  22. Suns (11-16, LW 23). If you want to get some good details on the state of the Suns, you need to listen to the PBT Podcast this week where Brett Pollakoff talks with Jared Dudley.

source:  23. Raptors (9-19, LW 25). Won five in a row, against soft competition but they are doing it at both ends of the court during that stretch. Dwane Casey really has them playing well again on defense. Too bad about Jonas Valanciunas who had been playing better.

source:
24. Mavericks (12-15, LW 21). Dirk Nowitzki is back. Which is good because this team has lost six of seven and in a Western Conference where they are currently a 12 seed they are going to have to get hot just to make the playoffs.

source:  25. Pistons (9-21, LW 24). Note to Lawrence Frank: Yes Andre Drummond is a rookie and makes mistakes, but just play the guy. A lot. That is how you develop him, let him learn some lessons the hard way.

season-on-top-bobcats-in-cellar/kings-mini/” rel=”attachment wp-att-211383″>source:  26. Kings (9-18, LW 26). Keith Smart was essentially hired because he got along with and could in theory bring the most out of DeMarcus Cousins. The fact Cousins is now suspended because of an argument with Smart speaks to Cousins’ maturity more than Smart’s odd rotations.

source:  27. Cavaliers (6-23, LW 27). With Kyrie Irving back they are capable on any given night of beating any team in the NBA. They are also capable of losing to any team thanks to that bench.

source:  28. Hornets (5-22, LW 28). They have lost 11 in a row, but they play the Bobcats on Saturday night and by league rules one team must win that game. We checked, David Stern can’t just deem both teams losers (although don’t tell him that).

source:  29. Wizards (3-22, LW 29). I’d say we’d start a John Wall watch, but he still seems a speck on the horizon at this point. They get Nene back and, don’t tell anyone, they are much better when he plays.

source:  30. Bobcats (7-20, LW 30). Lost 15 straight games and while coach Mike Dunlap is trying hard to teach players about being professional during the streak, but it is clearly taking a toll in the locker room. You can really feel it (I was in there after the heartbreaking Lakers loss last week).

Watch Kelly Olynyk’s game-winning putback with 0.2 seconds left for Miami

Associated Press
Leave a comment

All game long Miami owned the glass — the Heat grabbed the offensive rebound on 42.9 percent of their missed shots on Thursday night. That led to 16 more shot attempts and nine more free throws by the Heat than the Wizards on the night.

And it led to this, the game-winning putback from Kelly Olynyk with 0.2 seconds left.

 

Wizards fans need to admit it — they missed Dwight Howard inside (he is out with a butt injury, yes seriously). Without his presence (he’s still a quality rebounder), the Heat just outworked the Wizards on the glass and that ended up being the difference.

Three Things to Know: Will Lakers’ lack of shooting spoil more than LeBron’s debut?

Getty Images
1 Comment

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Lakers’ shooting clanks off rim, ruins LeBron James’ Laker debut. Will it ruin more? Since the day LeBron took his talents to South Beach the formula has been the same: Surround LeBron with shooters, including bigs so teams can go four out around him, space the floor and let LeBron carve up defenses and find those shooters. The result was eight straight trips to the Finals.

Magic Johnson sold LeBron on a different philosophy if he came to Los Angeles — fill the roster with other playmakers. “It takes the pressure off of him. He doesn’t have to make every play. That’s what wears him out, what wears him down,.. We’ve got guys that can make plays on their own so he can relax on offense some. And also, we’re a fast-breaking team, so we’re not just going to be throwing it down to him. We’re going to be out and running.”

In the Lakers’ first game, the lack of shooting was critical to their 128-119 loss. The Lakers were 7-of-30 from three in the game (23.3 percent) and 0-of-7 on corner threes. Brandon Ingram missed a couple wide-open corner threes early and was 0-of-4 from deep. Kyle Kuzma was 1-of-7, Lance Stephenson 0-of-3, Lonzo Ball 1-of-4. Throw in that the Lakers were 17-of-44 (38.6 percent) as a team on uncontested shots overall for the night (stat via Cleaning the Glass), and you have the portrait of a team that can’t knock down shots.

That lack of shooting proved to be an issue later when Rondo and Stephenson tried to initiate the offense but struggled to find passing lanes to cutters because defenders sagged off and dared them to shoot.

There were plenty of positives for the Lakers. That started with LeBron himself, who had 26 points and 12 rebounds on the night.

Also, the Lakers played fast and things worked when they did — 24.2 percent of Laker possessions started in transition and they scored a ridiculous 1.71 points per possession on those. Plus, they were just fun to watch at that pace.

But it was in the halfcourt that the offense bogged down (0.89 points per play). It wasn’t just the shooting that was a problem, the Lakers struggled on the glass (especially when they went small) and Portland grabbed the offensive rebound on 37.5 percent of their missed shots. The Lakers’ lack of continuity showed as well, particularly on defense.

Portland was rusty, too, but the Blazers shot 13-of-37 from three, 35.1 percent, which is not fantastic, but they made six more threes than the Lakers and that goes a long way to a nine-point win.

Magic compared this roster he and Pelinka built to Showtime and all the playmakers they had — and I’ll give him this, the roster the Lakers have now is fun. It’s entertaining. When they play fast you want to tune in, and they scored 70 points in the paint.

But the game has evolved since the ‘80s. Shooting matters. A lot. (And those Lakers had shooters, from Jamal Wilkes in the corner through Byron Scott, but we digress.) The Lakers are going to have better shooting nights than they did in Portland, but this trend of not shooting well enough likely is not going away and is going to cost them more in a deep West loaded with teams who like to bomb-away from three. The Lakers’ shooting is going to be an ongoing issue.

Next up for Los Angeles? Houston. The three-point disparity may be even worse… but that is going to be an entertaining game to watch.

2) Watch Miami’s Kelly Olynyk’s game-winning putback with 0.2 seconds left on the clock. Dare we say it: The Washington Wizards missed Dwight Howard in this one. A scrappy Miami team grabbed the offensive rebound on 42.9 percent of their missed shots on Thursday night and that was the difference in the game — including the game-winner from Kelly Olynyk.

Olynyk saves some of his best games for Washington. Remember Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Semifinals, when then-Celtic Olynyk went off for 26 points, 14 in the fourth quarter, to get Boston the win? Wizards fans do.

3) Markelle Fultz hit an in-rhythm pull-up three, and at that point the skies parted, a rainbow appeared, and angels sang. All game long Thursday, Sixers fans were imploring Markelle Fultz to shoot and to trust himself. Take the open shot.

Then this happened — Fultz’s first three as a Sixer.

That earned pretty much a standing ovation from the Philly crowd.

Fultz was 5-of-15 shooting on the night and was just 2-of-9 outside the paint — there is still work to do. A lot of it. But the fact that Fultz kept pulling the trigger and led the Sixers in shot attempts at 15 can be taken as a good sign.

There was one other interesting reclamation project in that game — Zach LaVine, coming off that torn ACL, dropped 30 points in a losing effort.

LeBron James dunks way to 26, but Lakers have long way to go, drop opener in Portland

Getty Images
5 Comments

The Portland Trail Blazers know who they are and what they want to do — they return mostly the same core players, led by All-Stars Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, still running Terry Stotts offense as they have for years.

The Lakers have LeBron James who scored 26 and grabbed a dozen boards… and a lot of other new faces. Too many of whom are not a threat from three and all of whom are still getting to know each other.

In LeBron’s Lakers’ debut, continuity and shooting won out.

Throughout much of the night, and especially when things tightened up late, Portland knew what it wanted to do and executed — it was Lillard time, he finished the game with a team-high 28 points. In contrast, too often the Lakers looked disorganized, particularly on defense. Their offense felt clumsy in the half court, with LeBron working to get guys involved more than just take over.

The Trail Blazers won the fourth quarter 35-28 and with it the game, 128-119, much to the delight of a raucous Portland crowd.

The Lakers are now 0-1 in the LeBron era. It’s just one game, but it showed that the Lakers have a long way to go to get to be the team they want to be this season — and it also showed the potential of what they can be.

“We had some good, we had some bad, which is to be expected in game one,” LeBron said after the loss. “I liked our fight to get back into the game when we were down double digits, I liked the way we competed at times, I liked the way we shared the ball at times as well.”

These new-look Lakers did what Luke Walton had promised — they ran, they attacked the rim scoring a ridiculous 70 points in the paint, and they moved the ball. The Lakers had 17 fast break points in the first half, this is a team that averaged 17.5 fast break points a game last season (LA finished with 34).

And Los Angeles dunked. LeBron got in on the fun and was throwing it down.

That, alone, does not win games.

The Lakers shot just 7-of-30 from three, missing a lot of quality looks from the corner and going 0-of-7 from there. Maybe in other games those start to fall, but concerns about the lack of shooting with the Lakers go back to how Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka constructed the roster, and that looked like a real issue on opening night.

LeBron also struggled to connect passes to teammates, he finished with six assists but turned the ball over on 18.8 percent of his possessions on the night. In the halfcourt, he let Rajon Rondo run the shot often (he had  13 points and 11 assists and was a +11 in 32 minutes, it was a good night for him).

“We had some turnovers, which I expected, just trying to get a feel for one another,” LeBron said. “We can do a better job.”

Portland, on the other hand, knocked down the kind of shots they struggled to hit against the Pelicans in the playoffs last April — they were 13-of-37 from three (35.1 percent). The surprise came from Nik Stauskas, who was 5-of-8 from three on his way to 24 points on the night.

Los Angles moved well off the ball and when LeBron got the rock at the elbow he found a lot of cutters. However, when Rajon Rondo or Lance Stephenson was initiating the offense, the Blazers laid back and took away passing lanes, daring the Lakers to shoot.

Some of the Laker youth showed promise — Josh Hart had 20 points and was 3-of-5 from three, Brandon Ingram had 16 points and Kyle Kuzma 15. However, they are still adapting to playing with LeBron, they often struggled from three, and like the entire team, they were up and down on the night.

There were flashes when the Lakers were running when you saw how dangerous this Lakers team can be with a roster full of unselfish playmakers — the Lakers ran on 24.2 percent of their possessions and they scored 1.71 points per possession on those.

But they are not yet the team they need to be — and on the road, against a Portland team that knows exactly who it is, that is not enough. Welcome to the Western Conference, LeBron, there are a lot of teams like Portland out there.

Ben Simmons triple-double, Joel Embiid’s 30 leads 76ers past Bulls 127-108

6 Comments

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Markelle Fultz heard 20,000 Philadelphia 76ers fans exhort him to shoot each time he touched the ball, a roaring confidence boost for a No. 1 pick closer to a bust than brilliance.

Fultz had the look he wanted in the second quarter. He dribbled to the foul line without a defender in his path, pulled up and uncorked a jumper. The ball rattled around the rim before it fluttered through the net.

Sixers fans rose to their feet, erupted in cheers and chanted “Fultz! Fultz! Fultz!”

Yes, a simple jumpshot from the top pick of the 2017 draft in the second game of the season was enough to get a rise out of the fans – and a sigh of relief from Fultz.

“It makes me feel better for the whole crowd to feel as good as I want to,” Fultz said.

The curious case of Fultz’s missing jumper continued against the Bulls when one of the more scrutinized players in the NBA managed to steal the spotlight from his more accomplished teammates with routine – yet highlight-reel worthy – baskets.

Until he gets his shot right, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid will continue to lead the Sixers.

Simmons had a triple-double with 13 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists and Embiid had 30 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Philadelphia 76ers past the Chicago Bulls 127-108 on Thursday night.

Fultz scored 12 points on 5 of 15 shooting, the most shots taken by a Sixer.

“He shot it to mean it,” coach Brett Brown said. “He didn’t look afraid of anything. He missed the shots but they looked good.”

Fultz is coming off a miserable rookie season that was shortened because of a right shoulder injury, a broken shot and busted confidence. Even his personal shooting coach said Fultz suffered from the “yips,” an assertion shot down on media day by the second-year guard. Fultz simply blamed his lost season on the injury. Brown tried to give Fultz a confidence boost by putting him in the starting lineup – yet has benched him for the start of the second half.

Fultz was 1 of 6 in 15 minutes in the first half and didn’t play again until late in the third and the Sixers leading by 88-68.

“The challenge is to grow him and help us win the game,” Brown said. “There’s no book that tells you how to do that, so you’re going to have to figure some stuff out. There will be some pain along the way and some positives.”

With or without Fultz, the 76ers had plenty of positives after an opening-night disaster in Boston.

Simmons reached a triple-double with 2:34 left in the third, the 13th of his career and the first Sixer to ever get one in the home opener. Sixers fans chanted “Trust the Process!” when Embiid ended the third with free throws.

Fultz proved a long-range ace again in the fourth – this time with a 3! He drained his first career 3-pointer for a 108-88 lead and the Philly fans that are firmly perched in his corner went wild and again chanted his name.

The Sixers know that if they want to become legitimate Eastern Conference contenders, Fultz will have to become the star they envisioned when they drafted him.

“I’m never afraid,” Fultz said. “I worked hard this summer. Tonight, I didn’t make a lot of them, but I’m going to keep shooting them. If I see an open shot, I’m going to go shoot it.”

He didn’t even mind when Chicago’s defense sagged off him, daring him to take shots. The Bulls, not expected to win much in the East, scored a combined 35 points in the second and third quarters. Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 30 points in their season opener.

“When we started missing shots, we stopped guarding and rebounding,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports