NBA Power Rankings: Western Conference dominates top spots

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We enter 2013 off a week where the two best teams in the East — Miami and New York — looked sloppy while the teams at the top of the Western Conference looked strong and took over the top spots in the weekly rankings.

source:  1. Clippers (25-6, Last week ranked No. 1). The win streak is at 17 in a row and if you’re asking me when it will end my guess is Wednesday, the second night of a back-to-back when the Clippers have to face a good Golden State team. They have the Warriors twice plus the Lakers on deck.

 

source:  2. Thunder (23-6, LW 2). The Christmas Day loss to Miami shows the Thunder where they need to get, but don’t read too much into a December game. Soft part of the schedule ahead with five straight very winnable games coming up for OKC.

 

source:  3. Spurs (24-8, LW 5). I don’t think people realize just how well Tiago Splitter is playing right now, he seems to have figured out how to play next to Tim Duncan. So Gregg Popovich is trusting him. He’s very efficient, with a PER of 20.2.

 

source:  4. Heat (20-8, LW 3). Sloppy lost weekend where they fell to Detroit (after leading by 17) and the Bucks. We’re going to see that this year from the defending champions, stretches where they take a mental vacation. It doesn’t mean much big picture.

 

source:  5. Warriors (21-10, LW 7). They are 11-2 against the Eastern Conference with wins over Miami and Atlanta, but both the losses are to Orlando. Golden State is in rest mode with two games in nine days, but both against the streaking Clippers.

 

source:  6. Knicks (21-9, LW 4). The next month is going to be a real test for New York — no Raymond Felton at the point and they soon will try to integrate Amare Stoudemire back into the rotation. They can come out of this stronger, but the best tests are not easy.

 

source:  7. Hawks (19-9, LW 8). Winners of four in a row, including quality wins over the Bulls and Pacers in that stretch. Their offense is going well with Lou Williams starting, taking over the Joe Johnson role. (Think Hawks fans are enjoying watching the Nets fall apart?)

 

source:  8. Grizzlies (19-8, LW 6). They are struggling of late because their offense is a mess — 29th in the NBA in the last 10 games (ranked in points by possession at NBA.com). Their defense is still strong but in their win over Denver Saturday they scored just 82 points.

 

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9. Bulls (16-12, LW 9). Derrick Rose is back practicing with the team but not doing anything involving contact. Target for his return is still after the All-Star break. Who the Bulls did get back is Richard Hamilton and Rip is good for their defense.

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10. Nuggets (17-15, LW 10). Want to place a bet on the team with the best record in January? Bet Denver, which after a lot of road games to start the season is home for 15 of their next 18.

 

source:  11. Pacers (17-13, LW 11). Third worst offense in the NBA, second best defense. That is enough to win more games than you lose, but they need Danny Granger back and Roy Hibbert to come out of his funk.

 

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12. Bucks (16-13, LW 12). Picked up a quality win over the Heat but then turned around a lost to the Pistons and Cavaliers. Another good defense, weak offense team but the Bucks are just more up and down than the Pacers.

 

source:  13. Lakers (15-15, LW 16). Winners of six of their last seven, and the only loss in there was the second night of a back-to-back in Denver. Still, Dwight Howard’s play looks a step slow. Give Pau Gasol credit for trying to do what Mike D’Antoni wants and being more of a stretch four.

 

source:  14. Rockets (16-14, LW 17). They lost a couple in a row at the end of the week but still look like a team starting to figure out who they are and how they can win games with this roster. James Harden should be an All-Star. Not so much with Jeremy Lin (although he has played better of late).

 

source:  15. Nets (16-14, LW 13). The Nets are 2-0 under P.J. Carlesimo, although that really has a lot more to playing the Bobcats and Cavaliers than it does the coaching. Carlisimo wants the job and knows winning a lot of games is the only chance he has.

 

source:  16. Timberwolves (14-13, LW 14). They have won six of their last 10 and I keep waiting for them to go on a little tear, but with six of their next eight on the road and no gimmies in the lot (don’t sell the Hornets at home short) I may be waiting a little longer. They have not found their groove.

 

source:  17. Trail Blazers (15-14, LW 19). The Damian Lillard show is about to go out on the road the next week with stops in New York, Memphis and Minnesota — all tough wins. But if the Blazers are serious about the playoffs those are the kinds of wins they need to be picked up.

 

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18. Jazz (15-17, LW 17). The home and home against the Clippers emphasized the home-road difference with this team — they could have won that at home with a couple breaks or a couple calls, but they couldn’t stay that close on the road. They are 9-4 in Salt Lake City, 6-13 outside it.

 

source:  19. Celtics (14-16, LW 15). Doc Rivers made an interesting point — previous Celtics teams played good defense all the time and didn’t let a stretch of bad offense hurt the other end of the floor. This team falls apart on defense when it has a bad offensive stretch.

 

source:  20. 76ers (13-15, LW 20). They are 1-3 on their road trip with a nice win in Memphis but little else to show. This week it gets tougher with the Lakers, Thunder and Spurs all on the road.

 

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21. Raptors (11-20, LW 23). They are 7-3 in their last 10 games because they have exploded on offense — 5.4 points per 100 possessions better than their season average the last 10 games and 8.8 better over their last five. DeMar DeRozan has put up points but it’s been the bench with guys like Alan Anderson and lately Kyle Lowry that have been key.

 

source:  22. Pistons (11-22, LW 25). Nice wins last week over the Heat and Bucks have them climbing up the rankings. You can credit Will Bynum with the Heat win as he was huge, but it was more of a team effort over the Bucks.

 

source:  23. Magic (12-18, LW 21). They have lost five in a row since Glen Davis went down with a shoulder injury. That’s no coincidence, they miss what Big Baby did on both ends, but particularly on the defensive side.

 

source:  24. Kings (11-19, LW 26). The owner Maloof brothers overruled their own front office and put DeMarcus Cousins back on the active roster. If you think those same owners will roll over and sign off to trade Cousins you will be sorely disappointed.

 

source:  25. Mavericks (12-19, LW 24). Getting Dirk Nowitzki back was not the answer, they have lost five in a row. Coach Rick Carlisle is so frustrated he’s threatening to suspend players, but it’s not like he’s got a deep roster of good replacements.

 

source:  26. Suns (11-20, LW 22). They are the losers of five in a row and the reason is they play no defense. They might outscore you now and again if someone gets hot, but they can’t stop anyone. They have the Thunder, Jazz and Grizzlies on the schedule this week.

 

source:  27. Hornets (7-23, LW 28). They looked so much better, so much more creative when Eric Gordon got back on the floor — through all the injuries and free agency fanfare people forgot this guy can flat out play. He and Anthony Davis will form a very good pick-and-roll duo by next season.

 

source:  28. Cavaliers (7-25, LW 27). They have certainly looked a lot better since Kyrie Irving’s return, but certainly not like a playoff team. Look for them to be sellers at the trade deadline with Anderson Varejao and C.J. Miles.

 

source:  29. Wizards (4-24, LW 29). The Wizards have turned to Shelvin Mack at the point… what more can I say.

 

source:  30. Bobcats (7-23, LW 30). The losing streak is up to 18 games with no clear end in sight. In case you’re curious I looked it up and the NBA’s longest losing streak ever is 26 (Cavaliers just two years ago, how could you forget?).

Kobe Bryant in Big3 next year? One league co-founder says yes.

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Ice Cube — the hip-hop legend, actor, and co-founder of the Big3 — knows Kobe Bryant, because he’s Ice Cube and everyone wants to know him. Cube has said every time he sees Kobe he tries to get the former Laker to join the Big3, and every time Kobe shoots him down.

But Friday, Big3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz said he expects Kobe will play in the league next year.

It was during a conference call to promote the Big3 title game (this Friday night in Brooklyn, and broadcast on Fox at 8p.m.). Myself and other media on that call did a double take (if you can do that on a phone call). Everyone else on the call from the Big3 let it die.

This came after last weekend when a reporter asked Stephen Jackson if Kobe could handle the Big3, to which Jackson offered to slap the reporter then basically begged Bryant to join the league

.Don’t bet on it happening.

First, Kwatinetz says a lot of things and has grand ambitions for the league, as he should, but what he says also should be taken with plenty of salt. This year more name stars did jump in — Amar’e Stoudemire, Nate Robinson, Metta World Peace — but Kobe would be another level (or three). The league would love to land him (or Kevin Garnett, or Paul Pierce) but so far that level of recent star has eluded the Big3. Someday that likely will change.

But not with Kobe.

Kobe was as well prepared for life after basketball as any NBA player ever can be. He’s got other interests and threw himself into those — he won an Oscar — plus has kept his toes in the NBA waters talking to and working out with young players such as Jaylen Brown. Also, he’s done a film breakdown series for ESPN. He’s spent more time with his family. All of which is to say, he may miss basketball but he’s got a full plate.

Ice Cube will keep asking Kobe, and one should never say never. But until Kobe comes out and says he’s in, don’t bet on seeing this happen.

 

Marcus Morris smoked marijuana to deal with anxiety while with Pistons

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When the Suns traded Marcus Morris to the Pistons, he called it “betrayal.”

It wasn’t that, but it’s also worth understanding why he felt that way – and what it means in a greater context.

Marcus signed a below-market contract extension to stay with his twin brother Markieff Morris in Phoenix. That was foolish, because it made Marcus more tradable – and the Suns dealt him. Marcus just didn’t understand enough about how the NBA operated.

Why did he make that error? At least in part because he was blinded by a very understandable loyalty to Markieff.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

When the twins were in high school, their house burned down with their family cat trapped inside. Their mother, Angel, moved them and their brother Blake into a small home in Hunting Park with their maternal grandparents, a tight squeeze for teenage boys who would grow to be nearly 6-foot-10. They lived in the basement and slept on a mattress, with no heat and a ceiling that was only 6½ feet high, which made it impossible for them to fully stand up. Yet they were grateful, because at least they had family who cared. Only one in 20 of their friends had a father around — the twins’ dad was nowhere to be seen, either — and their mother worked long hours so she could pay for their basketball shoes and something to eat at supper. The twins leaned on each other for companionship, solace and courage.

“We were just trying to survive every day,” Marcus says. “As a kid, it’s fun for a minute. You don’t see yourself in any danger. Once you become a teenager, you’re unprotected. Now you’re a target. If you’re wearing some Jordans, they’re coming for you. There were plenty of times I had to protect myself. You walk out the door every day looking around, watching your back, just trying to stay out of the line of fire.

“You see shootings, pistol whippings. One wrong decision, one wrong word, and it escalates so quickly into a full-blown war. It’s like that in Philly. You’re trapped in a box. Your opportunity is so small, so once a person gets ahold of something, they protect it with their life. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t lived it.

“We just walked out stressed all the time. I said to my brother once, ‘You know, this is no way to live.'”

The Morris’ situation is unique, but it’s not totally atypical. The black experience in America has always been subject to large amounts of violence. Redlining continues to keep black people in more violent neighborhoods with more poverty, worse schools and harsher policing – elements that continue the cycle.

Those stressors contribute to mental-health issues, and if the NBA – whose players are predominantly black – is concerned about mental health, it can’t ignore this greater context.

The Suns didn’t sound like they empathized. Marcus began his pro career in Houston, and it didn’t sound like Rockets general manager Daryl Morey – who doesn’t have the best track record of discussing mental health – knew how to relate to Marcus, either. MacMullan:

That summer, he refused to go to Houston for offseason workouts and wouldn’t answer calls from the Rockets’ staff. “[Rockets general manager] Daryl Morey is telling me, ‘You’re hurting your career,’ but I was thinking, ‘Well, you guys are hurting my career,'” Morris recalls. “I didn’t trust them. I didn’t trust anybody.”

The results weren’t better in Detroit, either. MacMullan:

Morris couldn’t sleep because his mind was racing all the time. The Pistons tried to make him feel welcome, but he wasn’t very responsive. He was often up all night replaying a missed shot or a mistake on the floor, and his play was suffering. He seriously considered quitting, but what would he do? Go back to Philly? That notion led to more anxiety, more stress. He tried sleeping pills. He smoked marijuana. Nothing granted him peace.

I’m very curious how this will be received. White coaches Steve Kerr and Phil Jackson admitted to smoking marijuana to help with pain after back surgeries, and people were generally understanding. Black player Larry Sanders – trying to cope with anxiety, depression and mood disorders – essentially got run out of the league for using marijuana and espousing its benefits.

White people get more benefit of the doubt on drug use. Physical pain is taken more seriously than mental pain.

Marijuana isn’t the answer for everyone dealing with anxiety and stress, because there is no single answer for everyone. But criminalizing marijuana – banned legally in many places and by the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement – isn’t the answer. The appropriateness of marijuana for NBA players should be explored.

Perhaps it will be as we remove the stigma around mental health. Players like Marcus Morris opening up about their issues is a huge step forward – and especially important one considering the NBA’s majority-black demographics.

It sounds as if Morris is getting far better help from the Celtics. I highly recommend reading MacMullan’s full article for more on that and how mental health and race intersect as it pertains to the NBA.

NBA rookies agree on little, but Trae Young’s shooting and playmaking supremacy comes closest

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You might see stories today about Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr.‘s peers picking him to have the best career among this rookie class. After all, he was the top vote-getter in that category in the NBA’s annual rookie survey.

But 87% of polled rookies chose someone else. That Carter’s 13% of votes led means only so much.

That was the story throughout the survey.

The leaders for predicted Rookie of the Year (tie between Suns’ Deandre Ayton and Cavaliers’ Collin Sexton), biggest steal based on where he was drafted (Timberwolves’ Keita Bates-Diop), most athletic (76ers’ Zhaire Smith) and best defender (Grizzlies’ Jevon Carter) each received less than 30% of the vote in their category. In other words, more than two-thirds of polled players picked a rookie other than the leader in each category.

The exceptions: best shooter (Hawks’ Trae Young at 47%) and best playmaker (Young at 35%). But even he didn’t get a majority of votes. Still, I appreciate many of his peers recognizing his passing ability. That’s his best skill, not the deep shooting that draws so much attention.

Report: Mavericks awaiting potential NBA punishment due to predatory work environment

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The Mavericks’ investigation into their predatory work environment is progressing more slowly than some expected.

The latest holdup?

Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News:

The investigation into the Mavericks’ front-office scandal remains in idle, awaiting input and possible sanctions from the NBA as well as ensuring that details in the investigators’ report are double-checked, sources said Monday.

The hope is that the results can be made public next week. But there is no firm timetable.

Hopefully, the Mavericks identify and fix problems in their organization. No employees should be subject to sexual harassment. That’s most important.

But there will also be a close eye on how the league responds, specifically whether penalties affect the team on the court. NBA fans won’t see the most significant changes in Dallas. Most Mavericks employees are out of sight, out of mind. But fans will watch the players perform, and forfeited draft picks or anything like that will draw more attention.