NBA Power Rankings: Thunder on top, but it’s close

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To be honest, you could have ranked the top three in this week’s PBT NBA Power Rankings and been fine. I’m giving the top spot to the Thunder this week because I think they’d beat the Clippers or Spurs in a seven game series right now. But not easily.

source:  1. Thunder (26-7, Last week ranked No. 2). They move up despite a sloppy loss to the Nets midweek. Their defense has been a little better of late which keeps them winning most nights. OKC has 10 of their next 12 on the road including an interesting game Friday night when they travel to L.A. to face Lakers.

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2. Clippers (27-8, LW 1). The win streak ended, but a back-to-back set of wins over the Lakers and Warriors show they aren’t going anywhere. If Chris Paul is not in your MVP conversations you are doing it wrong.

 

source:  3. Spurs (27-9, LW 3). Their offense has improved the last few weeks and that helps them continue to just rack up wins (except against the Knicks). Interesting games against the Lakers and Grizzlies this week, two dangerous but struggling teams who should be a little desperate against the Spurs.

 

source:  4. Heat (23-9, LW 4). They are on the road for their next six, but it is the end of the trip next week that gets interesting: Utah, Golden State then the Los Angeles Lakers on the second night of a back-to-back on national television.

 

source:  5. Knicks (23-10, LW 6). As Howard Beck of the New York Times said on the PBT Podcast, we’ve all stopped talking about how old the Knicks bench is but the next month — especially with Raymond Felton out — is when those old legs will get tested.

 

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6. Warriors (22-11, LW 5). Teams are no longer looking past the Warriors — notice how pissed the Clippers were after losing to them. Of course, the Clippers then took it out on them in a return match on Saturday. Not an easy week ahead with the Grizzlies, Blazers and Nuggets on the docket.

 

source:  7. Bulls (18-13, LW 9). We’re going to forgive them the ugly loss to the Bobcats, especially after the win over Miami on Friday. Note to a lot of teams: Notice how you can stay in games and win despite an inconsistent offense when you defend hard every night.

 

source:  8. Nuggets (20-16, LW 10). Still have 12 of next 14 at home and this week the only game they shouldn’t run away with is Golden State. Look for the Nuggets to make a push up the rankings in the coming weeks.

 

source:  9. Grizzlies (21-10, LW 8). Like the Bulls they continue to defend, but their offense has become so bad the last 10 games it hasn’t been enough some nights. They are scoring 96.6 points per 100 possessions the last 10 games, 29th in the NBA.

 

source:  10. Pacers (20-14, LW 11). Indiana went 3-1 last week and they are starting to figure out how to win without Danny Granger. It’s not pretty but they are figuring it out. If they get a healthy Granger back and some semblance of the good Roy Hibbert (who has gone missing), they become a dangerous team again.

 

source:  11. Hawks (20-12, LW 7). Some ugly losses last week — by one point to Detroit, by a lot more to Boston — and you have to wonder is this a glitch in a strong season, or a team with a hot start coming back to earth.

 

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12. Rockets (20-14, LW 14). They are on a hot streak — Jeremy Lin and James Harden are figuring out how to play together and the offense is off and running. Houston is going to be tested by a series of road games this month (10 of next 14) but they look like a playoff team.

 

source:  13. Nets (19-15, LW 15). P.J. Carlisimo is almost certain to be the coach the rest of this season — as Howard Beck of the New York Times said in the PBT Podcast, even if you bring in Phil Jackson you don’t install the triangle mid season. Carlisimo has the offense clicking again — sixth best in the NBA over the last five games — but their defense still stinks.

 

source:  14. Trail Blazers (18-15, LW 17). They beat the Knicks, Grizzlies and Timberwolves last week — that’s the kind of week playoff teams have. And Portland looks like it could be one, but they can’t have many slip ups in a deep, deep West.

 

source:  15. Bucks (16-16, LW 12). They were 0-3 last week and with five of their next seven on the road. Look for the Bucks to come back to the pack a little.

 

source:  16. Jazz (17-18, LW 18). They are an unimpressive 4-6 in their last 10 games and the reason is the offense, which has dipped four points per 100 possessions in that span from their season average.

 

source:  17. Celtics (16-17, LW 19). Stop talking about DeMarcus Cousins. Stop talking about DeMarcus Cousins. Stop talking about DeMarcus Cousins. Talk about Avery Bradley being back, winning a couple games and a five-game home stand coming up. Stop talking about DeMarcus Cousins. Stop talking about DeMarcus Cousins.

 

source:  18. Timberwolves (15-15, LW 16). The basketball gods are taking out their vengeance on Kevin Love and Minnesota — Love will be out another month plus with a broken finger in his shooting hand. If they make the playoffs after all this Rick Adelman should get coach of the year talk.

 

source:  19. 76ers (15-20, LW 20). They got a road win against the Lakers (doesn’t count as a quality win anymore). Jrue Holiday needs to have a strong couple of weeks if he wants to impress voters and make the All-Star Game (he could).

 

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20. Lakers (15-18, LW 13). They have lost three in a row and we have chronicled how bad their defense is. We’ve also written about how they need wins to stay in the playoff hunt, but the schedule for them this week is at Houston, at San Antonio and then hosting Oklahoma City. Rough patch.

 

source:  21. Kings (13-21, LW 24). Their offense has been a force for the past few weeks and that is winning them games — four of their last six. Now they get Tyreke Evans back and they have a five-game home stand. It’s a chance to build on that. Also, everyone please stop with the DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors. He’s not going anywhere.

 

source:  22. Pistons (13-23, LW 22). Andre Drummond is not going to win rookie of the year. But four years from now he may well be the second best player out of this draft class (still think Anthony Davis is No. 1) and some GMs are going to have to answer questions about passing on him.

 

source:  23. Raptors (12-21, LW 21). Coach Dwane Casey said that Ed Davis may well keep his starting job even after Andrea Bargnani returns — that’s the right move. The easy run of the schedule is over but good on the Raptors for playing better in that stretch.

 

source:  24. Mavericks (13-21, LW 25). Dirk Nowitzki is frustrated. He should be, look at that record. I still think Mark Cuban will eventually land a big star via free agency, but if he can do that during Dirk’s title window is another question.

 

source:  25. Magic (12-21, LW 23). They have yet to win a game since Glen Davis went down, 0-8. That says less about Davis and more about the drop off to the people behind him.

 

source:  26. Suns (12-23, LW 26). Suns fans need to read our own Brett Pollakoff talking to the Suns players about what a mess their offense has become.

 

source:  27. Hornets (8-25, LW 27). Eric Gordon has given this team a little spark, but remember that this is rebuilding process. Anthony Davis is up and down and it’s going to take him time to learn to defend on this level.

 

source:  28. Cavaliers (8-27, LW 28). Kyrie Irving had a 30-point game plus a game winner last week. Tristan Thompson has been solid with Anderson Varejao out. There, that’s it. That’s all the positive Cavs news I can think of.

 

source:  29. Bobcats (8-24, LW 30). They finally snapped the losing streak at 18, in fact they won two games last week. Both on the road. They are not going to finish with the worst record in the NBA this year, and that’s a start.

 

source:  30. Wizards (4-27, LW 29). They may get John Wall back in the next couple of weeks, that will help their anemic offense. However, even that may not stop Wizards fans from watching college basketball now, scouting Cody Zeller and Shabazz Muhammad.

Just a reminder: Spurs hope to repair relationship with Kawhi Leonard, offer-him $219 million

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It’s everyone’s favorite parlor game around the NBA: Where will Kawhi Leonard play next season? Philadelphia? Los Angeles? Somewhere else? Fans of 29 teams are posting their trade scenarios online, while GMs of 29 teams privately have tried to come up with offers that could tempt San Antonio.

The most likely answer: San Antonio.

While the relationship between Leonard and the Spurs is frayed — and with the people close to Leonard and in his ear seemingly trying to push him out the door — the Spurs would rather keep one of the five best players in the NBA (when healthy) in-house. From Tom Osbourne of the San Antonio Express-News.

Still, the Spurs hope to meet with Leonard and his representatives soon in a bid to mend fences and pave the way for Leonard to come to terms on a five-year $219 million supermax contract that he will be eligible to receive starting July 1. If attempts to patch up the relationship fail, the Spurs will be forced to explore trading a player coach Gregg Popovich once labeled “the future face of the franchise.”

The timing of that meeting has been slowed in part because of the death of Popovich’s wife and everyone involved understandably giving him all the space wants. It will happen.

Can the relationship be salvaged? Maybe, $219 million can mend a lot of fences. There are things the Spurs can and would be willing to do to promote Leonard more (although that all starts with him getting out of his comfort zone and building his brand, starting with speaking more in public). Also, Gregg Popovich was able to sooth LaMarcus Aldridge‘s ego when the big man demanded a trade, and not only did the player stay he had an All-NBA level season. Popovich and Leonard still have a strong relationship.

Is that enough? Time will tell, but people around the league think at best it’s a coin flip. Things are not good right now. However, the Spurs will get the first crack at fixing this before they are forced to consider a trade.

Julius Randle’s camp not convinced he’s a Laker priority

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Last November, Julius Randle walked into Staples Center wearing a sweatshirt that said: “pay me.”

Yet he and the Lakers could not come to terms on a rookie contract extension — the Lakers could have had him starting at $12.4 million a year, but wanted to keep their cap space and options open. Now, it’s going to cost a lot more to keep the restricted free agent who averaged 16.1 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting with eight rebounds a game. There are rumors that the previous contract negotiations left a bad taste in Randle’s mouth and he wants out.

Lakers’ fans want Randle back. The Lakers still have rights to match any offer and the front office has said Randle is a priority. Randle’s camp is not so sure about that last part, they haven’t seen the evidence, reports Tania Ganguli at The Los Angeles Times.

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka told The Times on Friday that the Lakers’ front office is constantly in touch with Julius Randle’s representatives, and there has been “a mutual exchange of interest and hoping that we can work something out for both sides.”

Randle’s camp is unsure of how mutual the interest has been.

“We still have no indication of where Julius stands among the Lakers’ priorities, or if he is a priority at all,” Randle’s agent Aaron Mintz said Saturday in response to Pelinka’s comments. “We are looking forward to the marketplace in July, when we will get a clear picture of Julius’ future.”

That is negotiation posturing by Mintz, no doubt. He might as well have said, “show me the money.”

Don’t expect other teams to wait around on Randle offers while the Lakers figure out their free agent possibilities — Paul George, LeBron James (probably not him) — come July 1. Other teams are interested (Dallas among them) and are going to try to move quickly to force the Lakers’ hand.

Once those other offers are on the table, we’ll see where the Lakers’ priorities really are.

Rumor: Dallas to target big men — Cousins, Jordan, Randle — in free agency

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The Dallas Mavericks have been hunting for a center ever since they thought they had DeAndre Jordan, right before the Clippers locked him in a house and forced him to change his mind (that’s not really how it went down, but it makes a better story than the truth). It’s why Dallas has been linked to Mohamed Bamba in the draft — a big, defensive-minded, rim runner who could develop into a great pick-and-roll partner with Dennis Smith Jr.

However, the Mavericks may not want to wait for Bamba — or any other young big — to develop.

Expect the Mavericks to go after one of the name big men on the market in free agency this summer, reports Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer from the NBA Combine in Chicago.

Ever since word spread in league circles in March that Dirk Nowitzki would return to the Mavericks for his 21st season, there have also been rumblings that the Dallas front office will look to make additions this summer that can put the team back on a winning track. The Mavericks can create space to sign a max free agent, and multiple league sources expect them to pursue a trio of big men: DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, and restricted free agent Julius Randle.

Jordan has not yet officially opted out of the $24.1 million he is owed next season by the Los Angeles Clippers (although most observers expect him to). It is possible Dallas and other teams are not going to offer that much per season for Jordan, but if he can get three years starting at closer to $20 million per that’s a lot more guaranteed money. Also, does he want out of Los Angeles now that Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are gone and will he take a little less per year to get to a new team?

We know Dallas likes him and Jordan has a relationship with Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle from the last go around.

How much money and how many years would Dallas be willing to risk on Cousins coming off a torn Achilles? More than the Pelicans (who don’t have the money to replace Cousins with anywhere near that level player if he bolts)?

Randle showed a lot of promise as a bully inside who can run some pick-and-roll with Smith, but do the Mavericks want to try to outbid the Lakers (which leads to the question of what other free agents Los Angeles might get and how much they are willing to pay to keep Randle)?

We know this, Mark Cuban does not sit quietly on the sidelines of free agency. Expect the Mavericks to be aggressive players this summer.

NBA playoffs mired in worst pre-Finals competitive-game drought ever

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Exciting games. Clutch plays. Close finishes.

Remember those?

The NBA playoffs have hit a lull. It has been 11 days since the last game decided by fewer than 10 points.

Longer competitive-game droughts have occurred – though not many, and never before the NBA Finals. The most common route for going so long without a competitive game is decisive victories to end the conference finals, a lengthy break before the Finals then decisive victories to start the Finals.

But we’re not to the Finals yet.

In this case, every second-round series ended in five or fewer games – culminating with the Celtics’ 114-112 win over the 76ers on May 9, the last single-digit game. Three league-wide off days followed. The Celtics routed the Cavaliers twice in Boston, and the Warriors and Rockets traded lopsided wins in Houston. Two more league-wide off days, Cleveland winning by 30 Saturday, Golden State winning by 41 last night, and we’re at 11 straight days without a competitive game.

Here are the longest-ever streaks of days between single-digit playoff games before the conference finals ended:

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Both conference finals are as close as possible, 2-1 (favoring the Warriors and Celtics). But the individual games just haven’t matched the tightness.

Why is this happening?

The peculiar overlapping three off days for each conference finals certainly factored.

Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers – who’ve met in the last three NBA Finals – are that much better than the rest of their conferences when locked in. Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers know that, leaving them prone to bad losses the teams know they can rally from. Maybe the Celtics are just that good at home and that bad on the road. Maybe it’s just a random occurrence.

No matter the reason, the result is certain: We’ve gone a long time without seeing a competitive game.

Hopefully, Cleveland and Boston change that tonight.