NBA Power Rankings: Thunder on top, Nuggets climbing ranks

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Each of the top five teams in last week’s ranking suffered losses, some pretty ugly losses. So, who bounced back and looked best after that? Oklahoma City, so they maintain the top spot.

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1. Thunder (28-8, Last week ranked No. 1). Kevin Durant is a better playmaker than last year. Russell Westbrook a better floor general. Serge Ibaka is just better. The bottom line is the Thunder are better than last year even without James Harden. And despite all that they lost to the Wizards (but bounced back well)

source:  2. Clippers (28-9, LW 2). They didn’t wake up for an early start at home against Orlando and that cost them a 13-game home winning streak. Grant Hill is back, although where his minutes come from is a tough question. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are lock starters for the All-Star game when that becomes official Thursday.

source:  3. Spurs (28-11, LW 3). Losses to the Grizzlies and Hornets. Even though he doesn’t want it, I expect Tim Duncan makes the All-Star team again as a reserve. Maybe Tony Parker will make the cut, too, but he is on the bubble among West guards.

source:  4. Heat (24-11, LW 4). They have lost three of four, and while there is rightfully some concern about rebounding this is mostly just them not playing with focus and energy. Miami is on the road this week against Utah, Golden State then the Los Angeles Lakers on the second night of a back-to-back.

source:  5. Nuggets (22-16, LW 8). Still in the middle of a long stretch mostly at home, and they picked up a win against the Warriors Sunday where Denver looked like the aggressive, running team we expected. Tough week ahead with two games against the Thunder (one away) plus the Trail Blazers.

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6. Grizzlies (24-11, LW 9). Big question for the next month: How will the Rudy Gay trade rumors impact them on the court? Because the rumors will keep coming. Good win against the Spurs last week, they’ve got them again (and the Clippers) this week.

source:  7. Knicks (24-13, LW 5). They had three straight losses then Mike Woodson tweaked the lineup and started Chris Copeland at the three and returned Carmelo Anthony to the four, and shockingly that produced a Knicks win. The return of Iman Shumpert Thursday in London will help on defense, but they miss Raymond Felton at both ends.

source:  8. Pacers (23-15, LW 10). It’s not pretty, but the Pacers keep winning (four in a row before Sunday’s loss) with the NBA’s best defense. As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann tweeted this week Indy allows the lowest opponent shooting percentage from both the corner three and in the restricted area. That is one heck of a combo.

source:  9. Nets (22-15, LW 13). Winners of six in a row and in that run their offense has been ridiculously good — 113 points per 100 possessions in their last five games, best in the NBA in that stretch. But their defense has been top five as well. We know they can play well for a stretch, but can they sustain it?

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10. Bulls (20-15, LW 7). A loss to the Suns shows where this team is without Derrick Rose — they beat the Heat a couple weeks ago when focused but when they don’t bring the defensive focus they can lose to anyone. They are not winning any games just on raw talent. Their worst games seem to come at home.

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11. Warriors (23-13, LW 6). Losses to the Clippers, Grizzlies and Nuggets are reminders that while they are good they are still in the second or third tier in the West. The loss to the Nuggets showed Golden State needs more consistent defense. Stephen Curry should make the All-Star Team as a reserve.

source:  12. Trail Blazers (20-17, LW 14). Tough week with losses to the Warriors and Thunder, but they picked up a win over the Heat in there too. They are currently the eight seed in the West, but with Houston just half a game ahead of them and Utah one game behind.

source:  13. Celtics (19-17, LW 17). Winners of five straight and their defense is looking a lot better since the return of Avery Bradley. That has GM Danny Ainge wisely saying he will likely sit tight and make one more title run with this group.

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14. Rockets (21-17, LW 12). Houston has lost three straight, play the Clippers Tuesday then head out for six of their next eight on the road. They are going to have to turn it on to hold on to their current seven seed playoff spot in the West, they are only 1.5 games up on nine-seed Utah.

source:  15. Bucks (19-17, LW 15). Jim Boylan is 3-1 since taking over the team, and not shockingly their offense has been much better and faster pace released from the Scott Skiles shackles.

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16. Jazz (20-19, LW 16). I’d say if they keep this roster together they are very likely to get the seven or eight seed in the West, but it’s more likely Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap get dealt in the next month. Going to be an interesting time in Utah.

source:  17. Hawks (21-15, LW 11). They lost by double digits to the Wizards and Cavaliers in one week, they are lucky to only fall six spots.

source:  18. Timberwolves (16-18, LW 18). Kevin Love may only be able to get back for a late playoff push after hand surgery, but there may not be much of a push to get back for (they are 3 games out of the playoffs right now). The team defense has been a mess of late and that isn’t how you stay in the playoff hunt

source:  19. Mavericks (15-23, LW 24). Nice OT win over the Grizzlies (a tired Grizzlies team, but still) and it gives a shred of hope to a team that really hasn’t had any yet. Still, they will probably have to go 30-14 to have any shot at the playoffs this season.

source:  20. 76ers (16-22, LW 19). They are 3-7 in their last 10 and fading from the playoffs, but they have 12 of their next 14 games at home. This is the time to make a run.

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21. Raptors (14-23, LW 23). They are technically 5.5 games out of the last playoff spot in the East, ground that could be made up by a hot team. Just not sure the Raptors can do that, especially after blowing 20-point lead to Bucks Sunday.

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22. Lakers (16-21, LW 20). Blake Griffin denied it on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kevin Durant denied it after the Thunder beat up the Lakers, but you can see it in team’s eyes — they love kicking the Lakers when they are down. Big game against Heat on national television Thursday.

source:  23. Pistons (14-24, LW 22). Tough couple close losses last week, but they are still 7-3 in their last 10 games. They are 0-0 in London in franchise history but that will change Thursday when they travel to face the Knicks.

source:  24. Kings (13-24, LW 21). They have lost four games in a row but that should change with the Cavaliers, Wizards and Bobcats all on the schedule this week.

source:  25. Hornets (11-25, LW 27). Don’t look now but they had won four in a row before a Sunday loss to the Knicks. Eric Gordon makes a difference. But more than that, the defense is coming around as is top pick Anthony Davis.

source:  26. Magic (13-23, LW 25). Broke their losing streak in a big way with an upset of the Clippers on the road. Congrats to Jameer Nelson becoming the franchise leader in assists, passing Scott Skiles (who had a rough week).

source:  27. Suns (13-26, LW 26). Michael Beasley was key to the win in Chicago — 20 points on 10-of-14 shooting. If you could count on that every night that guy would be a star, but alas…

source:  28. Cavaliers (9-29, LW 28). They miss Anderson Varejao because the drop off from him to rookie Tyler Zeller is really steep. Basically they only way the Cavaliers win is for Kyrie Irving to be superhuman.

source:  29. Wizards (6-28, LW 30). Washington is 2-2 against the Heat and Thunder and 4-26 vs. everyone else. But they have John Wall back and a two-game winning streak, so things are looking up. A little.

source:  30. Bobcats (9-27, LW 29). Charlotte has they worst team net rating in the NBA by a full point — they give up 9.2 points per 100 possessions more than they score. Second worst is Washington at 8.1. The Wizards could catch and pass Charlotte in the standings.

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 means the USA’s margin for error very slim. Teams such as Serbia and Spain — not to mention Australia — have to see this result and gain confidence.

This loss comes just two days after the USA had beaten this same team by 15 points, pulling away in the second half.

“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.

Defensively, Australia got to the rim all night long — they scored 46 points in the paint (compared to the USA’s 26). Most of that came on cutters that American defenders lost and Utah’s Joe Ingles or Andrew Bogut found with a nifty pass. During training camp, to a man Team USA members said defense needs to be their calling card, but on Saturday they looked lost on that end.

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 Ingles and he responded with 15 points, seven assists, and he and Bogut set up the offense and were smart with their passes. Bogut finished with 15 points. The Australian team played as a unit and their off-the-ball movement was impressive.

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.