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.

Reports: Steve Kerr chose and Warriors players supported suspending, not fining, Draymond Green

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The Warriors suspended Draymond Green one game for his argument with Kevin Durant during and after Golden State’s loss to the Clippers on Monday.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

Jackie MacMullan on ESPN:

What about an internal fine? And what I was told this morning was that the rest of the players on this team didn’t support that, that the rest of the players on the team felt this had to be to done and that they’re all prepared, on that plane ride to Houston today, to get those guys together and put this behind them for now.

Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:

Green was surprised by the heavy-handedness. A fine was expected. Green had just come back from injury, giving him a rest day for Tuesday’s game against Atlanta and a private fine would have been an acceptable rebuke of his behavior. He was fined a few thousand dollars when he went after Kerr in the locker room in Oklahoma City in 2016. He didn’t think this incident was nearly as bad, so the punishment being drastically worse was shocking.

I wonder whether Green will feel as if the Warriors are ganging up on him. Many see his suspension as Golden State’s attempt to appease Durant before free agency, and the original issue escalated because Green thought there was already too much emphasis on Durant’s free agency. This could push a stubborn Green deeper into a corner.

Or he could realize his peers wanted him suspended and see that as a wakeup call. He might put more stock in that than Kerr’s point of view.

It’s too early to determine how this will go, but the starting point is apparently a divide between Green and everyone else.

Kyrie Irving, teammate of 12-year-veteran Al Horford: Celtics need 14- or 15-year veteran for leadership

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The Celtics just had a 1-4 road trip, the lone win coming in overtime against the lowly Suns. Most Boston players (except Marcus Morris and, lately, Kyrie Irving) look out of sorts offensively.

Irving, via Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

Looking at this locker room, me being in my eighth year and being a ‘veteran’ as well as Al [Horford] and [Aron] Baynes. Right now I think it would be nice if we had someone that was a 15-year vet, a 14-year vet that could kind of help us race along the regular season and understand it’s a long marathon rather than just a full-on sprint, when you want to play, when you want to do what you want to do.

Al Horford is in his 12th season. His team, the Hawks then Celtics, have made the playoffs every season of his career.

I’m not sure Irving intended this as a slight of Horford. Irving certainly didn’t forget about Horford, whom Irving mentioned the sentence prior.

But I’d definitely understand if Horford felt slighted. He’s experienced enough to provide that veteran leadership. So is Irving for that matter.

Ultimately, these comments might prove benign, just more weird words from Irving. Still, they’re potentially significant enough to keep an eye on Boston’s leadership situation.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns: ‘I’m not one of the most important [players on the team]. I’m just a piece on this team’

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Jimmy Butler made the Timberwolves his team. He willed himself into being their best player despite having teammates with more talent and physical skills. He took a leadership position by talking over everyone (for better or worse). He even asked for top-contract status with a renegotiation-and-extension that would have required gutting the rest of the roster.

With Butler traded to the 76ers, who takes up the mantle in Minnesota?

Karl-Anthony Towns is the logical candidate. He’s now the Timberwolves’ best player. He just signed a max contract extension that will hit super-max salaries if he makes an All-NBA team this season. He’s even already one of Minnesota’s longest-tenured players.

Kent Youngblood of the StarTribune:

Karl-Anthony Towns took issue with the idea that, with Butler gone, he had to become the team’s leader.

“First of all, I’m not one of the most important [players on the team],’’ he said. “I’m just a piece on this team. Everyone is just as important as the next. So if everyone’s doing their job and everyone is working hard, doing the little things, we make a great product.

Somewhere, Butler is cackling, assured his doubts about Towns were correct.

But leading isn’t for everyone. That doesn’t make non-leaders bad people. The world needs followers, too.

That said, things generally flow much more smoothly on teams where the best player is the main leader. It creates an orderly culture. If Towns doesn’t want that role, it’ll be something for the Timberwolves to overcome.

Maybe Towns, 22, will grow into it. There’s still plenty of time left for him to develop both as a player and person.

But Butler’s exit created a natural entrance for Towns into leadership. Towns could have seamlessly seized the reigns right here. That he isn’t shows how far he is as a leader.

Warriors: Stephen Curry to miss at least five more games

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As once-simmering issues between Draymond Green and Kevin Durant boil over, the Warriors could use a stabilizing force.

But Golden State’s best player and someone who has demonstrated his willingness to place team goals ahead of his personal agenda – Stephen Curry – continues to miss time with a groin injury.

Warriors release:

Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who has missed the team’s last three (3) games after suffering a mild to moderate strained left groin on November 8 vs. Milwaukee, continues to be monitored and evaluated by the team’s training and medical staff, as indicated initially last week. He will travel on the team’s upcoming three-game road trip to Texas—but will not play—and will be re-evaluated again in 10 days.

In the next 10 days, Golden State plays:

  • at Rockets
  • at Mavericks
  • at Spurs
  • vs. Thunder
  • vs. Trail Blazers

That’s not an easy stretch.

Remember, this latest Green-Durant feud started only because the Warriors were in a tight game against the Clippers. Green and Durant disliked the other’s strategy on the final play of regulation and argued about it. In a blowout win, that never would have happened.

Handling those high-pressure situations can be good for teams in the long run. But Golden State needs a break. This is already too much adversity all at once.

But the positive vibes that come with winning will be harder to attain with Curry out.