NBA Power Rankings: Clippers back on top, showdown with Thunder Tuesday

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No change in the top four teams, but really it feels like right now there is a top three teams with the Heat capable of being that good but not really choosing to all the time.

source:  1. Clippers (32-9, last week ranked No. 2). Chris Paul sits out three games, Eric Bledsoe steps in and Los Angeles just keeps on winning. That is why despite a lot of teams calling about trading for Bledsoe the Clippers are hesitant — until they lock CP3 up to a long-term deal this summer (which is likely) Bledsoe is too valuable to them to trade.

 

source:  2. Spurs (32-11, LW 3). Leading a team with a top five offense and defense (in points allowed per possession) it’s going to be hard for the coaches to overlook Tim Duncan as an All-Star reserve. As much as he would like them to.

 

source:  3. Thunder (32-8-8, LW 1). They had won six in a row, four of them on the road, until they stumbled Sunday against Denver. This week we have a possible Western Conference finals showdown with Los Angeles (of course we’re talking Clippers, not that other team).

 

source:  4. Heat (26-12, LW 4). Miami still seems to be coasting through the season but when they crank up the defensive pressure — like against Golden State or the end of the Lakers game — you are reminded they can be dominant when they want.

 

source:  5. Knicks (25-13, LW 7). The win they got in London over the Pistons was nice, but what essentially turned out to be a bye week with just one game is a bigger boost to the older, banged up New York team.

 

source:  6. Pacers (25-16, LW 8). Their second worst in the NBA offense will get a boost when Danny Granger comes back in a couple weeks. Then the question is will they trade Granger (my guess is no but there seems to be a buzz).

 

source:  7. Grizzlies (26-13, LW 6). With tougher competition recently (Clippers, Spurs and Bulls) the Grizzlies offense regressed a lot (nearly nine points per 100 possessions). It makes one wonder what kind of playoff run they can make.

 

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8. Nets (24-16, LW 9). They are 8-2 in their last 10 games and it’s all about their offense jumping to a best in the NBA 109.4 points per 100 possessions in that time. They are pushing for Brook Lopez to make the All-Star team, but I would take the other starting center in the New York area.

 

source:  9. Nuggets (25-18, LW 5). After winning six straight including a quality overtime game against the Trail Blazers, they split a couple games with Oklahoma City, with a Wizards loss sandwiched in between. Still a hot and cold team.

 

source:  10. Bulls (23-16, LW 10). If Joakim Noah didn’t enjoy being benched for the fourth quarter Sunday then on Monday he can commiserate with Pau Gasol when the Bulls play the Lakers (Gasol got the same treatment a couple of times this season). Expect Noah to get his first nod as an All-Star reserve on Thursday.

 

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11. Warriors (24-15, LW 11). Andrew Bogut has been cleared for some one-on-one as he works back from ankle surgery. If you are wondering just how good the Warriors are, games against the Clippers and Thunder this week are good measuring sticks.

 

source:  12. Celtics (20-19, LW 13). The hot streak of six straight wins came to a crashing halt with losses to New Orleans then the Bulls in overtime. The good news is Avery Bradley only missed one game (the Chicago loss).

 

source:  13. Bucks (21-18, LW 15). The Bucks are 5-2 under interim coach Jim Boylan, but that’s not going to be enough to get Brandon Jennings into the All-Star Game.

 

source:  14. Jazz (22-19, LW 16). Winners of three in a row and you just get the impression with their solid front line they are a playoff lock in the West. Even with likely changes to the roster at the trade deadline when Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap gets moved.

 

source:  15. Hawks (22-18, LW 17). The loss of Lou Williams for the season is bad news. Most of all for Williams, but also because it means more Jeff Teague responsibility, and that doesn’t go well over the long haul.

 

source:  16. Trail Blazers (20-20, LW 12). They have lost five games in a row, and playing .500 ball and being the current eight seed they keep the playoff hopes of Lakers and Mavericks fans alive. What has come unglued is their offense — they are shooting just 40.6 percent as a team the last five games. That won’t get it done.

 

source:  17. Rockets (21-21, LW 14). They have lost seven in a row, are a mess at both ends of the floor and are playing at a slower tempo than they did when they were having success. If they could just start winning they could take hold of a playoff spot.

 

source:  18. Mavericks (18-24, LW 19). Funky stat of the week — Dallas is 1-8 in overtime games this season. If they were just 4-5 in OT they would be a .500 team that had won four of its last 5 and we’d be talking playoffs right now.

 

source:  19. Timberwolves (17-20, LW 18). Snapped their five-game losing streak on Saturday (thank you slumping Rockets) but any time you think they have something good going someone else gets injured.

 

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20. 76ers (17-23, LW 20). They were 2-1 at the start of a nice stretch at home last week, but this week the home games are the Spurs, Knicks and then to start next week the Grizzlies. Throw in a road trip for one game in Milwaukee and it’s not pretty.

 

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21. Raptors (15-26, LW 21). Toronto has been playing better of late and got a nice win carving up what passes for the Lakers defense Sunday, but if you are thinking playoffs making up 5.5 games and catching the Celtics or Bucks is not going to happen.

 

source:  22. Kings (16-25, LW 24). They beat the Wizards. Bobcats and Cavaliers last week… and right now I don’t think Kings fans care at all. Can’t blame them.

 

source:  23. Lakers (17-23, LW 22). The next couple weeks make of break the Lakers season — we keep saying they have to turn it around now but 9 of their next 12 are on the road (including at Chicago and Memphis this week). The Lakers are 5-13 on the road this season. If they don’t get hot on the road they will watch the playoffs from home.

 

source:  24. Pistons (14-25, LW 23). Sunday Jason Maxiell played 23 minutes scoring 6 points and grabbing 5 rebounds. Rookie Andre Drummond comes in off the bench for 20 minutes, scores 16 points (but has one rebound). The Pistons aren’t going anywhere, explain to me again why Drummond isn’t starting and getting big minutes?

 

source:  25. Hornets (13-27, LW 25). They’ve won six of their last eight and if they are on the schedule you better not chalk them up as an automatic win anymore. A key reason is a great run of play in recent weeks by Greivis Vasquez.

 

source:  26. Wizards (8-30, LW 29). I watched them first hand against the Clippers Saturday night and let me say: They are not bad. With everyone healthy and John Wall back running the offense this is a team you can’t overlook. They played the Clippers tough.

 

source:  27. Cavaliers (10-32, LW 28). Kyrie Irving is talented enough to be on the All-Star team, the question is will the injury to start the season and bad team around him keep him off it.

 

source:  28. Magic (14-25, LW 26). They lost to the Wizards and Bobcats last week. They are capable of being that bad.

 

source:  29. Suns (13-28, LW 27). Alvin Gentry wasn’t let go because he couldn’t win with that roster — no coach could win with that roster. The issue was how much burn the youngsters got, even if it meant losses. Gentry was on the wrong end of that argument for ownership.

 

source:  30. Bobcats (10-30, LW 30). You looking for a bright spot? Not the 5-16 home record. How about they are 3-1 in overtime.

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.