NBA Power Rankings: Finals rematch Thursday could be finals preview

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Finally, here are the delayed regular Monday PBT NBA power rankings.

We said this a lot during the NBA finals last year — if we see the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder face off in three of the next five NBA finals it shouldn’t be a shock. This season looks more and more like that rematch could be a reality, which makes their Thursday night showdown interesting.

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1. Thunder (39-12, last week ranked No. 2). They have the best offense in the NBA this season and that has started to really kick into gear this week scoring 110 points or more in four straight games (before Sunday, when they took their foot off the gas against the hapless Suns). They have won four in a row and while the schedule wasn’t tough they beat up their opponents.

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2. Heat (34-14, LW 3). Winners of five in a row and that includes beating Houston and both Los Angeles teams last week. LeBron James lately has started to make a real MVP push — 30.2 points a game on 68.4 percent shooting overall and 56.3 percent shooting in his last five games going into Sunday.

source:  3. Spurs (40-12, LW No. 1). They have gone 12-1 recently but the impressive part is they have done it for stretches without Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili. People just take for granted how good Tony Parker is — he is injecting himself into the MVP conversation — but they over look Tiago Splitter who has been solid in the paint.

source:  4. Nuggets (33-19, LW 6). They had won 9 in a row until a thrilling 3OT loss in Boston. While part of that run is because of the heavy home schedule part of it is that this is a good team that is a tough matchup because of their athleticism. Tougher stretch on the road started with a 3OT loss to Boston Sunday and the Raptors and Nets next on the road heading into the break.

source:  5. Clippers (36-17 LW 4). They didn’t play that well during their Grammy road trip, going 3-4 (with one more game Monday night in Philly) but the return of Chris Paul and what he did to the Knicks reminds you how much they missed him.

source:  6. Knicks (32-17, LW 5). After a five game win streak the Knicks dropped two of three including a loss to the Clippers. What helps the older legs of the Knicks bench is rest and they have one game this week, Wednesday (at home vs. Raptors) then they are off for a week.

source:  7. Pacers (31-20, LW 11). They won all three games of the NBA’s lone back-to-back-to-back last week. More and more I think this is the team that could be the biggest threat to the Heat in the East. But that’s not going to happen if Roy Hibbert doesn’t start to play like his old self, he’s still off his game.

source:  8. Bulls (30-20, LW 9). Here is the Derrick Rose update, courtesy Aggrey Sam of CSNChicago.com from our PBT Podcast: He is taking full contact in practice but has not participated in any 5-on-5 drills, which is more a matter of the Bulls not having practice time to run that lately. He’ll be back pretty soon after the All-Star game, but no date is set.

source:  9. Grizzlies (31-18, LW 10). They are a .500 team of late, 3-3 after the Rudy Gay trade. They are still trying to find their way. They have a chance in the next four games against under .500 teams to put together a few wins and find that groove.

source:  10. Celtics (27-23, LW 17). Count me among those impressed — Boston has gone 7-0 since Rajon Rondo went down. Their defense has been better, they are moving the ball and moving without the ball better, their bench guys are stepping up. Heck, they beat the Heat in this streak. But things get tough after the All-Star Game with a West Coast Road trip.

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11. Nets (29-22, LW 8). This team got the coach change bump of energy — they played harder for P.J. Carlesimo. For a while. But lately that energy is gone and the result is half-run sets followed by isolations late in the shot clock on offense. That will doom them.

source:  12. Rockets (28-24, LW 15). Nice wins last week over the Trail Blazers and the Warriors (although the Golden State will want some revenge for that one). James Harden is starting to look like an elite player you can build a franchise around.

source:  13. Warriors (30-21, LW 7). The schedule got tough and the Warriors dropped four in a row — they are playing better this year but their defense is holding them back from being close to elite. Really looking forward to the rematch with Houston on Tuesday.

source:  14. Jazz (28-24, LW 14). Two straight losses over the weekend and you have to wonder how much the trade rumors swirling around Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and this team will start to impact their play. They are not on solid playoff footing ground, with the Lakers 4 games back and Portland 2.5 back.

source:  15. Hawks (27-22, LW 12). Everyone talks about them moving Josh Smith (and they may, but not for Kris Humphries, sorry Nets fans) but the Hawks have Seven other expiring deals on their roster look for them to move someone like Kyle Korver or Anthony Morrow.

source:  16. Bucks (25-24, LW 13). Lost three in a row and just 4-6 in last 10. Suddenly we are seeing a lot of Samuel Dalembert on the court, which feels like a trade showcase (and he responded with a 35 point game).

source:  17. Trail Blazers (25-26, LW 16). They have dropped three in a row (including one to the Magic who had lost a dozen in a row before that) and have two more road games before the break — at Miami then a back-to-back at New Orleans. They are only 2.5 games out of the playoffs but they need to start picking up wins. Fast.

source:  18. Lakers (24-28, LW 18). They went 4-3 on their seven game Grammy road trip, which isn’t bad but isn’t great. They need wins. Just to have fun with math, the Rockets and Jazz are on pace for 44 wins, the Lakers need to go 20-10 the rest of the way to get to 44.

source:  19. Mavericks (22-28, LW 20). They are playing better, 9-5 in their last 14, but if they are going to grow beards until they reach .500 they may be tripping over them first.

source:  20. 76ers (22-27, LW 19). And the Andrew Bynum wait continues — they are shopping Evan Turner around (or at least gauging interest in him) but how do you evaluate this team without Bynum in the lineup?

source:  21. Cavaliers (16-35, LW 23). They have been a good offensive team of late, which is mostly due to the fact that Kyrie Irving is awesome, but Tristan Thompson has played much better of late as well.

source:  22. Pistons (20-32, LW 21). No Andre Drummond for four to six weeks just makes me sad.

source:  23. Wizards (14-35, LW 26). Washington beat three playoff teams last week (Clippers, Knicks, Nets), and are 10-7 in about the last month. If they had Wall from the start of the season they are a playoff team, but alas…

source:  24. Raptors (18-32, LW 22). I think their playoff dreams are dead. Part of it is that Boston went on a win streak without Rondo rather than fall back to the pack, but the Raptors keep losing and remain 3 games below .500 and 7 out of the final playoff spot in the East. They are not making up that ground.

source:  25. Hornets (17-33, LW 25). Eric Gordon is just bad about half the time for this team and his body language is that of a guy trapped in a place he hates. Does he just simply not like being in New Orleans that much?

source:  26. Kings (19-33, LW 27). If you don’t think fans make a difference, you should have heard them during the Kings 10-point fourth quarter comeback on the Rockets Sunday. Problem is the other owners don’t care about that, they care about money going into their pockets. That’s where Seattle is not easy to beat.

source:  27. Timberwolves (18-29, LW 24). Three straight losses and Minnesota is now just 4-17 since New Years day. Injuries are a big part of that, this team has seemed cursed by the basketball gods.

source:  28. Suns (17-34, LW 28). The Suns are really active on the trade market, clearly willing to take on some salary for the right quality player. When you look at their roster they need more quality players.

source:  29. Magic (15-36, LW 30). The losing streak has reached 12 before the Trail Blazers obliged with a terrible defensive effort to end it. Wherever J.J. Redick lands after the trade deadline will be a better situation.

source:  30. Bobcats (11-39, LW 29). They have dropped seven in a row and their roster is so bad that sending out Ben Gordon for the slumping Kris Humphries would be an upgrade.

Heat’s Tyler Herro reportedly targeting Game 3 return during Finals

2023 NBA Playoffs- New York Knicks v Miami Heat - Game Three
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Tyler Herro fractured his hand just before halftime of Game 1 against the Milwaukee Bucks, and following his ensuing surgery the target timeline was he could be back for the NBA Finals. That led to a lot of “good luck with that” comments on social media (not to mention comments about his sideline fits).

The No. 8 seed Miami Heat are on to the NBA Finals, and Herro hopes to return to the court when Miami returns home for Game 3, reports Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report and TNT.

Maybe he returns, perhaps that is optimistic (Game 3 is Wednesday, June 7). Herro is still feeling pain in his right hand, he told reporters after the game.

Herro averaged 20.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists a game for the Heat this season, shooting 37.8% from 3. He was the team’s secondary shot creator after Jimmy Butler, a guy counted on to jumpstart the offense at points.

If he returns, Erik Spoelstra has to return him to the sixth-man role where he thrived a season ago. The starting lineup without him was better defensively, and with the emergence of Caleb Martin and Gabe Vincent, the Heat don’t need the offensive spark with that first group (less Herro has meant more Jimmy Butler with the ball, and that’s a good thing). The second unit could use the offensive spark Herro brings.

It’s something to watch as the Heat return to the NBA Finals for the first time since the bubble, this time facing the formidable Denver Nuggets.

Three takeaways from Heat playing with intent, beating Celtics in Game 7

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Is there a more Miami Heat way to win a series than going on the road and ripping the heart out of Boston fans in their own building in a Game 7?

Is there a more fitting way for this era of Celtics to lose this series than to play poorly until their backs are against the wall, then flip the switch and look like the best team in the NBA, only to not quite get all the way there?

In those ways the Eastern Conference Finals worked out the way it should have, with the Miami Heat taking charge of Game 7 in the first quarter and never looking back. The Heat beat the Celtics 103-84 to advance to the NBA Finals (which start Thursday in Denver).

Here are three takeaways from Game 7.

1) Caleb Martin embodied the difference in this series

Jimmy Butler was officially voted MVP of the Conference Finals. He averaged 24.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game through the series, numbers that are hard to argue. He is the best player on the team.

However, he won in a tight 5-4 vote over Caleb Martin — who had 26 points and 10 rebounds in Game 7, but more than that embodied the difference in this series. Martin played with intention, focus, and with a commitment to the system every night in a way the Celtics don’t do consistently. Martin, a guy waived by the Hornets in the summer of 2021, has had to scrap and fight for everything he’s gotten in the league, and with that comes a hardened edge.

“To the untrained eye, he just looks like he’s an undrafted guy who has been in the G League, who has started with Charlotte and now he’s here,” Butler said of Martin. “Started on a two-way contract. That’s what it looks like to y’all. To us, he’s a hell of a player, hell of a defender, playmaker, shotmaker, all of the above. Everybody [on the team] has seen Caleb work on those shots day in, day out. It doesn’t surprise us. We have seen it every single day. I’m so proud and happy for him.”

Martin’s shotmaking also embodied why the Heat won — they were simply better at getting and hitting the shots they wanted all series long. It was historic shotmaking.

Bam Adebayo had another rough offensive outing — 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting with a lot of good looks missed — but his defense was stellar and that was reflected in his +22 on the night, the best of any starter on the team. He remains vital to what they do.

2) Jayson Tatum‘s rolled ankle proved too much for Celtics

The Celtics didn’t lose this series because Jayson Tatum rolled his ankle on the game’s first play.

They lost this series because when they went down 0-3 in the series they left themselves no margin for error — everything had to go perfectly. It never does, just ask the other 150 teams in NBA history to go down 0-3 in a series. Tatum went on to score 14 points, but he admitted he was a shell of himself.

The Celtics needed to collectively make up for Tatum being slowed (much the way the Heat’s role players such as Gabe Vincent stepped up with Tyler Herro out).

Jaylen Brown didn’t, he ended up shooting 8-of-23 for 19 points, but with eight turnovers. Derrick White had 18 and was the best Celtic in Game 7. Malcolm Brogdon tried but could not play through an elbow injury he may need off-season surgery on (and coach Joe Mazzulla stuck with him a little too long).

The bigger problem was Boston was 9-of-42 (21.4%) on 3-pointers. Miami leaned into their zone defense (which allowed them to keep Duncan Robinson on the floor) and while the Celtics did a better job of getting into the middle of that zone, but they still needed to knock down shots over the top of it. They failed.

When the Celtics’ shots aren’t falling it bleeds into the other aspects of their game — the defensive lapses come, the mental focus goes in and out. Consistency is not a hallmark of these Celtics.

We’ll get into Boston’s future in the next couple of days, they should and will re-sign Jaylen Brown and make another run, but this core needs to look at itself in the mirror and figure out why it can’t play closer to its peak nightly.

3) The Heat are the life lesson you want to teach

As a parent, there are a lot of life lessons you try to pass on to your children, although you eventually realize that it’s more about what you show them day-to-day than what you say in any moment that really resonates.

One thing I want to show my daughters, what I want for them is to be resilient like this Miami team — a group that took a punch to the gut in Game 6, stumbled, got up off the ground, shook off the dust, and came back with more resolve and focus.

“I think probably people can relate to this team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after his team advanced. “Life is hard. Professional sports is just kind of a reflection sometimes of life, that things don’t always go your way. The inevitable setbacks happen and it’s how you deal with that collectively. There’s a lot of different ways that it can go. It can sap your spirit. It can take a team down for whatever reason. With this group, it’s steeled us and made us closer and made us tougher.

“These are lessons that hopefully we can pass along to our children, that you can develop this fortitude. And sometimes you have to suffer for the things that you want. Game 6, the only thing that we can do is sometimes you have to laugh at the things that make you cry…

“We have some incredible competitors in that locker room. They love the challenge. They love putting themselves out there in front of everybody. Open to criticism. Open to everything. But to compete for it, and that’s a beautiful thing.”

They did compete harder than the team in Green across from them, and that’s why Miami tips off in the NBA Finals on Thursday night.

Martin, Butler spark Heat to resilient Game 7 win on road, beat Celtics to advance to Finals

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This is what resilience looks like. What heart looks like.

Miami had to fight through the play-in, coming back late against the Bulls to earn the No. 8 seed. Then they beat the feared Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Then they beat the feisty New York Knicks. All that to get the most talented team in the NBA on paper, the Boston Celtics.

Miami raced out to a 3-0 series lead, then watched the Celtics climb back in — taking a punch to the gut with Derrick White’s putback to win Game 6 and force a Game 7. Most teams would have rolled over after that loss.

Miami came out hungry in Game 7, punched the Celtics in the mouth in the first quarter, pulled away in the second to a double-digit lead, and never let Boston all the way back, eventually taking their hearts and the game, 103-84.

The Miami Heat advance to the NBA Finals, flying directly after this game to Denver where they will face Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets starting Thursday night.

Caleb Martin was the MVP of this game — 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting, plus 10 rebounds — and was the Heat’s best player all series long.

However, the voters gave the Eastern Conference Finals MVP award to Jimmy Butler, who scored 28 in this game and bounced back after a couple of rough outings.

For Boston, the game may have turned on the team’s first possession when Jayson Tatum turned his ankle, landing on Gabe Vincent after a jumper. He stayed in the game and finished with 14 points, but he never moved the same and was not the threat the Celtics needed as a shot creator with the ball in his hands. Postgame Tatum admitted it impacted his play.

With Tatum injured, the Celtics ran a lot of their offense through Derrick White and he responded with 18 points.

With Tatum down, the Celtics also needed more Jaylen Brown, who scored 19 points but on 8-of-23 shooting with eight turnovers. It was not nearly enough.

Both teams were tight to start the game (as is often the case in Game 7s) and it showed mostly with the Celtics shooting 0-of-10 from 3. Miami started slow but did a better job settling into their offense and led 22-15 after one quarter. Their hot streak extended to a 25-7 run into early in the second.

The Heat stretched the lead up to as much as 17 and led by 11 at the half thanks to 14 from Caleb Martin and 11 from Jimmy Butler in the first 24. The Celtics were lucky to be that close shooting 4-of-21 from 3 and Jayson Tatum only scoring seven points. What kept Boston close was the seven offensive rebounds.

Miami made a push in the third quarter, had momentum for stretches with White hitting shots and making plays, but they couldn’t get stops and entering the fourth they were still down 10.

Then the Heat started the fourth on a 7-0 run, which was the ballgame.

Philadelphia 76ers reportedly hire Nick Nurse as new head coach

Toronto Raptors v Boston Celtics
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Doc Rivers could not take a contender in the Philadelphia 76ers — a roster with the reigning MVP in Joel Embiid and a former one in James Harden — past the second round. Again. As good as the Sixers have been in the regular season the past few years, it has not translated to playoff success.

Now Nick Nurse will get the chance.

Nurse will be hired as the 76ers’ new head coach, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

The buzz around Nurse to Philadephia spiked in the last 24 hours after Milwaukee announced hiring Adrian Griffin as their coach. Wojnarowski says Nurse chose Philadelphia over the Phoenix Suns, although it’s unclear if Phoenix made any kind of formal offer to Nurse (he did interview for the job, where assistant Kevin Young is rumored to have the momentum to land the gig).

Nurse makes sense for the 76ers as a coach who is unafraid of unorthodox, out-of-the-box strategies, which is part of the reason he was able to lead the Raptors to the 2019 NBA title. His defenses in Toronto were aggressive and tried to force turnovers, then the Raptors ran off that. He is considered a more creative Xs and Os person than Doc Rivers, the man he replaces in Philly.

Nurse also has a connection to Philadelphia president/GM Daryl Morey, who hired Nurse to coach the Houston Rockets’ G-League team the Rio Grand Valley Vipers back in 2011 (when Morey was running the Rockets). That connection was another reason the league sources thought of Nurse as the frontrunner in Philly.

The question is what the roster Nurse will coach looks like. James Harden is a free agent with persistent rumors he might return to Houston, does bringing in Nurse influence his decision?

Philadelphia will be in win-now mode with MVP Embiid, rising star Tyrese Maxey (who will have to shoulder much more responsibility if Harden leaves), plus quality players such as Tobias Harris, De'Anthony Melton, Shake Milton and others. However, expect changes over the summer.

Nurse walks in the door facing high expectations but with a roster capable of reaching them.