NBA Power Rankings: Hot hot Heat move back to top spot

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It looks like the Miami Heat have started to get focused and in the West it is the Spurs, Thunder and everyone else. The rest of the league has less than two months to state their case that they can knock one of those big three off.

source:  1. Heat (40-14, last week ranked No. 2). Winners of 11 in a row including beating the Bulls and Thunder easily on the road. Might be time for the rest of the league to worry. In their last 10 games the Heat are scoring 116.9 points per 100 possessions and allowing just 98.9 — best offense in the NBA and fifth best defense in that stretch. And can we stop with the Dwyane Wade is done crap?

 
source:  2. Spurs (44-13, LW 3). They went 7-2 on the Rodeo road trip. Impressive. A scout told me recently he thinks the Spurs are better suited to defeat the Heat in the finals than the Thunder. Problem is they will have a hard time getting past the Thunder. Tony Parker deserves to be in the MVP conversation — third in that conversation, but in it.

 
source:  3. Thunder (41-15, LW 1). They are 2-3 in last five and their defense has been up and down — the Thunder allowed James Harden to score 45 on them but Sunday night held the Bulls to 29.1 percent shooting. We’ll see if that gets consistent with games at Denver and at the Clippers this week.

 
source:  4. Pacers (35-21, LW 7). They have won four in a row (by more than 27 points on average), 8-of-10 and they got Danny Granger back this week (even if he struggled in his debut). They have the size and defense to be the team that challenges the Heat out of the East, but they need Roy Hibbert to be his old self.

 
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5. Clippers (40-18 LW 5). After getting undressed by the Heat and Spurs in recent weeks, the question becomes “are the Clippers really contenders?” As always the question is defense and DeAndre Jordan, and both were wanting against the elite.

 
source:  6. Grizzlies (37-18, LW 9). Rudy Gay who? They have won seven in a row and their offense is scoring 108.4 points a game in their last 10 (before Sunday night). Tayshaun Prince is averaging 9.2 points a game in that stretch and making some good defensive plays. Big test vs. Heat on Friday.

 
source:  7. Nuggets (35-22, LW 4). Their record has flattened out as the home-heavy portion of the schedule went away and they have won just two of their last five. They need to knock down threes and space the floor better against the Lakers and Thunder this week to pick up wins.

 
source:  8. Knicks (33-20, LW 6). They had lost four in a row before getting healthy against a Sixers team on a downward spiral Sunday. New York needs to find it’s defensive groove again in the next six weeks or these playoffs are going to look a lot like the last several.

 
source:  9. Rockets (31-27, LW 12). They are 6-4 in their last 10 with wins over the Thunder and Nets — the Rockets are not giving away that last playoff spot. The Lakers are playing better but they are going to have to catch the Rockets or Jazz, neither team is falling far back to them.

 
source:  10. Bulls (32-23, LW 8). The most points they have scored in their last three games is 72 points. It’s a credit to Derrick Rose and the organization that nobody is panicking and forcing him to return to the court before he is ready. They need to look at the big picture. But Reggie Rose wasn’t wrong in saying they could have used another scorer at the trade deadline.

 
source:  11. Nets (33-24, LW 11). It wasn’t for lack of effort by Billy King at the trade deadline, but nobody is taking the HBAP offer (Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks and a pick). This team is what it is headed to playoffs, and that could be one-and-done.

 
source:  12. Jazz (31-25, LW 14). They said they didn’t get an offer they liked at the deadline for Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap. Now they will lose at least one this summer for nothing. But with both big men in house they have a chance to make the playoffs despite a tougher schedule than the Rockets or Lakers the rest of the way.

 
source:  13. Warriors (32-23, LW 13). It’s got to be the sleeves! The Warriors had dropped six in a row until they put on the sleeves and beat the Spurs. They are too far ahead to fall back to the Lakers now, but without Andrew Bogut they need to start finding a playoff groove.

 
source:  14. Lakers (28-29, LW 18). Won 8-of-11 and are playing with an identity, which is letting them win games they lost earlier in the season. The only question now is can they sustain a pace that helps them catch the Jazz or Rockets — they have to catch them neither is coming that far back.

 
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15. Hawks (31-23, LW 15).
Josh Smith surprisingly remains a Hawk at the deadline, so the Al Horford and Smith front line is going to make one more run at it in the playoffs. Not a very long run, but a run.

 
source:  16. Celtics (29-27, LW 10). They are 1-3 on a tough post All-Star Game with a West Coast Road trip, with the lone win coming against what’s left in Phoenix. The trip ends Monday with the brutal Utah Jazz at altitude on the second night of a back-to-back.

 
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17. Bucks (26-28, LW 16).
They have dropped 9 of their last 11 and while J.J. Redick is an upgrade at the guard spot he’s not a game changer. Having a guy who likes to work off the ball paired with Brandon Jennings and/or Monta Ellis is not exactly going to solve a lot of problems. And he’s a free agent this summer.

 
source:  18. Mavericks (25-30, LW 19). That was pretty much a must-win game Sunday in terms of the Mavericks making the playoffs, so thanks a lot Mark Cuban for adding the fuel to Kobe fire for that game. My next question is will they go after Josh Smith this summer, and if yes at what price?

 
source:  19. Cavaliers (18-37, LW 21). They had won two in a row before giving the Heat plenty of fight on Sunday. Talking with Cavaliers players at All-Star weekend it is clear they are an optimistic group about the future.

 
source:  20. Raptors (23-33, LW 24). They are four games out of a playoff spot in the West. They would need an implosion by the Bucks (not likely) or the Celtics (less likely) to get in. Which makes their game at Milwaukee this wee huge for them, a must win to have any chance.

 
source:  21. 76ers (22-32, LW 20). They have lost five in a row and any playoff dreams have gone up in a puff of smoke. The only question now is how many games does Andrew Bynum play and can you make any real reads about the team going forward with him in that time?

 
source:  22. Pistons (22-36, LW 22). Rough week with the Pistons blowing a lead to the Grizzlies then facing the Pacers twice. That doesn’t mean you can haul off and punch Tyler Hansbrough. You listening Will Bynum?

 
source:  23. Wizards (17-37, LW 23). Their five-man starting unit — John Wall, Bradley Beal, Martell Webster, Emeka Okafor and Nene — are playing well together. They want to keep Webster as a free agent this summer but he could get too expensive for their blood.

 
source:  24. Trail Blazers (25-30, LW 17). Lost seven in a row (before Wesley Mathews got them a win over the Celtics Sunday) and with the Lakers and Mavericks surging it’s hard to see this team coming back and make the playoffs.

 
source:  25. Timberwolves (20-32, LW 27). Ricky Rubio is starting to look more and more like his old self and now Kevin Love says he should be back the second half of March. So for 15 games or so we may get to see the playoff team we thought we’d get all season. Damn injuries.

 
source:  26. Hornets (20-37, LW 25). The Hornets had lost three in a row before beating the Kings on Sunday. Anthony Davis has averaged 15.6 points and 8.8 rebounds a game his last five.

 
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27. Kings (19-38, LW 26). They have lost five in a row and with all anybody can talk about being off-the-court, team sale issues it’s hard to see where this team is going to find focus and start playing well.

 
source:  28. Suns (18-39, LW 28). Expect there to be a house cleaning in the front office this summer in Phoenix. Lon Babby is likely out as GM (you sign then anoint Michael Beasley despite the red flags, you get what’s coming to you) and with him Lindsey Hunter will be out.


 
source:  29. Bobcats (13-43, LW 30).
The Bobcats are 6-21 on the road and they will be on the road all this week. They are well on their way to having the most Ping-Pong balls in the lottery for a second straight year. The only team that could catch them….

 
source:  30. Magic (15-41, LW 29). Orlando got a win at the trade deadline — they were going to lose J.J. Redick so they got some nice prospects in Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb. That will not help the win on the court this season, however.

Damian Lillard outduels Russell Westbrook again, Blazers go up 3-1

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Damian Lillard scored 15 of his 24 points in the third quarter, and the Portland Trail Blazers held Russell Westbrook without a basket in the second half in beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-98 on Sunday night to take a 3-1 lead in their series.

Lillard had another big third quarter after scoring 25 points in the period in a Game 3 loss Friday. In this game, the All-Star point guard was 5 of 7 in the third to help Portland take control for good.

Lillard made his first basket with 1:14 left in the first half after missing his first six shots, but he still had seven assists before the break.

“We’ve kind of come to expect it,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “He manages the game. He senses the moment when we need him to do different things. He’s an ultimate competitor. He is going to give it his all.”

C.J. McCollum scored 27 points, Al-Farouq Aminu had 19 points and nine rebounds and Maurice Harkless added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Trail Blazers. Portland can close out the series Tuesday at home.

Paul George had 32 points and 10 rebounds for Oklahoma City. Dennis Schroder added 17 points.

Westbrook scored 14 points on 5-for-21 shooting. He missed his final 10 shots and was 0 for 7 for one point in the second half.

George missed most of the second quarter with three fouls, but the Thunder hung tough and led for much of the period. Lillard hit a 3-pointer in the final minute of the first half to give Portland the lead, then Aminu hit a 3 with 3.9 seconds left as the Trail Blazers took a 50-46 edge into the break.

“I thought in the first half, we weathered the storm a little bit with Paul picking up fouls,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “We didn’t close the half very well and gave them momentum going into the locker room.”

Lillard hit deep back-to-back 3s 27 seconds apart to give Portland a 66-54 lead. The Trail Blazers stretched the lead to 19 in the third quarter before the Thunder closed the gap. George hit a 3-pointer from the corner in the closing seconds to cut Portland’s lead to 79-68.

A 3-pointer by Schroder cut Portland’s lead to 97-87 with 3:35 remaining, but the Trail Blazers maintained control.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Lillard was just 2 of 8 in the first half and scored seven points. … Made 22 of 23 free throws. … Outrebounded the Thunder 41-38.

Thunder: Donovan was called for a technical in the first quarter for a no-call against Steven Adams. … Shot 37.5 percent from the field. … Westbrook had nine rebounds and seven assists.

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP

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Kawhi Leonard scores 34 as Raptors take 3-1 lead over Magic

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Kawhi Leonard missed the NBA playoffs last season, in multiple ways.

He wasn’t playing the games.

He wasn’t feeling the games, either.

That’s not a problem this season for the 2014 NBA Finals MVP. Healthy and happy, Leonard has the Toronto Raptors one win away from the second round. He scored 34 points and the Raptors beat the Orlando Magic 107-85 on Sunday night to take a 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference first-round series.

“You just want to be out there on the floor, with your teammates and just feel that team spirit and chemistry, just trying to focus on one goal,” said Leonard, who was out for almost all of last season, his last with San Antonio before an offseason trade to Toronto. “That’s something I was missing, just being out, sitting out. That’s why it’s a blessing this year just to be able to play and be on the floor, regardless of what the outcome is.”

Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell each scored 16 for the Raptors, who can advance with a home win in Game 5 on Tuesday. Toronto has now won three consecutive postseason games, only the third time that’s happened in franchise history.

Aaron Gordon scored 25 for the Magic, making his first seven shots of the second half. Evan Fournier scored 19 and Nikola Vucevic added 11 for the Magic, who committed 17 turnovers that became 21 Toronto points.

“We’re better than what we’ve shown,” Gordon said.

And now the Magic’s season is squarely on the brink. There have been 11 teams to successfully rally from a 3-1 series deficit in a best-of-seven NBA series, and of those, only three pulled it off by winning a Game 7 on the road.

So it’s not impossible – just highly improbable.

“Our guys have fought hard all year,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said.

He liked the fight on Sunday, too.

Leonard just always had the better counterpunch.

He made 12 of 20 shots, added six rebounds and scored his 34 points in 35 minutes. He was in total control on both ends, and the Raptors shot 53 percent – a franchise record for a road playoff game. Serge Ibaka scored 13 and Kyle Lowry had nine assists for the Raptors.

“Road wins are the best, especially in the playoffs,” Leonard said. “And obviously, we all know the job isn’t done yet.”

A flurry at the end of the first half, led by Leonard and Siakam, put Toronto up by double digits and the margin stayed there the rest of the way.

Vucevic missed from close range – the Magic argued that Leonard was guilty of goaltending, the referees disagreed – with about 2:45 left in the half, a disputed play that could have gotten Orlando within seven.

Instead, the Magic went into the break down by 16.

Toronto closed the half on an 11-1 run, with Leonard scoring the first five and Siakam hitting a pair of 3s for the final six. The last of those 3s by Siakam came with 4.5 seconds left, and the Raptors headed into intermission with a 58-42 cushion.

“These series, and the games in the series, are a lot about imposing your will on a team,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.

Whenever Orlando flashed some hope in the third quarter, Leonard immediately snuffed it out.

A dunk by Gordon cut the lead to 13? Leonard made a 3.

A 3-pointer by Fournier to get within 12? Leonard made a pullup.

A stepback by Gordon to get within 12 again? Leonard split defenders, absorbed contact and laid the ball in to start a three-point play.”

“He’s a Finals MVP,” Gordon said. “He’s doing what he’s supposed to do. That’s what they pay the man for, to come down here and be Kawhi Leonard.”

And before long, there was no more doubt about the outcome. Magic fans started leaving midway through the fourth quarter. The team’s dancers gathered for a group photo at midcourt not long after the final buzzer, as if they knew the last home game of the season had just ended.

TIP-INS

Raptors: Toronto is 28-2 this season (and 16-0 on the road) when leading by at least 10 points at the half. … Leonard’s teams are 60-31 when he plays in the postseason. Among players in this year’s playoffs with at least 60 postseason wins, only Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry – all Golden State Warriors – have a better winning percentage.

Magic: Orlando, which fell behind 11-0 in Game 2 and 10-0 in Game 3, started Game 4 on a 7-0 run. The Magic started 6 for 6 from the field, and then missed 26 of their next 38 shots – going 1 for 13 from 3-point range during that drought. … Terrence Ross beat the buzzer for the second straight game; it was a midcourt shot to close the first half of Game 2, and this time it was a 35-footer to end the third quarter.

VIRAL MOMENT

Nurse was trending on social media for much of the game, after a fairly nondescript 3-second call on Fred VanVleet with 2:12 left in the opening quarter elicited quite the reaction from him. Nurse stood almost perfectly still on the sideline after the call, his mouth agape for about 15 seconds in some sort of disbelief. “Is that a good thing?” Nurse asked afterward, when told he was a social-media phenomenon.

UNTIMELY

Orlando has dropped three straight, its longest slide since losing four in a row from Jan. 23-29. The Magic have also been held under 100 points in three straight games for the first time since Jan. 6-9.

UP NEXT

Game 5 is Tuesday in Toronto.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Kyle Korver: ‘I have never been around a young player like Donovan Mitchell’ (VIDEO)

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Utah Jazz wing Kyle Korver has played with some good point yards in his career. Deron Williams, Allen Iverson, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Jeff Teague, Dennis Schroder… the list is long.

That’s why what Korver said on Sunday impacted so many people.

Speaking to reporters this week, Korver said that he had never seen a young player like Donovan Mitchell take over a team and take responsibility for leadership the way the second-year Jazz player had.

Via Twitter:

Those are some pretty strong words of support by Korver, and Mitchell is going to need them. The Jazz are now down, 3-0, to the Houston Rockets in their first round series.

Draymond Green leaves arena wearing brace on right wrist (PHOTO)

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The Golden State Warriors have a 3-1 lead over the Los Angeles Clippers in their first-round series. But as it often happens in the playoffs, it appears the Warriors could be starting to get banged up.

After the game on Sunday, Draymond Green was seen wearing a brace on his right hand. NBC Sports Bay Area’s Logan Murdock published a photo after the game of Green sporting his new supporting wrap.

According to Green, it’s nothing to worry about.

Via NBC Sports Bay Area:

The next game in the series isn’t for a couple of days, so Green has a chance to rest up. Still, the idea that Warriors could lose some production value out of one of their most important playoff performers isn’t great.

Hopefully Green will be able to get healthy and the athletic staff will get him some treatment that works so he can play effectively moving forward.