NBA Power Rankings: It’s Miami then everyone else

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Not much change at the top of the rankings this week, the Heat can’t seem to lose (the only real shift was the Clippers jumping the Pacers after beating them). The interesting question going forward is how far will the Spurs tumble without Tony Parker for a month. And if they tumble here, do they give back 3 games to the Thunder in the race for the top seed out West?

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1. Heat (43-14, last week ranked No. 1). LeBron was ridiculous in February and this becomes the problem trying to stop the Heat in the playoffs — if you fully commit to taking him out of the game Dwyane Wade (playing very well) or Chris Bosh will beat you. Are you better off with the “Jordan rules” idea of letting LeBron get his and shutting everyone else down?

 
source:  2. Spurs (47-14, LW 2). Let the record reflect the Spurs had a 3 game lead over the second-seed Thunder and 3.5 over the Clippers when Tony Parker went down for a month with a sprained ankle. The Spurs have a way of still winning despite injuries, (they are 4-1 without Parker this season) but it is going to be tough to not slide back in the standings this time.

 
source:  3. Thunder (43-16, LW 3). If you are the Thunder, are you not thinking you need to use Sunday’s win over the Clippers as a springboard to chase down the Spurs for the top seed in the West. And maybe the best overall record. That is one loud home court the Thunder have and it would be handy in the playoffs.

 
source:  4. Clippers (43-19 LW 5). They won four in a row — including a quality win last week in Indiana — then fought back to make it a close game before losing to the Thunder on Sunday. Still, it’s becoming clear they are a step back of the Spurs and Thunder out West.

 
source:  5. Pacers (38-22, LW 4). David West was the reason the Pacers beat the Bulls Sunday, he’s the reason the Pacers beat a lot of teams this year. He is an unrestricted free agent this summer and the Pacers have to pay the man. They need him. Indy’s Roy Hibbert also starting to find his groove.

 
source:  6. Nuggets (38-22, LW 7). Winners of four in a row, including a quality one over the Thunder last Friday. They could have a first-round matchup with the Grizzlies in the playoffs, which would be a fascinating contrast of styles.

 
source:  7. Grizzlies (39-19, LW 6). They have won nine of 10 and their loss in that stretch is to the Heat. They have played much better after the Rudy Gay trade, but that could slow now with Zach Randolph banged up a little. Ed Davis, opportunity is knocking.

 
source:  8. Knicks (35-21, LW 8). The Knicks are about to enter a brutally tough month of their schedule, including the second night of a back-to-back, fourth game in five days Thursday at Oklahoma City. It’s going to be tough to retake the two seed against this schedule.

 
source:  9. Rockets (33-28, LW 9). I love that coach Kevin McHale is still experimenting with his roster, taking lightly-used rookie Donatas Motiejunas and starting him to give better floor spacing. And it works. The Rockets are a team in progress but they are making progress.

 
source:  10. Bulls (34-26, LW 10). The Bulls are 4-6 in their last 10 and that is all about the lack of offensive spark — they traded their depth away last summer and that comes at a price. We all just continue to wait patiently for Derrick Rose to feel ready to go.

 
source:  11. Nets (34-26, LW 11). The Nets are not a bad team — not a contender, not top three in the East even, but good. We say that so you don’t get fooled by the next three weeks when the Nets feast on a schedule heavy with lottery teams and they start to look better than they are.

 
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12. Lakers (30-30, LW 14). They are a .500 team again and as of Monday morning just 2.5 games out of the playoffs after winning 13-of-17. The playoffs are within reach, but they have to keep winning at least two thirds of their games to make it work. Tough start to week at Oklahoma City.

 
source:  13. Jazz (32-27, LW 12). If the Lakers are going to catch the Jazz it could happen in the next three weeks — Utah’s schedule gets road heavy (six of eight) and playoff team heavy (eight of next 10). How they play in that stretch may determine where they are in late April (Oklahoma City of golfing).

 
source:  14. Celtics (31-27, LW 16). Really good tests coming up for the Celtics — at Indiana, home to Atlanta then back out on the road at Oklahoma City. It’s going to be interesting to see who Boston faces in the first round of the playoffs, they will be a tough out.

 
source:  15. Hawks (33-24, LW 15). Every time I watch this team in a late-game situation against a good team — take the Lakers on Sunday night for example — I’m left to wonder, “Does this team even get out of the first round?”

 
source:  16. Bucks (29-28, LW 17). Right now there is a fun little competition as Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings and J.J. Redick try not to be the guy on the bench at the end of the game. The Bucks are a playoff team but head out on a tough West Coast road swing this week.

 
source:  17. Warriors (33-27, LW 13). Losers of four in a row and seven of their last 10, the Warriors have picked a tough time to slump. They are the six seed in the West now and 3.5 games up on the 9 seed Lakers.

 
source:  18. Mavericks (26-33, LW 18). Two losses last week where they had leads and gave them up — those are the kind of games they had to start winning and just haven’t. So they are looking up at the playoffs. We’ll see if they can keep the Rockets under 130 on Wednesday in a rematch.

 
source:  19. Cavaliers (20-39, LW 19). I’ll admit I was concerned Dion Waiters was just going to develop into a gunner in this league, but with Kyrie Irving sidelined he’s been dishing out assists and looking the part of playmaker. He is going to be better than I thought draft night.

 
source:  20. Trail Blazers (27-31, LW 24). As their focus goes from making the playoffs to the summer, the question I wonder about is if LaMarcus Aldridge can be the recruiter the Blazers can use to go with that cap space they have

 
source:  21. Wizards (19-39, LW 23). In his last five games, Bradley Beal is averaging 20 points a game and is taking better than half his shots from three, where he is hitting 45.5 percent in that stretch. Plus, I could swear in crunch time Sunday I saw John Wall knock down some key jumpers.

 
source:  22. Raptors (23-37, LW 20). Toronto has lost four in a row. Rudy Gay is scoring 20.5 points a game but is shooting just 38.7 percent as a Raptor — Toronto’s fans, that is who Rudy Gay is. He gets you points, but don’t expect any level of consistent efficiency.

 
source:  23. 76ers (23-34, LW 21). If Andrew Bynum doesn’t play this season — and do you really think he will? — the question is how much does he get offered this summer? My guess, at least two years at $13 million per with team options for future years. Big men are at a premium.

 
source:  24. Pistons (23-39, LW 22). They have lost five of their last six and with Andre Drummond out they aren’t nearly as much fun to watch. The question is do they want to keep Jose Calderon after this season and if so how much are they willing to pay to do so.

 
source:  25. Suns (21-39, LW 28). They have won three in a row including a stunning win last week over the Spurs. Not so coincidentally, Jermaine O’Neal has played well the past couple weeks.

 
source:  26. Hornets (21-39, LW 26). Jason Smith is out for the season with a shoulder injury. Anthony Davis has a bone bruise in his shoulder area and is out a while. So, good time to see New Orleans and their weak defense on your schedule.

 
source:  27. Timberwolves (20-36, LW 25). Losers of five in a row and now both Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko are battling injuries that could have them sidelined a while. On the bright side, more Ping-Pong balls for the lottery.

 
source:  28. Kings (20-40, LW 27). You have to say this much for Sacramento — their city management has put together a good offer that will challenge the league’s other owners to make a tough decision on where this team plays next season. We’ll see if that’s enough.

 
source:  29. Magic (16-44, LW 30). Each of their last three opponents have shot at least 53 percent for the game. The plan all along was to get worse to get better, so, congratulations on fulfilling the plan.

 
source:  30. Bobcats (13-46, LW 29). They lost to the Clippers last week and it was expected. They lost big to the Jazz, who were without Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap. But they are back on the bottom because they got just crushed by the Kings. It was an ugly week in Charlotte.

Report: 76ers open to trading if they hire Mike D’Antoni

76ers forward Al Horford and Tobias Harris
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The 76ers said they wouldn’t trade Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons.

Which makes it confounding they reportedly want to hire Mike D’Antoni as coach.

D’Antoni has typically succeeded with teams that can play small to spread the floor and pressure opponents through speed… and struggled otherwise. Post-based Embiid and non-shooting Simmons don’t fit D’Antoni’s demonstrated style.

Maybe Philadelphia’s roster could change.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Keith Smith:

The 76ers could trade Al Horford and Tobias Harris to reduce their glut of bigs. But Horford was already on the block (good luck convincing anyone to take his contract), and Harris is also expensive. For what it’s worth, Harris could thrive as a small-ball power forward in D’Antoni’s system, but Harris is often pigeonholed as a small forward on this roster.

The Embiid-Simmons pairing is a fundamental issue, though. Whatever Philadelphia does with Horford and Harris, Embiid and Simmons just haven’t played like they’d fit well together under D’Antoni.

If the 76ers remain insistent on not trading Embiid or Simmons, there are only so many roster moves that can be done to help D’Antoni.

Adding further complications, Philadelphia might be seeking a new lead executive. That could explain why Tyronn Lue has also gotten so strongly linked to this job. It’s not even clear who’ll oversee the coach and roster, let alone what plan that person will have.

So, yes, it’s meaningful if the 76ers are advancing trade talks with other teams to make their roster fit D’Antoni. But there are still plenty of questions about what will actually happen in Philadelphia.

For NBA players, Breonna Taylor grand jury decision ‘not enough’

Grizzlies forward Anthony Tolliver wears Breonna Taylor shirt
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — LeBron James sent the word to the Los Angeles Lakers in a group text on Wednesday afternoon, and basketball suddenly seemed irrelevant.

A grand jury in Kentucky had finally spoken. And James was letting his team know that NBA players, who have spent months seeking justice for Breonna Taylor, did not get what they wanted.

“Something was done,” Lakers guard Danny Green said, “but it wasn’t enough.”

Wednesday’s decision by the grand jury, which brought no charges against Louisville police for Taylor’s killing and only three counts of wanton endangerment against fired Officer Brett Hankison for shooting into Taylor’s neighbors’ homes, was not unexpected by many NBA players and coaches. They had a sense it wasn’t going to go how they hoped.

“I know we’ve been using our platform down here to try to bring about education and a voice in a lot of players on our team, especially also spoken out on justice for Breonna Taylor,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We have not gotten that justice.”

Teams came to Walt Disney World to finish the season and crown a champion, and hoping that the platform of the NBA’s restart bubble could help amplify calls for change. Players and coaches have used the NBA spotlight to make statements at a time when the demand for racial equality and an end to police brutality is resonating as loudly as it has in generations.

And Taylor’s story – the tale of a 26-year-old Black woman who was killed March 13 by police in Louisville when they burst into her apartment on a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation centered around a suspect who did not live there – has captivated NBA players. Many have met, virtually, with members of her family to offer support. They say her name in news conferences, wear it on shirts, scrawl it onto their sneakers.

“We have moms. We have sisters, nieces, aunties. And just like men of color have experienced traumatic instances, so have women,” Boston forward Jaylen Brown said. “That is an example of some things that happen to women in our country. So, we wanted to stand alongside them, but also make it that it’s not just us. I think the future is female, so it’s important to show our sisters that we care. That’s why it’s been important.”

Even for teams not in the bubble, it mattered. Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce leads a committee of NBA coaches tasked with finding new ways to use their own platform to create change, and he’s encouraged his own players – Black and white alike – to speak out and take action, whether in Atlanta or their own community.

Pierce took Wednesday’s news hard.

“Yeah, there was a grand jury and yeah, they went through the information and yeah, they have facts to support whatever the claims may be,” Pierce said. “But that doesn’t provide any justice for those that are on the outside, those that feel like the police and law enforcement are there to protect them. … What currently is happening isn’t good enough.”

Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell:

Clippers big Montrezl Harrell:

National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts went a step further. “Sadly, there was no justice today for Breonna Taylor,” Roberts said. “Her killing was the result of a string of callous and careless decisions made with a lack of regard for humanity, ultimately resulting in the death of an innocent and beautiful woman with her entire life ahead of her.”

The league shut down for three days last month when a boycott that was started by the Milwaukee Bucks – in response to the shooting by police of a Black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wisconsin – nearly caused players to end the season because they felt their pleas for change were not being taken seriously enough.

And Wednesday’s news was another disappointment for them.

“We feel like we’ve taken a step back, that we haven’t made the progress we were seeking,” Green said. “Our voices aren’t being heard loud enough. But we’re not going to stop. We’re going to continue. We’re going to continue fighting, we’re going to continue to push, we’re going to continue to use our voices.”

Report: Celtics were ‘very much enamored’ with Tyler Herro, whom Heat took one pick before Boston

Heat guard Tyler Herro vs. Celtics
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The Celtics – holding the Kings’ first-round pick – lost a tiebreaker with the Hornets and Heat in last year’s draft. Charlotte picked No. 12, Miami No. 13 and Boston No. 14.

The Heat took Tyler Herro No. 13.

A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston:

On NBA draft night last year there was a collective moan among the Boston Celtics brass right about the time the Miami Heat used the No. 13 pick to select Tyler Herro.

The Celtics were very much enamored with the 20-year-old leading up to last June’s draft

The draft is full of smokescreens and disinformation, especially from Boston. So, this can’t be taken as gospel.

But it’s still another fun chapter in the Pat Riley-Danny Ainge rivalry, which includes a previous example of the Heat drafting a player the Celtics coveted.

Herro made the All-Rookie second team and is now helping Miami against Boston in the Eastern Conference finals – no small feat for a rookie.

The Celtics settled for Romeo Langford, who had a far less productive first season and is now out for the year.

Of course, it’s far too early to declare either player will absolutely have a better career than the other. Besides, Boston never chose between Herro and Langford. The Heat got the choice and took the player both teams seemingly agreed was better.

Down 2-1 to Lakers, Nuggets sense a familiar bubble series pattern

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Mike Malone thinks he’s been here before.

Not just down 2-1 in an NBA bubble playoff series and having to come from behind, but the pattern of it — his team getting stronger and figuring things out while the opponent falters.

“This is to me kind of similar to the last series,” Malone said after the Nuggets’ Game 3 victory. “Game 1 the Clippers blew us out. Game 2 we win. Game 3, we felt we gave that game away against the Clippers.

“[The Lakers] blew us out in Game 1. Game 2 we gave away at the end. We had to right that wrong and try to get a game under our belt, which we did tonight. This gives us that much more confidence going into this series letting them know that we’re here, we’re in this for the long haul. We’re going to continue to fight and do whatever we can.”

“You definitely learn more about your opponent, what to try to look for, tendencies, and all that…” Jamal Murray said about why Denver improves as the series gets longer. “Like I said, just taking care of stuff that we can control, whether it’s turnovers, communications, switches, rebounding. Areas that we should control, we got to do that if we want to win. If we’re consistent in our play, like we touched on earlier, we can win a lot of games, put a lot of pressure on other teams.”

Those tendencies and patterns, that history of success, has Denver feeling more and more like this is a series they can win. There is a confidence that is brimming from the Nuggets stars, especially Murray. He has stepped up his game, and it’s not just the three-point shooting — 34.6% in the regular season  47.7% in the playoffs — it’s his aggressive attacks and finishing at the rim. Murry, an inconsistent finisher at the rim even during this regular season, has been lights out when he gets inside in the playoffs. It stems from confidence.

“I think what I’ve seen from Jamal this year, aside from the growth defensively, which has been tremendous, I’m so proud of him in that regard, but now I know every night what I’m getting from Jamal,” Malone said. “Last year we knew what we were getting from Nikola, but what kind of game would Jamal have. That’s no longer the case. We have two superstars in Nikola and Jamal and a lot of young, talented players behind them.”

It should not be a surprise to anyone that the Nuggets played their best basketball with their backs against the wall — this team has been in four straight seven-game playoff series, winning three. They are used to the pressure. Nor should it have caught anyone off-guard that they would not go away quietly. Some in Lakers’ nation thought Anthony Davisgame-winning three to put the Lakers up 2-0 was a gut punch that would floor the Nuggets.

Malone made sure that was not the takeaway from the game.

“[Monday] when we met and we watched the film, I started off by watching the last play of the game,” Malone said. “Get the elephant in the room out of the way. Let’s talk about the play, what happened. When we’re in this situation again, let’s learn from it. Yes, we all take ownership. Let’s learn from it.

“After that, my goal was when we got done with that film, they saw so many positive clips of us doing the right things, which put us in a position to win. Now we had to do that for more than just a second half. We had to do it for four quarters.”

They did it for three, but that was enough to get the win thanks to some late heroics from Murray.

The key to the remainder of this series is defense. For both teams.

Denver is not an elite defensive team, they were middle of the pack for the regular season. What they can do throughout a series is become more disruptive. They have done it this series, quieting the Lakers’ halfcourt offense. The Lakers scored less than a point per possession — 92.8 points per 100 possessions — in their halfcourt in Game 3 (stats via Cleaning The Glass). Add to that the fact LeBron James is fading as games go on — he is dominant in the first quarter but struggling more in the fourth. Denver got a fantastic game from Jerami Grant in Game 3, they will need more of those games, but the Nuggets have a plan that works and that they can execute.

The heart of that plan is keeping the Lakers out of transition, which brings us to the other side of the equation: The Lakers intensity and physicality on defense almost won them Game 3. The Lakers forced turnovers — six in a row at one point — and turned those into transition buckets. The Lakers are as good a transition team as there is in the league and the Nuggets are terrible at defending it. When the Lakers run, they win. It’s just harder to do that when you’re taking the ball out of the basket each time down, the Lakers need stops.

Expect the Lakers to come out with intensity in Game 4, maybe helping them race out to a big lead. Maybe.  But even if that happens, the Nuggets will not be phased — they came from 16 and 19 back against the Clippers to win last round.

Denver has seen this movie before, and they liked the ending.