NBA Power Rankings: After the Heat it gets interesting

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Going to be an interesting week out West — Thunder and Spurs on Monday, while the Grizzlies play the Clippers and Nuggets this week. Those games don’t foreshadow playoff outcomes as much as hint at seedings — if Denver can get home court in the first round whoever has to face them is in trouble.

source:  1. Heat (47-14, last week ranked No. 1). Winners of 18 in a row. What is amazing is they need another 15 to tie the NBA record (1972 Lakers). The heat have done it with defense — the last five games the Heat defense is allowing just 94 points per 100 possessions, seven better than their season average.

 
source:  2. Thunder (47-16, LW 3). Winners of five in a row and four of those are over playoff teams. Looking forward to the Monday night showdown with the Spurs as we start to get a sense of what looks more hand more like the Western Conference finals showdown.

 
source:  3. Spurs (48-15, LW 2). Every team is allowed an off night now and again, so we’re just going to ignore whatever that was against Portland last week. Good test against the Thunder Monday — can the Spurs continue to defend them well — but the rest of the week is winnable games even without Tony Parker.

 
source:  4. Nuggets (42-22, LW 6). Winners of eight in a row and they are doing it on both ends of the floor, outscoring opponents by 16.2 points per 100 possessions the last five games. But some interesting tests ahead this week with the Knicks and potential first round matchup preview with the Grizzlies.

 
source:  5. Grizzlies (42-19, LW 7). They are 9-1 in their last 10 but they have done it against some soft competition. This week they get the Clippers, Nuggets and a Jazz teams that should be desperate. Also they are road heavy at the end of the season and they need wins to hold onto that playoff top-four seed (and home court in the first round).

 
source:  6. Clippers (45-20 LW 4). This team is a lot more than just dunks, we just get distracted by the shiny objects of Jamal Crawford’s alley-oop to Blake Griffin, then Chris Paul’s to DeAndre Jordan. Just two games this week but they are the Grizzlies and Knicks, so now gimmies.

 
source:  7. Knicks (38-22, LW 8). Good win over Utah despite the injuries, but they will miss the depth Amare Stoudemire bought (particularly when Carmelo Anthony is out). Tough West Coast swing this week with the Warriors, Nuggets and Clippers on the docket.

 
source:  8. Pacers (39-23, LW 5). I think the Pacers are the team in the East best suited to beat the Heat in a seven game series. And the Heat crushed them Sunday. Which pretty much sums up the East.

 
source:  9. Lakers (33-31, LW 12). I’ll admit it, I didn’t think they Lakers could get here. I didn’t see evidence they could get on a winning streak like this. I didn’t think the wheels would come off the Jazz. But as of Monday the Lakers are the eighth seed and the team everyone at the top of the Western Conference would like to avoid in the first round of the playoffs.

 
source:  10. Nets (37-26, LW 11). I’m not sold on Brooklyn but they are continuing to beat the teams they are supposed to beat and with a lineup of the slumping Sixers, the Hornets and the Hawks on the schedule they could keep going. Deron Williams is looking like his old self lately, n

 
source:  11. Celtics (34-28, LW 14). They had won five in a row until they ran into the Thunder on Sunday, and you can’t hold that loss against them. They are winning close games, which is a sign of a veteran team but eventually close games come back to bite you.

 
source:  12. Rockets (34-30, LW 9). They keep losing games a team fighting for a playoff spot needs to win, but they have nine of their next 10 at home so look for them to make a little run and secure a playoff spot in the West.

 
source:  13. Bulls (35-28, LW 10). They have been going through a tough part of the schedule and they stay out West this week to play the Kings and Warriors on the road. But things will lighten up. And Derrick Rose should only come back when he is ready, not before.

 
source:  14. Bucks (32-29, LW 16). Swept a two-game series against the Warriors, with Brandon Jennings having a huge second game. Watch them play lately and you see a lot better ball movement and a lot less isolation. Not sure we should credit J.J. Redick for that, but whatever the reason it’s working they have won six of seven.

 
source:  15. Hawks (34-28, LW 15). When really tested the Hawks rarely seem to pass, such as their loss to Boston last week. This week the Heat, Lakers and Nets are on the schedule to provide real tests. I’m not optimistic for them.

 
source:  16. Warriors (35-28, LW 17). The Warriors are 4-11 in their last 15 and are sliding back down the Western Conference standings. They are just 2-2 on the current seven-game homestand that was supposed to help right the ship. The Warriors miss the old David Lee, and David Lee misses his old, pain-free knees.

 
source:  17. Jazz (32-31, LW 13). They have lost seven of their last eight games (including to a Knicks team missing key players) and have fallen behind the Lakers. The next week gets no easier with the Thunder and Grizzlies on the schedule (and the following week is just as daunting).

 
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18. Mavericks (29-33, LW 18). They have won 4-of-5 behind a resurgent Vince Carter. Too late to make a playoff run, but they have played well. The winning ways could slow with the Bucks, Spurs and Thunder on the schedule this week.

 
source:  19. Trail Blazers (29-33, LW 20). As injuries have pushed Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis and others to the side it has become more and more clear Damian Lillard will run away with Rookie of the Year. So, there’s your bright spot, Blazers fans.

 
source:  20. Raptors (25-39, LW 22). Rudy Gay continues to be an enigma to Raptors fans — he missed a whole lot of shots at the end of a tight game against the Lakers, then they cam back to beat the Cavs without him. Raptors fans, my advice is to get used to it.

 
source:  21. Cavaliers (21-42, LW 19). No Kyrie Irving for three to four weeks. Ugh. It might be time to shut Irving down for the season because he’s a franchise-changing player when healthy but the Cavs need him to stay that way.

 
source:  22. Wizards (20-41, LW 21). Bradley Beal being out has seen the Wizards offense take a step back — he and John Wall were starting to find a groove. So Wizards fans, what kind of contract extension would you offer John Wall this summer?

 
source:  23. Suns (22-41, LW 25). No Marcin Gortat for a month. The Suns continue to be a team that can surprise you and beat a playoff team one night, then lose to the worst team in the league the next. They need an identity, and that needs to start at the top.

 
source:  24. Pistons (23-42, LW 24). Andre Drummond is still out and will not be back on this road trip, but he is traveling with the team and was getting a workout in with a trainer before the Pistons faced the Clippers Sunday.

 
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25. Timberwolves (21-38, LW 27). They have lost eight of nine and even Ricky Rubio can’t save this offense — what is the point of a great passer when nobody can finish. Injuries have devastated this roster.

 
source:  26. Kings (22-42, LW 28). Before he was ejected before the end of the game on Sunday, DeMarcus Cousins was already being benched at the end of games recently. What to do about Cousins becomes the issue for the next ownership group, whoever they are.

 
source:  27. Magic (17-46, LW 29). Dwight Howard comes to town on Tuesday, we’ll see how cathartic it is for the fans to get their venom out of their systems.

 
source:  28. Hornets (21-42, LW 26). They blew double-digit leads and lost to the Magic and Lakers last week, and they almost did it a third time to the Trail Blazers but held on for the win Sunday. Still, not a good trend.

 
source:  29. 76ers (23-38, LW 23). The most disappointing team in the NBA this season. On a lot of levels.

 
source:  30. Bobcats (13-50, LW 30). They have lost 10 in a row, their second double-digit losing streak of the season. They also are the first team to 50 losses. So, Bobcats fans, spend March scouting college tournaments for your lottery pick.

Writer recants report that Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because team didn’t spend enough

Pacers executive Larry Bird
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The report from ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan that Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because the team didn’t spend enough?

Never mind.

Pacers release:

Statement from Larry Bird

“A published report indicated that I left my position as President of Basketball Operations in 2017 because ownership was not willing to spend “big money” and that it frustrated me enough to step aside. Nothing could be further from the truth. I want everyone to know I left there because it was time for me to move on from the Pacers.

“I had worked with Kevin Pritchard and at that time I felt Kevin was ready to take over and he has proven that. I can’t thank Herb and Mel Simon, along with Pacers Sports & Entertainment, for the opportunities to, at first, coach, and then later move into the front office.”

Statement from ESPN senior writer Jackie MacMullan:

“About three weeks ago during a discussion on the podcast The Hoop Collective, I misspoke when I expressed my opinion regarding the business practices of the Indiana Pacers, and inferred that Larry Bird had been frustrated during his time as team president. It was a careless remark, based solely on my opinion, and therefore should have never been said. Larry Bird never expressed those feelings to me, and I apologize to both Larry and team owner Herb Simon for poor choice of my words.”

I don’t know why the Pacers bothered quoting Bird, who still works for the organization as Advisor to the President of Basketball Operations. MacMullan’s clear recantation says everything necessary (and speaks to her integrity and humility).

It’s good this story got cleared up.

Some things that remain true:

Three Things to Know: Is it time to worry about the Laker offense?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Is it time to worry about the Laker offense?

The Los Angeles Lakers have the worst offense in the bubble.

We’re not just talking about the 86 points on 35.2% shooting in Wednesday’s loss to Chris Paul and the Thunder, although that was a low point.

Four games into the NBA’s restart, the Lakers are scoring less than a point per possession while shooting 39.4% overall and 25.2% from three. Their offense has been worse than the Wizards in Orlando — and how many Wizards starters could you name right now? The Lakers’ starting five — LeBron James, Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Anthony Davis, and JaVale McGee — have a dreadful 74.4 offensive rating though four games (and a -30.1 net rating).

Or, since a picture is worth 1,000 words, take a look at the Lakers’ shot chart in the restart.

That’s a lot of red.

Should Lakers’ fans be worried?

Probably not. This is some small sample size theater with just four games. Coach Frank Vogel has been playing around with the lineup rotations, things haven’t been playoff tight. Plus, after the Lakers beat the Clippers opening night they had the top seed all but sewn up, there hasn’t been real motivation for L.A. to play its best.

More importantly, don’t worry because this team still has LeBron James (although he shot just 42% overall and 27.3% from three over the last four games). They still have Anthony Davis, who has been one of the MVPs of the bubble so far. Those two form the best pick-and-roll combo in the league, and so long as they are on the roster the Lakers have a chance to win it all.

The shooting is a concern — and not a new problem. The Lakers were a below-average shooting team in the season before the shut down (21st in the league on open look three-point percentage). We’ve watched LeBron’s play cover up the flaws in a team and take them to the Finals for years, and it certainly could happen again, but the Lakers shooting — and right now their entire offense — is a concern.

2) Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons leaves game with a knee issue

Non-contact injuries keep fans and coaches up at night, which is why Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons walking off the court with a limp and going straight to the locker room with a knee issue Wednesday was very concerning.

Simmons did not return to the game after that.

The good news is there is reportedly no swelling and the MRI came back clean, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. Officially, Simmons is day-to-day.

Simmons had eight points on 2-of-10 shooting when he left the court. Through three games of the restart — where he is playing more off the ball as a power forward — he’s averaged 11.7 points and seven rebounds a game.

3) Memphis lost again, now 0-4 and could fall out of the eighth seed

The Grizzlies came to the NBA’s restart in Orlando with a 3.5 game cushion for the eighth seed, all they had to do was hold on to that through eight games. Now, after and 0-4 start, that lead is down to just one game over Portland.

On Wednesday, Memphis couldn’t slow down what had been a previously struggling Utah offense and lost 124-115.

The Grizzlies next four games? The Thunder, Raptors, Celtics, and Bucks. Memphis is going to have to find a couple of wins in there without Jaren Jackson Jr., who is out for the rest of this season with a torn meniscus in his left knee.

Before games started in the bubble, the idea of two teams passing Memphis — meaning the Grizzlies would fall even out of a play-in series for the eighth seed — seemed impossible. Right now, both the Pelicans and Spurs are just two games back, and both have soft schedules the rest of the way.

Memphis wanted to get some playoff experience for their talented young roster during the restart. Well, this is it — every game becomes must-win now for the Grizzlies. They need to be a focused team that finds another gear. For them to hold on and get in a play-in series will require a couple of wins in their last four.

The race for eighth in the West remains the best thing at the NBA restart. On Thursday Portland faces Denver, while New Orleans takes on winless Sacramento.

LeBron James: On behalf of basketball community, we won’t miss Donald Trump’s viewership

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NBA players kneeled for the national anthem.

President Donald Trump called the protest – which is meant to call attention to racism, particularly through police brutality – “disgraceful” and said he stopped watching games.

And in yet another predictable turn in this news cycle, Lakers star LeBron James fired back at Trump.

LeBron:

I really don’t think the basketball community are sad about losing his viewership, him viewing the game.

And that’s all I’ve got to say. I don’t want to – I’m not going to get into a – because I already know where this could go, where it could lead to for tomorrow for me. I’m not going to get into it.

But I think our game is in a beautiful position. And we have fans all over the world. And our fans not only love the way we play the game – we try to give it back to them with our commitment to the game – but also respect what else we try to bring to the game and acknowledge what’s right and what’s wrong.

And I hope everyone – no matter the race, no matter the color, no matter their size – will see what leadership that we have at the top in our country and understand that November is right around the corner. And it’s a big moment for us as Americans. If we continue to talk about we want better, want change, we have an opportunity to do that.

But the game will go on without his eyes on it. I can sit here and speak for all of us that love the game of basketball. We could care less.

LeBron has frequently criticized the president. Trump has also criticized LeBron. That’s how it goes.

In this case (and others), LeBron has the moral high ground. Kneeling during the national anthem is a patriotic act designed to make the United States a better place for all its people to live – something far more noble than saluting a piece of cloth during a song.

However, LeBron is wrong to speak for the entire basketball community. A lot of people love basketball. They don’t all hold the same political views. Some care about remaining in the good graces of the president of the United States, whomever that is. Some even care about the approval of Trump specifically.

Is there a limit on how much you love basketball if you’d stop watching because of a peaceful protest before a game? Obviously. But there’s still room to love basketball and also care about other things.

LeBron doesn’t have to personally dignify people who care both about basketball and Trump. But LeBron shouldn’t try to speak on their behalf, either.

LeBron’s rebuke would have been powerful enough (and more fair) on its own.

 

Jazz forward Joe Ingles joins Grizzlies huddle, drapes arms over Memphis players (video)

Jazz forward Joe Ingles vs. Grizzlies
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Jazz forward Joe Ingles has no boundaries with huddles.

Ingles invaded the Grizzlies huddle today, even putting his arms around – and some weight on – Dillon Brooks and Grayson Allen. Gorgui Dieng appeared to notice the intruder just before the video cut away:

Beyond the hijinks, Ingles also scored 25 points – including 12 in the fourth quarter – to lead Utah to a 124-115 win.