NBA Power Rankings: Western teams jockey for position behind Heat.

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It’s Miami and then everyone else right now — but notice the next six teams in our weekly power rankings are from the West. That’s because the play of the second tier teams in the East has fallen off (Indiana, New York, Brooklyn)

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1. Heat (51-14, last week ranked No. 1). What kind of concerns can we come up with? They are peaking too early? They will need to sacrifice the streak to get guys rest before the playoffs? Do those things really concern you at all?

 
source:  2. Spurs (51-16, LW 3). Tony Parker or no Tony Parker (and he may be back sooner than projected) they thumped the Thunder on Monday. I’ve moved from the camp that thought the Spurs were a regular season team that would bounce early in the playoffs again to seeing their defense and thinking they are legit contenders.

 
source:  3. Thunder (50-17, LW 2). At what point are the Thunder really going to miss James Harden? Well, did you see them lose to the Spurs Monday and their bench get outplayed? Overall the Thunder are better this year than last, but that punch off the bench is going to matter deep in the playoffs.

 
source:  4. Nuggets (45-22, LW 4). Winners of 11 in a row, including beating the Grizzlies last week. This is a team that has sold the future to its fans for a few years, they need to deliver on that now at least some and get to the second round of the playoffs. They face the Thunder this week, we’ll see if the streak survives that.

 
source:  5. Grizzlies (44-21, LW 5). They beat the Clippers and lost to the Nuggets in a close one this week. Yes, their 14-1 streak was against softer competition, but don’t sleep on this team being real. This week they get the Thunder.

 
source:  6. Clippers (46-21, LW 6). Was in the building to watch them against the Knicks Sunday, and they coasted to a win against a shorthanded team. That’s fine earlier in the season but this does not feel like a team gearing up for the playoffs.

 
source:  7. Lakers (36-32, LW 9). This ranking feels high for a team without Kobe Bryant, but they catch a break in the schedule with just a couple games against softies Phoenix and Washington. Kobe can rest and the Lakers are not going to fall back.

 
source:  8. Pacers (40-26, LW 8). They may get Danny Granger back next week — and they need him. They have lost four of six and their offense takes vacations for stretches each game. But the bigger issue of late is their defense has gone from lockdown to pretty good (allowing 101.8 points per 100 possessions in the last five games, 12th best in the NBA).

 
source:  9. Celtics (36-29, LW 11). Boston is a legitimate threat to the Heat streak — the Celtics have won 11 in a row at home and they catch Miami on a back-to-back. But if Kevin Garnett is out, that mountain suddenly looks a whole lot more steep.

 
source:  10. Nets (38-28, LW 10). They are the four seed but are 1.5 games away from being the seven seed as they embark on an eight game road trip, forced out of their new home by a circus. Which means brace for the fall about to come. They are at the Mavericks and Clippers this week.

 
source:  11. Rockets (36-31, LW 12). They have a lot of home games left but the Rockets are not pulling away in the standings, going 5-5 in their last 10. Big game against the Jazz Wednesday. Hopefully they shoot better than they did against the Warriors Sunday.

 
source:  12. Knicks (38-26, LW 7). They lost four in a row and with injuries to Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire they just cannot create offense. J.R. Smith tries but he’s streaky. Raymond Felton needs a pick-and-roll partner. The Knicks are now 20-21 since their hot start.

 
source:  13. Hawks (37-29, LW 15). When you watch Al Horford and Josh Smith play off each other like they did against the Nets on Sunday, you wonder why it can’t be like that all the time in Atlanta?

 
source:  14. Bulls (36-29, LW 13). They are an up-and-down team right now that needs to get Joakim Noah and Luol Deng some rest down the stretch. And sure, Derrick Rose back if he wants to. Tough games against the Nuggets and Pacers this week.

 
source:  15. Warriors (38-30, LW 16). That was a key win over the Rockets Sunday — gives them a little cushion because the Rockets and Lakers are eyeing that six seed and avoiding OKC and San Antonio in the first round. We’ll see how much Andrew Bogut helps their defense in the coming weeks.

 
source:  16. Bucks (33-32, LW 14). They lost three straight and looked terrible doing it, and only salvaged a win against Orlando because Monta Ellis went nova for a quarter. They look more and more like the sure thing eight seed out East, which means the Heat in the first round. Have fun with that.

 
source:  17. Jazz (34-32, LW 17). They got a quality win over Memphis Sunday and they are going to need a few more of those. They are not out of it — the last 10 games of the Lakers schedule is not easy — but they need wins. It won’t be easy this week against the Rockets, Spurs and Mavericks all on the road.

 
source:  18. Mavericks (31-35, LW 18). They tread water last week (2-2, although in the losses they played the Spurs and Thunder well) and you have to think at this point just getting to .500 on the season is the goal. And it won’t be an easy one with eight of their next nine against playoff teams.

 
source:  19. Trail Blazers (31-34, LW 19). Going small with Damian Lillard and Eric Maynor in the backcourt together has Portland playing some fantastic offensive ball. Five road games this week, tough schedule that includes stops in Chicago, Atlanta and Oklahoma City.

 
source:  20. Wizards (23-42, LW 22). Don’t tell anyone, but John Wall’s jumper looked pretty good last week and he was scoring 24 points a game and earning player of the week honors from the league. Washington swings through the West Coast for some road games this week.

 
source:  21. Raptors (26-41, LW 20). They played the Heat hard on Sunday. So that’s something. It and Amir Johnson’s play on the glass is really all the positives we can come up with.

 
source:  22. Cavaliers (22-44, LW 21). What would be the point of bringing Kyrie Irving back this season? Can’t think of one. Let the man’s body rest.

 
source:  23. Timberwolves (23-41, LW 25). Minnesota has to decide if they want to talk contract extension with Nikola Pekovic this summer or play the restricted free agent game in 2014. The bigger question may be is it David Kahn or Flip Saunders who will be making that call?

 
source:  24. Suns (22-45, LW 23). They have lost four in a row and it feels like the rest of the season is a countdown to big changes in the front office and everywhere this summer.

 
source:  25. Kings (23-44, LW 26). I can’t wait until the ownership situation gets settled there, so we don’t see things like the Thomas Robinson trade again.

 
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26. 76ers (25-40, LW 29). There is still some fight in this team — they almost beat the Heat last week. They have beaten Golden State and Indiana recently.

 
source:  27. Hornets (22-45, LW 28). Anthony Davis has started to consistently put up nice numbers again, and we’ve seen a couple nice games from Eric Gordon. I still want to believe that could be two key cornerstone guys for the franchise, but if seems like that ship has sailed.

 
source:  28. Pistons (23-45, LW 24). They have lost eight in a row but could at least get Andre Drummond back soon, which makes them infinitely more watchable.

 
source:  29. Magic (18-49, LW 27). Hey Milwaukee, why weren’t you playing Tobias Harris again? He looks pretty good down in Orlando.

 
source:  30. Bobcats (14-52, LW 30). They have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the first team in the NBA to do so. Congratulations.

Zion Williamson sitting out Pelicans-Wizards (rest)

Pelicans big Zion Williamson
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The Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams in the bubble. New Orleans has gone 1-3 at Disney World and fallen to 13th in the Western Conference.

Still (barely) hanging in the race to make the play-in, the Pelicans must face the Wizards without Zion Williamson.

Pelicans:

The Pelicans are treating Williamson carefully – and they should. He’s their 20-year-old franchise player with major health concerns.

But New Orleans still has its highest ceiling now with Williamson on the floor. He’s an offensive force. His interior scoring and gravity create efficient looks for himself and teammates.

Williamson has been woeful defensively, and the Pelicans have bigs – Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes – to take Williamson’s minutes. New Orleans can go small, too.

The Pelicans should still beat Washington, even without Williamson. Ideally, this will have Williamson ready for a closing stretch against the Spurs, Kings and Magic without sacrificing today’s game.

Yet, this is really just proof New Orleans isn’t as ready to launch as it appears during Williamson’s most exciting moments. His availability remains murky. His team has run hot and cold. I wouldn’t assume a win over the Wizards – though it’s a game the Pelicans need to preserve their fading playoff hopes.

Rumor: Next NBA season could begin in March

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and 76ers center Joel Embiid
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The NBA could reportedly delay the start of next season – currently planned for Dec. 1 – if fan attendance becomes foreseeable.

How long would the league wait?

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

one plan includes starting in March if the NBA feels they can get fans in the arena by then, as well as not lose personnel and viewership to the Summer Olympics.

I understand the temptation to delay. The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for NBA teams to turn a profit.

But this plan would invite all sorts of complications:

  • What if there’s no vaccine, cure or comparable solution by March? Then, the league would have wasted months getting practically no revenue – rather than reduced revenue – without reaching a more favorable point. (However, maybe owners could also reduce costs with a lockout.)
  • Starting the season in March would radically alter the NBA’s calendar. Shifting back to an October – or even December – start date would mean even more upheaval, potentially for several years.
  • The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for July and August 2021. The Olympics have been a powerful tool for the NBA and its players expanding their global reach.

These are unique and trying circumstances. Coronavirus is a massive and confounding variable. Everything should be on the table.

Do I predict next season will begin in March? No. But apparently the possibility is being considered, which is something.

Magic center Mo Bamba had coronavirus

Magic center Mo Bamba
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Mo Bamba has fallen behind Khem Birch as the Magic’s backup center (to Nikola Vucevic). At the NBA’ resumption at Disney World, Bamba has played in only two of Orlando’s four games, receiving just four and six minutes. Magic coach Steve Clifford cited the 22-year-old’s conditioning.

Bamba wants you to know the full story: He had coronavirus.

Josh Robbins of The Athletic:

Bamba received word of his positive test on June 11

The illness temporarily robbed him of his senses of smell and taste, made him unusually fatigued and caused muscle soreness.

“Part of me is reading the temperature of the room and just knowing that there are definitely going to be questions, and sometimes you’ve just got to address them with honesty,” Bamba said. “In this case, I think it’s best for them to have that context and have that understanding of what, exactly, is going on.

“I want people to know that I’m still working as hard as ever, if not even harder, and I’ll get through this.”

Bamba thought he had endured the worst by the time the Magic entered the NBA bubble on July 7. But the false positives required him to have an additional three-day in-room quarantine while his teammates practiced together on July 9, July 10 and July 11.

I appreciate Bamba being so forthcoming. It was easy for people to suspect he didn’t train properly during the hiatus. Though medical privacy should also be valued, transparency often alleviates the worst suspicions.

At least 54 NBA players have tested positive for coronavirus. Does that number already include Bamba? It’s unclear.

After going quiet during most of the shutdown, the league has announced the number of players who’ve tested positive since June 23. Maybe Bamba continued to test positive on June 23 or later. Or perhaps he’s an additional case from the quiet period. There definitely were some cases in that timeframe.

False positives are an issue – an unavoidable one. It’s unfair Bamba was stuck in his hotel room, not training, longer than necessary. But the NBA can’t risk allowing a potentially contagious player into the bubble. Better to err on the side of safety.

The No. 6 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, Bamba improved steadily from an underwhelming rookie season. He still needs more work to become a quality NBA player. This is a setback, and one that makes him unlikely to contribute much the rest of this season. Hopefully, he’ll be able to pick up next season where he left off when this season got suspended.

Three Things to Know: What’s next for 76ers without Ben Simmons?

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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) What’s next for 76ers without Ben Simmons?

“This one stings, for sure.”

That was 76ers coach Brett Brown, who has had to deal with a lot of injuries to players during his tenure in Philadelphia. But this one hurts a little more because of the timing. The Sixers will be without Ben Simmons for a while after he suffered a subluxation of the left patella — his kneecap essentially dislocated then popped back into place — against Washington.

The 76ers were adjusting to playing Simmons at power forward during the restart in Orlando. Now there are just questions.

How long will Simmons be out? That’s the big one and the answer is nobody knows for sure. The Sixers are evaluating treatment options. As Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes notes, Allen Crabbe had the same injury earlier this year and missed 11 days (three games), but he had no damage to the ligaments or rest of the knee. That’s the most common outcome for this injury and it would have Simmons back around the start of the playoffs. However, if there is any ligament damage, Simmons could be out much longer. (The early reports were the MRI came back clean, but that doesn’t tell us much about the real level of damage other than it wasn’t severe.) Philadelphia has always been cautious when it comes to bringing its stars back from injury.

Who starts for Philadelphia while Simmons is out? That’s one Brown has to decide by today (Friday) and the game against Orlando. He could plug Al Horford back into the starting lineup — the Sixers were +1.4 points per 100 possessions this season with Embiid and Horford on the court together without Simmons (it was -0.7 with all three and the floor spacing was a mess). Or, Brown could keep Horford on the bench and go with another wing such as Matisse Thybulle or Furkan Korkmaz.

Philadelphia seems locked into the six seed in the East (they are one game back of five seed Indiana with four to play, but the Pacers beat the Sixers last Friday and have the tiebreaker, so it is in practice a two-game lead).

Philadelphia is 6-5 this season without Simmons, and while they can plug other players into the four they will not have Simmons’ elite defense, nor his passing skills, and the new player will not be the same threat in transition. Philadelphia is just not the same threat in the East without Simmons.

2) Portland is in control of ninth seed in West after win, New Orleans loss

There is going to be a play-in series in the West — and Portland is going to be in it.

That much seems obvious after Thursday’s action, where Jusuf Nurkic was dunking on Bol Bol and Portland was picking up a 125-115 win over Denver.

That win has Portland half a game back of  Memphis for the eighth seed in the West — and the 0-4 Grizzlies face a tough game against the Thunder Friday. The West could be tied by Saturday morning.

Portland looks to be a lock for the play-in.

Can anyone else crash that party? Sacramento earned it’s first win in the bubble on Thursday, knocking off Zion Williamson and New Orleans, meaning now both the Kings and Pelicans sit 2.5 games back of the Grizzlies with four to play. Both need to win out and hope Memphis continues losing to have a chance to get into a play-in with Portland.

The undefeated-in-the-bubble Suns and the Spurs both sit two games back of the Grizzlies and with a chance to make a play-in. Just as with the Kings/Pels, the Suns and Spurs essentially need to win out and count on the Grizzlies continued stumbles to have a chance.

Memphis controls its own destiny. But without Jaren Jackson Jr., and with Ja Morant struggling from three, a sharp turnaround is needed.

3) Milwaukee wraps up No. 1 seed in East

This was expected, but the Bucks made it dramatic. Miami led this game by 23 points in the first half, but both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton turned it on — both finished with 33 points each — and Milwaukee came back to get 130-116 win. With that, the Bucks officially wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the East.

While this is good for the Bucks — who now get an easy first-round playoff matchup against Brooklyn or Orlando — they know they will be judged on the playoffs. This is a Finals-or-bust team. And Milwaukee fans don’t want to think about the options for bust.

Milwaukee has eased into games in the NBA restart, not worrying about wins now and rather being healthy and firing on all cylinders when the games matter. They have that luxury with the lead they built up in the East, but they need to flip the switch eventually. As they did coming back on the Heat.