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.

LeBron James, Doc Rivers, others around NBA react to, participate in protests

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The NBA family spoke out loudly and quickly in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer.

Protests have erupted nationwide following Floyd’s death, and the NBA family is commenting on — and in the case of some players, participating in — those protests. That includes the biggest name in the sport today, LeBron James.

Pistons’ coach Dwane Casey made a powerful statement recently, and on Sunday Doc Rivers released this statement through the Clippers.

A number of players have been involved in the protest, including Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie of the Timberwolves, who were with former NBA player Stephen Jackson — a childhood friend of Floyd’s — during a protest in Minnesota.

The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to help lead a peaceful protest that started at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park. He was joined by the Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon.

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Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a brilliant op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times that talked about where the rage of the riots comes from in the black community.

“Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.

“So, maybe the black community’s main concern right now isn’t whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19.”

And all this is just the tip of the iceberg of involvement of the NBA family, just like the protests are the tip of the iceberg of the frustration felt in black communities around the nation.

Jonas Valanciunas on return: “It’s kind of like coming back from the summer”

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Memphis is in when the NBA returns, and in whatever form it returns. The Grizzlies had earned the eighth seed in the West behind the standout play of rookie Ja Morant, and if the NBA goes with a play-in format for the final playoff seeds (as expected), there will be teams gunning for that slot.

Memphis’ veteran big man Jonas Valanciunas will be ready, he told Michael Wallace at the team’s official website. Valanciunas spent time in Memphis and Miami during the lockdown, checking in with family back in Lithuania, but is back in the gym getting up shots. He described the return process this way.

“It’s kind of like coming back from the summer. We’ve had two-and-a-half months off. But then again, I play with the (Lithuania) National Team every summer, so it’s not like you always have so much time off every summer. So it’s sort of like coming back and getting ready for training camp again, to get back in shape and into game rhythm. It’s unusual, with guys wearing masks and stuff, but it is sort of like getting yourself ready for training camp right now.

A lot of players feel the same way, that this was sort of like an offseason (just one where they couldn’t get in the gym and work on a specific skill or weakness). Now things are ramping up again. This is why players want a handful of games before the playoffs (or play-in tournament) start, to get their legs under them.

Memphis will have strong teams, and more veteran units, coming for their playoff spot in the form of Portland and New Orleans. Valanciunas says the Grizzlies will be ready.

We’re really motivated. We don’t need to find extra motivation. We’re young. We want to establish our names and build as a unit.

It’s going to be a unique format when the NBA returns, in what has been a season turned upside down. That, however, can be a bonding experience for this young Grizzlies team, something that makes them better faster.

Some NBA players reportedly expect families can’t come to Orlando until September

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Nothing is set in stone until the owners vote on Thursday, but the NBA’s return likely will have teams reporting to the “bubble” (or campus, or whatever term of art the league ends up using) in Orlando in mid-July. Games would start July 31 and run into late September and maybe even October.

For players, that’s a long time to be stuck in a hotel without seeing family or loved ones, so families joining the players has long been part of the plan. Except, now comes a note from Tim Reynolds at the AP that some players think their families may not be able to join them until deep into the postseason.

The smaller the bubble, the easier it is to maintain with extensive testing, which is why not all 30 teams are expected to be invited and the size of team traveling parties will be smaller. It has been expected that families wouldn’t be invited to join players at least until after the first round of the playoffs (when a lot of players left).

However, if games start July 31 and the league plans to play a couple of weeks of regular-season games, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot, then it will be September by the time the NBA gets to a final eight teams. Which will have players separated from their families for a couple of months.

It’s easy to understand the players’ frustrations with that. No matter what direction Adam Silver goes with this restart, there are going to be some unhappy teams and players.

 

Sixers head into playoffs with healthy Ben Simmons but new, untested starting five

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Philadelphia heads into the NBA’s restart — in whatever format it takes — as a team that, on the surface, benefits some from the break.

Ben Simmons was expected to return from his back issues in time for the playoffs, but it was going to be close, and he wouldn’t be fully rested and ready. Now, the All-Star is healthy and not the only player trying to shake off the rust from a long break. That’s 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.2 assists a game, and some strong defense back in the lineup.

But that lineup has never really fit together this season in Philadelphia, which is why heading into the restart playoffs the Sixers will have a new one.

Philly is expected to roll out a starting five of Simmons, Shake Milton, Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson, and Tobias Harris, reports The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. That lineup has played zero minutes together this season (Milton hit his groove with the team late and by that point Embiid and Simmons were battling injuries). Learning chemistry on the fly in what will be, at best, a shortened and condensed regular season before the playoffs start, is a tough way to go.

It’s also the right move, Milton brings the shooting and floor spacing this roster needs. Philly had envisioned Al Horford as a floor-spacing four (who could spell Embiid at the five), but it hasn’t worked out. When Simmons, Embiid and Horford have been on the court this season, the team has scored less than a point per possession (defensively, they also gave up less than a point per possession, the Sixers basically played their opponents even in those minutes). It hasn’t meshed.

When Milton, Simmons, and Embiid have played together this season — in limited minutes and different situations than the one proposed — the offense has been only slightly better and the defense has been a mess. That’s likely not the case with Richardson and Harris on the court, but nobody knows exactly how this will work. It looks good on paper, but we’ve thought that all season about the 76ers.

Which makes Philadephia one of the most interesting teams to watch when games restart. All season long this team has not lived up to expectations (for which coach Brett Brown’s seat is very hot, even if blame for the roster issues should go higher up the ladder). Now comes a real test. If the 76ers suddenly get it together they become a real threat to the Bucks in the East (if the league keeps an East/West format). Or, this could be the latest Sixers lineup to fall short.

Either way, they become must-watch television.