NBA Power Rankings: The streak is dead, the Heat not so much…

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Only two more power rankings after this, so we are starting to turn our view toward the playoffs. Which still feel like the Heat then everyone else.

source:  1. Heat (58-15, last week ranked No. 1). A gutty performance by the Chicago Bulls ended the Heat win streak at 27. But that was a one-time performance, not something the Bulls could replicate. It would make a great NCAA Tournament upset. The question is who is going to beat the Heat four out of seven games? Anyone?

source:  2. Thunder (54-20, LW 5). We know what the Thunder are going to get from Kevin Durant every night. Same with Russell Westbrook. The question heading into the playoffs is what about Kevin Martin? He needs to start showing up every night — beginning Thursday in the big showdown with the Spurs.

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3. Spurs (55-18, LW 3). They will be without Manu Ginobili for a few weeks and maybe even the start of the playoffs due to a hamstring injury. The loss Sunday to a shorthanded Heat shows how much they would miss him come the postseason against an elite team. Short-term question is can they hold on to top spot in West?

source:  4. Pacers (47-27, LW 7). Won four games in a row including a tough Texas two step at Houston and Dallas last week, which gives them seven wins in their last eight. They are finding a playoff groove, too. Big tests against the Clippers and Thunder this week.

source:  5. Knicks (46-26, LW 9). They have an eight-game win streak that comes as they go with a lot of two point-guard lineups (which they used a lot at the start of the Season with Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd). Looks like they may get Tyson Chandler back for the Heat showdown on Tuesday.

source:  6. Nuggets (50-24, LW 2). The stumbled after the Hornets snapped their winning streak but they can’t stumble much longer — they have a half game lead over Memphis (tied in the loss column) and one game over the Clippers (a game back in losses) in the fight for the three seed. Get the three spot and it is much easier for them to advance out of the first round.

source:  7. Grizzlies (49-24, LW 4). Marc Gasol is back but this is a team that needs to find it’s playoff groove — they are 5-5 in their last 10. Zach Randolph has been scoring less and they haven’t been great on the road. This week they have three road games including the Blazers and Lakers.

source:  8. Clippers (49-25, LW 6). They went 1-3 on a road trip last week and are another team you watch going to the playoffs and think they are good but not playing at their peak. Do you think Vinny Del Negro can give them the Xs and Os they need (especially when Chris Paul sits)? Can he inspire them?

source:  9. Nets (42-31, LW 8). The Nets are 4-3 on a big road trip that ends Wednesday in Cleveland. Looks more and more like they will host Chicago or Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs — series that wouldn’t shock me if they went either way.

source:  10. Rockets (40-33, LW 10). They went 2-2 in a brutal week (beat Spurs and Clippers, lost to Pacers and Grizzlies) and now look like a playoff lock with some softer games ahead. This is a team that still needs some pieces, but this season has been a nice first step forward.

source:  11. Warriors (42-32, LW 13). For some franchises, just making the NBA playoffs isn’t enough. Golden State isn’t there yet. Breaking out of the shadow of the Cohen era, this is going to be big. The Warriors are 7-3 in their last 10, and while inconsistent at times (you see the loss to the Kings?) just getting into the dance is something to celebrate.

source:  12. Celtics (38-35, LW 12). If they are going to be the seven seed in the East — which looks likely — who do you think they would rather face: New York or Indiana? I’m rooting for the Knicks matchup, but just because that’s a more feisty rivalry.

source:  13. Hawks (41-33, LW 14). Coach Larry Drew ripped Josh Smith’s shot selection last week. What took him so long?

source:  14. Bulls (40-32, LW 15). They ended the Heat’s win streak and have won four-of-five without Joakim Noah in the lineup. They are not going to go far in the playoffs, but they will not be an easy out.

source:  15. Mavericks (36-37, LW 16). If they can get to .500 Tuesday night with a win over the Lakers it will mean much more than just getting to shave the beards, it will be a huge boost for their playoffs hopes. And the good news is the Lakers are just retiring Shaquille O’Neal’s number, they don’t have to play against him.

source:  16. Jazz (38-36, LW 20). They have won four in a row and they hold on to the eighth playoff spot in the West. They have five of their remaining eight at home and four are against current playoff teams.

source:  17. Lakers (38-36, LW 11). Their battle for the playoffs is really up hill now — while they have seven of their last eight at home but six games remain against West playoff teams. As it has been all season with the Lakers, it comes down to their defense. Which remains shaky and isn’t helped by Metta World Peace being out.

source:  18. Bucks (35-37, LW 17). Their hopes of catching Boston for the seven seed in the East — and avoiding Miami in the first round — have died with some average play in recent weeks. So they should revel in making the playoffs before what will be a tumultuous offseason.

source:  19. Wizards (27-46, LW 19). The Wizards have set a goal to end the season — close the three-game gap they are behind the 76ers and finish with the nine seed. And it’s pretty reasonable.

source:  20. 76ers (30-43, LW 25). They still officially say they can still catch the Bucks for the eight seed and make the playoffs. I still officially say my next car can be a Maserati Spyder convertible. About the same odds.

source:  21. Trail Blazers (33-40, LW 18). Some teams look like they have folded the tents and are just playing out the string. Portland would be in that category, having dropped four in a row.

source:  22. Timberwolves (26-46, LW 21). Stat of the season for the Wolves, courtesy John Schuhmann at NBA.com: Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Ricky Rubio have played a total of 13 minutes together this season. Over three games. And you wonder why they are 20 games below .500.

source:  23. Kings (27-47, LW 22). Despite the turmoil around the team off the court (which could come to a head this week in New York when the two sides pitch deals to a committee of owners) the Kings have played fairly well since the All-Star break.

source:  24. Hornets (26-48, LW 23). Not only did they snap the Nuggets 15-game win streak, they did it without Eric Gordon and Greivis Vasquez. There are moments you can see hope with this team.

source:  25. Raptors (27-46, LW 26). The No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft — Andrew Wiggins — is Canadian. Just trying to give Toronto basketball fans north of the border some positive news.

source:  26. Suns (23-51, LW 24). They have lost six in a row and dropped to the bottom of the West, with a big off-season shakeup seeming likely. The only “good” news is the bottom of the West still has a lot of teams below them in the East.

source:  27. Pistons (24-50, LW 29). Andre Drummond is back. Usually I would say don’t rush a guy back but any time he can get on the court next to Greg Monroe just helps build for the future. It’s a good thing.

source:  28. Cavaliers (22-50, LW 27). Well, they got Kyrie Irving back. Not that it helped them get a win — their losing streak is now up to eight.

source:  29. Bobcats (17-56, LW 28). Not even the recent strong play of Gerald Henderson can help them much with three games against Eastern Conference playoff teams this week.

source:  30. Magic (19-55, LW 30). They are on the road for four games this week and they are 8-28 on the season away from Orlando. So, this should go well.

Report: Gregg Popovich met with Kawhi Leonard in San Diego

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Don’t count the San Antonio Spurs out of the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes just yet.

We have been waiting on pins and needles to see whether or not Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would meet with the apparently disgruntled Leonard this week before San Antonio approaches Thursday night’s NBA draft.

According to Yahoo! Sports’ Shams Charania, Leonard and Popovich met on Tuesday night in San Diego where Leonard has been working out.

Via Twitter:

For what it is worth, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reporterd that Popovich has not yet met with Leonard, but is traveling to Southern California to meet with the Spurs forward. Even further, Leonard has reportedly requested a trade to Los Angeles from the Spurs, specifically to the Lakers.

Via ESPN:

Leonard wants a trade to Los Angeles, preferably the Lakers over the Clippers, league sources said. He has privately maintained that he no longer wants to play in San Antonio, and will eventually alert rival teams considering trades for him that his intentions are to sign in Los Angeles — preferably with the Lakers — when he can become a free agent in 2019, league sources said.

Leonard had told confidants that he did not want to sit down with Popovich and has been purposely difficult for the Spurs to reach recently. Among the issues, Leonard is angry over what he believes was the Spurs’ mishandling of a quad injury, and remains irate with public comments out of teammate Tony Parker and Popovich that he felt were not supportive of him, league sources said.

We had to know this was coming. San Antonio wasn’t going to let Leonard dictate the terms of his departure from Texas all by himself. Although Leonard has put the Spurs in a tough situation given his reported open request to play in Los Angeles, no doubt both parties would be better off from a basketball perspective if they were together. San Antonio apparently doesn’t want to make a deal with a Western Conference team, either.

Since the Spurs were trying to get in touch with Leonard before Thursday’s big selection night, it could be a signal that Leonard is on the move. Several teams, including the Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, and Cleveland Cavaliers are rumored to be interested in Leonard’s services.

Rumor: Cavaliers could have trade interest in Kemba Walker

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to do everything in their power to retain LeBron James. They are also doing everything they can do to prepare themselves for if James decides to leave Cleveland once and for all.

Last week we heard rumors about how the Cavaliers were trying to prepare an offer to snag Kawhi Leonard away from the San Antonio Spurs. That move could be seen either as an intent to entice James to stay, or as a replacement for The King.

Now, we have rumor that the Cavaliers could be interested in acquiring an Eastern Conference point guard, presumably to help LeBron next season.

According to Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, the Cavaliers have inquired to the Charlotte Hornets about the availability of point guard Kemba Walker.

Walker, 28, just became the Hornets all-time leading scorer this last season. The University of Connecticut product has just one year left on his current deal at $12 million, and could be both a good rental for a season as a means to bolster another James Finals run, or as a focal piece moving forward.

As is the issue with any package for Leonard, a trade to the Cavaliers from Charlotte for Walker really depends on what a third trade partner can bring into the mix. Not many of Cleveland’s young players have performed well enough to be used as trade bait for marquee guys. That necessarily means that Kevin Love will be the main trade bait, and it is tough for many teams to have interest in the sharp-shooting forward given many already have that position filled.

We are just 48 hours away from the 2018 NBA Draft and no doubt rumors like this will continue to heat up as we get closer to 4 p.m. Eastern on Thursday night.

Michael Porter Jr. compares himself to Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo

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It has been rumored that Michael Porter Jr could be the player the Sacramento Kings draft at No. 2 overall on Thursday night in the 2018 NBA Draft. Meanwhile, according to Porter himself, there is good reason for his sudden leap up the draft boards.

Speaking on CBS Sports Radio on Monday, Porter said that he thought the players he most compared to right now were Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, and Tracy McGrady.

Of course, the context here is that Porter was prompted to give a current NBA comparison, and as a shooter and physical player, he was unlikely to compare himself to a role player. Still, it’s a bold statement from Porter to say that he is akin to the second best player in the league at this moment. Durant has a skill set that hasn’t been replicated or really seen in the NBA, so it’s tough for anyone to really compare themselves to him.

Here is the quote, transcribed thanks to Deadspin:

Right now, I’m a little, I’m a mix of Giannis and KD. You know, I like going to the hole a little more than KD does, I like bumping into people a little more physical than KD. But I also, you know I like to shoot the ball more than Giannis. So that’s what I like to compare myself to. Then also Tracy McGrady. I get compared to him a lot and I like that one a lot too. You know, those are three amazing players. So it doesn’t feel bad to be in the same conversation as them.

In a recent interview with Dime Magazine, Porter said that he thinks Durant is the best player in the league, particularly when he plays against LeBron James. So really, Porder compared himself to the best player in the league.

The Missouri product has a litany of both character and injury questions. Rumors are abound about how well he will fit into an NBA locker room, and he famously decamped to Missouri Lorenzo Romar was fired in Washington.

Porder sat out most of the year with a nagging back injury, and had to call off some of his draft workouts because of a hip issue. Porter has tried to downplay his injury concerns, and has said that former Portland Trail Blazers star Brandon Roy told him to remain patient through injury.

The draft is less than 48 hours away, and most believe that taking Porter at No. 2 is a huge risk for the Kings. We will see just how confident Sacramento is about Porter’s ability to become an NBA teammate and stay healthy here soon enough.

Michael Jordan will still have input on Hornets draft day decisions

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Michael Jordan hired proven general manager Mitch Kupchak this offseason to help turn around a franchise mired in mediocrity since he became the Charlotte Hornets’ majority owner eight years ago.

But that doesn’t mean the highly competitive Jordan won’t have input on personnel decisions, beginning with the NBA draft on Thursday night.

Kupchak said in a pre-draft news conference Tuesday that he’ll have final say in who the Hornets select before quickly adding, “well, with the exception of one person – and obviously that’s ownership.”

Kupchak has won 10 NBA championships, including seven as an executive with the Los Angeles Lakers – so he knows a thing or two about building a winning roster. But he’s quickly learning that Jordan, who many consider the best NBA player ever, is still very much a hands-on owner when it comes to the players he employs.

And Kupchak understands that.

“There is a huge business component to our relationship,” Kupchak said.

Kupchak said he has communicated with Jordan on the phone and via text throughout the draft evaluation process. The 55-year-old Jordan arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina on Monday and the two have been studying tape on potential draft picks since.

The Hornets, who have failed to make the playoffs three of the past four seasons, have the 11th overall pick in the draft.

Kupchak has known Jordan since he was a freshman at the University of North Carolina.

However, Kupchak said that while they both are former Tar Heels, he never had considered Jordan a friend prior to being hired this past offseason to replace Rich Cho as Hornets general manager.

Since then they have had dinner together and gotten to know each other a little more.

He said the relationship has changed for the better.

“Hopefully when all is said and done, our other relationship, which is our friend relationship continues to grow and is not altered in any way,” Kupchak said. “There are no favors being done here. We’re friends and I think we’ll remain friends, but the bottom line in this business is success and winning games.”

Kupchak was rather forthcoming in the team’s pre-draft press conference Tuesday, saying the does not expect to trade the 11th overall pick.

He also said he expects that the handful of top-notch big men will be off the board by the time the Hornets make their selection.

“Right now I think the best player on the board is the player we are going to go after – and I’d expect that player to be a guard or a wing,” Kupchak said. “… I think we expect that we will be looking at guards and wings, but we will see.”