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.

Watch best of Klay Thompson’s nine threes, 35-point night

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Stephen Curry is a better shooter. Kevin Durant is a better scorer with a bigger toolbox.

But no Warrior can get as white-hot as Klay Thompson.

He did that on Saturday night helping the Warriors to a Game 6 win, getting his rhythm and becoming a scoring machine in the second half, finishing with 35 points including hitting 9-of-14 from three, and having six rebounds. He was just as important on the other end of the floor.

“I thought Klay was amazing tonight, not just for 35 points and the nine threes, but his defense,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “The guy’s a machine. He’s just so fit physically. He seems to thrive in these situations. But he was fantastic.”

Thompson will need to bring some of that Heat in Game 7 on the road if the Warriors are going to head back to the NBA Finals.

Backs against wall down 17, Warriors crank up defense, rain threes, force Game 7

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Warriors’ fans have been asking one question since the season tipped off in October:

What is it going to take to get Golden State to truly focus and play up to their potential?

Apparently, the answer is going down 17 to the Houston Rockets in a playoff elimination game.

Houston entered Oracle Saturday night playing smart and with energy, defending as they had the previous two games and then turning that into transition buckets and threes — 11 of them in the first half. Houston was up 17 in the first quarter and 10 at the half.

However, Golden State had started to defend better in the second quarter and they cranked up the intensity to the level fans had hoped to see in the second half — Houston scored 39 points in the first quarter and 47 combined in the final three. Houston had 25 points in the second half and shot 2-of-9 from three in the third quarter.

At the same time, Klay Thompson led an onslaught of threes for Golden State (Thompson had 9 threes on the night). The Warriors defense turned into offense.

The result was a dramatic turnaround and a 115-86 Golden State win, tying the Western Conference Finals at 3-3.

Game 7 is in Houston Monday night. Winner advances to the NBA Finals.

“Effort. Intensity. Passion,” Thompson said of the Warriors’ second-half surge. “When we do that, and we rotate, and we help each other we’re the best defensive team in the league.”

While it was their defense that sparked everything, the Warriors also found an offense that worked against the Rockets’ switching defense — more Stephen Curry with the ball in his hands. There are a few ways to counter a switching defense and one is a creative ballhandler who can still make plays — not just isolation plays, but who can create a little space and find guys moving off the ball despite the pressure. Curry was that guy, he was the Warriors best all-around player on the night. He had a high IQ game and added 29 points. With the offense not running through Kevin Durant isolations, it just flowed better (the Warriors best lineup of the night was Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, and Nick Young, +13 in just more than eight minutes).

It just took a lot of pressure from a Rockets team to get Golden State into that mental frame of mind.

Houston opened this game with the same defensive energy they had the last two games, and once again it flustered the Golden State offense. Except, this time the Rockets did a much better job of turning those misses and turnovers into transition points (the Rockets averaged two points per possession on the break in the first half). Throw in some terrible defensive communication errors by the Warriors, and the Rockets were raining threes in the first half — 11-of-22, with Gordon going 4-of-4.

The Warriors had some success with an ultra-small lineup that unleashed Curry, but as soon as non-shooters were on the floor — Kevon Looney, Jordon Bell, and the Rockets were daring Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston to shoot — Houston shrunk the floor and took away passing lanes, plus contested every shot.

In the second half, the Warriors used that Curry energy and hit their threes to pull away. The Warriors were at their best with Bell as the fifth man with the four All-Stars, he brought an energy and athleticism that made things flow on both ends. Don’t be shocked if he starts Game 7 for Golden State.

If the Warriors pack up that second half energy with them and take it to Houston, there is not much the Rockets will be able to do. But do not expect these gritty, feisty Rockets to go quietly into that good night.

Rockets were draining threes in the first half against Warriors in Game 6

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The Rockets were feeling it the first half in Game 6.

Playing with an energy the Warriors lacked at least in the first quarter), Houston defended well, pushed the ball in transition, and then they just drained three after three after three.

Eric Gordon started 4-of-4 from three and the team was 11-of-22 in the first half, which made up for the 11 turnovers and had them up 17 at one point and ahead by 10 after the first half.

Warriors’ Andre Iguodala out for Game 6

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Steve Kerr has been searching for a couple of games now for his fifth guy.

With Andre Iguodala out there is no Death/Hamptons 5 lineup and Kerr is looking for a fifth guy to partner with his four All-Stars. Kevon Looney is starting, Jordan Bell is showing potential but also makes some rookie plays, Nick Young has been bad enough that Kerr trusted Quin Cook more at the end of the last game (and Cook missed his looks).

Kerr is going to have to keep searching for a guy in Game 6 because Iguodala is out again.

The Warriors are not the team heading into Game 6 with the most significant injury woes, the Rockets are without Chris Paul. That and the fact the Warriors’ backs are against the wall is the reason they are heavy favorites in Game 6.

However, the Warriors have not been the same without Iguodala. He is a playmaker who can control the ball and settle things down, makes the right decision, get the player and ball movement the Warriors have strayed too much from back, plus is one of their best defenders on James Harden. Nobody else on the roster can do that.

And if Game 6 gets tight late, the Warriors are going to miss those skills. As they have in the last two games.