NBA Power Rankings: Heat end rankings where they ended last season

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For the final power rankings of the year my criteria are simple: Who do I think is most likely to win a seven game series between the teams right now. It is essentially a playoff rankings.

source:  1. Heat (64-16, last week ranked No. 1). For a couple games this week the Heat rolled out their big three together, don’t expect to see that again until this weekend. By the way, the Heat have won six in a row, the longest winning streak in the NBA.
source:  2. Thunder (59-21, LW 3). They remain the gold standard in the West, if you’re going to the finals the road swings through Oklahoma City. Yes, their offense can be a bit predictable, but when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook run it good luck stopping it.
source:  3. Spurs (58-22, LW 4). The Spurs have lost three of five and Gregg Popovich was very frustrated after the Spurs loss to the Lakers, saying Tim Duncan was the only guy playing like he wanted to win a championship. The Spurs are a veteran team that should get it together for the playoffs, but it puts a seed of doubt in my mind.
source:  4 Grizzlies (54-26, LW 5). It’s looking more and more like it will be Clippers vs. Grizzlies in the first round (although that is not set) and that has to scare Memphis. The Clippers won twice on the road to knock the Grizzlies out of the playoffs last year and they just went into Memphis and beat them again. Still, I have a feeling Memphis could make a deep playoff run this year.
source:  5. Nuggets (55-25, LW 6). It’s the team a lot of people want to see succeed — but with Danilo Gallinari out, Kenneth Faried maybe hobbled (they aren’t giving a return date but don’t expect him back for the playoff opener) and Ty Lawson coming of an injury, I fear they are just not the same team. Which is too bad, I had high hopes.
source:  6. Knicks (53-27, LW 2). I can hear Knicks fans ripping me for the Knicks ranking, but let me say I am convinced they are the second best team in the East. That grinding win over the Pacers was a good sign for a team that has grinding Boston coming in the first round.
source:  7. Clippers (54-26, LW 7). They have won five in a row including a quality win in Memphis last week. Which is huge because that is likely their first-round opponent. I still am not sold on their defensive consistency. Can Vinny Del Negro get them to the conference finals?
source:  8. Pacers (49-31, LW 8). If they end up facing the Bulls in the first round it’s going to be tough — it will be a low scoring, grind-it-out series where the winner will be bloodied and then likely have to take on the Knicks. Indy needs to find consistent offense, and we’re looking at you, Roy Hibbert.
source:  9. Nets (47-32, LW 9). They will be the four seed, and considering this team won 33 percent of its games last season and hasn’t been above .500 since 2006. Deron Williams is playing like his old self and they will be a favorite in the first round of the playoffs (not so much against Miami in the second).
source:  10. Rockets (45-35, LW 11). Houston is one of the league’s youngest teams and they made huge steps this season (likely finishing the six seed). It’s unlikely they get out of the first round but they will not go quietly in that series.
source:  11. Warriors (45-35, LW 10). Golden State is another young team that made a big leap this year, but if they get the Clippers in the first round they could push Los Angeles (they won three of four in the regular season). A team with a shooter and player like Stephen Curry is dangerous in any game.
source:  12. Bulls (43-36, LW 12). There may be no team harder to predict in the playoffs — their defense has been down of late but come the playoffs you expect the focus and attention to return on that end. But what kind of offense they get varies dramatically night to night. Still, teams in the East would prefer to avoid them
source:  13. Hawks (44-36, LW 14). What does it say about the Hawks that they are the team everybody in the East would prefer to play instead of the Nets or Bulls? Well, that they’re still the Hawks. Same as it ever was.
source:  14. Celtics (41-39, LW 13). They get the Knicks in what should be the most watched and quite entertaining first round series. They are going to defend, but the question is can they get enough offense out of Jeff Green and other role players to win more than a couple games.
source:  15. Lakers (44-37, LW 16). With Kobe Bryant out the Lakers went to a fairly standard offense — pound the ball inside with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, then hope somebody can make enough outside shots. It will work fine in the playoffs, it’s the defensive end of the floor that will be their undoing no matter who they face.
source:  16. Jazz (42-38, LW 15). If they make the playoffs or not (and probably not), Ty Corbin is going to be back as coach of the Jazz next season. Aside that there are going to be a lot of changes this summer. Hopefully one is to get a new point guard.
source:  17. Mavericks (40-40, LW 17). They reached .500 and Dirk Nowitzki got to shave his beard, but this season was a disappointment. Thing is, they will make moves this summer but it’s hard to see how any really make any big moves to get dramatically better. Other than having Dirk healthy all season.
source:  18. Bucks (37-43, LW 18). They will make the playoffs, but only because the rest of the bottom of the East is so bad — Milwaukee has lost 11-of-14 down the stretch.
source:  19. Wizards (29-51, LW 19). When they got John Wall and Nene healthy at the same time they looked like a playoff team. They will bring Wall back with a big contract, whether they can keep Nene healthy next year is the bigger question.
source:  20. 76ers (32-47, LW 20). No Doug Collins next season. We’ll see about Andrew Bynum. But the Sixers rebuilding process is going to take a lot longer than they thought it would last summer, the gamble on Bynum came up snake eyes.
source:  21. Trail Blazers (33-46, LW 23). They have the Rookie of the Year in Damian Lillard. They have an All-Star in LaMarcus Aldridge. They have some good role players such as Nicolas Batum and Will Barton. If they get a real defensive center this team could make a big jump next season.
source:  22. Timberwolves (30-50, LW 21). If they can just keep Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love healthy they should make the playoffs next season. But if Rick Adelman decides to retire and be with his wife (who has battled illness) he will be very difficult to replace.
source:  23. Raptors (31-48, LW 22). They don’t have a lottery pick (unless they land in the top three it goes to OKC) but they can still make one dramatic move to improve the team this summer — trade Andrea Bargnani. It just won’t be that easy.
source:  24. Pistons (28-52, LW 26). If they bring back Jose Calderon, if Andre Drummond can make the kind of leap we hope from him, if they can get a role player or two that fit, the Pistons are a team that could make a jump up into the playoffs next season.
source:  25. Kings (28-51, LW 24). We will likely know in a week for sure if the Kings will be in Seattle or Sacramento next season. Talk about a situation where both sides deserve a win. The good news on the court is that a new ownership, new front office and new coach is bound to make this team better no matter where they play. They need a fresh start.
source:  26. Hornets (27-53, LW 25). Anthony Davis is still the future — he needs to get stronger (that may help reduce his injuries). He needs to keep playing and watching film. Meanwhile the Hornets need to figure out what they are going to do with Eric Gordon.
source:  27. Cavaliers (24-55, LW 27). They have Kyrie Irving and a ton of cap space, plus young players like Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters that can be part of a good rotation going forward. They have a lot of cap space. This is a team poised for a jump.
source:  28. Suns (24-56, LW 29). They thought they would get an extra lottery pick when the Lakers missed the playoffs, but the Lakers made a late run. Been that kind of season for Suns. They are not changing management, we’ll see about the coach, but they have a lot of building to do.
source:  29. Bobcats (19-61, LW 28). Another team with a long road to getting better, and they could use some luck in the lottery. The one other big job for the summer — re-work Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s jump shot.
source:  30. Magic (20-60, LW 30). Remember that 25 games into the season this team was playing over its head — they went 12-13 to start, 8-47 since. The plan has been to be bad, get draft picks, get free agents and that means they will be bad and be drafting for a few years. But there were bright spots such as Tobias Harris and how hard they played by coach Jacque Vaughn.

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

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There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

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What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

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It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

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We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.