PBT NBA Power Rankings: Let the season begin!

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To celebrate a new season, we bring you a new set of NBA Power Rankings from PBT. Let the kvetching about your ranking begin! Just remember that this is an exercise in fun — these are meaningless as the NBA has a playoff system to decide who is best. What sport would rely on journalist’s rankings to help decide a title… oh, forgot. Sorry college football, no offense.

(The number in parenthesis is last year’s record.)

source:  1. Heat (66-16). When you are the two-time defending NBA champions, when you have the best player on the planet, when you won 66 games last season, including 27 in a row at one point, you start the season on top of the rankings. The road to a title still goes through Miami.

 

source:  2. Spurs (58-24). They came within a defensive rebound of winning the NBA title last season and the only real question about them contending again is if Tim Duncan can continue his renaissance? Also, in the preseason Marco Belinelli has looked like another classic good Spurs pickup.

 

source:  3. Bulls (45-37). Derrick Rose looks like his old self and Joakim Noah says he is ready and healthy for the start of the season. The Bulls went 8-0 in the preseason and while you don’t want to read too much into that, understand they are going to win a lot of games this season.

 

source:  4. Clippers (56-26). DeAndre Jordan has been vocal on defense all preseason, barking out commands. If he can keep this up, if takes control of this defense and plays anywhere near his potential the Clippers are serious contenders. They are my pick to come out of the West.

 

source:  5. Pacers (49-32). Their deeper bench with C.J. Watson, Luis Scola and Chris Copeland will help them win more regular season games (as will getting Danny Granger back in a few weeks). Still, this is a team whose style and personnel is better suited for the playoffs than the regular season.

 

source:  6. Thunder (60-22). Without Russell Westbrook out the first month of the season (don’t be shocked if he’s back sooner than predicted) this is still a very good, very dangerous team. Kevin Durant can pick up a lot of scoring slack. That said, even a couple extra losses can really hurt their playoff seeding.

 

source:  7. Rockets (45-37). Dwight Howard has played with a real energy on defense this preseason — he’s looked healthy. I still think it is going to take time for this team to meld; it will take time for Kevin McHale to find the lineups that work best. They are a year away to me.

 

source:  8. Grizzlies (56-26). An unfair amount of criticism/praise is going to fall on new head coach Dave Joerger. The bigger issue from where I sit is they didn’t really address their need for shooting (Mike Miller is not the answer anymore).

 

 

source:  9. Nets (49-33). Deron Williams wasn’t around for most of the preseason but should be back for the games that matter. Still they went 5-2 in the preseason and if they can stay healthy they are going to win a lot of games, I just am not fully on board with them as contenders yet.

 

source:  10. Warriors (47-35). They signed Andrew Bogut to an extension, which means they are making a big bet on his long-term health. I think they will miss Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry coming off the bench this season more than people realize.

 

source:  11. Knicks (54-28). What is the date the entire Knicks nation turns on Andrea Bargnani? I’d give an under/over of Dec. 1. Remember they are without J.R. Smith for the first five games.

 

source:  12. Timberwolves (31-51). With Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio healthy — plus the addition of Kevin Martin — this should be a playoff team in the West (even after the Chase Budinger injury). But their defense could be what holds them back.

 

source:  13. Mavericks (41-41). Can Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki be a playoff pairing? Maybe. Jose Calderon distributing the shots efficiently could be the key.

 

 

source:  14. Nuggets (57-25). They were 2-5 in the preseason. With Andre Iguodala gone, Danilo Gallinari out until December due to his knee injury, this is a team poised to take a big step back.

 

source:  15. Pistons (29-53). They could be a poor man’s Grizzlies — a fantastic front line with Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, but do they have enough outside shooting? Brandon Jennings will be their key but he is out to start the season with a jaw issue.

 

source:  16. Cavaliers (24-58). Kyrie Irving can lift the Cavaliers to the playoffs, but unless their gamble on Andrew Bynum (who is not expected in the opener) pays off he can’t lift them much farther.

 

source:  17. Trail Blazers (33-49). LaMarcus Aldridge promised Portland would get the 7 seed in the West, then went out and led the team to a 5-2 record in the preseason. Maybe this is going to work.

 

source:  18. Pelicans (27-55). Anthony Davis has had a strong preseason — 19.9 points a game on 55.2 percent shooting, he is attacking the rim off the dribble — and the Pelicans were 7-1 in the preseason. This ranking may be too low for them.

 

source:  19. Lakers (45-37). Kobe Bryant hasn’t practiced yet and now it looks like Steve Nash may sit out the second nights of back-to-backs. This could be a tough season in Los Angeles, but look for a good year from Pau Gasol.

 

source:  20. Hawks (44-38). They were 1-6 in the preseason, which is a disturbing sign. If things go poorly in Atlanta Al Horford is going to get a lot of the blame (fair or not). I am pumped about the potential of Dennis Schroeder.

 

source:  21. Wizards (29-53). They want to make the playoffs this year, enough to reach out and trade for Marcin Gortat. One guy who had a good preseason is Bradley Beal, who averaged 20.7 points on 51.9% shooting and 47.2% from three.

 

source:  22. Raptors (34-48). They were 6-1 in the preseason, we’ll see if they can carry some of that over to games that matter. Still think it’s going to be a breakout year for Jonas Valanciunas.

 

source:  23. Kings (28-51). I’m not reading a lot into it, but the Kings were 5-2 in the preseason. We’ll all talk about DeMarcus Cousins, but the Greivis Vasquez and Ben McLemore backcourt could be a lot of fun.

 

source:  24. Bucks (38-44). They are not tanking, but if they want a return trip to the playoffs there is no margin for error. Which is why having Ersan Ilyasova (ankle), Ekpe Udoh (knee) and Carlos Delfino (foot) injured to start the season is not good.

 

source:  25. Bobcats (21-61). I like the Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller front court, they are going to be fun to watch. This team may not be terrible, which is an improvement.

 

source:
26. Celtics (41-40). It’s going to be a long fall and winter in Boston. At least the city can be focused on the Red Sox/Patriots for a while. The Celtics do have nine first round picks in the next five seasons, which is good for a rebuild.

 

source:  27. Magic (20-62). Tobias Harris will not play Tuesday in the season opener. What will be the most interesting part of the Orlando season: Victor Oladipo adjusting to the NBA or the Jameer Nelson/Glen Davis trade watch?

 

source:  28. Jazz (43-39). Trey Burke was my rookie of the year pick until he got injured. Still will be watching to see how the Derrick Favors/Enes Kanter front line works out.

 

source:  29. Suns (24-56). Trading Marcin Gortat for a pick (and the bad neck of Emeka Okafor) tells you where this team is headed.

 

 

source:  30. 76ers (34-48). I think they will win more than 8 or 9 games this season. Not many more, but more. The question is can Brett Brown build the foundation of a winning culture amid all that losing?

Report: Raptors interview Spurs’ assistants Ettore Messina, Ime Udoka for coaching job

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It’s not officially a coaching search until some Spurs’ assistants are interviewed.

So it looks like the Toronto Raptors’ search is underway.

Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri fired Dwane Casey right after Casey’s peers voted him Coach of the Year for leading the Raptors to 59 wins and the No. 1 seed in the East. That said, after several frustrating years of running into the brick wall that is LeBron James in the East, maybe the Raptors did need a new voice and some changes to try to take the next step (especially with Boston and Philadelphia coming on fast in the East hierarchy).

But if you’re going to fire a 59-win Coach of the Year kind of guy, you better have an impressive replacement in hand or at least a clear plan.

Ujiri reportedly wanted Mike Budenholzer, but the former Hawks’ head coach took the job in Milwaukee after meeting with Toronto.

The leading candidate for the job is still considered to be Nick Nurse, the Raptors’ assistant who was in charge of their changed and improved offense last season. The Raptors also interviewed two other internal candidates, assistant coach Rex Kalamian and G-League coach Jerry Stackhouse.

Casey, by the way, is the target of the Detroit Pistons.

Despite injury scare, LeBron James will be ready to go in Game 7

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It was the kind of injury that has felled many players — think of Rudy Gobert this season. Twice. A player falls into the side of another player’s leg, putting a strain on the ligaments.

That’s what happened in the fourth quarter of Game 6 in Cleveland Friday night, Larry Nance Jr. falls back and LeBron James‘ knee bent in a way it should not.

“After the game, I didn’t know who got me,” LeBron said. “But after the game, Larry asked me if I was I OK, so I’m guessing he was the culprit of it. I just felt someone fall into my leg and my leg kind of went in. I felt some pain throughout my entire right side of my ankle into my leg. I was just hoping for the best, obviously, because I’ve seen so many different injuries, and watching basketball with that type of injury, someone fall into one’s leg standing straight up. Luckily, I was able to finish the game.”

James scored 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting with a couple of dagger threes to secure the win after that scare, but he didn’t seem to have the same lift after that and was seen favoring his leg walking out of the building.

Of course, LeBron will be good to go for Game 7 in Boston Sunday. If Friday night was any indication, he’s not going to be slowed by it at all.

“As soon as I leave here, I’ll start to prepare (for Game 7),” LeBron said from the podium postgame. “I’m going to get in the car and head back to Akron. As soon as I get home, I’ll start my treatment. I’ll do the same all day tomorrow from before we leave to go to Boston, and then once we get into Boston I’ll do that as well. Try to get as much sleep as I can with tonight and with tomorrow and even on Sunday before the game. That’s the best recovery that you can possibly get, is when you’re sleeping. It’ll be around-the-clock treatment, and we’ll see what happens.”

What’s going to happen is a dramatic Game 7 in the Garden, and we know that for Cleveland to have any chance LeBron has to be superhuman. Again.

Warriors facing elimination but undaunted entering Game 6

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HOUSTON (AP) — If the Golden State Warriors are worried as they head into Game 6 of the Western Conference finals on the brink of elimination, they aren’t showing it.

“We have a chance to tie the series at home. That’s a pretty good position to be in,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We’ve got to win two basketball games and we’ve done that an awful lot, so we’re very confident.”

The defending champions trail Houston 3-2 in the best-of-seven series after consecutive wins by the Rockets, capped by Thursday night’s 98-94 victory. Now the series shifts to Oracle Arena, a place where the Warriors have lost just one time in their last 17 playoff games.

Stephen Curry said the Warriors are encouraged despite falling behind in the series because they believe both games could have gone their way and that a few simple corrections will get them back on track.

“We have an opportunity to re-establish ourselves at home, get a big win, keep ourselves alive, and then roll the dice into Game 7,” Curry said. “Not all is lost.”

Houston’s big win in Game 5 was tempered by a hamstring injury to star Chris Paul which will keep him out of Saturday’s game. It’s a major blow for a team which is looking to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in more than two decades.

The Rockets believe they can absorb this loss and don’t seem daunted by the setback, noting that they found ways to win in the regular season in many games where Paul sat out with injuries.

“I don’t have a doubt,” D’Antoni said. “They see the challenge … whether CP’s there or not, it’s a heck of a challenge, and they’re up to it. They’re looking forward to it.”

James Harden, who has struggled offensively in the last two games and went 0 for 11 on 3s in Game 5, rolled his eyes when asked if Paul’s injury puts more pressure on him.

“Pressure for what? It’s Game 6 of the Western Conference finals,” he said. “There is pressure on everybody.”

While that may be true, the onus is on Harden to step up and deliver an MVP-caliber performance if the Rockets hope to close out this series. Harden has had plenty of playoff disappointments in the last few years and embraces the chance to get Houston back into the finals.

“It’s an opportunity that a lot of people never had and probably won’t ever have,” he said. “It’s our job to go out there and have fun with it and do the same thing we’ve been doing. We want to take advantage of it.”

While the Rockets will be down a starter, the Warriors could get one back if Andre Iguodala can return on Saturday. The Warriors have missed the defensive presence of Iguodala who has missed the last two games with a bruised left knee.

Iguodala is listed on the injury report as questionable for Game 6 and Kerr said he didn’t have an update on his condition on Friday. But he did address what it would mean to Golden State if he’s healthy enough to go on Saturday.

“He’s a great player,” Kerr said. “He’s one of our keys, and we’ve missed him the last two games. But we can’t count on it. Injuries happen, and you’ve just got to play with whoever’s out there. So we’re hoping he’s back, and we’ll see what happens.”

Iguodala’s absence has been magnified in this series that has morphed into a defensive slugfest instead of the high-scoring shootout that most expected when it began. The Rockets take great pride in the fact that they’ve limited Golden State to less than 100 points in the last two games and think continuing to play great defense is the only way they’ll advance.

“It’s something we talked about building up all year,” Houston’s P.J. Tucker said. “To see our defense now be as good as it is, we still think it could be a lot better. We watched film, and honestly … we didn’t play great defense last night. Everybody will talk about how good a defense we played, but we really don’t feel like that. So just keep working and trying to get better.”

Kerr said the experience of his team, which is trying to reach the finals for the fourth straight year, will be valuable as the Warriors try and climb out of this hole and force Game 7. He referenced the conference finals in 2016 when they fell behind Oklahoma City 3-1 before winning the next three to take the series.

“We’ve been here before,” Kerr said. “We’ve faced elimination on the road before – this team has – a few years ago. We faced series deficits before. We’ve won all of those series. Our guys have the ultimate confidence that we can get it done this time, too.”

PBT Extra: Pressure falls on James Harden, Rockets’ bench with Chris Paul out

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Chris Paul is out for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals with a strained hamstring, and that almost certainly will sideline him for Game 7 as well.

That changes the feel of this series.

The Rockets still just have to win one of the next two games to advance to the NBA Finals, and one of those is at home. However, without CP3 a couple of things need to happen. James Harden needs to find his shooting stroke. Gerald Green and the Rockets’ bench needs to step up. And Houston has to keep defending the way they have the last two games.

It’s not going to be easy (especially on the road in Game 6), but the Rockets still have a real opportunity to advance to the NBA Finals.