PBT NBA Power Rankings: Pacers, Rockets, T-Wolves and Sixers on top

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The first few weeks of the Power Rankings see crazy fluctuations — teams that aren’t really that good start off hot, teams that are good start cold, so teams bounce up and down the rankings like they are on a bungee cord the first few weeks. Eventually things find their level. But this week was one of the hardest I’ve had to do in this ranking.

 
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1. Pacers (3-0, Last Week No. 5). Through three games Paul George is averaging 25.7 points a game on 48.1 percent shooting overall and 43.5 percent from three — all big jumps from last year. He may not sustain that but he looks to be making another leap forward. Also early, but they have the best defense in the NBA so far.

 
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2. Rockets (3-0, LW 7). So far, so good — they have the best point-per-possession differential in the league (+13.8 per 100 possessions). However, the Dwight Howard/Omer Asik pairing has struggled, -1.4 per 48 minutes so far. Expect that combo to go the way of the Dodo soon.

 
source:  3. Timberwolves (3-0, LW 12). Kevin Love is averaging 29.7 points a game (on 50% shooting, plus 14.7 rebounds), but there is a balance to the Wolves offense with six players averaging at least 9 points a game. The defense also has been surprisingly strong so far this season.

 
source:  4. 76ers (3-0, LW 30). No, I don’t think they will be this high up in the rankings for long, however, but they beat the Heat and the Bulls so here they are. They are playing at the fastest pace in the NBA. It’s too early to say Michael Carter-Williams is a Rookie of the Year frontrunner, but he has put himself in that conversation. The award usually goes to a guy with the ball in his hands who puts up numbers — MCW fits that mold.

 
source:  5. Spurs (2-1, LW 2). Just grinding along, doing their thing, even in the first week of the season. Tim Duncan out for a night, they win in Los Angeles anyway. Popovich in-game interviews remain the highlight of any nationally televised Spurs’ game.

 
source:  6. Clippers (2-1, LW 4). Through three games they have the statistically best offense in the NBA (113.3 points per 100 possessions) and the worst defense (108.9). Doc Rivers was hired to fix the second one of those numbers.

 
source:  7. Warriors (2-1, LW 10). You knew their offense was going to put up points because Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s can knock down jumpers from the second they step off the team bus. But their defense has been good, too — Andrew Bogut shut DeMarcus Cousins down over the weekend.

 
source:  8. Thunder (2-1, LW 6). Russell Westbrook was back Sunday after missing just two games, and with him the Thunder offense looked better. Not good yet, but better. This team has some work to do to get where it wants to get.

 
source:  9. Heat (2-2, LW 1). The game against Washington Sunday sums up Miami: They were by far the better team, moving the ball well (86 percent of buckets came on assists), they were up 23… then they took their foot off the gas. Washington went on an 18-5 run and outscored Miami 29-16 in the fourth to make it a 10-point game. Expect the lack of focus to continue.

 
source:  10. Mavericks (2-1, LW 13). Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis are running the pick-and-pop well (each is averaging 23.3 points per game) to lead Dallas to the third best offense in the NBA so far this young season (108.9 points per 100 possessions).

 
source:  11. Trail Blazers (2-1, LW 17). That was a quality win over the Spurs Saturday night, even if Nicolas Batum wasn’t exactly classy at the end. Strong offense to start the season for the Blazers.

 
source:  12. Suns (2-1, LW 29). They have done it with defense — opponents are shooting 43.1 percent overall and 30 percent from three. However their entire season goes, if Jeff Hornacek can build a good defensive foundation it will be a success.

 
source:  13. Nets (1-2, LW 9). That was a quality win over the Heat Friday night and their offense had a beautiful fluidity that night — the ball moved and players moved well off the ball. Then Sunday night against Orlando they did none of that. They settle for too many jump shots, they need to attack. Good test vs. Pacers this week.

 
source:  14. Bulls (1-2, LW 3). Lots of drama in the Windy City — Rose off to a rough start, and the front office is telling Tom Thibodeau how to distribute minutes. However, the biggest concern is that their defense has been average. We wait for them to find their stride, but can they do that against the Pacers this week.

 
source:  15. Knicks (1-2, LW 11). New York played really good defense through their first two games, then Kevin Love and Minnesota showed up and drilled them. Hopefully the defense returns — and speaking of returns J.R. Smith should be back this week.

 
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16. Pistons (2-1, LW 15). Brandon Jennings returned Sunday, and with a very Brandon Jennings line: 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Tough tests this week against Indiana and Oklahoma City.

 
source:  17. Raptors (2-1, LW 22). Great starts from Amir Johnson and Landry Fields this season… not so much for Rudy Gay and his 32.7 percent shooting on the season. If that keeps up the Gay trade rumors will ramp up (even as his trade value goes down).

 
source:  18. Lakers (2-2, LW 19). You get the feeling that first week is what we will see a lot of from the squad — a great win over the Clippers with Xavier Henry stepping up, followed by a mess in Golden State. Close win over Hawks, close loss to Spurs (without Duncan). Expect a season of this roller coaster.

 
source:  19. Grizzlies (1-2, LW 8). Normally a slow start to the season wouldn’t worry us, but the Memphis defense has not been good. Second worst in the NBA so far. That is worrying. They should turn it around, but if this little slump continues too long the road through the playoffs in a deep West just gets that much harder as you slip down the seedings.

 
source:  20. Magic (2-2, LW 27). No Tobias Harris, no Glen Davis and yet the Magic have looked solid. They play good defense and get some spinning dunks out of Victor Oladipo.

 
source:  21. Cavaliers (1-2, LW 16). Andrew Bynum is out there on the court, but there are other issues. Like Anthony Bennett not having scored yet. Charlotte tried to take the ball out of Kyrie Irving’s hands at the end of the game, and it worked. It shouldn’t.

 
source:  22. Pelicans (1-2, LW 18). Anthony Davis told me that the Pelicans took preseason seriously (they were 7-1) but that hasn’t translated to the season so far. However, Davis has looked good averaging 23.7 points and 12.3 rebounds a game

 
source:  23. Hawks (1-2, LW 20). Kyle Korver has started the season on fire but so far the Hawks defense has not, which is why the below .500 record. They need to pick up wins this week against the Kings, Magic and Nuggets.

 
source:  24. Kings (1-2, LW 23). Fantastic opening night crowd, atmosphere and win. However, the losses to the Clippers and Warriors showed how far this team needs to go. Six of their next seven games are at home.

 
source:  25. Bucks (1-2, LW 24). As our man D.J. Foster noted in The Extra Pass, new coach Larry Drew is benching Larry Sanders and John Henson in favor of Zaza Pachulia, and Ersan Ilyasova. That is not how you develop a young team, fireworks could follow.

 
source:  26. Bobcats (1-2, LW 25). Al Jefferson pushed to get back for the first game, shot 6-of-19, then shut it down again. Without him the Bobcats offense is exactly what you think it is.

 
source:  27. Nuggets (0-2, LW 14). Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler are out which hurts the offense, and while Brian Shaw was brought in to play JaVale McGee more the young center is showing why George Karl limited those minutes.

 
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28. Celtics (0-3, LW 26). I don’t know what Gerald Wallace thinks he’s doing by calling this team out publicly, but it’s not helping. Welcome to the NBA, Brad Stevens, isn’t this fun?

 
source:  29. Wizards (0-3, LW 21). Yes John Wall has struggled with his jump shot (9-of-29 outside the paint so far this season), but the bigger concern is the team defense, which has been terrible through three games (108.1 points per 100 possessions) was torched by the Heat Sunday. Is Randy Wittman’s seat getting warm?

 
source:  30. Jazz (0-3, LW 28). They’ve come close to getting wins but coughed the ball up at the end against the Thunder and blew a 16-point lead against the Rockets. Oh, and they didn’t reach an extension deal with Gordon Hayward. Rough week.

Zion Williamson’s attorneys work to avoid him answering questions about improper benefits at Duke

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MIAMI (AP) — Attorneys for NBA rookie Zion Williamson seek to block his former marketing agent’s effort to have the ex-Duke star answer questions about whether he received improper benefits before playing for the Blue Devils.

In a Florida court filing last week, Williamson’s attorneys say those questions are “nothing more than a fishing expedition aimed at tarnishing Williamson’s reputation” and designed to “maximize potential embarrassment and media coverage in an attempt to improperly gain settlement leverage.”

“Plaintiffs’ irrelevant and invasive requests are designed to harass and not calculated to lead to discovery of relevant evidence,” Friday’s filing states.

It is the latest exchange in the fight over the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick’s endorsement potential.

Prime Sports Marketing and company president Gina Ford filed her lawsuit last summer in Florida, accusing Williamson and the agency now representing him of breach of contract. Williamson filed his own lawsuit a week earlier in North Carolina to terminate a five-year contract with Prime Sports after moving to Creative Artists Agency LLC.

Ford’s attorneys had submitted questions this month asking whether the New Orleans Pelicans rookie or anyone on his behalf sought or accepted “money, benefits, favors or things of value” to sign with Duke. Those filings – offering no evidence of wrongdoing by Williamson or his family – sought answers within 30 days to establish facts under oath in the pretrial discovery process.

Williamson’s attorneys seek a stay while appealing the December denial of their motion to dismiss the Florida case based on lack of jurisdiction, or a protective order as an alternative.

At the heart of the dueling lawsuits over Williamson’s marketing rights is this: Williamson says the contract he signed with Prime Sports is illegal under North Carolina’s Uniform Athlete Agent Act (UAAA) because Ford was not registered with North Carolina to negotiate with amateur athletes (which Zion was at the time, having just played for Duke). Ford and Prime dispute that, saying this was a legal and binding negotiation.

One key reason NBA may return with 22 teams: Players want regular-season games

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Nothing is set in stone about an NBA return — at least not until next Thursday — but momentum seems to be building behind a plan that would bring 22 teams to the Orlando bubble.

That plan brings every team within six games of the playoffs when the season was halted into the competition, a total of 22 teams (13 from the West and nine from the East, the playoff teams plus Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Washington). There would be some regular-season games played, likely five to eight, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff seeds, then the playoffs with full seven-game series each round. Exactly what that play-in tournament would look and if the NBA would stick with the conference playoff alignment or seed 1-16 is up in the air (although the conference alignment seems to have more backing).

Why that plan? For one, it gets more cities and more fan bases involved — and it happens to bring Zion Williamson and the Pelicans into the mix, a big television draw. It also could help a few teams reach a 70-game broadcast threshold with local broadcasters.

Mostly, however, the players want it because they get some games under them before the playoffs start, something Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported on at ESPN.

Regardless of how many teams are ultimately included in the playoffs, the National Basketball Players Association has consistently stressed that it wants several regular-season games to be played prior to the start of the playoffs, sources said. That has been a prevailing sentiment among several contending teams that prefer a tuneup before beginning the postseason, sources said.

A lot of players — influential players — have pushed for some regular season or meaningful games before the playoffs start. It’s about health, as trainers told us at NBC Sports, go from zero to 100 jumping straight into the playoffs and teams are asking for injuries. Players understand that.

Maybe only 20 teams end up in Orlando, that plan is on the table as well, but either way expect some regular-season games before the playoffs start. If the powerful players want it to happen, it will.

PBT Podcast: 2020 NBA Mock Draft crossover podcast, Part Deux

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We’re back at it… and not just drinking beer during a podcast. Although we do that, too.

For the third consecutive season, Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk and I collaborated for a first-round mock draft. Rob knows the prospects better than anyone; I provide some knowledge about what the teams might be looking for. The result is a unique listening experience breaking down who will be picked where based on fit.

The first ten picks can be found over on the College Basketball Talk feed.

Here we finish off the lottery and run through the entire rest of the first round.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant make top 10 of Forbes highest-paid athletes list

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LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant make more money off the court in endorsements than they do in salary from their teams. Which is not a surprise.

It’s enough money to vault them into the top 10 of FORBES Magazine’s list of highest-paid athletes for the last year.

LeBron is fifth at $88.2 million, of which $37.4 million is salary (although Forbes lists it as much less). Stephen Curry is sixth at $74.4 million, and Durant is seventh at $69.3 million.

Rounding out basketball players in the top 20 are Russell Westbrook at 12th ($56 million), James Harden at 17th $47.8 million, and Giannis Antetokounmpo at $47.6 million. Overall, 34 NBA players are in the top 100, including rookie Zion Williamson at 57th ($27.3 million).

Tennis legend Roger Federer topped the list at $106.3 million, and he was followed by soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Neymar, before we got to LeBron.

Despite all the work that goes into them, these Forbes estimates have a reputation for being off the mark. That said, it makes for a fun debate and ranking, and we could all use that right now.