PBT NBA Power Rankings: It’s the Pacers, Spurs then everyone else

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David Stern’s nightmare Finals matchup is on top of the second PBT NBA Power rankings — Indiana and San Antonio. Lots of shifting still going on in the rankings as teams shake themselves out just a couple weeks into the season, but a few patterns are emerging.

source:  1. Pacers (7-0, Last Week No. 1). Yes their defense is the best in the league. Yes Paul George has stepped up. Yes their starting five is outscoring opponents by +28 per 48 minutes. But don’t overlook the growth in Lance Stephenson. He’s averaging 14.4 a game, shooting 50 percent from three and defending well.

 
source:  2. Spurs (6-1, LW 5). They have looked like an old-school Spurs team so far this season — they have the third best defense in the NBA. The offense is ninth best in the NBA, a number bumped up thanks to the explosion against the Knicks “defense” Sunday.

 
source:  3. Thunder (5-1, LW 8). Russell Westbrook is averaging 21 points a game but the rust is still there — shooting 33.8 percent overall and 30.8 percent from three. That will change eventually. But Westbrook could miss a game after shoving Nene Sunday night.

 
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4. Timberwolves (5-2, LW 3). Yes, Kevin Love is putting up historic numbers and the offense is clicking, but the Timberwolves are winning because they have a top-10 NBA defense so far this season (sixth in points allowed per possession). It’s early, but if they maintain that they become a much more dangerous team.

 
source:  5. Warriors (4-3, LW 7). This is the key stat from Golden State so far this season: They have the second best defense in the NBA. The offense is going to put up points with this roster (although they struggled with Stephen Curry out Friday), but if they continue to defend near this level they become more dangerous when the games matter.

 
source:  6. Heat (4-3, LW 9). Great stat from ESPN: Miami is 1-3 in clutch games this season (score within five in final five minutes of the game) after being an NBA-best 32-8 last season. I think that’s a sign of focus and effort, something LeBron James echoed after the Celtics loss saying “We messed around with the game tonight, and that was that.”

 
source:  7. Clippers (4-3, LW 6). On paper the Clippers have an impressive bench — Jamal Crawford, Daren Collison, Matt Barnes when he is healthy again — but the defense from that second unit has been a real issue so far. A front court of Byron Mullens and Ryan Hollins isn’t going to solve that. Tough schedule this week with Minnesota, Oklahoma City and Brooklyn.

 
source:  8. Suns (5-2, LW 12). The fast start is in part due to Eric Bledsoe, but also Jeff Hornacek has them playing the seventh best defense in the NBA (based on points per possession). It’s early, we’ll see what kind of level they can sustain, still this is a good sign for trying to build a foundation going forward.

 
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9. Trail Blazers (4-2, LW 11). They are putting up this nice early record despite a defense 25th in the NBA in points per possession (and some shooting struggles for Damian Lillard). Robin Lopez was supposed to improve Portland’s interior defense but there are communication issues in the system.

 
source:  10. Rockets (4-3, LW 2). A 1-3 week where the Rockets’ perimeter defense was exposed by the Lakers and Clippers. It’s bad. James Harden is part of the issues, and Dwight Howard along the front line can’t clean up all of that mess (when he is position).

 
source:  11. Mavericks (4-3, LW 10). Monta Ellis is a little up and down in Dallas so far (big shock) but it should be noted is playing much more efficient basketball — his 23 points a game are coming on 47.9 percent shooting (up 6.3 percent from last season). The key is he is shooting 48.3 percent from the midrange.

 
source:  12. 76ers (4-3, LW 4). A 1-3 week brings them back to reality. Still, this season is supposed to be about player development and in that case the big outing from Evan Turner over the weekend and the strong play of Michael Carter-Williams are good signs.

 
source:  13. Grizzlies (3-3, LW 19). Memphis got a quality win over Golden State but their defense still is not consistent. And while we’re at it neither is the offense. With Indiana and Toronto on the schedule, we’ll see if they can build off what happened against the Warriors.

 
source:  14. Bulls (2-3, LW 14). Excited to see Derrick Rose go up against Kyrie Irving for the first time ever on Monday night. I will also be excited to see Rose return to form once he gets the rust off — he is shooting 25 percent from the midrange so far this season.

 
source:  15. Pelicans (3-3, LW 22). Through six games they are allowing 110.6 points per 100 possessions and scoring 100.6 per 100. The very definition of a .500 team. Anthony Davis is having a monster year with 21.7 points and 11.6 rebounds a game — he looks like the franchise player the Pelicans hoped he would be.

 
source:  16. Hawks (3-3, LW 23). Paul Millsap looks good so far averaging 20.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists — when he and Al Horford are paired the Hawks look strong. When they are not… well, this is a .500 team.

 
source:  17. Bobcats (3-3, LW 26). We’re just happy that coach Steve Clifford got a couple stents in his arteries and that nothing more serious came of this. He will be back on the court Monday night.

 
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18. Nets (2-4, LW 13). Great note by Grantland’s Zach Lowe on twitter: The Nets are 11 points per 100 possessions worse on defense and 6 per 100 worse on offense when Kevin Garnett is on the court. It’s early, but that’s an interesting and troublesome trend.

 
source:  19. Pistons (2-3, LW 16). On paper the Pistons look like they should be a defensive powerhouse, but through five games they are 23rd in the league at that end of the floor. They play Golden State this week and that offense against the Pistons defense could get ugly.

 
source:  20. Magic (3-4, LW 20). This may be too low a ranking for Orlando, which has the fourth best defense in the NBA this young season. I’m not sold they can sustain that, and trades are certainly coming, but so far Jacque Vaughn has this team buying in.

 
source:  21. Cavaliers (3-4, LW 21). They are undefeated at home and 0-4 on the road — and three of their four games this week are on the road (at Chicago, Minnesota and Washington). Their offense has been one of the worst in the NBA so far, save for a few spurts that has gotten them wins.

 
source:  22. Celtics (3-4, LW 28). They had a 3-1 week, including an improbable win over Miami thanks to a wild Jeff Green corner three.

 

 
source:  23. Knicks (2-4, LW 15). Sunday’s loss was what we could see more of from New York in the coming weeks — with Tyson Chandler out for a month they are going to have to win games by just outscoring teams. Their small ball with Andrea Bargnani is not a recipe for sustained success.

 
source:  24. Raptors (3-4, LW 17). They had a 1-3 week and talk is starting up again about coach Dwane Casey’s job — why he decided to go small and match up Miami after Jonas Valanciunas was destroying them early is confusing. As was not fouling in Charlotte. Things don’t get easier this week with the Rockets, Grizzlies, Bulls and Trail Blazers on the schedule.

 
source:  25. Wizards (2-3, LW 29). There is potential here and we saw it when Nene took over at the end of the game and led a comeback and overtime win over the Nets. The next night they blew a 12-point lead against the Thunder (and Nene got ejected). This is a team learning to win still.

 
source:  26. Lakers (3-5, LW 18). Pau Gasol has struggled to open the season due to a respiratory infection (he says he is getting better) and is shooting 36 percent so far. Now Steve Nash will join Kobe Bryant on the sidelines. There’s not much shot creation for others or defense on this team.

 
source:  27. Bucks (2-3, LW 25). Rough week with Larry Sanders out with a thumb injury following a bar fight he apologized for… not that Larry Drew is playing him enough anyway. The Bucks love the three ball but that is a tough way to make a living in the league.

 
source:  28. Kings (1-5, LW 24). They have dropped five in a row after an exciting opening night win at home. Three of those losses have been at home, as are their next four games. That will not matter without some better defensive lineups.

 
source:  29. Nuggets (1-4, LW 27). Well Josh Kronke, you wanted more minutes for the young guys and changes on your 57-win team. Here you go. JaVale McGee is now out indefinitely and new coach Brian Shaw has struggled to find a front court rotation he likes. Or at least one he doesn’t hate.

 
source:  30. Jazz (0-7, LW 30). Utah is shooting 40.1 percent as a team and 23.6 percent from three, leading to the worst offense in the NBA. The 27th ranked defense isn’t going to bail them out. Coach Tyron Corbin’s seat has to be getting warm.

Watch LeBron’s big night: Moves into fourth in assists, triple-double, win over Knicks

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LeBron James always saves something special for Madison Square Garden.

LeBron had a triple-double of 28 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds — he became the first player in NBA history to have a triple-double in his 20th season.

That wasn’t the only bit of history, with those 11 dimes he moved past both Mark Jackson and Steve Nash into fourth on the NBA’s career assists list. And if that wasn’t enough, the 28 points moved him within 89 points of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA all-time scoring record: Abdul-Jabbar has 38,387, LeBron is now at 38,299.

For LeBron, however, what mattered most was the win — 129-123 in overtime, giving a Lakers team starved for wins its first on this road trip out East.

“I didn’t get to this point in my career by thinking about records or how many points I have, whatever the case might be,” LeBron said, via the Associated Press. “I just play the game the right way. I approach the game every night only trying to be a triple threat by scoring, rebounding, assisting, defending, and may the chips fall where they may.”

LeBron had help, with Anthony Davis adding 27 points and nine rebounds. The Knicks got 37 from Jalen Brunson, and Julius Randle had 23 points and 12 rebounds.

LeBron needed that help as he wasn’t the sharpest he had been this season, starting 2-of-8 from the floor, then missing a couple of long jumpers in the game’s final minutes when the Lakers had the chance to seal the win. But he was good enough and put on a show for the sold-out crowd in New York.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
89

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,299

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks
Feb. 11 at Warriors

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, although that would be by one point, so Feb. 9 against Milwaukee is certainly a possibility.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• LeBron had his first triple-double of the season — and became the first player ever with one in his 20th season — scoring 28 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists — to help lead the Lakers past the Knicks in overtime on Tuesday night. With those 11 assits LeBron moved past both Mark Jackson and Steve Nash to be fourth on the NBA’s all-time assists list.

• LeBron James did suit up to play Tuesday night against the Knicks (in Madison Square Garden on national television, that shouldn’t have been a surprise). Anthony Davis was cleared to play as well.

• After sitting out against the Nets on Monday, LeBron is officially questionable to play Tuesday in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and will be a game-time decision. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said LeBron has “really significant soreness” in his left foot (after playing 44 minutes against Boston). LeBron and the medical staff will speak after LeBron starts to warm up Tuesday to determine if LeBron can play in Madison Square Garden, a game he hates to miss because he loves playing in that venue.

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Paolo Banchero, Scoot Henderson highlight player pool for Rising Stars during All-Star weekend

Orlando Magic v Miami Heat
Megan Briggs/Getty Images
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The big winner in last year’s All-Star Friday night Rising Stars game was the new format (and Cade Cunningham). The new setup saw players onto four teams of seven, with those four teams going into a tournament bracket. The games were not timed, but players competed to a target score — something that actually had the young stars defending and playing hard. Things too often lacking All-Star weekend.

That format is back, and an impressive crop of players is involved: Rookie of the Year favorite Paolo Banchero, last year’s ROY Scottie Barnes, and expected No.2 pick in the upcoming draft Scoot Henderson of the G-League Ignite. Here is a complete list of the players competing (the rookies and sophomores will be drafted into three teams of seven players each, and the G-League players will make up their own team).

Rookies

Paolo Banchero (Orlando Magic)
Jalen Duren (Detroit Pistons)
AJ Griffin (Atlanta Hawks)
Jaden Ivey (Detroit Pistons)
Walker Kessler (Utah Jazz)
Bennedict Mathurin (Indiana Pacers)
Keegan Murray (Sacramento Kings)
Andrew Nembhard (Indiana Pacers)
Jabari Smith Jr. (Houston Rockets)
Jeremy Sochan (San Antonio Spurs)
Jalen Williams (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Sophomores

Jose Alvarado (New Orleans Pelicans)
Scottie Barnes (Toronto Raptors)
Josh Giddey (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Jalen Green (Houston Rockets)
Quentin Grimes (New York Knicks)
Bones Hyland (Denver Nuggets)
Evan Mobley (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Trey Murphy III (New Orleans Pelicans)
Alperen Sengun (Houston Rockets)
Franz Wagner (Orlando Magic)

The G-League team will consist of:

Sidy Cissoko (G League Ignite)
Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite)
Mojave King (G League Ignite)
Kenneth Lofton Jr. (Memphis Hustle)
Mac McClung (Deleware Blue Coats)
Leonard Miller (G League Ignite)
Scotty Pippen Jr. (South Bay Lakers)

There are former NBA stars to coach each of the teams: Former All-Stars Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Deron Williams will coach the three Rising Stars teams, while former Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry will coach the G League team.

There will be three games Friday night during the Rising Stars challenge, with each game played to a target score of 40. If it’s anything like last year, it’s worth tuning in.

Needing defense, Kings reportedly eyeing 76ers Thybulle for trade

Philadelphia 76ers v Sacramento Kings
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
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At 28-21, the Sacramento Kings sit as the No.3 seed in the West with the second-best offense in the league — they seemed destined to break their 16-year playoff drought and very well could even host a first-round playoff series.

However, their 23rd-ranked defense (using Cleaning the Glass’ numbers) will undo them come the playoffs.

That has the Kings looking for some defensive help and they are eyeing Sixers wing Matisse Thybullereports Marc Stein in his latest Substack newsletter.

Sacramento is said to be monitoring the availability of Philadelphia’s Matisse Thybulle as the Kings, unexpectedly holding the West’s No. 3 seed after a league-record 16 consecutive seasons out of the playoffs, ponder the pursuit of a more defensive-minded option on the perimeter.

Thybulle has lived in the rumor mill for a while, this is nothing new. However, those rumors carry more weight because Thybulle’s role in Philadelphia has shrunk considerably with the additions of De'Anthony Melton and P.J. Tucker as defensive-minded forwards who can provide more offense than Thybulle. Doc Rivers also leans into Georges Niang more off the bench because of his shooting.

Thybulle is in the final year of his contract and is headed for restricted free agency, the Kings might be interested in re-signing him (depending on the price and his fit with the roster). The Kings can match salaries easily enough with Davion Mitchell, Terence Davis or Alex Len, the question is who will the 76ers want back, and will the Kings need to throw in a second-round pick?

There’s some logic to this trade getting done in some form, it’s worth keeping an eye on.