PBT NBA Power Rankings: Injuries start to shape the rankings

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The top of our rankings remain solid this week, but after a bad weekend of injuries there were a few shakeups farther down with more to come.

source:  1. Spurs (12-1, Last Week No. 1). They are the winners of 10 in a row and are doing it with great defense, good offense, not much Tim Duncan (still shooting less than 40 percent this season) and the machine-like efficiency we have all come to know and love. Fun showdown Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.

 
source:  2. Pacers (12-1, LW 2). They hold on to their spot but really didn’t impress against the Knicks, a game they could/should have lost. Things get interesting Sunday when then start on a tough West Coast road swing that includes the Clippers and Trail Blazers back-to-back.

 
source:  3. Heat (10-3, LW 3). Winners of six in a row (and it could be 10 if Jeff Green doesn’t hit a ridiculous three) lad by their defense, which has cranked up the pressure the past five games (not to postseason levels but improved).

 
source:  4. Trail Blazers (12-2, LW 4). Stan Van Gundy is impressed — he told us on the PBT podcast that he really likes the job Terry Stotts is doing in Portland, particularly with their Top 5 offense. He also isn’t sold they can sustain this pace (neither am I) but this is a nice cushion built up against future slumps.

 
source:  5. Thunder (9-3, LW 7). How long before Kendrick Perkins comes off the bench and Steven Adams starts? Of course, we’ve been asking the Perkins question for years. Tough schedule this week with the Spurs, Warriors and Timberwolves.

 
source:  6. Clippers (10-5, LW 6). Great note by Kevin Arnovitz this week over at ESPN: When the Clippers starters are on the floor, they have a top-10 NBA defense. The deeper they go into the bench the worse it gets. You know Doc Rivers is working on that, but come the playoffs he can shorten his rotation and the Clippers look more dangerous.

 
source:  7. Mavericks (9-5, LW 11). Fourth best offense in the NBA so far and Monta Ellis is the key reason — 23.6 points on 49.4 percent shooting, plus 5.6 assists per game. It was his assists to Shawn Marion that got the Mavs the win over the Rockets this week.

 
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8. Rockets (9-5, LW 9). Terrence Jones has shown he deserves to be the starting power forward on this team — he has averaged 15 points on 59 percent shooting as a starter. The Rockets the fourth best point differential in the NBA, +6.2 per 100 possessions. That’s a good sign they are for real.

 
source:  9. Warriors (8-6, LW 5). The Andre Iguodala injury hurts — the Warriors will still be good and win a lot of games without him, but they are not as good. And in a West with 13 teams at .500 or better (as of Sunday night) just losing a couple more games can cost a team several slots in the playoffs.

 
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10. Timberwolves (8-7, LW 8). They have struggled the past week (1-3) and it is their defense that has been the issue. Particularly transition defense. Things don’t get easier this week with the Pacers, Mavericks and Thunder on the docket.

 
source:  11. Hawks (8-6, LW 12). Go ahead and say “these are the same old Hawks” if you want (their defense has improved) but the fact is they are above .500 and a solid team and in the East right now that could mean a top 4 playoff seed.

 
source:  12. Grizzlies (7-6, LW 13). The Marc Gasol injury really hurts them because he is the anchor of their fantastic defense. Like with the Warriors, even if this injury just costs the Grizzlies a few games, that is going to mean a lower playoff seeding and a much tougher road back to the conference finals.

 
source:  13. Bulls (6-6, LW 10). I don’t want to drop them down the rankings too far based just on the Derrick Rose injury and a rough game against a good Clippers team. Tom Thibodeau’s squads have been resilient. I just wonder what this squad will look like after the trade deadline.

 
source:  14. Bobcats (7-7, LW 15). Charlotte is a top 5 NBA defense so far, but Stan Van Gundy had a great line about their offense and the lack of shooters — everything they do looks good until the shot goes up.

 
source:  15. Pelicans (6-6, LW 17). They have won three in a row since Ryan Anderson returned from his toe injury, that is not a coincidence. While a lot of people seem to want to trade him to Houston for Omer Asik, the Pelicans front office is not among them.

 
source:  16. Nuggets (6-6, LW 19). Their wins last week were over good Dallas and Chicago teams, the Nuggets are looking better. However that will be tested with 8-of-9 on the road including an East Coast swing.

 
source:  17. Lakers (7-7, LW 18). In their last six games, since inserting Jordan Hill into the starting lineup, the Lakers have had a Top 5 offense in the NBA. Mike D’Antoni is winning with defense. Lakers are on the road for three games in four nights this week, don’t bet on Kobe coming back during that stretch.

 
source:  18. Suns (6-6, LW 14). Just like for Jerry Seinfeld in “The Opposite” things just even out for Phoenix. First Markieff Morris is hot and Marcus Morris is cold, then when Markieff goes cold Marcus gets hot. “Even Steven.” They have the Heat and Blazers this week, but then a home-and-home with Utah.

 
source:  19. Raptors (6-7, LW 26). That would be your Atlantic Division leading Toronto Raptors, thank you very much. Somebody is going to win this division and get the No. 4 seed, and it could be Toronto.

 
source:  20. Pistons (5-8, LW 22). Still not sold that Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe can play together, but when Smith came off the bench he was a mess (although Kyle Singler got hot). Bit home stand coming up, a chance to pick up a few wins against iffy competition.

 
source:  21. 76ers (6-9, LW 16). Spencer Hawes is playing very well, which makes you think that as we slowly start to crawl toward the trade season what will the Sixers do when teams call about him? They are rebuilding, they will move him at the right price, but much will they want back?

 
source:  22. Wizards (5-8, LW 27). It’s fair to say that as John Wall goes, so goes the Wizards, so when he got hot over the weekend with two 30 point games (both on efficient shooting) they suddenly won. Can he keep it up is the question.

 
source:  23. Celtics (5-10, LW 24). The schedule lightens up for the Celtics, which is the good news. The bad news is Kelly Olynyk will be out a couple weeks with a sprained ankle and when he is out they really miss him.

 
source:  24. Magic (4-9, LW 21). Big Baby Glen Davis was back on court this weekend and looked pretty good — he will provide a nice boost for Orlando. Until they trade him.

 
source:  25. Kings (4-9, LW 28). Sunday night the Lakers threw waves of bodies at DeMarcus Cousins, trying to get the ball out his hands. Cousins had 7 assists because of it but the plan worked, it disrupted the Kings offense. DMC needs some consistent help.

 
source:  26. Knicks (3-9, LW 25). Mike Woodson thinks the Knicks just need to get healthy, and that certainly is part of it. Their defense is a mess without Chandler and the offense isn’t good enough to overcome it. Tough week on the road against the Blazers and Clippers.

 
source:  27. Nets (3-10, LW 20). The Nets actually play their opponents almost even in the first half (-0.4 per game) but get thumped by -5.2 in the third quarter. It’s been an issue all season.

 
source:  28. Cavaliers (4-10, LW 23). They land here in part because they have the third worst point differential per 100 possessions in the league, -8.3. Mostly because their offense is so bad. The only bright spot is Matthew Dellavedova.

 
source:  29. Bucks (2-10, LW 29). Congratulations, you have the worst offense in the NBA so far. Still, a few more healthy bodies and a softer schedule and they maybe can pick up a win or two the next couple weeks.

 
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30. Jazz (1-14, LW 30). This team is worse than I imagined. At least Trey Burke is back even if he’s on a minute restriction.

Rumor: Suns, Magic have inquired about Knicks’ Frank Ntilikina

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Where do the Knicks stand on Frank Ntilikina, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft (taken ahead of Dennis Smith Jr. Zach Collins, and Donovan Mitchell)?

This should tell you all you need to know: The Denver Nuggets decided to cast Emmanuel Mudiay aside and the Knicks traded for him and instantly Mudiay jumped Ntilikina on the depth chart.

Ntilikina has played good defense but unimpressive offense for the Knicks this season and there is a thought from other teams around the league they may try to trade the young European.

A few teams are interested, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, but — shocker! — there may be a split in the front office about what to do between president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry.

Despite the Knicks’ clear lack of confidence in Ntilikina, teams have inquired about the 20-year-old, with the Magic and Suns expressing interest, according to a source. And this is where it gets interesting. There seems to be a debate within the Knicks on whether to deal Ntilikina. He was drafted by Mills and has supporters in the front office. But, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, Perry, who took the job after Ntilikina was drafted, recently approached the Atlanta Hawks to gauge whether the team was interested in dealing for the guard (Hawks have Trae Young and weren’t interested).

The Suns and Magic both desperately need point guards. However, neither are offering much in trades knowing that come free agency next July there will be better, more established targets — D'Angelo Russell, Terry Rozier, among others.

Ntilikina is a good perimeter defender whose skills could be developed in the right situation into a rotation point guard. Probably. But because the offers will be lowball, the Knicks would essentially just be dumping the No. 8 pick of a season ago, a guy who is only 20 years old. That would be a mistake — if the Knicks can’t get decent value back, keep Ntilikina and try to develop him themselves. Point guards take longer to come around in the NBA, maybe Ntilikina will develop into a player the Knicks want to keep.

But the rumors are out there and it’s something to keep an eye on.

Markelle Fultz returns to Philadelphia to do shoulder rehab with team

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Markelle Fultz is back with the 76ers.

Not in uniform for games, but he is back from Los Angeles and in Philadelphia working out with the team to recover from thoracic outlet syndrome, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story, then Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia confirmed it.

Fultz was in the arena for the Sixers game Saturday against the Thunder on national television (though not suited up to play).

There is no timetable for Fultz’s return, although his agent has said he expects Fultz to be back on the court this season. Whether that would be with the Sixers is another question, teams have called about the availability of the No. 1 pick from the 2017 NBA Draft, but the offers have been so lowball that none of them have been seriously considered by Philadelphia.

After consulting with a number of specialists just a few weeks into the season (and just after the Jimmy Butler trade), the 20-year-old Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a pinching of the nerve through the collarbone area. Since December he has been in Los Angeles is doing physical therapy to relieve the issue.

Fultz has returned to Philadelphia and is continuing that therapy.

 

Report: Rockets trying to trade Carmelo Anthony, likely to waive Nunnally to create roster spot

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To bring in some front line depth in the form of Kenneth Faried Monday, the Houston Rockets first have to clear a roster spot.

That led to a lot of speculation it could be Carmelo Anthony who is let go, he remains on the roster but not with the team, in a kind of limbo while the Rockets and ‘Melo’s agent look for a landing spot. (He reportedly has several options and will choose one before the trade deadline, but if he really liked any of those options he would have already taken them rather than waiting for a better offer.)

The Rockets are “aggressively” trying to trade Anthony and find him a new home before Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported. However, James Nunnally is the most likely guy out, he was just signed to a 10-day contract.

If the Rockets haven’t waived ‘Melo yet, they’re not going to do it now.

Houston GM Daryl Morey is also working the phone lines to find wing depth to add to the Rockets’ roster. While James Harden‘s historic streak has carried the Rockets back into the playoff picture in the West, this is not the same Houston team that was a threat to the Warriors a season ago. Morey’s off-season gambles — including Anthony — have not panned out, and he is now trying to correct them.

Pelicans’ Anthony Davis out 1-2 weeks with sprained finger

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This is bad.

The New Orleans Pelicans are 21-25 and four games back of the eight seed in the West having lost 3-of-4 on the current road trip. When Anthony Davis is not on the court, the Pelicans get outscored by 4.2 points per 100 possessions.

Davis is not going to be on the court for a week or two due to a sprained finger, the team announced Saturday morning.

Looking ahead at the schedule, Davis is likely to miss between three and seven games.

Davis has played at an MVP level this season, averaging 29.3 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting, plus grabs 13.3 rebounds and dishes out 4.4 assists a night. And that’s just on offense, defensively he is one of the best rim protecting bigs in the league, averaging 2.6 blocks per game. Davis leads the NBA in win shares (8.3) and PER at 30.9. He has been an absolute beast all season long.

Yet he hasn’t been able to lead the Pelicans to a winning record because of the roster around him (and injuries that have sapped what little depth New Orleans had to begin with).

Because of that, the intensely competitive Davis — who has talked about legacy mattering more to him than money — is expected to turn down a $239 million contract extension from the Pelicans next summer. At that point New Orleans will have to consider trading him and 29 teams will be lined up to talk deal (the Celtics and Lakers are expected to be at the front of that line).