PBT NBA Power Rankings: Pacers, Heat and a lot from out West at the top

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The Eastern Conference has two elite teams — Indiana and Miami — and they are on top of the PBT Power Rankings for this week. Then you don’t see another team from the East until No. 12, which speaks to the depth of the West and the drop off after the East elite.

 
source:  1. Pacers (16-1, Last Week No. 2). Statistically the best way to predict playoff success? How many points you outscore your opponents by per 100 possessions. Indiana now leads the NBA in that category at XX. We’ll see how that holds up on their tough West Coast road swing this week, but they won the first game of it against the Clippers.

 
source:  2. Heat (13-3, LW 3). They have won 10 in a row and getting it done with defense — they held three consecutive opponents under 40 percent shooting last week (before the last team you’d expect, the Bobcats, snapped that Sunday shooting 46 percent).

 
source:  3. Trail Blazers (14-3, LW 4). This is currently your No. 1 seed in the West. Count me in the group that doesn’t think Portland can sustain this (not with the 21st ranked defense in the NBA) but this fast start gives them a cushion in a very deep Western Conference.

 
source:  4. Thunder (11-3, LW 5). OCK has won seven in a row and beaten good teams in the process. Don’t let his dramatic game winner fool you, Russell Westbrook is still struggling with his shot (he was 9-of-24 outside that shot in the win). The good news for Thunder fans is he’s struggling to finish in close and that skill will return.

 
source:  5. Spurs (14-3, LW No. 1). Marco Belinelli is the latest in the long line of smart player pickups by the Spurs as they just know how to get players that fit their system. Belinelli leads the NBA in three point percentage at 56.5 percent this season.

 
source:  6. Rockets (13-5, LW 8). Good teams win despite injuries, and the Rockets have done it with Jeremy Lin and James Harden missing time. The Rockets offense is still elite but a better sign for Houston fans is the defense has improved recently.

 
source:  7. Clippers (12-6, LW 6). The J.J. Redick loss will hurt, Willie Green is a big drop off. Despite this Clippers are going to be a top four seed and one of the best teams in the West this season, but their postseason success may hinge on the front office strengthening the bench near the trade deadline.

 
source:  8. Nuggets (9-6, LW 16). Two things are fueling Denver’s hot streak lately. First, Ty Lawson is playing at an elite point guard level, he is just a joy to watch lately. Second, the Nuggets started the season defending the pick-and-roll with aggressive hedging and they were getting burned, now they are switching and it works better for their athletes (not great, but better).

 
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9. Warriors (10-8, LW 9). They’ve struggled since Andre Iguodala went down and Matt Moore of CBSSports.com tweeted the reason: “Warriors pre-Iguodala injury: 97.4 defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions), 4th best. Four games since: 106.2, 20th best.”

 
source:  10. Suns (9-8, LW 18). I’m as stunned as anyone to see them crack the Top 10, but they are outscoring opponents by 6.6 points per 100 possessions. Channing Frye has shaken off the rust and his shooting from three is spacing the floor and sparking the offense.

 
source:  11. Mavericks (10-8, LW 7). They have lost 4-of-5 and looked a little ragged doing it. Blame the six back-to-backs they have already faced if you want (it didn’t help) but they are going to have to suck it up with another one this week (home to Charlotte then on the road at New Orleans).

 
source:  12. Timberwolves (9-10, LW 10). Before you think there is something really wrong with Minnesota, look at the schedule where they have played through a rough stretch. They are outscoring opponents by 2.1 points per 100 possessions, but had some tough losses. That will even out.

 
source:  13. Lakers (9-9, LW 17). They may get Kobe Bryant back as early as Friday night. That’s good for them, but expect a few bumps in the road as they insert a new No. 1 option into an offense that has shared the ball well.

 
source:  14. Pelicans (8-8, LW 15). Anthony Davis breaking his hand is brutal news, both for this team — he is their best player — and because he was going to be a focal point for the All-Star Game in New Orleans this year. Hope he is back soon.

 
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15. Hawks (9-9, LW 11). They are actually getting outscored by their opponents by 1.1 points per 100 possessions. They have lost 4-of-5 and Jeff Teague has struggled with his shot — those two things together are not a coincidence.

 
source:  16. Grizzlies (8-8, LW 12). Odd trend for Memphis — won five in a row on the road, lost four in a row at home. Still just a team trying to tread water until Marc Gasol returns, and it doesn’t help that Zach Randolph has been injured as well.

 
source:  17. Wizards (8-9, LW 22). If good teams find a way to win despite injuries, well, the Wizards have won six of eight despite missing Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza for stretches. The goal is the playoffs and they have bounced back from a slow start to be the five seed as of Monday.

 
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18. Bulls (7-8, LW 13). They went 1-5 on the circus road trip. The Bulls can be a playoff team in the East if they defend the way they are capable, but right now they are not playing like a Tom Thibodeau team on that end.

 
source:  19. Bobcats (8-10, LW 14). There are no moral victories in the NBA, but Charlotte looked pretty good in their loss to Miami Sunday. Charlotte forced the Heat into jump shots (just in the fourth quarter Miami hit them) and their offense wasn’t terrible. That’s way more than we expected to start the season.

 
source:  20. Raptors (6-10, LW 19). They have lost three games in a row but still lead the Atlantic Division. Which really speaks to the Atlantic Division right now. Tough week ahead on a West Coast swing that includes Golden State, Phoenix and the Lakers.

 
source:  21. Magic (6-10, LW 24). Victor Oladipo seems to be finding a groove averaging 14.8 points on 48 percent shooting the past five games. That includes wins over the Hawks and Sixers last week.

 
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22. Pistons (7-10, LW 20). While nobody was looking Rodney Stuckey has been the Pistons’ best backcourt player — he’s averaged 21.6 points a game on 53.9 percent shooting his last five games.

 
source:  23. Celtics (7-12, LW 23). Jordan Crawford has been playing well, as evidenced by his triple-double last week. But can they beat Milwaukee — the Bucks have just three wins this season and two are against Boston. They play again this week.

 
source:  24. Nets (5-12, LW 27). Hey Jason Kidd, if got a clever idea like spilling Coke on the court to get a timeout, save it for games that matter (like late in the season or playoffs). Brooklyn will now be without Paul Pierce for a month, to add to their injury woes.

 
source:  25. 76ers (6-12, LW 21). Michael-Carter Williams remains the brightest hope for the future on this team, but Evan Turner is averaging 21 points a game and is having by far his best season as a pro.

 
source:  26. Cavaliers (5-12, LW 28). There was an Andrew Bynum sighting over the weekend — 20 points, 10 rebounds on Saturday. Is he finding his groove as he gets healthier and in shame, or was this just a fluke? Magic 8 Ball says ask again next week.

 
source:  27. Kings (4-11, LW 25). It will be interesting to see if the new coach and new chance change things for Derrick Williams. — he’s going to get a real shot and play the three is Sacramento. In his Kings debut Friday he had 12 points on 13 shots (inefficient scoring was one of the issues in Minnesota).

 
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28. Jazz (3-15, LW 30). Jeremy Evans, the human pogo stick, is starting to show a little of his much-discussed potential on the court lately, and Trey Burke is back and playing well at the point. Things are not as bleak as a couple weeks ago.

 
source:  29. Knicks (3-13, LW 26). Nine straight losses. Carmelo Anthony is pressing and nobody else is stepping up to help him consistently, but the bigger issue remains the defense. It’s stunning how much Tyson Chandler means to this team (and it’s stunning how management built a team where Tyson Chandler meant so much).

 
source:  30. Bucks (3-13, LW 29). They picked up a win last week over the Celtics thanks to a hot O.J. Mayo (22 points). Two of the Bucks three wins are against the Celtics and they are on the schedule again this week.

The time Kendall Gill stayed out all night then led Hornets to early-afternoon win (video)

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In the great history of NBA party-then-play stories, 15-year-pro Kendall Gill has a new tale from his rookie year with the Hornets in 1991.

Gill on Off The Dribble:

We pulled into D.C. My cousin took me out. I was out until 6 in the morning. He brings me back to the hotel. My coach, Gene Littles, is sitting in the lobby. And as I walked in the door, he’s like, “What the hell are you doing out here, rook? Don’t you know we’ve got a game at 12 o’clock in the afternoon?” Well, turns out, I go and I score 28 points that day, the high for my rookie season. I scored 28 points. He comes to me after the game and says, “You can go out and hang out any time you want to until 6 in the morning – if you play like that.”

A couple details are off. Gill scored 24 points to lead Charlotte over the Washington Bullets on March 31, 1991. But that wasn’t his season high. He scored 28 a few days earlier in Phoenix. The Washington game also had a listed start of 1 p.m., not noon.

Still, this comes close enough on the verifiable facts. Besides, I want the fun parts of this story to be true, so I’ll choose to believe them, anyway.

Birthday boy Karl-Anthony Towns giving Timberwolves even more reason to celebrate

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Tom Thibodeau is gone. Jimmy Butler is gone. Karl-Anthony Towns has taken greater ownership with the Timberwolves.

Towns organizes team-building activities like Topgolf and a halloween party. Towns gives the pump-up speech before each game. Towns communicates more on the floor.

That’s why, Towns said, he didn’t even realize his birthday was approaching until his parents recently reminded him.

“I get caught up in work,” Towns said.

Whether or not Towns actually needed the reminder, let alone for such a flattering reason, his birthday – which is today – got him reflecting. He felt old.

So, Towns mentioned to Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders that his birthday was around the corner. Saunders had the opposite realization: Towns is turning 24 today. Just 24!

“He’s still young,” Saunders said. “As a coach, that gets me excited.”

Towns is one of the NBA’s special talents – a proven star with room to improve. Picking up the momentum he built last season, Towns appears to be really coming into his own this year.

The center is posting his usual impressive numbers (25.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game), but his new attitude has stolen the show. He fought Joel Embiid and went face-to-face with Rudy Gay.

Don’t let the antics completely overshadow an impressive basketball story, though. Towns has led Minnesota to a surprising 7-4 start by revamping his game. Most of his shots are coming from beyond the arc, and his 4.2 assists per game are a career high.

By creating spacing and keeping the ball moving, Towns is contributing to a style that lifts all the Timberwolves. Perhaps, nobody has benefited more than Andrew Wiggins, who’s fitting right into this modern look.

The transformation is only the latest chapter for Towns, whose reputation has fluctuated significantly throughout his five-year career. This might explain why he already feels so old:

Minnesota drafted Towns No. 1 in 2015, and he won Rookie of the Year. In the 2016 and 2017 NBA general-manager survey, a plurality of voting executives picked Towns as the player they’d most like to start a team with. In the 2017 survey, Towns also received the most votes for league’s best center (even while getting a couple votes as league’s best power forward).

On paper, Towns delivered. He made his first All-Star and All-NBA teams the following season. He also reached the playoffs for the first time.

But Thibodeau and Butler butted heads with Towns, who never showed the hard edge those former Bulls tried to coax from him. After trading Butler, Minnesota went right back to losing.

In the 2018 and 2019 surveys, no general manager picked Towns to start a team with. Only a few picked him as best center.

Now, the landscape has shifted again. Anthony Davis spends a lot of time at power forward. Joel Embiid doesn’t stay as healthy. Nikola Jokic has fallen way off.

Towns is the early frontrunner for All-NBA first-team center.

“Everybody takes big steps in their growth at different times,” Saunders said, “and I think we’re seeing that from Karl.”

Towns can’t take anything for granted, and neither can the Timberwolves. But he at least has a good chance for vindication after his preseason playoff talk.

The way Towns has implemented more 3-point shooting into his game is particularly impressive. His 9.0 attempts per game lead NBA bigs, and he’s converting more than 40%. But floating on the perimeter was once a sign Towns was being too passive. Now, Towns is finding the right balance between spotting up beyond the arc and playing aggressively.

That’s in part his own mentality changing, in part his teammates’ mentality changing. Gone are the days when Towns could be an afterthought outside the paint.

“The ball is always going to find KAT,” Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie said. “He’s the center of our offense.”

Towns’ defensive intensity still comes and goes. He still must prove himself in the playoffs, and that usually requires trials and tribulations he hasn’t yet experienced.

But at age 24, Towns is finally/already showing something special.

DeAndre’ Bembry gets ejected for taunting Ricky Rubio, continued talking (video)

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The Hawks are rapidly changing. General manager Travis Schlenk took over just two years ago and has already turned over nearly the entire roster. Only DeAndre’ Bembry remains as an inherited player.

It’s not an easy situation for Bembry, who’s headed toward free agency next summer. He’s playing for a team with a lead executive who never chose him. Bembry can’t count on any team investing in him.

That’s the context in which Bembry got ejected from Atlanta’s loss to the Suns last night. He blocked Ricky Rubio‘s shot, taunted the Phoenix guard, got a technical foul, kept talking and got another technical foul.

The ejection seems pretty weak, but Bembry left himself vulnerable to the techs.

Hawks rookie Cameron Reddish also got ejected for multiple flagrant fouls.

Eric Bledsoe apparently bothered Bulls with post-buzzer dunk (video)

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Eric Bledsoe doesn’t care about the rules – written or unwritten.

As the buzzer sounded in the Bucks’ 124-115 win over the Bulls yesterday, Bledsoe dunked then hung on the rim. The basket came after time expired and didn’t count.

Bulls forward Thaddeus Young and coach Jim Boylen confronted Bledsoe on the court:

Young, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“We all know what it is,” Young said. “They had the game won. There are some things you just don’t do at the end of games just out of common courtesy. We’ll move on. It is what it is. It happened. We just have to be ready when we play them in four or five days. We gotta be ready to get a win.”

“That’s with any team that cares about the morals and principles of the game,” Young said. “If we did that and the score was the opposite, they’d say the same thing. It is what it is. We just gotta be ready in four or five days. We gotta get a win. That’s the only way we can follow it back up now.”

Usually, I’d say: If you don’t like it, stop it. But that doesn’t really apply for a post-game dunk. There’s no defense after the buzzer.

Still, I’m not outraged by Bledsoe’s dunk. I bet, aside from Bulls partisans, most people aren’t (though plenty could work themselves into a tizzy if they desire). Some of Chicago’s bitterness probably stemmed from losing and allowing Bledsoe to score 31 points on 12-of-12 shooting inside the arc.

If the Bulls want to use this as motivation, more power to them. They should. Young, whose professionalism appears exemplary, is an ideal messenger.

But Boylen, who wouldn’t comment on this to the media, can’t claim the moral high ground.