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.

Magic send Jonathan Isaac to G-League for practice, rehabilitation

2022-2023 Orlando Magic Media Day
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There was a time when it was thought Jonathan Isaac might be the Magic’s next big star.

However, he has not stepped on an NBA court since he was in the bubble (Feb. 8, 2020), then he tore his ACL in August of that year (which came on the heels of missing much of that season with an injury to the same knee). Last March he had a setback and another procedure, and at this point he has missed two full seasons plus the start of this one.

Isaac is still working toward recovery and the Magic have assigned him to the Lakeland Magic of the G-League to get in some practice.

Because NBA teams barely practice during the season — the schedule of games nearly every other day plus travel and recovery doesn’t permit more than film sessions and walk-throughs — these kinds of baseball-style minor league rehab assignments are more and more common.

The story from the Magic’s official website notes this will be the first time Isaac will play 5-on-5 with other players during his rehab, which is a significant step forward.

There is no timeline for his return, but the Magic have him under contract this season for $17.4 million and two more fully guaranteed years at the same price. There is no reason for the franchise to walk away, even if some around the league question if his knees will ever let him back on an NBA court again.

The Magic have found their next star in Paolo Banchero and have built a promising young core, something Isaac — an elite defender before his injuries — should fit in well with. If he can get healthy and back on the court.

Antetokounmpo talks about plans for his 28th birthday today while holding Simpsons plush

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Happy birthday, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak turns 28 today.

After he dropped a casual (for him) 34-13-5 line in the Bucks’ win over the Magic last night, Antetokounmpo discussed his birthday plans. He’s not going out, maybe just dinner, playing with his kids, and once they are asleep… ya know.

I feel safe saying Antetokounmpo is the first NBA player to talk about birthday sex while holding a Homer J. Simpson plush doll.

If you’re asking, why the Simpson doll… why not? Bucks reserve forward Sandro Mamukelashvili won it at Universal Studios, brought it to the game, left it behind in the locker room and Antetokounmpo appropriated it.

In a world where most postgame press conferences are formulaic and filled with cliches it’s good to see a player willing just to be himself and have some fun behind the mic.

Watch Pacers rookie Nembhard drop 31, outduel Curry, lead Pacers past Warriors

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SAN FRANCSICO — Rookie Andrew Nembhard outshined the Splash Brothers on their home court.

Nembhard scored a season-high 31 points and added 13 assists and eight rebounds to lead the undermanned Indiana Pacers to a 112-104 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Monday night.

A second-round draft pick, Nembhard made a key 3-pointer with 4:26 to go and another jumper less than two minutes later.

“He was masterful tonight … 31 and 13, those are high lottery numbers,” coach Rick Carlisle said.

Indiana played without starting point guard Tyrese Haliburton for a second straight game as he nurses soreness in his left groin.

Klay Thompson scored 28 points and made eight 3-pointers, moving up the NBA’s career 3-point list on the six-year anniversary of his 60-point masterpiece against the Pacers.

Thompson finished 9 of 23, but Stephen Curry was held to 12 points on 3-for-17 shooting. Jordan Poole scored 23 starting in place of Andrew Wiggins, who sat out with tightness of the adductor muscle in his right leg.

“No matter what we do, it’s going to be hard to guard these guys. We had some good fortune with them missing some shots they may normally make,” Carlisle said. “But our guys played with a lot of presence to start the game. We were switching a lot and everyone was tied together.”

Nembhard hit five 3s while Buddy Hield added 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists as Indiana snapped a three-game losing streak with just its second win in six games.

Nembhard and the Pacers hardly looked like a team playing the second game of a road back-to-back.

“He was hoopin’ and I think that starts in the first half for us,” Golden State’s Donte DiVincenzo said. “The guards have to get into it a little bit more.”

Golden State had its 10-game home winning streak snapped.

Curry went 1 of 7 in the first half, missing all four of his 3-point tries and was 2 for 10 from deep overall. Curry finally connected from long range with 5:13 left in the third after missing his first five.

The Pacers, missing six players with injuries or illness, jumped out to a 22-12 lead as Golden State started 5 for 17.

Thompson knocked down three straight 3-pointers – all from the right wing – to tie the game at 42 with 4:51 left in the second quarter before a Pacers timeout. Thompson also dished out an assist on Jonathan Kuminga‘s layup before his trio of 3s and nearly had another when Kuminga was fouled and made both free throws to cap a 20-2 run 3:40 before halftime.

Three things to know: On night of returns Harden rusty, Leonard hits game-winner

Philadelphia 76ers v Houston Rockets
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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) James Harden was rusty, Joel Embiid fouled out, 76ers fall to Rockets in 2OT

Philadelphia picked a soft landing spot for the return of James Harden, on the road against his young and struggling former Houston team, followed by coming home for seven in a row.

This was not what Doc Rivers and company pictured.

For example, remember Harden was going to be a minutes limit? Rivers had him out there for 38 minutes in a double-overtime game, throwing him back into the fire in the overtimes because he had little choice.

Harden made four 3-pointers but was understandably rusty after missing 14 games with a strained tendon in his right foot, and he was 0-8 inside the arc. He missed an open potential game-winner at the end of the first overtime. Still, he made some passes and a shot or two that reminded everyone what he can do when he gets his legs back under him — and why the 76ers need him.

Combine that with Joel Embiid feasting early on the undersized Rockets inside, and Sixers fans could see a path to a comfortable win.

However, the underlying problem that did them in was looming — Houston was attacking the rim, drawing fouls, and living at the line. The Rockets got 15 free throw attempts in the first quarter, a trend that would continue much of the night.

The Rockets hung around and hung around, getting 27 points from Jalen Green, while Kevin Porter Jr. added 24. And they kept drawing fouls, eventually fouling out Joel Embiid in the first overtime. When the Rockets hit a couple of 3-pointers to open the second OT, they took control and got the win, 132-123.

Harden’s return should eventually boost the 76ers bottom 10 offense, but what this team really needs is to get healthy (Tyrese Maxey remains out with a foot injury) and to string together a few wins. They start a seven-game homestead Friday against the Lakers (not the best time to catch Anthony Davis and company) and that would be a chance to right the ship. And get out of the play-in level they are at right now.

2) Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return, until the game was on the line

The Clippers followed the 76ers model for the return of their stars — Kawhi Leonard and Paul George both returned to the lineup against an injury-plagued and struggling Hornets team. A nice soft landing spot…

That turned out not to be as soft as imagined.

As expected playing just his sixth game of the year, Leonard looked rusty in his return, starting the night 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

Then he hit two buckets in the final minute that got the Clippers the win.

The first was set up by an impressive hustle play from Paul George, who saved a ball going out of bounds to Leonard under the basket for a shot that tied the game.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner. That is vintage Leonard, using his strength to get to his spot and then calmly draining the shot.

If you’re looking for positives in Los Angeles, the Clippers showed some resilience and grit in getting the win. Leonard finished with 16 points and George looked sharper with 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. Clippers’ role players stepped up.

The Clippers need their stars to stay healthy and on the court, and to build some chemistry. Traditionally 20 games into the season we know who a team is, but this year’s Clippers are the exception to that rule. Their role players and a strong defense have kept the team’s head above water (14-11 on the season), but they need their stars back to turn around their 29th-ranked offense. Then we can see if they have the potential to be a threat in the West or not.

3) Pacers rookie Andrew Nembhard outduels Stephen Curry, Pacers win

Yes, you read that right.

While Bennedict Mathurin has been the Pacers’ rookie garnering most of the attention (and some early Rookie of the Year talk), Andrew Nembhard has been showing out of late. Monday night he had 31 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists and hit some key shots late to fuel the Pacers’ 112-102 upset win over the Warriors.

With Tyrese Haliburton out (groin injury), Nembhard — the four-year college player from Gonzaga who was taken No.31 in last year’s draft — showed he knows how to run a team and knock down a 3 (he’s shooting 42.9% from deep this season).

The Pacers also won because it was just an off night for Stephen Curry: 12 points on 3-of-17 shooting overall and 2-of-10 from 3. It felt like a night where the Warriors looked at the Pacers’ inactive list for the game — Haliburton, Myles Turner, Chris Duarte, T.J. McConnell, Daniel Theis, James Johnson — and thought they would cruise to a win. Do that against NBA players and you pay the price.

Because guys like Andrew Nembhard can flat-out play.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Today is Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s 28th birthday. What does he want? What are his plans? And why is he doing his postgame media session with Homer J. Simpson? There are a lot of questions.