PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Stability at the top, trades could shake up bottom

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There is no movement at the top of the standings as the top five teams went 15-1 last week (and that one loss was to another top 5 team). However, get past that five and you get into teams like the Rockets, Suns and others where trades could really change rankings as we move toward the deadline.

source:  1. Trail Blazers (21-4, Last Week No. 1). They keep winning and the offense keeps clicking — on the season they are scoring 110.3 points per 100 possessions (best in the NBA by 2 points) but in their last 10 games that is up to 114.7. (That covers up the 24th ranked defense the last 10 games.)

 
source:  2. Thunder (19-4, LW 2). Reggie Jackson in particular and Jeremy Lamb to a lesser degree have started to play really well off the bench for the Thunder. Depth was always the big question there (well, that and why Kendrick Perkins still starts) and OKC may be finding an answer to the big question.

 
source:  3. Pacers (20-3, LW 3). Don’t read too much into their victory over the Heat last week — there are no statement games in December. That said, watch that game and you see why Roy Hibbert is the key to Indiana beating Miami in a playoff series.

 
source:  4. Spurs (19-4, LW No. 4). San Antonio has gotten off to a fast start this season in spite of a struggling Tim Duncan — but that is starting to change. He is scoring 15.8 points a game on 52 percent shooting and is grabbing 11 rebounds a game in his last 5.

 
source:  5. Heat (17-6, LW 5). They get a rematch against the Pacers at home this Wednesday and we’ll see how focused and intense they are. Dwyane Wade has missed six games and just looks slowed — still good, but slowed.

 
source:  6. Clippers (16-9, LW 9). L.A. went a “meh” 4-3 on an East Coast road swing, although they finished it up by winning three of the last four. The loss to the Nets seemed to sum up their issues: The starting five built up a double-digit lead but once you get into their bench they struggle, then they could never regain their early form.

 
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7. Suns (14-9, LW 11). You can stop calling them a fluke now — winners of five in a row they are a playoff team in the West and not going anywhere. As our own D.J. Foster noted, turns out the Eric Bledsoe/Goran Dragic backcourt works well, thank you very much.

 
source:  8. Rockets (16-9, LW 6). Omer Asik will be traded by Thursday night, the question now is where he lands and what the Rockets get. They are angling for a first-round pick but if they could get a stretch four or defensive help on the perimeter that would be good.

 
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9. Nuggets (14-9, LW 7). Brian Shaw has tried changing the diet and everything else he can think of to get this team to stop stinking it up in the first quarter. Time for a rotation change?

 
source:  10. Warriors (13-12, LW 10). Golden State’s recent dramatic come-from-behind wins covered up a string of games with poor defense, too many turnovers and lackluster effort from key guys. They can’t afford that. How unforgiving is the West? The Warriors are the 9 seed, out of the playoffs (BEFORE SUNDAY) as of right now.

 
source:  11. Mavericks (14-10, LW 8). As we noted earlier today, Brandan Wright is in and Samuel Dalembert is out of the Mavericks’ rotations. Dallas needs to find some rim protection somewhere.

 
source:  12. Timberwolves (12-12, LW 13). Their run through the rough part of the schedule continues this three of their next four on the road, with opponents including Portland and both Los Angeles teams. Right now Kevin Love is carrying them — will voters give him a bump past Blake Griffin into the final West starting front court slot in the All-Star Game?

 
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13. Hawks (12-12, LW 12). After a strong start to the season Jeff Teague has hit a slump — he is averaging 10.4 points a game on 37.3 percent shooting and his assists are down over his last five games. Atlanta needs him if they want to be the three seed in the East.

 
source:  14. Pelicans (11-11, LW 17). Stop assuming the Pelicans are eager to move Ryan Anderson, they are not. First, he makes a very reasonable $17 million total for two more seasons. Second, the Pelicans are +12.2 per 48 minutes when Anderson and Anthony Davis are paired.

 
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15. Lakers (11-12, LW 14). The Lakers are now 1-2 with Kobe Bryant back in the lineup, but the real challenge is the injuries at point guard (Steve Blake, Steve Nash and Jordan Farmar are out, although Farmar is getting close to a return). The injuries force Kobe to play facilitator, and worse yet guard guys like Russell Westbrook. He’s not that defender anymore.

 
source:  16. Pistons (11-14, LW 15). Detroit has beaten the teams you’d expect them to beat (the teams struggling in the East) but struggled against the top three in the East (Atlanta is the third) and the West. This week is a test of that with the good Pacers and Rockets, but also the beatable Bobcats and Celtics.

 
source:  17. Wizards (9-13, LW 16). They get Bradley Beal back on Monday and they could use his scoring. However, that’s not going to help Marcin Gortat get the touches in the paint he says he wants more of.

 
source:  18. Grizzlies (10-13, LW 18). Remember the defensive-powerhouse Grizzlies? In their last five games (four of them losses) they have allowed 113.4 points per 100 possessions, which is the worst in the NBA over the that stretch. That’s more than just missing Marc Gasol.

 
source:  19. Celtics (11-14, LW 19). Rajon Rondo has been cleared to practice but word from around the team is not to expect him until the calendar flips to 2014. The Celtics are somehow still the leaders of the Atlantic and the four seed as of right now.

 
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20. Raptors (9-13, LW 22). Since Rudy Gay left their offensive ball movement has been much improved and the team has looked better. That’s not the plan in Toronto so expect a Kyle Lowry trade sooner rather than later.

 
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21. Nets (8-15, LW 27). Deron Williams is back and suddenly the Nets offense looks vastly improved. Shocking what a good point guard can do. With games against the Sixers (twice) and Washington this week, they could put together a little run.

 
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22. Cavaliers (9-14, LW 22). The have won four of their last six but seem to be looking for ways to get Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving into rotations without the other one. They are not the backcourt of the future.

 
source:  23. Knicks (7-16, LW 23). Kyle Lowry’s penetration and defense would be big boosts to New York’s dream of salvaging this season, but what would you really be sacrificing the future more to get?

 
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24. Bulls (9-13, LW 20). Last season the Chicago front office had prepared for Derrick Rose to miss a large chunk of time, having guys like Nate Robinson on the roster who could score. This season they were not and it shows.

 
source:  25. Kings (7-15, LW 28). Rudy Gay has been efficient his first couple games with the Kings — 10-of-20 with 26 points in the win over Houston Sunday. We’ll see if this continues, but for a couple of tames he has looked good.

 
source:  26. Bobcats (10-14, LW 21). They play hard on defense — even their losses (and there are plenty of them) are hard-fought ones. That’s all you can ask out of Steve Clifford and his staff considering the roster.

 
source:  27. Magic (7-17, LW 25). The good news is Tobias Harris is back in the lineup. Expect to see more and more Orlando players show up in trade rumors — Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis and Arron Afflalo are all available at the right price.

 
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28. Jazz (6-20, LW 29). Trey Burke has been a boost to the Jazz offense — he’s only shooting 38.5 percent and is turning the ball over too much, but that’s to be expected with a rookie point guard. The bottom line is their ball movement and offense are better with him.

 
source:  29. 76ers (7-18, LW 24). These are the Sixers we expected before the season tipped off, it just took a while for them to show up. When Michael Carter-Williams doesn’t play they are almost unwatchable.

 
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30. Bucks (5-19, LW 30). The good news is the Bucks are giving us a lot more Giannis Antetokounmpo lately — if you are going to lose, at least let the exciting rookies learn on the job.

Watch Donovan Mitchell drop 43, upstage LeBron return as Cavs top Lakers

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CLEVELAND (AP) — As a kid growing up in New York, Donovan Mitchell idolized LeBron James. On Tuesday night, he upstaged him.

Mitchell scored a season-high 43 points and Jarrett Allen returned from injury to add 24, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 116-102 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in James’ only visit home this season.

With Anthony Davis missing the final three quarters because of illness, the Cavs improved to an NBA-leading 11-1 on their floor, their best start at home since 2015-16, when James led them to a championship.

Mitchell, who has Cleveland fans dreaming of another title run, took over in the second half and scored 29 points with the kind of performance James had routinely during his 11 seasons for the Cavs.

“You always want to spoil the homecoming,” Mitchell said with a smile.

With Cleveland leading by 12 in the fourth, Mitchell buried a 3-pointer from the left wing to finish the Lakers. After dropping the shot, the All-Star guard strutted around the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse floor nodding his head as James helplessly watched.

“He’s Mitchell,” James said. “He’s a special kid.”

Darius Garland added 21 points and 11 assists for Cleveland.

James finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds, losing for just the third time in 20 games against the Cavs.

Dennis Schroder and Russell Westbrook added 16 points apiece as Los Angeles had its four-game winning streak stopped.

Davis went out after eight minutes with flu-like symptoms. The eight-time All-Star had scored 99 points in his previous two games and had been playing as well as he has in several seasons after being plagued by injuries.

Davis didn’t attempt a field goal and scored just one point before leaving.

“It got progressively worse as the day went on,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “His temperature was 101 and some change. A-D wanted to try to play, but he felt too weak. He’s drained and dehydrated.

“That’s a huge loss, obviously, with the way he’s been playing lately.”

Without Davis clogging the middle, Allen, who missed the last five games with a bruised back, made his first 10 shots and helped the Cavs take a 57-49 halftime lead.

“Next man up,” James said when asked how he reacted to losing Davis. “That’s a tall task – literally and figuratively.”

The Cavs welcomed James back with a video tribute during an early timeout. After a montage of clips, including some from 2016, James waved to the crowd and then blew kisses to show his appreciation.

The warm scene was in contrast to what happened almost exactly 12 years ago, when he came back with the Miami Heat and was met with boos and worse on a night James has said he’ll never forget.

James said he was caught off guard by the tribute.

“It’s always love coming back here,” he said. “The memories I have here will never be forgotten.”

 

Ben Simmons targeting Friday vs. Hawks to return from calf strain

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Ben Simmons has missed the Nets’ last three games with knee pain tied to a left calf strain, and he will be out Wednesday, too, when Brooklyn takes on Charlotte.

However, he plans to return on Friday (Dec. 9) against the Hawks.

Simmons was adjusting to a new role in Brooklyn. In Philadelphia he was a point-forward with the ball in his hands playing off Joel Embiid (at least at first), but in Brooklyn the ball needed to be in the hands of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the halfcourt. Simmons is playing more small-ball five, and is asked to be aggressive and attack when he gets the ball — not shoot jumpers — and to push the rock in transition. It took a while for Simmons to settle into that space, but he seemed to in games against Philadelphia (11 points, 11 assists), Toronto (14 points, six assists) and Indiana (20 points). Then the injuries hit.

Brooklyn sits at 13-12, with a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense for the season. While there are doubts about the ceiling for this team, it has a talent level that should be better than this record, it’s just been beset by injuries, controversy causing Kyrie Irving to miss time, and a coaching change. The Nets have yet to hit their stride.

But they could have a clean injury report on Friday night, and maybe that can be the start of this team getting on a run.

Suns, Hawks reportedly show interest in Kuzma trade, Wizards see him as cornerstone

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyle Kuzma was the kind of quality, two-way role player the Lakers needed around LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win the 2020 NBA title (the type of player the Lakers wish they had now).

In Washington, his role has been elevated — he’s a 20-point-a-game scorer (20.6 points per game this season, to be precise) who is a key part of generating offense, not just playing off the stars of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. As he told Shams Charania of The Athletic:

“As soon as I got traded, I was ready to be more,” Kuzma told The Athletic.

It’s been enough to draw the interest of a couple of teams looking for a trade, Charania adds. The Wizards are not necessarily interested in moving on, however.

Several teams, such as the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, have expressed trade interest in Kuzma, according to league sources. By the same token, the Wizards have shown interest in Hawks forward John Collins, and the sides seriously discussed a potential deal last offseason, league sources added…

However, the Wizards’ front office, led by general manager Tommy Sheppard, has made clear that it views Kuzma as a cornerstone moving forward as the franchise has seen him thrive since the mega-trade in the 2021 offseason. The Westbrook trade provided future flexibility and assets for the Wizards, who have been known to be aggressive and active in research across the league.

Kuzma has a $13 million player option for next season that he will unquestionably opt out of, making him a free agent in search of a healthy raise (north of $20 million a year, although expect something more in the ballpark of the four-year, $104 million Jalen Brunson contract). If the Wizards are willing to pay they likely can keep him (they have his Bird rights). But if Washington isn’t sure it wants to pay market value, or if management sees a shifting path for future seasons, it should consider trading Kuzma at the deadline.

If he becomes available, far more teams than the Hawks and Suns would be interested, quality two-way forwards are in demand around the league. Kuzma would have some leverage over where he gets sent because he can leave as a free agent (teams would offer up less if they believed Kuzma would only be a rental for this season).

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.