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.

Here are LeBron’s best shots from his seven 40-point playoff games (VIDEO)

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LeBron James has had an incredible playoff run. He has nearly single-handedly kept the Cleveland Cavaliers alive in the postseason against the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, and the Boston Celtics.

James has largely been dominant, scoring 40 points or more in seven playoff games just this postseason alone. That is more than many NBA legends had in their entire playing career. According to Basketball Reference, LeBron’s seven games of 40 points or more is a higher mark than than Charles Barkley, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Karl Malone, or Magic Johnson had during their entire careers.

LeBron and the Cavaliers are set to take on the Celtics for Sunday’s Game 7 matchup, and it’s possible we see yet another 40+ point performance from The King.

Meanwhile, the NBA has put together a highlight video to show some of the best plays from LeBron’s 40+ point games this season.

Watch the full video above. Game 7 is at 5:30 PM PST.

Both conference finals reach Game 7 for first time in 39 years

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Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team had just defeated Larry Bird’s Indiana State team to win the NCAA Tournament. “Apocalypse Now” and “Alien” had just been released into the theaters. Van Halen II had just hit your local record store, in both vinyl and cassette tape form. “Three’s Company” was the hottest show on television and “The Dukes of Hazzard” had just made its debut.

It was May 1979, and that was the last time that both the Eastern and Western Conference Finals went to a Game 7.

Until this year, that is. Sunday night LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will head to Boston for a Game 7 to try and return to the NBA Finals (it would be LeBron’s eighth straight trip to the Finals). Monday night, Houston will try to hold on at home in a Game 7 without Chris Paul and advance past the offensive onslaught of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors.

In 1979, it was a very different NBA — there was no three-point line (that started next season, and even then few players took the shot, it was not something they grew up practicing). The shorts were a lot shorter. The Jazz were in New Orleans, the Kings in Kansas City, the Clippers in San Diego, and there was a Seattle SuperSonics team.

A very good Seattle team — they beat the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals. The Sonics were led by the backcourt of Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson, with Jack Sikma as the big man inside providing balance. Seattle won the first two games of the series at home, then the Suns — led by Paul Westphal and Walter Davis — tied the series holding home court in games three and four. Phoenix stole Game 5 in Seattle, but the Sonics returned the favor with a dramatic 106-105 Game 6 win in Phoenix. Game 7 went to Seattle 114-110.

In the Eastern Conference, it was the Washington Bullets and the San Antonio Spurs (yes, the Spurs used to be in the East). Those Spurs, led by George “Ice Man” Gervin (who averaged 31 points a game in the WCF), went into Washington and stole Game 1. After the Spurs held home court in Games 3 and 4, they had a commanding 3-1 series lead. That’s when Washington — led by Bob Dandridge and Elvin Hayes — got on a roll and won the final three games, and it was Dandridge who hit the game-winner with eight seconds left to seal Game 7.

The Finals didn’t live up to quite the same hype, with the Sonics downing the Bullets in five games. It was the Sonics’ lone NBA title.

Three things to watch in Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers Game 7

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One game. Winner moves on to the NBA Finals, loser can book early tee times starting Monday.

It’s a dramatic Game 7 between Boston and Cleveland for the Eastern Conference crown. In a series that has swung wildly in favor of whoever was the home team that night, the season comes down to one game for these two team. At this point, there are no more real adjustments — both teams, both coaches know what to expect from the other side. It’s about poise. It’s about keeping your head. It’s about what role player will step up big (as one always seems to do in quirky Game 7s).

Here are three things to keep an eye on in this game.

1) LeBron James. He’s the best player on the court, the best of his generation, and with the Cavs it all starts with him — he can’t be just merely good for the Cavaliers to win, he has to be superhuman. Which is what we’ve come to expect — he had 46 points in 46 minutes of play in Game 6 and that’s going to be needed again.

It’s worth watching early on to see if the tweak to his knee suffered in Game 6 has any impact — he scored 12 points after it in that game, but it’s possible it tightened up after his body cooled down. Does LeBron have the same lift and explosiveness? Either way, he’s going to make plays. From the Celtics’ perspective, they just need to make him work hard for them.

There are a lot of players who get tight and shrink from Game 7s. Not LeBron — for his career he has averaged 34.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 5.1 assists in Game 7s. The last five times he’s been in a Game 7, LeBron’s teams have won (his last Game 7 loss was to the Celtics in 2008). Bottom line, if there’s one thing we know will happen in this game, it’s LeBron will be great. That, alone, is not enough to get the Cavaliers a win, which leads us too….

2) With Kevin Love out, will any other role players step up for the Cavaliers? Love has been the second best offensive player for the Cavaliers in the postseason, but they can survive his loss — this is a better defensive team without him (3.1 points per 100 possessions better when he is off the court in this series) and the offense often sees better ball movement and flow.

Cleveland’s veterans need to step up in this pressure situation, and that starts with George Hill — he is the bellwether for this team, the second ball handler and shot creator they need. When he plays well, when he is playing downhill and attacking off picks as he did in Game 6, they win. Hill was aggressive, got into the paint, and from there is both a scorer and a distributor in the last game in Cleveland. He has not been the same guy on the road, what does he have to do to be that guy again?

“I have to focus and try to do the same things that I prepared today to take into Sunday,” Hill said after Game 6. “It sounds funny, but I had to go find my Chipotle barbacoa. That’s my pregame meal, so I’m up two games — well, the three games here, that’s what I ate before the game. I’m for sure going to find a Chipotle in Boston, I’ll tell you that.”

Beyond Hill and his barbacoa, Jeff Green is getting the start with Hill out — he is a streaky player, but the good Green would go a long way to helping the Cavs in this one. Kyle Korver needs to find space and knock down threes, the good J.R. Smith needs to show up (that version of him missed a lot of time this series, he’s been dreadful for several games), and Tristan Thompson needs to get some offensive rebounds. LeBron is going to do his thing, but the man can only do so much, he needs help.

3) Are the Celtics’ young stars ready for this pressure and this moment? Boston is at home, where they are a different team and an undefeated 10-0 this season. Boston is also the younger team that bounces back faster, something that matters because this is the third game in five days for these teams (great scheduling, NBA… ugh). The Celtics deserve to be the favorite, but the question that has hung over them all playoffs still looms for this game:

Is Boston ready for this stage and this level of pressure?

“I’ve tried my best all year to try and not talk about their age,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after Game 6. “It’s not about that. They’re really good basketball players. They’re really committed to each other. We all have a job to do and that’s go out and try to play the best we can. That’s regardless, Game 7, Game 1, a game in November, whatever the case may be… We need to be ready to play. We will be ready to play.”

The Celtics have already played a Game 7 in this postseason, handily beating Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. That, however, is a much smaller stage. They need to do Sunday what they did in that first Game 7 — the win starts on the defensive end, making LeBron work for his buckets and not letting the supporting cast get rolling. Then, with the stops and turnovers, use those young legs to get out in transition and get a few easy buckets, force cross-matches and take advantage.

Boston gets their points by committee, they get the ball to the open man and he has to knock the shot down, whether it’s Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown or Terry Rozier or Al Horford or anyone else. In Game 6, they were not hitting those shots, and defensively they let Hill and other supporting Cavaliers get rolling. That has to change in Game 7 — make LeBron work for his buckets and don’t let the role players get hot.

Boston needs another aggressive first quarter from Brown (he’s done that most of the series). They need to force switches and run sets that get Horford space from Thompson. The Celtics need to defend, then run — they need to force the pace and try to wear down the older Cavaliers.

All season, all playoffs, despite being down men, the Celtics have just found a way to win. They need to do that one more time to reach the Finals.

Will Chris Paul play in Game 7?

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The way Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry were shooting it probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome of Game 6, but the Houston Rockets missed Chris Paul. They missed his steadying influence on offense, and maybe more importantly they missed his defense — Curry was directing the offense, creating space with his handles then finding people cutting off the ball and draining threes. Paul may have been able to help keep Curry in relative check.

Which all leads to this big question: Will Paul suit up and play in Game 7?

Doesn’t sound like it.

I would describe the mood of sources I spoke to on this issues as pessimistic on CP3’s chances of play.

If Paul can at all go, he will. Three years ago Paul played through a hamstring injury to lead the Clippers past the Spurs, he’ll want to do it again.

This is different. For one thing, Paul is older now, his body will not bounce back the same way. Also, there are risks in playing him — if he is at all limited with his movement the Warriors will target him with Curry and Klay Thompson, try to get CP3 moving laterally and exploiting him. If he’s not right, Mike D’Antoni needs to have him on a short leash.

But if he can go, D’Antoni will let him try.