PBT NBA Power Rankings: Santa brings presents to Blazers, Thunder; lumps of coal to Atlantic

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Oklahoma City almost took over the top spot in the rankings, until they laid an egg Sunday night. The Blazers hold on for another week, but they didn’t look elite last week even in their wins and this week sees a few big tests.

 
source:  1. Trail Blazers (23-5, Last Week No. 1). If the NBA had flex scheduling for Christmas, you can bet the Blazers would have made the cut. Only two games for Portland this week but they are tests: the Los Angeles Clippers and the Miami Heat. The good news is they catch both teams at home on the second night of a back-to-back.

 
source:  2. Thunder (22-5, LW 2). Their only loss this week snapped a 13-game home winning streak — a lackluster effort against a Raptors team playing better of late. That’s not what I’m going to remember out of this week, however, rather it will be the big win over the Spurs. OKC has a huge Christmas Day showcase game, but against the lowly Knicks.

 
source:  3. Heat (20-6, LW 5). Miami has won four in a row and it’s not a coincidence Dwyane Wade has averaged almost 26 points a game in that stretch. Christmas Day they get the Kobe-less Lakers, a team that wants to run… and plays right into the Heat’s hands.

 
source:  4. Pacers (22-5, LW 3). Another team that would be playing on Christmas Day if the NBA could redo the schedule. In the Blazers case you kind of see the oversight as they weren’t that strong last season, but why is a team that made the conference finals and was improving getting overlooked?

 
source:  5. Clippers (20-9, LW 6). Winners of five in a row and while we expect their offense to be strong (115.4 points per 100 possessions in those five) their defense has given up just 97.7 points per 100, sixth best in the league in that stretch. As we have said from the start, if the Clippers defend they are a real threat.

 
source:  6. Spurs (21-6, LW No. 4). It’s tough to accurately judge the Spurs during the regular season, or over the past week even, because they have battled injuries and rested guys. That said, this season they are 5-5 against teams over .500 in the West. Interesting.

 
source:  7. Suns (16-10, LW 7). The Goran Dragic/Eric Bledsoe pairing is driving the offense most nights, but when Gerald Green gets rolling like he did against the Mavericks over the weekend (and the Suns are draining threes) they are especially dangerous.

 
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8. Rockets (18-10, LW 8). Santa needs to bring this team some consistency — they look pedestrian getting drilled by the Pacers, then bounce back with one of their best games of the season against Detroit (with Dwight Howard dominating Andre Drummond). Been like that all season. Houston will miss Patrick Beverly.

 
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9. Warriors (15-13, LW 10). Andre Iguodala is back and instantly the Warriors defense became solid to good again — they needed him. However, that loss to the shorthanded Spurs was a punch to the guy, the Warriors need to find a way to score when the threes aren’t falling.

 
source:  10. Nuggets (14-9, LW 9). Denver finally won a first quarter last Friday against Phoenix! Of course, they the proceeded to blow a 21-point lead and lose the game. So, I guess go back to losing the first quarters.

 
source:  11. Hawks (15-12, LW 13). Winners of three in a row, but as they did it against the banged up Lakers, the Kings and the Jazz, don’t read too much into it. BTW, remember they have the right to swap picks with the Nets this coming draft. That is looking like a very good pick.

 
source:  12. Mavericks (15-12, LW 11). This is still a fun team to watch… if you’re not Rick Carlisle. The defensive lapses (they don’t have a rim protector) and blown leads have to be driving him crazy.

 
source:  13. Timberwolves (13-15, LW 12). Kevin Love put up monster numbers against the Clippers Sunday, 45 points and 19 rebounds, yet for the two biggest shots of the game Minnesota went to Nikola Pekovic. Yes, he had a good night and 34 points, but Love HAS to touch the ball there. Has to.

 
source:  14. Wizards (12-13, LW 17). Honest question: With Nene healthy is this the third best team in the East? Washington is the winner of three in a row — see how much fun it is to play against the teams in the Atlantic?

 
source:  15. Lakers (13-14, LW 15). Yes, they do look better without the rusty Kobe Bryant at the point; it’s okay to admit it. They are not better long term without him, but he was shaking off the rust still and forced to play the point. Also, Lakers fans stop asking for it: They will not tank, especially with Kobe coming back is six weeks or so.

 
source:  16. Bobcats (13-15, LW 26). Charlotte is a tough out because it plays hard every night — but all anyone wants to talk about is the new Hornets logo. Which I have to say I like a lot.

 
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17. Pistons (13-16, LW 16). They have lost five of six at home and in a couple of those games featured big blown leads, like 20 points to Charlotte. Yet they find a way to beat the Pacers. You try and figure this team out, Mo Cheeks can’t.

 
source:  18. Raptors (11-14, LW 20). Toronto is your new Atlantic Division leader, having gone 5-2 since the Rudy Gay trade (and one of those losses was in overtime). None of that changes the rebuilding plan, expect a lot more Kyle Lowry trade rumors soon.

 
source:  19. Pelicans (11-14, LW 14). Anthony Davis is back and scored 45 points on 31 shots plus pulled down 21 rebounds in two games. Not that the Pelicans won either of those games. Still, if I had to pick one team that could make a surprising climb up to the eight seed this would be the squad.

 
source:  20. Grizzlies (11-15, LW 18). They are 4-9 with a bottom five offense and defense in that stretch since Marc Gasol went down. Just in case you had any questions about how important he is to this squad.

 
source:  21. Celtics (12-17, LW 19). Looks like no Rajon Rondo until at best late January and maybe closer to the All-Star Game. Which is good, it’s not about this season in Boston, where they have surrendered the Titanic Atlantic division lead. Take your time Rajon, no rush.

 
source:  22. Cavaliers (10-16, LW 22). A quick look at the standings tells you what you need to know: Cleveland is a respectable 8-4 at home and a dreadful 2-12 on the road. Using the old Doug Moe theory, good teams have more road wins than home losses, so… not good.

 
source:  23. Nets (9-17, LW 21). The loss of Brook Lopez for the season is devastating. We’d say tank but they traded the pick to Boston (and the Hawks get to swap picks anyway) so they have no choice but to soldier on looking for wins. Look for some desperation trades to come soon.

 
source:  24. Knicks (8-18, LW 23). Is a blowout loss at home to Oklahoma City a major Christmas Day broadcast too much for Mike Woodson to withstand? Maybe. Problem is there are no “A-listers” to replace him mid-season, and maybe not that many after the season either (coaches around the league see that roster, the front office and the demands and wonder if it is worth it).

 
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25. Bulls (10-16, LW 24). Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler could return to the roster by Christmas, which would be a huge gift from Santa for a team really struggling. That D.J. Augustin has to start says everything you need to know about the state of the Bulls roster.

 
source:  26. Kings (8-18, LW 25). Rudy Gay is still scoring 18.8 points a game and shooting an efficient 50 percent from the floor since the trade. Not that the Kings are winning those games because their team defense stinks.

 
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27. Jazz (8-22, LW 28). At some point, don’t they have to start playing Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter together for long stretches, even if it fails at first, just to see? Trey Burke looks like a rookie — alternately brilliant (like against the Magic when he dropped 30) and a disaster.

 
source:  28. Magic (8-19, LW 27). Home losses last week to Utah and Sacramento — that is not good at all. Well, at least Tobias Harris is back on the court.

 
source:  29. 76ers (8-20, LW 29). Michael Carter-Williams is back in the lineup, and not so coincidentally the Sixers won on his return. That’s pretty much the only good news I have for Sixers fans. Sorry.

 
source:  30. Bucks (6-21, LW 30). O.J. Mayo leads this team in scoring at 13.9 points a game. Yikes. Tune in for the Giannis Antetokounmpo and… well, that’s really the only reason to tune in.

Report: Rockets lure assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement with ‘significant raise’

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After a slow start, the Rockets got assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik to come out of retirement.

How?

The usual way employers attract someone to a job.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Fertitta was alarmed enough to personally recruit defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik, who retired just before training camp, to return, offering what sources say was a significant raise that pushed his salary to a range that ranks among the NBA’s highest-paid assistant coaches.

Good for Bzdelik using his leverage. He looked like a defensive whiz last season, and Houston slipped without him. Of course, personnel matters, too. There’s no guarantee these Rockets – minus Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute – reach last year’s defensive level.

Bzdelik has been back around the team, but isn’t working full-time yet. It’ll take a while to assess his impact on Houston.

And good for Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta paying up. Fertitta is still trying to determine the right amount for him to spend, but the team is better off if he’s willing to pay what’s necessary to attract the most desirable coaches.

Charles Barkley addresses Draymond Green-Kevin Durant dynamic (video)

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Want to hear an entertaining guy address an entertaining topic? Here you go.

Trae Young: I’ll be better than Luka Doncic

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Trae Young and Luka Doncic will be forever linked by their draft-night trade.

The Hawks took Doncic No. 3 then traded down with the Mavericks for No. 5 pick Young and a future first-round pick.

Young, via Andrew Sharp of Sports Illustrated:

“The thing with Luka,” Young says, “he’s a great player. I don’t understand why it can’t work out for both situations. I hear [Atlanta made a mistake] all the time. Luka’s a great dude, and I think he’s going to be a really good player. But at the same time, I’m going to be a better player. Just because of my ability to stretch the floor, get others involved, I think I’ll be better.”

Of course, Young was never going to say Doncic would be better than him. But Young didn’t have to address this so directly at all. By going out of his way to make such a bold statement, Young puts more pressure on himself.

So far, both Doncic and Young have impressed. I’ll still stick with Doncic, though. Enough to justify Dallas surrendering that extra first-round pick? That’s a far tougher call and the one the Hawks will be judged by.

Young doesn’t want that leniency, though. He’s aiming to be better than Doncic straight up and unafraid to say so publicly.

Markelle Fultz’s new free throw stroke is… different.

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Philadelphia’s Markelle Fultz is in his own head with his free throw stroke now. (And, likely much more than that, but we’ll stick with the free throws for now.)

Earlier this week Fultz double-clutched a free throw attempt and his stroke was a mess.

Each game that stroke seems to change and the latest one is… different. Very different.

As Vecenie notes, this is actually an improvement in terms of the release, but that doesn’t make it good. Fultz was 1-of-2 in his one trip to the stripe (as of this writing).

Still, I have never seen someone pass the ball back-and-forth between their hands as they go into their shooting motion like that. Very, very odd.