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: Heat, Udonis Haslem nearing deal for him to return for 16th season

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Does this give us a hint about what Dwyane Wade is thinking?

Probably not. What it means is that the Heat want some depth along the front line and, more importantly, a quality presence in the locker room. They want to bring back one of the icons of the franchise.

Udonis Haslem is reportedly nearing a contract with the Miami Heat, reports Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press.

Haslem played in just 14 games for the Heat last season, and 72 total minutes. He just turned 38 and the Heat could use that roster spot to develop a young player. But this is about loyalty, and it’s a move that will play well in the locker room and with the fan base.

Wade also will like it. Whether it is an omen of his decision remains to be seen.

LeBron James on top of MVP odds rankings

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The 2018-19 NBA MVP race feels more wide open than we have seen in years.

What kind of numbers will LeBron James put up with the Lakers and how far can he lift that team? Can James Harden repeat? Is Kawhi Leonard back in MVP form? Will a new coach in Mike Budenholzer lift Giannis Antetokounmpo up to a new level? Does Russell Westbrook put up MVP numbers again?

Online betting company Bovada released these odds for the 2019 MVP award.

LeBron James            10/3
Anthony Davis           4/1
Giannis Antetokounmpo   9/2
James Harden            11/2
Kevin Durant            9/1
Kawhi Leonard           11/1
Russell Westbrook       14/1
Stephen Curry           15/1
Joel Embiid             16/1
Kyrie Irving            16/1
Ben Simmons             35/1
Damian Lillard          45/1
Karl-Anthony Towns      50/1
DeMar DeRozan           80/1
John Wall               80/1
Donovan Mitchell        85/1
Jimmy Butler            100/1
Nikola Jokic            100/1
Victor Oladipo          100/1
Chris Paul              100/1
LaMarcus Aldridge       125/1
Paul George             125/1
DeMarcus Cousins        150/1
Gordon Hayward          150/1
Jayson Tatum            175/1
Blake Griffin           225/1
Devin Booker            275/1
Kristaps Porzingis      275/1
Kyle Lowry              325/1
Lonzo Ball              450/1

A few quick thoughts:

• If you’re betting on Porzingis to win the MVP this season, just donate that money to charity where it can do some good. He may not even play this season.

• If you believe Kawhi Leonard is healthy and back to form, 11-1 is a good betting value.

• Westbrook at 14-1 also seems a good value, if you think he and Paul George can lift the Thunder up to a new level.

• My preseason prediction for MVP is Anthony Davis. But that’s betting on him staying healthy.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey says LeBron is GOAT by a “pretty big margin”

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had it right — the GOAT argument is a comparison of different players with different teammates and different rules, it’s cannot be definitive. To use his Highlander analogy, “there doesn’t need to be only one.”

But if you ask Rockets GM Daryl Morey who is The Greatest, he is going with LeBron James. Something he said on the Dan Patrick Show Wednesday.

LeBron is the best of his generation, maybe the greatest athlete the NBA has ever seen, and he entered the league with a basketball IQ off the chart (remember when short-sighted people used to rip him for passing to the open player with the game on the line rather than taking the contested shots?).

Is he the GOAT? Fun discussion while sitting on a barstool with a Steady Brewing Unrefined hazy IPA in front of you, go at it in the comments, but there is no answer.

Unless you’re Morey.

Five free agents still available who can help teams

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The NBA summer is basically over. We are now closer to the start of the new season than we are the end of the NBA Finals and most teams have their rosters set, they are just adding training camp invites. Or, guys who could maybe get the 14th or 15th roster spot.

Still, some name free agents can help teams.

Here are the big five on the market still.

1. Rodney Hood (restricted). At this point, he’s going to remain a Cavalier next season. No team is making an offer the Cavaliers wouldn’t just match (only Sacramento has the cap space to do it, and they are focused on others at the wing), meaning the only question left is if he plays for the $3.4 million qualifying offer or if the two sides work out a different deal.

How his stock has fallen. One year ago he was preparing for a season where he expected to be the go-to scorer of the Utah Jazz. By the end of the season he barely got off the bench in Cleveland (and in one case would not get off the bench).

That said, he can help a Cavaliers team that doesn’t want to just tear it down despite LeBron James leaving (see the Kevin Love contract). Hood is a 6’8” wing who can get buckets, and the Cavaliers could use that. Play well, rehab his image, and he will not be in this situation a year from now.

2. Jamal Crawford. He’s 38 years old (which scares some teams), and his efficiency has slipped, but the man can still get buckets off the bench (10.3 points per game last season) and more than a few teams could use that. Plus he’s seen as good in the locker room. He turned down a $4.5 million player option with the Timberwolves because he wanted a bigger role (he was getting 20 minutes a game last season) but at this point that is apparently off the table. Still, some team is going to pick him up.

3. Dwyane Wade. He’s made it clear, if he comes back it will be with the Miami Heat for one year. While a rumor got going on Twitter Tuesday that he was close to signing a contract with the Heat, I was told by sources that is not the case. Then Wade Tweeted this:

Nobody knows for sure, but I would lean retirement over return at this point. That said, the decision will come when Wade is ready, not before. He’s earned that right.

4. Nick Young. No team could use some Swaggy P? He’s a character, often doesn’t play within the flow in the offense, he doesn’t play great defense, but he just played 17 minutes a game for the NBA champions, hr hit some threes and shot 41 percent from deep, and made some plays. Another guy who is not young (11 years in the league) but some team will likely give a chance (if not at the start of the season, as a mid-season replacement).

5. David West. His role shrank with the Warriors last season — he averaged 6.8 points last season on 13.7 minutes a game — but he was still efficient when he was on the court (a 20.9 PER). Plus, he is excellent in the locker room. A lot of younger teams could use his presence in the locker room, but he may be a mid-season replacement for a team looking for front-line depth.

Honorable Mention: Joe Johnson. He’s 37-years-old and has 17 seasons of miles on his legs, but he still knows how to play the game. He struggled to help Houston or Utah last season, but don’t be shocked if he is a mid-season pickup by a team.

• Added note: Trevor Booker would have been on this list, but he decided to take the cash in China for a season.