PBT NBA Power Rankings: Golden State climbing rankings fast

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The top two teams in the East are the top two teams on PBT’s Power Rankings, but with their current nine-game win streak Golden State has moved in as the top ranked team in the West. If they keep defending like this they are legitimate contenders come playoff time.

 
source:  1. Pacers (27-6, Last Week No. 2). Indiana’s offense has taken a little dip lately, scoring just 98 points per 100 possessions their last five games (down four from their season average and 25th in the NBA in that stretch). But they are still 4-1 in those five thanks to that league-best defense and some scoring off the bench from Danny Granger. They have a rematch with Toronto, the one loss in those five games, on Tuesday.

 
source:  2. Heat (26-8, LW 3). Miami should put together a little run of wins — while they head out on a six-game road trip only one of their next 9 games is against a team over .500 and that is the Hawks, now without Al Horford. Then again, if one elite team is going to take some nights off in there and lose a couple to lesser teams, it’s Miami.

 
source:  3. Warriors (23-13, LW 6). Winners of nine in a row, the last five of those on the road. They are doing it with defense thanks to the return of Andre Iguodala — GSW has the third best defense in the NBA over their last five games. Streak could continue with Bucks, Nets and Celtics on the docket this week.

 
source:  4. Spurs (26-8, LW No. 5). Won four of last five during home-heavy part of schedule and they are doing it with offense — they have an offensive rating of 115.9 points per 100 possessions last five games (107.4 on season) with a true shooting percentage of 59.5 percent.

 
source:  5. Thunder (27-7, LW 1). It took Kevin Durant going off for 48 (23 in fourth quarter) for them to get a their first win this week without Russell Westbrook (beating Minnesota, the next win over Boston came much easier). It’s going to take more Durant and some big Reggie Jackson nights to keep them afloat at top of West until Westbrook’s mid-February return.

 
source:  6. Trail Blazers (26-8, LW 4). They have gone 2-3 in their last five and while they have gotten to the line a little less and not been quite as strong on the boards, the reality is they have lost the kind of close games they have won much of the season. Those kinds of wins tend to even out over time.

 
source:  7. Clippers (23-13, LW 7). Route at hands of Spurs shows what life without Chris Paul could be like — even with relatively soft schedule L.A. is not same without him. This stretch of roughly 20 games with out Paul will cost them in the final NBA standings, making a playoff run that much harder.

 
source:  8. Rockets (22-13, LW 8). Maybe “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” but the up-and-down rockets sure could use some, as the only thing they seem to do consistently is have rough fourth quarters and lose because of them. Houston heads out on a four game road trip starting this week.

 
source:  9. Suns (20-12, LW 9). Teams that give a consistent effort on defense tend to win but even so this could be a tough couple weeks for the Suns — they head out on a five-game road trip without Eric Bledsoe, who has a sprained knee.

 
source:  10. Raptors (16-16, LW 14). It took a good fourth quarter from LeBron to end a five-game Toronto win streak on Sunday. They are now 9-4 since Rudy Gay was traded away — they are your third best team in the East. GM Masai Ujiri also realizes third in this east is fool’s gold this season and will make moves thinking long term.

 
source:  11. Mavericks (19-15, LW 10). Time for some fun with math: It’s likely going to take about 47 wins to make the playoffs in the West, for Dallas to get there they need to go 28-20 the rest of the way. You think they can do that? I’m not sold the Mavs, the current eight seed in the West, can hold off teams like Minnesota and Denver the rest of the season.

 
source:  12. Hawks (18-16, LW 11). They have gone 2-3 without Al Horford but they haven’t played terribly (they almost knocked off Golden State, it took an Andre Iguodala game winner to save the Warriors). In this east the Hawks may be able to hang around close to .500 and still make the playoffs pretty comfortably.

 
source:  13. Timberwolves (16-17, LW 12). Seven times Minnesota has had a .500 record this season, and seven times they have lost the next game. I keep expecting this team to string together a series of wins and I keep being disappointed. But it will happen. Eventually.

 
source:  14. Pelicans (15-17, LW 15). Another team that might put together a run, but it’s not likely with both Jason Smith and now Ryan Anderson out — they need those big guys up front. Does Anthony Davis stand a chance of making the All-Star team with the game in New Orleans?

 
source:  15. Wizards (14-17, LW 13). There are moments you think this could be the third best team in the East — especially when Nene is on the court and active — but those moments are fleeting. They have lost three in a row and now have four of their next five on the road.

 
source:  16. Nuggets (16-17, LW 16). Andre Miller isn’t in the rotation and he is on the trade block — Miller can be strong willed but he’s also a rock-solid veteran on the court. That Brian Shaw isn’t using or getting along with him should raise eyebrows.

 
source:  17. Grizzlies (15-18, LW 20). Playing the same math game we did with Dallas (and assuming you need 47 wins to make the playoffs in the West) Memphis will need to go 32-17 the rest of the way to get in the postseason dance. They have the Spurs, Suns and Thunder at home as three of their next four, those are the kinds of games they need to win.

 
source:  18. Bulls (14-18, LW 22). Chicago is looking like the Bulls we remember without Rose — they have won five of their last seven by just playing grinding defense and finding enough offense from somewhere. Having Luol Deng back helps their offense a lot.

 
source:  19. Lakers (14-20, LW 18). Kendall Marshall is showing he can finally shoot in his latest chance with Lakers. In his first five games this season he shot 58.3 percent from three and finished 7-of-8 in the paint. If he can keep up anything in that ballpark the Lakers got a little steal with him.

 
source:  20. Pistons (14-19, LW 18). Detroit has lost six of its last seven and point guard Brandon Jennings called it an emergency. They are currently the eight seed in the East but Boston will get Rajon Rondo back and Brooklyn is playing better… it’s not an emergency in Detroit but it’s not pretty at all.

 
source:  21. Bobcats (15-20, LW 17). They went 1-4 on a rough West Coast road swing where their previously stout defense gave up at least 103 points in four of the five games (more than 110 in three of those). You know that Steve Clifford is not happy with that.

 
source:  22. Nets (12-21, LW 23). They have won two in a row going small, with Paul Pierce at the four. Whatever works. There’s some real tests to this little run on the schedule this week — Miami, Golden State and Toronto.

 
source:  23. Knicks (11-22, LW 26). They went 2-1 on a road trip through Texas — it might have been 3-0 if J.R. Smith makes a better decision. Not bad at all. In those three games the Knicks got key buckets out of Iman Shumpert, who has emerged lately as a quality offensive option. But please, ignore all that and talk about ridiculous trade rumors.

 
source:  24. Celtics (13-20, LW 21). Brandon Bass told PBT that you can learn more from a tough season than a good one, and he is trying to teach the young players on the team how to be professional through a rough season. Boston has lost seven of eight, that’s a lot of teachable moments for Bass.

 
source:  25. 76ers (12-21, LW 29). Four wins in a row, all on a road swing against the West — they beat the Lakers, Nuggets, Kings and Blazers. With Michael Carter-Williams in the lineup this team is decent (and he’s not going to miss time after that collision in Portland). By the way, look for the Thaddeus Young trade talk to heat up (Phoenix could be destination).

 
source:  26. Kings (10-22, LW 24). This team teases you with wins over Miami and Houston, then turns around and can’t beat the Sixers or Bobcats. Rumor is the Kings are looking to be big players at the trade deadline, kind of an anti-Maloof strategy.

 
source:  27. Jazz (11-25, LW 28). This is a 5-5 team in their last 10 games as they get some good play from Trey Burke, plus Enes Kanter has stepped up his game. If Richard Jefferson isn’t traded for Andrew Bynum to Cleveland he could land somewhere else at the deadline.

 
source:  28. Cavaliers (11-23, LW 25). No matter where Andrew Bynum ends up by the end of this week, we have another question about the Cavaliers: Could Pau Gasol really have lifted them into the playoffs? Even in the East I’m not sold he’s enough on this roster.

 
source:  29. Magic (10-23, LW 27). They head out on a five-game West Coast road swing this week, which could get ugly. Arron Afflalo is upping his trade value, and trade talk is maybe the only kind of interesting Magic talk right now.

 
source:
30. Bucks (7-26, LW 30). Larry Sanders was the guy getting hyped this summer — a new $44 million deal and he was going to be a franchise cornerstone. Now he has missed games after an injury suffered in a bar fight and he is arguing with teammates like Gary Neal. That’s not good. At all.

Suns keep winning, T.J. Warren keeps scoring, Nuggets outlast Jazz in 2OT

Suns star Devin Booker vs. Heat
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The Suns are unbeatable. T.J Warren is unstoppable. And the NBA is unapologetically fun.

Just another day in the NBA bubble.

Phoenix – already the NBA’s only undefeated team at Disney World – moved to 5-0 in seeding games with a 119-112 win over the Heat.

The Suns are still a half game outside play-in position with a tougher closing stretch than the ninth-place Trail Blazers.* But Phoenix sure is making the race interesting, and Portland isn’t closing the door.

*Both teams still play the 76ers and Mavericks. The Suns also play the Thunder. The Trail Blazers’ last seeding game is against the Nets.

Whether or not they make the playoffs, the Suns should absolutely be encouraged by this stretch. Unlike an early-season surge, when Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio carried big loads, Phoenix’s young players are leading the charge now. Devin Booker scored 35 points tonight. Jevon Carter added 20 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting off the bench. Deandre Ayton (18 points and 12 rebounds) continues to impress. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have steadily contributed at forward.

Expectations are rising for next season.

First, the Suns aren’t ready for this season to end soon.

All the best bubble stories were in Phoenix last season.

Pacers forward T.J. Warren – whom the Suns dumped with a draft-pick sweetener last summer – continued his scoring binge with 39 points in a 116-111 win over the Pacers.

Warren could always get buckets. But he has been on another level lately.

The Nuggets (somewhat safely in third place) and Jazz (who might prefer to finish sixth) had few obvious reasons to care about beating each other.

But then the game got going, and both teams’ competitive juices took over.

Donovan Mitchell drove for a layup to force overtime. Nikola Jokic converted inside to force double overtime. Finally, Jamal Murray – who scored 23 points in his first game of the resumption – put Denver up for good with a jumper then 3-pointer in a 134-132 victory.

Bubble games have featured such great energy and competitiveness.

Damian Lillard to Paul George on Instagram: ‘keep switching teams … running from the grind’

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Damian Lillard missed a pair of clutch free throws in the Trail Blazers’ loss to the Clippers today. Patrick Beverley and Paul George let Lillard hear about it. Lillard boasted in his post-game interview about his series-winning shots over Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and George’s Thunder in 2019 (which literally came over George).

Now, the conflict has spilled onto Instagram.

Bleacher Report:

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Dame, PG and Pat Bev went at it in our comments 👀

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George:

And you getting sent home this year 🤣 respect✊

Beverley:

Cancun on 3😂😂😂

Lillard:

keep switching teams … running from the grind . You boys is chumps

George:

@damianlillard respect that too in my stint with my first team I had more success… Dame time running out g

George did lead the Pacers to Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals, losing to the eventual-champion Heat. Indiana also pushed Miami to Game 6 in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals. George doesn’t get enough credit for those achievements.

Though Lillard’s Trail Blazers peaked in the 2019 Western Conference finals, they got swept by the team that lost in the NBA Finals.

But George forced his way out of Indiana despite that being the only place he could earn a super-max contract. He also re-signed with the Thunder, announcing his plan at a big party thrown by Russell Westbrook, then requested a trade to join Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers only a year later.

Lillard just has different sensibilities. He said he’d stick with the Trail Blazers rather than join a super team. Lillard even talked disparagingly about players who get pressured into bypassing super-max contracts in order to be viewed as a winner elsewhere.

So, this clash makes sense.

Maybe it got too personal for George, who has overcome major injury and returned even better. He surely doesn’t want to be called a chump at this point in his career.

But I disagree with George’s championships-only argument. There is plenty of room for major achievements that fall short of a title – like the Pacers’ deep playoff runs George cited. And Lillard’s series-winning shot last year. George was the casualty on that play. There’s no way around it, and it’s likely still a sore spot. That was a high-profile moment that supersedes missed free throws in a seeding game.

Lillard and George can go back-and-forth about their accomplishments. Both have done plenty in this league. Their individual routes to success show their contrasting values. Neither are wrong. They’re just different.

That’s perfectly fine and – when it leads to spats like this – fun.

Damian Lillard misses clutch FTs, Trail Blazers blow key game against Clippers backups

Damian Lillard vs. Clippers
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The Clippers – maybe wanting to give the Lakers a tougher first-round matchup – showed their lack of interest in beating the Trail Blazers today by sitting Kawhi Leonard. Down five with two minutes left, the Clippers really waved the white flag by closing with a lineup of:

But that group ended the game on a 12-2 run to hand Portland a devastating 122-117 loss.

The Trail Blazers are now just half a game up for ninth in the Western Conference. This further opens the door for the Spurs, Pelicans, Suns and even Kings to make a play-in (and gives the Grizzlies more breathing room for advancing to that stage).

After McGruder hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 26 seconds left, Damian Lillard drew a pair of free throws with Portland down one. Lillard is arguably the NBA’s most clutch player, and he had made 89% of his free throws this season. But he missed both – to the particular delight of injured Clippers guard Patrick Beverley:

Beverley and Lillard have a longstanding personal rivalry. The Clippers also have Paul George.

After the game, Lillard – who hit a series-winning shot against Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and another series-winning shot over George, who was with the Thunder, last year – didn’t mince words.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Lillard:

Asking me about Patrick Beverley, who – I sent him before at the end of a game. Paul George just got sent home by me last year in the playoffs. So, they know. The reason they’re reacting like that is because of what they expect from me, which is a sign of respect, and it just shows what I’ve done at a high clip more times than not. So, I’m not offended by it. If anything, it should just tell you how much it hurt them to go through what I put them through in those situations previously.

I love Lillard’s ability to remain calm and in control. Kudos for him for finding a way to boast after missing a pair of free throws that effectively cost his team a big game. Really. Lillard’s emotional maturity is an asset.

Expect the Trail Blazers to follow his lead and not further unravel. They can and probably should still be favored to reach the play-in.

But their margin for error definitely just shrunk.

76ers star Ben Simmons leaving bubble for surgery

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Ben Simmons injured his knee, and the 76ers didn’t hide their concerns.

This is serious.

Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Obviously, the surgery itself is a setback. If Simmons becomes healthy enough to return before Philadelphia gets eliminated, he could be required to quarantine in his hotel room – which would limit rehab and training.

And of course it will be difficult for Philadelphia to advance deep into the playoffs without Simmons.

There are even graver concerns beyond this season. Will Simmons now be more susceptible to future injuries? This could derail a budding championship contender with Joel Embiid and Simmons.

Embiid already has long-term health concerns. It was always uncertain how long Philadelphia’s window would remain open despite Embiid and Simmons being so young.

Even next season could be perilous. How long will Simmons take to recover? Next season could be right around the corner (or not). If the 76ers’ outlook looks worse – especially amid the economic downturn caused by coronavirus – they could no longer follow through on their plan to pay the luxury tax. Slashing payroll could further reduce the roster’s effectiveness.

Already, expectations shrink this season without Simmons. Philadelphia appears increasingly likely to land the No. 6 seed and a tough first-round series against the Celtics (rather than a spot in the 4-5 series against the Heat or Pacers).

Will these difficult circumstances give 76ers coach Brett Brown more leeway to keep his job? Or do they just make it more likely the 76ers lose early in the playoffs and fire him?

He has plenty of options for proceeding without Simmons. Simmons was a multi-positional star who spent most of the season at point guard but had been playing power forward in the bubble.

Without Simmons, Al Horford moved back into the starting lineup, and Mike Scott – who had been out with a knee injury – joined the rotation. Glenn Robinson III could also get an expanded role once he’s healthy.

Many sans-Simmons lineups could give Philadelphia more spacing around Embiid, which makes the star center even more dangerous.

But this loss of talent can’t be offset and significantly lowers the 76ers’ ceiling this season and maybe reduces their odds of reaching their ceiling in future seasons.