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.

Celtics’ Smart ‘ecstatic’ to have summer in limbo over

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BOSTON (AP) — There was a moment during the past month in which Marcus Smart wasn’t sure where he’d be playing basketball this upcoming season.

A day after signing a four-year deal to remain in the only NBA jersey he’s ever played in, Smart said he’s focused on doing what he can to help the Celtics win their 18th championship.

“I’m ecstatic. This is a blessing,” Smart said Friday.

After being in limbo since the start of free agency, Smart cemented his pact with the Celtics on Thursday. A person with knowledge of the agreement told The Associated Press that Smart will be paid $52 million over the next four years. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the team did not disclose the terms of the contract.

Boston brings back a 6-foot-4 defensive cornerstone who has developed a reputation for toughness and doing the little things that help the Celtics win. Smart is also the longest-tenured player on the roster.

The confidence that general manager Danny Ainge is showing in his abilities is not lost on Smart, who acknowledged he knew he was entering a tough free agent market this summer.

“To be honest, I didn’t know where I was gonna end up. I was just enjoying this whole process,” he said. “It is a business, so things aren’t perfect. That’s why it’s called negotiations. You guys come together and you finally agree on something. We both agreed. Boston loves me and I love Boston. Boston wants me here and I want to be here. I am here. So we made it work.”

Barring any late changes, Smart’s return also means Boston will be bringing back the core of the team that won 55 games and reached the Eastern Conference finals while battling numerous injuries and being without both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward the entire postseason.

Smart was a huge part of the run, stepping in to a starter’s role after returning from thumb surgery late in the first round of the playoffs. He averaged 9.8 points, 5.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game as Boston pushed LeBron James‘ Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the conference finals.

Now, James is in the West with the Lakers, and given the emergence of youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Smart said he doesn’t see any reason why the Celtics shouldn’t be a favorite to come out of the East.

“We demonstrated the talent and ability we had to do that last year with a few missing pieces. With those missing pieces back in action, I think it really makes it hard for teams,” Smart said. “I think we have a real shot.”

The signing also will allow Smart to shift his attention back to his mother, 63-year-old Camellia Smart, who continues to undergo treatment for the bone marrow cancer she was diagnosed with in April.

“When you kind of go through adversity and something like this hits you and your family, it kind of puts everything in perspective and everything else kind of becomes a blur to you and really not that important,” he said.

He has been with her in Texas since the season ended and said she’s stable and doing well.

“She’s hanging in there,” Smart said. “This is a hard time. But at the same time, it’s an exciting time for my family. So, with the signing, it kind of brings a little joy to a situation and lightens up the situation that was a little darkened for me. … As of right now, she’s doing great.”

As far as basketball is concerned, he’ll continue trying to improve.

“I’m just gonna be working on all aspects of my game. The uniqueness about me is I don’t do one thing perfectly or great. I do a little bit of everything. That’s what makes me so unique. I’m just trying to master a little bit of everything. … If I could just get better a little bit each year, then I did my job.”

 

Raptors president Ujiri apologizes to departed DeRozan

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TORONTO (AP) — Raptors president Masai Ujiri apologized Friday for a “miscommunication” with four-time All-Star and franchise icon DeMar DeRozan, but Toronto’s traded All-Star guard didn’t seem quite ready to make amends.

Speaking for the first time since sending DeRozan to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard, Ujiri began by saying sorry to DeRozan. The career Raptor had expressed anger and frustration in an Instagram post after learning of the deal, indicating he’d been told he would not be traded.

Shortly after Ujiri apologized Friday, DeRozan added a new post to his Instagram feed: a facepalm emoji, a symbol of frustration and exasperation.

Reflecting on a conversation he’d had with DeRozan at Summer League earlier this month, Ujiri said he “should have handled it better” when discussing future plans.

“Maybe my mistake was talking about what we expected going forward from him,” Ujiri said. “I think that’s where the gap was, because in my job I always have to assume that I’m going forward with the team that I have. If there was a miscommunication there, I do apologize to DeMar.”

Still, after three straight disappointing playoff exits, Ujiri felt something needed to change with the Raptors. He acknowledged struggling with the “human side” of the trade, but decided Leonard was too good a prize to pass up.

Now, Ujiri says, the Raptors “are stepping on territory that we never have.”

“I think if we look at ourselves honestly, everybody knows that we had to do something different, even if it wasn’t this,” Ujiri said. “We had to figure out something different. I take responsibility for that.

“We’ve been doing this how many years?” Ujiri said. “You can’t continue doing the same thing over and over again. And when you get a chance to get a top five player, which doesn’t come very often, I think you have to jump on it. We’ve given a chance to this team, we’ve tried to build it as much as we can but, at this point, this opportunity came in front of us and we had to jump on it.”

DeRozan led the Raptors in scoring in each of the last five years, and was key to Toronto winning a franchise-record 59 games and securing the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference last season.

“There’s no measurement for what DeMar DeRozan has done for this organization,” Ujiri said, pledging that the departed guard will be acknowledged “in the biggest way that we can possibly do it” for his nine seasons with the Raptors.

Even with DeRozan, Toronto lost three straight postseason series against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, including consecutive second-round sweeps. The Raptors have never reached the NBA Finals.

Leonard, the 2014 NBA Finals MVP, has twice finished in the top three in MVP voting and is a two-time winner of the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Ujiri called his new acquisition “a no-nonsense basketball player that plays on both sides of the floor and produces.”

Still, there are reasons for concern. A seven-year veteran, Leonard missed all but nine games last season because of a leg injury. He can become a free agent next summer, and has stated his desire to play for the Los Angeles Lakers.

As long as Leonard is with the Raptors, however, Ujiri will work to show him what Toronto has to offer.

“I think there’s a lot to sell here,” Ujiri said. “Our team, our culture, our city, our ownership. We have everything here except a championship, in my humble opinion. I don’t think we lack anything in this city.”

Leonard has yet to pass a physical, Ujiri said, adding one is expected to happen “in the next couple of days.”

Ujiri, who returned from a trip to Africa earlier Friday, has not met Leonard in person since the trade, but said they have spoken on the phone. Ujiri disputed rumors that Leonard has no interest in playing north of the border.

“He didn’t express a lack of interest about playing in Canada to me,” Ujiri said.

DeRozan and Leonard are expected to be on the court together next week when USA Basketball convenes a national team training camp in Las Vegas. That team is coached by San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich.

Draymond’s pitch to Cousins: “I’m pretty sure me and you are going to fight”

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Good thing Draymond Green found his calling in basketball because if he had to make a living as a salesman he’d be living on Nissin Top Ramen. At best.

Everyone has heard the story already: After not getting any serious offers the first 24 hours of free agency, DeMarcus Cousins took matters into his own hands and called up Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors and pitched his services. The Warriors jumped at the chance and signed Cousins to a one-year, $5.3 million contract. And then the NBA freaked out.

What is new is Cousins telling ESPN’s Chris Haynes about Green’s horrible pitch to get him to come to the bay area.

“Draymond probably had the worst pitch,” he said while chuckling. “He was like, ‘Cous, I’m pretty sure me and you are going to fight.’ I’m like, ‘Draymond, Come on. Whoa. Whoa.’ But Draymond, that’s my guy. I respect him as a player, I respect him as a competitor. He’s one of the top in this business and just his approach to every game, I want that guy on my team every day. So, we talked, we kind of communicated about what we both wanted, which was winning games. He openly said he knows I wouldn’t get as many touches and I don’t give a, I don’t care. And the same thing for me. It’s about winning the games. I think me and Draymond will mesh well.”

Cousins also was amused by the backlash to his signing.

“But, it’s just kind of funny because before the whole thing started, I was just kind of wasted. I was damaged goods, not a winner, just everything negative. And soon as it happens, it’s like, ‘He’s too damn good to [be a Warrior].’ So, it’s just kind of funny how the narrative switches right away when things don’t go the way they expect it to.”

If you want more insight into Cousins’ thinking (and don’t mind some NSFW language) check out this trailer from the upcoming SHOWTIME Sports documentary about Cousins’ decision this summer.

Michael Beasley reportedly joins Lakers on one-year contract

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Because a locker room with Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, and Rajon Rondo — with LaVar Ball circling around it — did not have enough distractions…

Michael Beasley, welcome to the Los Angeles Lakers.

It’s one year for $3.5 million.

Beasley is another eccentric guy for the Lakers’ collection. Remember when he changed teams from Minnesota to Phoenix and rather than move his stuff he just had a big estate sale and sold it all? Beasley by himself isn’t a distraction at this point, but all of those personalities in one locker room and… I do not envy Luke Walton right now.

Beasley had a solid offensive campaign for the Knicks last season, averaging 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists playing more than 22 minutes a night (he also started 30 games for them). He can attack off the dribble and score, gets to the line, and shot 39.5 percent from three — the man has embraced his role as a scorer off the bench and he can get the Lakers some buckets.

He’s also going to give up a lot of buckets because he does not play defense (he did rebound a little better last year, but that’s only when the guy missed despite his lack of D).

How Walton fits all this together remains to be seen. Beasley played 93 percent of his minutes last season at the four, where the Lakers will start Brandon Ingram but also rotate LeBron James and Kyle Kuzma through. Guys are versitle and basketball is evolving to being positionless, but that’s a lot of guys eating up minutes for similar roles.

At the price they are paying, this is a decent signing by the Lakers. Beasley will get them points if he stays healthy (he did play 74 games last season). I’m sure Magic/Pelinka will sell this as “adding another veteran playmaker to our roster,” and they will ignore all the baggage that comes with it. All those guys are on one-year contracts, the Lakers are looking farther down the road at much bigger targets than the new guys in the locker room.

But man, that Laker locker room this season is going to be a piece of work.