PBT NBA Power Rankings: At season midway Pacers, Portland on top (not exactly Stern’s dream finals)

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We’re at the midway point in the NBA season and the Indiana Pacers sit on top of the ProBasketballTalk NBA power rankings — we knew they’d be good but they have been better in the regular season than expected. Portland is second, and that is a surprise, but also a team on a win streak. Milwaukee still has the bottom spot locked down.

 
source:  1. Pacers (32-7, Last Week No. 1). Indiana should have three players in the All-Star Game (Paul George will be voted in by the fans, expect Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson to be picked by the coaches as reserves) plus Frank Vogel will coach. Getting hard to play the “nobody respects us” card in Indy.

 
source:  2. Trail Blazers (31-9, LW 5). They have won five in a row, including the last two on the road in San Antonio and Dallas. They have again done it with their offense playing at an elite level, plus now their defense has been average (which is a step up). Terry Stotts could end up as the All-Star coach (job goes to coach of team with the best record in West on Feb. 2 other than Spurs, as Gregg Popovich did it last year).

 
source:  3 Spurs (32-9, LW No. 2). The Spurs are 18-1 against teams under .500 this season but 1-8 against the Blazers, Rockets, Thunder, Clippers and Pacers. It’s hard to judge a veteran team like this during the season, but even Manu Ginobili has had questions about their level of play. The Thunder and Heat are on the docket this week.

 
source:  4. Thunder (31-10, LW 6). Huge comeback win in Houston, then Kevin Durant drops 54 on Golden State — they are 7-5 and playing pretty well without Russell Westbrook. Kevin Durant has scored 30 points or more in seven straight games, which is how it’s going to have to be for now, but the nine assists Sunday was a sign he could get some help from teammates.

 
source:  5. Heat (29-11, LW 4). They went 2-3 on their current road trip (which ends Monday in Atlanta) and maybe the biggest issue is they are shooting just 31 percent from three in those five games. “Space and pace” as an offense only works if you knock down the shots to create space. Also, the defense has slipped in those games — Miami’s defense is based on athleticism and aggressiveness, take their foot off the gas and anyone can get points on them.

 
source:  6. Clippers (28-14, LW 7). They are 5-2 without Chris Paul and while only one win was over a .500 team (the amazing shootout with Dallas) the fact is they are holding their ground with their best player out. So far. They are on their Grammy road trip this week and next.

 
source:  7. Warriors (26-16, LW 3). On PBT Extra CSNBayArea.com’s Warriors insider Monte Poole said to consider the Jordan Crawford trade the first move by Golden State, not the only one. They love their starting five but need depth — Stephen Curry has played more minutes than any other point guard in the league.

 
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8. Rockets (27-15, LW 8). GM Daryl Morey told Sports Illustrated he thinks they have the first two pieces of a championship roster — James Harden and Dwight Howard — but lacks the No. 3 piece. Chandler Parsons is offended.

 
source:  9. Mavericks (24-18, LW 9). They gave up 129 to the Clippers, 107 to the Suns then 127 to Portland last week — Dallas needs to tighten up its defense. On a side note, Mark Cuban tells really good Dirk Nowitzki stories.

 
source:  10. Grizzlies (20-19, LW 16). Winners of five in a row and now with Marc Gasol back in the rotation — and not so coincidentally their defense is impressive again — they look like a team that will grab one of the final playoff spots in the West. Then be a brutally tough out for whoever lands them.

 
source:  11. Suns (23-17, LW 13). They have lost four of six, but it was great to see Channing Frye break out for 30 against Denver on Sunday. Sure, Denver defenders left him alone like he had the Hantavirus, still he hit the shots. This is a guy who missed a season with a serious heart condition, it’s good to see him on the court and playing well.

 
source:  12. Raptors (20-19, LW 10). If the Raptors can’t hold off the Nets or otherwise lose the East, they should look back at Sunday’s loss to the struggling Lakers as a game they gave away. Toronto was up 19 in the first half, 16 in the third quarter, and found a way to lose. That and the loss to Boston were not pretty last week.

 
source:  13. Timberwolves (19-21, LW 12). They have lost six of nine and were reduced to the moral victory of “we played hard at the end of the game” after loss to Toronto. We keep saying “they are better than their record” but at some point Bill Parcells is right — “you are what your record says you are.”

 
source:  14. Nuggets (20-20, LW 14). Look for some changes to the bench rotations as coach Brian Shaw is frustrated with the defense with his subs are in. For example, Phoenix went on a 9-1 run late in the first quarter when Nate Robinson entered the contest (and never surrendered that lead). I’d suggest more Andre Miller, but Shaw burned that bridge.

 
source:  15. Bulls (19-20, LW 15). Jimmy Butler played more than 60 minutes in the Bulls 3OT win over Orlando, and look at their rotations and you see the starters getting heavy minutes again. But if the Bulls want to win, what choice does Tom Thibodeau really have?

 
source:  16. Wizards (19-20, LW 19). Needing wins — because the order of the day is to make the playoffs — and with a stretch of home games to get them, coach Randy Wittman has tightened things up with an 8-man rotation. It’ got them a win over Miami but they can’t keep up these minutes long term (not with the injury history of some guys in that locker room.)

 
source:  17. Nets (16-22, LW 17). Deron Williams returns Monday and it gets interesting — can the small ball lineup with Kevin Garnett quarterbacking the defense and Paul Pierce as an offensive fulcrum continue to work? Winnable games this week if it does (Dallas is the only above .500 team on the schedule).

 
source:  18. Hawks (20-19, LW 11). Only one game last week, in London, but it wasn’t a pretty one as the Nets rolled them. They have lost five of seven and without Al Horford the rest of the season it’s hard to see how that trend changes dramatically.

 
source:  19. Bobcats (17-25, LW 23). This is a team that seemed like it could make a playoff push behind the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who brought their defense back to life. But losing Kemba Walker for a couple weeks with a sprained ankle is a real blow.

 
source:  20. Cavaliers (15-25, LW 24). In the five games since Luol Deng came on board the Cavaliers starters are averaging 118 points per 100 possessions — that is a ridiculously good number (stat via our old friend Matt Moore). Deng makes his home debut for the Cavs Monday against Dallas.

 
source:  21. Pistons (17-23, LW 21). Rasheed Wallace is drilling Andre Drummond before tames on post moves, working on improving him on the block. But right now, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith get far, far more low block touches than Drummond because they are more polished. Still, the big man needs to get fed more.

 
source:  22. Knicks (15-25, LW 18). If the Knicks were going to make a push now would be the time — seven straight home games, only one against a team over .500 (Miami). But can the Knicks really good enough to beat the Nets and Bobcats this week? Not if they don’t start to defend better.

 
source:  23. Lakers (16-25, LW 25). The Lakers are 2-1 on their Grammy trip, they held a team meeting after getting spanked by the Suns and won two straight, including a win in Toronto. Not sure it’s sustainable, but when these Lakers knock down shots they are fun to watch.

 
source:  24. Kings (14-25, LW 22). Friday night when the Pacers come to town the Kings are going to have a “Google Glass” game with some cheerleaders, announcers and during warm-ups players wearing Google Glass, then those images can be broadcast through the arena. Should be interesting.

 
source:  25. Jazz (14-28, LW 27). They remain a .500 team of late, having gone 5-5 in their last 10, and did the last five games without Gordon Hayward. Don’t tell anyone, but right now the Jazz are a good offensive team that can just flat out outscored you.

 
source:  26. Pelicans (15-24, LW 20). For a team that made big moves in the off-season and had dreams of being in the playoff hunt this season, the Pelicans are 7.5 games out of the last playoff spot in the West and 2.5 games ahead of Utah for the worst record in the West.

 
source:  27. 76ers (13-27, LW 26). As expected preseason this is a terrible team, which means the most interesting thing will be he Thaddeus Young trade rumors that are going to increase as we move closer to the Feb. 20 trade deadline.

 
source:  28. Magic (11-30, LW 29). Well, they beat Boston, so the losing streak is over. That’s one positive. Aside that, like the Sixers the most interesting thing the next few weeks is to watch the trade offers role in for Glen Davis and others.

 
source:  29. Celtics (14-28, LW 28). Rajon Rondo is back, and considering the time off he has looked good in his first couple games. That said, the Celtics are 2-14 in their last 16 games and even Rondo cannot stem that kind of tide.

 
source:  30. Bucks (7-33, LW 30). They have yet to win a game in 2014. Just play a lot of John Henson and Larry Sanders together, let them develop chemistry and just take your lumps as you move toward getting some good lottery odds. (Maybe the number of quality bigs at the top of this draft can get Sanders to start playing like his job is in jeopardy.)

Report: Jason Kidd holding off on Cal job until Lakers decide on Luke Walton

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The Los Angeles Lakers could be headed toward a departure with their head coach in Luke Walton. The Lakers will miss the playoffs yet again, this time coming up short despite adding LeBron James over the summer.

James has reportedly wanted Walton out for some time, and when the season ends many are expecting to see the two sides part ways. The list of potential coaching candidates for Los Angeles appear to be a group of also-rans, potential LeBron favorites who no self-respecting basketball decision-maker would want in charge of a championship-hopeful franchise.

One of those potential head coaching candidates is Jason Kidd, who was fired by the Milwaukee Bucks in January of 2018. We have seen rumors of Kidd being on the list of candidates for the Lakers job for some time, but now it appears that Kidd is basing his decision-making on the availability of the Los Angeles job.

Via Twitter:

Kidd holding out on making an employment decision until the Lakers decide what to do with Walton makes sense. That L.A. would be interested in Kidd to lead their group is another thing altogether.

Talent is a salve that has often pushed teams passed their failings, and this offseason for the Lakers will be a big-time test of that medicine. Los Angeles is not a well-run franchise, and the fact that they have expected anything different from their results speaks to the dissonance between their ability to make basketball decisions outside of branding.

But if they can add one or two big stars in free agency this summer, they might have enough talent on the roster to overcome the inherent issues with having LeBron run the team by proxy. It’s hard to have any faith in the Lakers to make the right decision at this juncture, and considering Kidd for the most important head coaching position in the NBA is par for the course.

Caris LeVert thinks Nets could land Kevin Durant

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Nobody is quite sure where Kevin Durant will play basketball next season. Many are expecting him to leave the friendly confines of the Golden State Warriors and strike it out on his own if they win the championship again this season.

The New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers have all been mentioned so far. The Brooklyn Nets also seem like a potential suitor, and they will have significant cap space before needing to re-sign some of their current players.

Could Durant be interested in heading to New York toward a better run organization than the Knicks? At least one Nets player thinks so. Speaking to the New York Post, Caris LeVert said that he felt Brooklyn had all of the things needed to attract a superstar like Durant.

Via New York Post:

It’s pretty cool,” LeVert said before the Nets eliminated the Lakers from playoff contention with a 111-106 win. “It speaks to not only what we’ve done this season as a team, but to what D’Angelo has done on the court and also being a leader off the court that guys like Kevin Durant want to be close to him and a part of what he’s doing.

“I don’t think superstars, especially Kevin, want to be the one who has to carry the whole team, the full load on his own. He’s in his 30s now, so he definitely wants to go to a team that has a good core, has a good culture, has good guys on the team, and we fit all those categories.”

“[Russell’s] played at an All-Star level. Everybody wants to play with a great point guard, a great floor general, and he’s put himself in that conversation for sure. That lessens the load for a guy like Kevin Durant or another superstar who wants to come play with us. They don’t want to be the only one on the team, so that’s very attractive that D’Angelo has elevated himself to that level to play with.”

What Durant is thinking is anyone’s guess, and what he wants at this juncture is sort of up in the air. I think many of us are getting caught up in that idea of him needing to continue to win championships. That’s probably backed by the rumor that Durant wants to be seen as the best player of his generation.

But if Durant came away from Golden State having won three championships, and with a clear Hall of Fame resume, couldn’t he go somewhere for the final stage of his career simply for the money, the fame, and the branding? The Knicks would be a horrible basketball decision, but Brooklyn wouldn’t be a bad idea. Both would work for the latter strategy for Durant.

The Warriors star is hard to predict, and there’s no use trying to. But at this point, it appears that players are starting to make their overtures to attract one of the best players in the NBA.

Derrick Rose has surgery to remove elbow bone chips

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Minnesota Timberwolves guard Derrick Rose has undergone arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow.

The Timberwolves announced Saturday that Rose had the procedure done at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The Wolves previously said Rose was unlikely to play again this season. They’re already eliminated from playoff contention.

Rose signed a one-year contract after joining the Wolves for the final few weeks of last season and their playoff series. When healthy, Rose has largely flourished, often playing off the ball instead of his natural point guard position. He averaged 18.0 points and 27.3 minutes in 51 games, his second-highest scoring mark since he tore his left ACL in 2012.

Rose missed 16 games earlier in the season for a variety of lower-body injuries.

More AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Frustrated over Celtics collapse, Kyrie Irving questions defensive plan on Kemba Walker

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Charlotte closed Saturday game on a 30-5 run, much of it fueled by Kemba Walker who had 18 of those points and was 4-of-6 from three. It was a punch-to-the-gut loss for the Celtics that was reminiscent of the low point of the season, the back-to-back blown leads against the two teams from Los Angeles.

After the game, Kyrie Irving was frustrated and had words about the young players on the team and Brad Stevens defensive choices. Via A. Sherrod Blakely at NBC Sports Boston.

“Judge us when we have our full lineup,” Irving said [Al Horford, Aron Baynes, and Gordon Hayward were out]. “But obviously when we come out and play like this with a bunch of young guys down the stretch, figuring things out … things are bound to happen but there’s no excuses….

“It’s one-on-one,” Irving said. “Down the stretch, I try to come in and help as much as possible. We should have probably trapped him more like every other team does in the league but we didn’t. He torches us every time we play them so it’s no surprise.”

What does the team talk about after a game like this?

“Being more mature down the stretch,” Irving said.

Of course, this is going to fuel the “is Kyrie happy?” and “is he going to leave this summer?” talk, but doing any of that before seeing what taste the playoffs leave in his mouth is premature.

Irving is right to be frustrated, however. With everyone. Here we are entering late March and we’re still asking “when are the Celtics going to get it together?” Most teams do trap/double/blitz Walker because he’s a one-man show and the theory is to let anyone else beat you. Walker did get some of those late 18 on catch-and-shoots working off the ball, but the critical ones late he was one-on-one with the ball in his hands — and he’s an All-Star, maybe All-NBA level player, he’s hard to stop.

Overlooked in this, the Celtics shot 2-of-19 in the final 8 minutes of the loss. It’s not just defense that blows a lead, it’s not scoring. Irving was 1-of-5 overall and 0-of-4 from three during the Hornets run. There is plenty of blame to go around.

The question is can the Celtics get on the same page and fix it before the playoffs?