PBT NBA Power Rankings: Durant powers Thunder to top slot

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No Russell Westbrook yet Kevin Durant has pushed the Thunder to the top of the West and the top of PBT’s weekly power rankings. Still strange to see the Celtics and Lakers near the bottom of the poll, but it’s where they belong this season.


 
source:  1. Thunder (35-10, LW 4). Kevin Durant is making is MVP push and carrying the Thunder to seven straight wins. Without Russell Westbrook. They are doing it on both ends, a top three offense and defense the last five games. That seven-game streak includes beating the Rockets, Warriors, Blazers and Spurs. Bottom line, this team is the standard in the West — if another squad wants to go to the Finals they need to be better than the Thunder.

 
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2. Heat (32-12, LW 5). They have been going through a malaise of late but with the Spurs in town they showed that they can still flip the switch and play like a contender. Especially when Chris Bosh is on. Now they get another real test with the Thunder on Wednesday (Miami has won six straight against OKC).

 
source:  3. Pacers (34-9, Last Week No. 1). The Pacers have hit a little mid-season lull on a tough West road swing. They picked up a nice win over Golden State but lost to the Suns, needed overtime to beat the Kings and fell to Denver. Every team has slumps, but with Indiana’s focus on getting the No. 1 seed (the remain 2.5 games ahead of the Heat) don’t expect it to last long.

 
source:  4. Clippers (31-15, LW 6). Los Angeles has gone 4-2 on the Grammy road trip (with a winnable game left in Milwaukee) and done it without Chris Paul. Their offense has been on fire. This stretch was when the Clippers could have struggled and fallen back, that they didn’t is a good sign about this team’s growth.

 
source:  5. Warriors (27-18, LW 7). Stephen Curry deserves to be an All-Star starter and he showed it with 38 points and the dagger to beat Portland. That made up for the loss to Indiana earlier in the week that showed Golden State the benchmark for contending. Fun game against the Clippers coming up this week.

 
source:  6. Trail Blazers (33-12, LW 2). Yes, LaMarcus Aldridge should have been voted in an All-Star starter if we were going by talent and how they played the first half of the season. But the fan ASG vote is a popularity contest. Aldridge needs a good playoff run by the Blazers this season and some more Trail Blazers game on national television to raise his profile.

 
source:  7. Spurs (33-11, LW No. 3). The Spurs are now 1-10 against the league’s teams playing better than .600 ball (Indiana, Oklahoma City, Portland, the Clippers, Houston and now Miami) and 32-1 against the rest of the league. It doesn’t help that they will be without Kawhi Leonard for a few weeks.

 
source:  8. Grizzlies (22-20, LW 10). They are fast climbing in the West, taking both ends of a home-and-home from Houston and doing it with their trademark defensive toughness. Courtney Lee has been a great fit, averaging 16.9 points a game since arriving from Boston.

 
source:  9. Rockets (29-17, LW 8). Dwight Howard and Darryl Morey can blame whatever they wish for Howard not being an All-Star starter, we all know it is a symptom of what happened to his reputation. The way he fixes it is wins, playoff wins. A lot of them. Just as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James did.

 
source:  10. Suns (25-18, LW 11). They are 2-1 at the start of an eight-game run against teams from the Eastern Conference. After a 2-4 stretch against the West a chance to get healthy against the Leastern Conference is welcomes, but there will be tough road games in that stretch (at Indiana for one).

 
source:  11. Nets (19-22, LW 17). They win this week’s “third best team in the East” trophy (doesn’t that title change weekly?). They have won five in a row and 10-of-11 since going small, but there are real tests this week against the Raptors, Thunder and Pacers.

 
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12. Mavericks (26-20, LW 9). Dallas is in a fight for the last playoff spot in the West — they are the eight seed, half a game back of Phoenix and just 2 games ahead of surging Memphis (they are tied in the loss column) and 2.5 games up Denver, 3.5 on Minnesota. They need a run of wins to solidify their spot.

 
source:  13. Nuggets (22-21, LW 14). Quality win over the Indiana Pacers and again a lot of it has to do with their bench — when Timofey Mozgov plays well inside and Nate Robinson hits his shots this is a hard team to beat. But you can’t count on it consistently.

 
source:  14. Bulls (22-21, LW 15). Derrick Rose who? Luol Deng who? After an initial stumble when their point guard went down, they are 10-3 since the calendar flipped over to 2014. We might try to talk about that and not Carmelo Anthony. Tough West Coast road swing starts this week for the Bulls, who will be happy for the warm weather if nothing else.

 
source:  15. Raptors (22-21, LW 12). Big showdown Monday night with the streaking Brooklyn Nets — the Atlantic Division crown (such as it is) will come down to these two teams. If the Raptors start to slide does the price team is asking for Kyle Lowry in a trade slide down as well?

 
source:  16. Hawks (23-20, LW 18). They have not fallen apart as predicted, Atlanta is 7-7 since Al Horford has went down. They remain the three seed in the East and look like a playoff team. Paul Millsap has made a good All-Star case but we’ll if it’s enough to get the coaches to vote for him as a reserve. He’s on the bubble.

 
source:  17. Timberwolves (21-22, LW 13). Finally Minnesota picked up their first win of the season by 5 or fewer points this week, beating Golden State by one on Friday night. They still remain one game below .500 and are 0-10 when trying to crack that barrier. We’ll see if they can get over the hump with the Bulls, Pelicans, Grizzlies and Hawks up on the docket this week.

 
source:  18. Wizards (21-22, LW 16). Washington is the six seed in the East but don’t be shocked if their record and standing take a hit the next couple weeks as between now and the All-Star break six of their next eight are against the top six in the West.

 
source:  19. Knicks (17-27, LW 22). Carmelo Anthony went off for a historic 97 points over two games at Madison Square Garden and the Knicks picked up a couple wins. That is how the Knicks have to win right now — just outscoring teams — because their defense is a mess.

 
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20. Bobcats (19-27, LW 19). When their defense is clicking they can beat anyone, as we saw in wins over the Raptors and Clippers last week. But that defense is not consistent anymore, hasn’t been for a month, and you saw the other side of it when Carmelo Anthony went off for 62.

 
source:  21. Pelicans (18-25, LW 26). Anthony Davis put up a huge line — 22 points, 19 rebounds, 7 blocks — in a “consider me for the All-Star reserves” kind of game Sunday. But New Orleans has won three of four more because of play from the guards, including steadier performances from Austin Rivers.

 
source:  22. Cavaliers (16-27, LW 20). They had the most embarrassing play of last week, when with a chance to tie the game late they couldn’t even get the ball inbounds. Even with Luol Deng it’s going to be a real fight for this team to even make the playoffs in the East.

 
source:  23. Kings (15-27, LW 24). Losing both Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins to ankle issues, when both had been playing so well, is just the basketball gods being unfair to Sacramento. The good news is both are expected to return this week.

 
source:  24. Jazz (15-29, LW 25). Gordon Hayward is Utah’s leading scorer at 17.3 points a game, with a true shooting percentage just above the league averaged at 54.8 percent. He’s got a PER of 17.9 and a big fan club in front office’s around the league. The question: How much will he be offered as a restricted free agent this summer?

 
source:  25. Pistons (17-26, LW 21). In case you need more evidence that the defense is the issue: The Pistons are on a four-game losing streak but scored more than 100 points in each of those losses. Mo Cheeks benched Andre Drummond for a half because of his defense.

 
source:  26. 76ers (14-30, LW 27). Despite the struggles of the Sixers offense of late (look at the points per possession numbers) Michael Carter-Williams is still my Rookie of the Year with what he is doing in Philly. The only other guys in the race are Trey Burke and Victor Oladipo.

 
source:  27. Magic (12-33, LW 28). After missing the start of the season with an ankle injury Tobias Harris has found his groove again — he’s averaged 17.7 points and 9.7 rebounds his last 10 games. That includes dropping 28 and 20 on the Lakers’ “defense” last week.

 
source:  28. Lakers (16-29, LW 23). Kobe Bryant may not want to play in the All-Star Game but if he comes back before Feb. 16 he’s not going to have no choice. The question now is when he will return. The Lakers went 2-5 on the Grammy road trip, now get the Pacers as a welcome home present.

 
source:  29. Celtics (15-31, LW 29). Jeff Green put up 39 against the Wizards, just as a teasing reminder of what he can do some nights. Then he went back into his shell for the rest of the week. So frustrating.

 
source:  30. Bucks (8-35, LW 30). The Bucks picked up a win last week when Caron Butler went off for 30 points. He says he wants to re-sign in Milwaukee, but do the rebuilding Bucks want to spend on a veteran this summer?

Pistons present themselves as Eastern Conference heavyweights with Dwane Casey

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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DETROIT – Pistons spokesman Mark Barnhill, introducing new coach Dwane Casey, said he tucked his notes for today’s press conference into his jacket pocket. Then, as he pulled them out, he discovered an old Pistons playoff ticket in the same pocket.

“It’s a bit of an omen and a bit of a challenge,” Barnhill said.

The ticket was for the Pistons’ best playoff performance in a decade.

“No pressure,” Casey said.

Actually, really, no pressure.

Detroit lost by only two points in Game 4 of the 2016 first round, getting swept by the Cavaliers in the game Barnhill referred to. The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in the last 10 years and reached the postseason only twice in that span. A two-point loss was their best result.

They’re starving for only moderate success. The 59 wins and second-round loss that got Casey fired by the Raptors? That’d be a dream season in Detroit. Even just making the playoffs next year would be welcomed.

“Our time is now,” Casey said. “…The talent level on the roster is there.”

It better be.

The Pistons are too close to the luxury-tax line to use most of the mid-level exception. They surrendered their first-round pick in the Blake Griffin trade. They’re left with only the No. 42 pick in the second round.

“Whatever player we get, that would be great. But we don’t need another one,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “Like, we’re good. That’s why Dwane is here.”

That and $35 million.

The Pistons presented Casey with a favorable contract, a front-office head he knows (more on that later) and a solid roster. Detroit is probably better off trying to win now, because the alternative would be even trickier to pull off. With so many highly paid players stained by losing, the Pistons can’t easily switch paths and rebuild. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are close enough to their primes that the present should be the priority, even if this team maxes at pretty good.

Yet, Detroit’s brass couldn’t help but raise expectations even further.

“We have three very – we have a great roster – but very special players,” Gores said of Griffin, Drummond and Jackson.

That’s an overstatement. Besides, how much noise can Detroit make with the Celtics and 76ers rising the Raptors still hanging around?

“I feel very comfortable that we’ll have a product that will compete with the teams that you just said,” Gores’ advisor, Ed Stefanski, said. “We have to win games, as Tom said. But you don’t usually get to an organization and have three core guys like we have.”

Again, they’re talking about Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

Griffin hasn’t made an All-Star team in three years, a drought players rarely escape. Drummond is a borderline All-Star in the East (and a tough fit with Griffin). Jackson has only once even sniffed the All-Star discussion.

Casey also praised those three – and Detroit’s last three first-round picks: Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard. Johnson particularly drew attention from Casey, whose Raptors got swept by LeBron James‘ Cavaliers the last two years and lost the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history to Cleveland the previous year.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, what happened to Toronto in the playoffs? ‘Well, I said, ‘It’s about matchups,'” Casey said. “And Stanley Johnson is the best match up for 23 in Cleveland that there is, physically.”

Maybe Casey, with his strong record of player development, will help Johnson eventually compete at those high levels.

“We’re not developing,” Casey said. “We’re not two or three years away. We want to win right now.”

The Pistons are so confident in their current roster, they haven’t even hired a general manager or equivalent. For now, Stefanski – advisor to the owner with the title of “senior executive” – is running the show. It sounds as if that could continue for a while.

“We could make Ed GM tomorrow,” Gores said. “That’s easy. If you guys want a title, that’s kind of easy.

“That’s not the point. The point is we’re building an organization, not around one person, but around what our vision is.”

Stefanski said, no matter how the front office is assembled, Casey will report to him. And Stefanski will report to Gores.

After giving Stan Van Gundy massive control, the Pistons are dispersing power.

Casey is a good coach, and he’ll help. Stefanski has plenty to prove as a front-office head. Gores is still learning as an owner, a failed experiment (keeping Joe Dumars) and unfulfilling tenure (Van Gundy’s) behind him. The roster is solid, though unexciting, when healthy.

They’re now all in it together, awaiting a chance to deliver. Considering how modest external expectations are, maybe they will.

But as the Pistons overstate their standing, it gets harder to take them seriously.

PBT Extra: Dwight Howard traded to Brooklyn, does anybody win?

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Dwight Howard is on the move. Again. Leaving a wake of unhappy teammates behind him. Again.

The trade can’t be consummated until the NBA free agent moratorium ends on July 6, but a deal has been struck where Charlotte sends Howard to Brooklyn for Timofey Mozgov, two second-round picks, and cash.

I don’t love this trade for the Nets — it’s going to get awkward with Howard being asked to come off the bench behind Jarrett Allen (and he should come off the bench). But it frees up an extra $17 million for the Nets in the summer of 2019 as they start to reshape their roster.

The Hornets get away from the luxury tax with this move but tie up their cap space next year with Mozgov still getting paid off the contract former-Laker-now-Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak gave him years ago. It was a short-term move that isn’t great for the long term. Unless Kemba Walker wanted Howard gone and the Hornets want to re-sign their point guard. A lot of unanswered questions still about this team.

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard directly told Gregg Popovich he wanted to leave Spurs

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Kawhi Leonard and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich met in San Diego yesterday.

How did the discussion go? Reports have been mixed about even the nature of the meeting, let alone a resolution from either side.

But here’s an update with a reportedly direct conclusion.

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

From what my sources told me, Kawhi Leonard met with Gregg Popovich face-to-face, looked him dead in his face and told him “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be in San Antonio any longer.”

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers, last week. There was some hope Popovich could mend the relationship, but that seems to running thin. There is so much bitterness between both sides.

The next question: What do the Spurs do about it?

Do they keep trying to ease tension with the 26-year-old superstar? Do they trade him? If so, when? Before or during the draft?

No matter what Leonard told Popovich yesterday, San Antonio has big decisions to make and soon. Leonard firmly stating a desire to leave would be clarifying, but it’d hardly make this situation easy to handle.

Brendan Haywood: Former Hornets teammates ‘sick and tired’ of Dwight Howard’s act

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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It has become an annual tradition – Dwight Howard getting traded then his former teammates celebrating his exit.

It happened with the Hawks last year. Now, it’s happening with the Hornets, who sent Howard to the Nets.

Brendan Haywood, via Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

Now retired, Haywood played with current Hornets Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist his final season. He also knows many other players throughout the league.

Howard went to Charlotte and declared himself team leader – despite the presence of Walker, the franchise player. Howard’s immaturity and ego have rubbed teammates and coaches the wrong way for years.

But at least this is progress. Howard’s time with the Magic, Lakers and Rockets devolved into interpersonal strife well before he left those teams.