PBT NBA Power Rankings: Adam Silver signs the balls, Kevin Durant keeps shooting them

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A look at PBT’s power rankings show basically the only thing that really changed this week was the signature on the Spaulding balls — Adam Silver’s signature is in play. Aside that Durant has the Thunder on top and the Lakers continue fall like the lead balloon they are.

source:  1. Thunder (38-11, Last Week No. 1). Their 10-game win streak was snapped and Kevin Durant’s 12-game streak of 30+ point games came to an end (only because the game was a blowout so he rested the fourth quarter). None of that changes the fact OKC is still playing the best ball of anyone in the association right now. The only question is how do they look once Russell Westbrook is back with the ball in his hands.

source:  2. Pacers (36-10, LW 3). Indiana added Andrew Bynum, who gives it another solid big who can give them 10-15 minutes a night and is an upgrade over Ian Mahinmi — if Bynum is focused. And that’s a big “if.” I don’t see much of a downside here as this locker room is too solid to let Bynum affect it.

source:  3. Heat (33-13, LW 2). Miami’s loss to Oklahoma City was interesting for this reason: When was the last time you saw any team beat Miami by going small? OKC did when Scott Brooks finally went away from using Kendrick Perkins. Of course, OKC is one of only maybe a couple teams with the athletes to go small against Miami and win, this is not going to become a trend. But looking forward to the rematch of these teams in a couple weeks.

source:  4. Warriors (29-198, LW 5). They jump up a spot after beating a tired Clippers team, but Golden State wasn’t impressive beating either Utah or losing to Washington last week. National television game Thursday against the Bulls, then a fun showdown with the Suns Saturday where the Warriors will need to play better than they did last week.

source:  5. Clippers (34-16, LW 4). Our own D.J. Foster wrote about this earlier in the season then Zach Lowe of Grantland covered it last week — if you think Blake Griffin is a one-dimensional dunker with no post game or midrange shot I would say you haven’t watched him play this season. They are on the road Monday night in Denver for the ninth time in 11 games, then they are home though the All-Star break.

source:  6. Grizzlies (26-20, LW 8). Winners of six in a row and 11 of 12 and they are doing it with defense — in their last 10 games they have allowed just 94.4 points per 100 possessions, best in the NBA for that stretch. For comparison, the Pacers are giving up 94.1 per 100 this season — they are playing Pacer-level defense

source:  7. Suns (29-18, LW 10). Their ability to play with relentless pace, and Goran Dragic’s ability to drive into the body of big men and draw the foul and/or get the shot off, seems to be a real kryptonite for the Pacers — the Suns are 2-0 against the best defense in the NBA. Dragic was snubbed for the All-Star Game but may be the leading candidate to be named to replace Kobe Bryant on the roster (new commissioner Adam Silver gets to make that call).

source:  8. Trail Blazers (34-13, LW 6). They are 3-4 in their last seven games and now head out on the road for five of their six games before the All-Star break — this will be a real test of the Blazers and their often struggling defense. The Pacers, Timberwolves and Clippers are among the road teams, and the home game in this stretch is the Thunder.

source:  9. Rockets (32-17, LW 9). James Harden was named an All-Star Game reserve by a vote of the coaches, as expected. With Scott Brooks as the West’s coach for the exhibition game expect him to name his former player Harden as the starter in place of Kobe Bryant.

source:  10. Spurs (34-13, LW No. 7). Injuries are hitting the Spurs hard now — Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green are all out, plus Tony Parker has been playing through a sore hip for weeks. All of that shows on the court when they play good teams.

source:  11. Mavericks (27-21, LW 11). Dallas has fallen out of the playoffs in the West — the Mavs are currently the nine seed in the West, a game back of hard-charging Memphis. Just to be clear, Dallas is on pace to win 46 games this season and miss the playoffs because they are in the West.

source:  12. Raptors (25-22, LW 15). They got a big win over Brooklyn last week, thanks in part to an ill-advised pass from Deron Williams and a smart play by Patrick Patterson in the final seconds. The Raptors now have a 4 game lead over the Nets in the Atlantic. Toronto spends this week on a West coast road swing.

source:  13. Hawks (25-21, LW 16). Paul Millsap is a welcome addition to the All-Star Game, voted in as a reserve by the coaches. To a degree before Al Horford went down and particularly after, Millsap has been the key to making the Hawks frontline work.

source:  14. Wizards (23-23, LW 18). When everyone on the Wizards is healthy this team plays pretty good defense and wins games — they snapped the Thunder’s 10-game streak and have beaten Indiana and Golden State recently. Expect Randy Wittman to keep his job after this season, unless the Wizards fall apart.

source:  15. Bulls (23-23, LW 14). They continue to swing through the West on a road trip while trade rumors swirl around this team — no way they are moving Joakim Noah. Now, if Taj Gibson gets moved it might be a sign they are seriously going after Carmelo Anthony.

source:  16. Nets (20-25, LW 12). Three tough games last week against the Raptors, Thunder and Pacers, and Brooklyn got three losses. That said, the Spurs are the only team on the schedule with a record above. .500 before the All-Star break, so we may see a few more wins strung together.

source:  17. Timberwolves (23-24, LW 17). They finally got over the .500 hump with a win over New Orleans, then promptly dropped their next two (Memphis and Atlanta). As much as I want to like Nikola Pekovic next to Kevin Love, this team needs to get some rim protection inside.

source:  18. Nuggets (22-23, LW 13). Well, at least everyone in Denver is focusing on the Broncos right now. Nate Robinson is down for the season, Ty Lawson is out — Brian Shaw, it’s time to bring Andre Miller back into the rotation.

source:  19. Knicks (19-28, LW 19). They won four in a row once Andrea Bargnani went out and Mike Woodson was forced to go with the small lineup everyone wanted to see from the start anyway. However, the only one of those wins against a decent team was the Bobcats. Then the Heat came to MSG — playing small against Miami never really works (except for OKC).

source:  20. Bobcats (21-28, LW 20). If you want to know who was snubbed from the All-Star Game list of snubs, Al Jefferson should be your leading candidate. He’s averaging 19.6 points and 10.6 rebounds a game this season and put up some huge numbers lately with Kemba Walker out. Jefferson should have been in the conversation.

source:  21. Pelicans (20-26, LW 21). Anthony Davis is in the mix to be named by the league to replace Kobe Bryant on the West’s All-Star roster. The decision facing Adam Silver: Do you replace Kobe with another guard in the deserving Goran Dragic, or do you go with the also deserving big from New Orleans where the game will be played. Tough decisions for those in the big chair.

source:  22. Pistons (19-27, LW 25). Andre Drummond, you have a lot of All-Star Games in your future, don’t worry about not making this one. Greg Monroe, you have a lot of trade rumors in your future, mostly because nobody sane will take on that Josh Smith contract.

source:  23. Jazz (16-31, LW 24). It was great to see Jerry Sloan get a banner and be honored by Utah, something that was incredibly well deserved. Plus it was a nice distraction from the “rookie wall” slump Trey Burke seems to be going through lately (Gordon Hayward has been off his game as well).

source:  24. 76ers (15-33, LW 26). Philly only got one win last week but it was a fun one with Evan Turner’s game-winning shot. Michael Carter-Williams is very poised at the end of games for a rookie.

source:  25. Celtics (16-33, LW 29). Rajon Rondo looked like his old self on Sunday leading Boston to a win over Orlando — even better, his jumper was falling. That could make for an interesting week where he squares off against Carter-Williams and Isaiah Thomas.

source:  26. Cavaliers (16-31, LW 22). Of course Luol Deng publicly denied he told friends Cleveland is a tire fire of an organization. What is he supposed to say? But frankly I’d be a lot more worried about him or anyone else that thought things seem to be headed in the right direction in Cleveland. This team is a mess.

source:  27. Kings (15-32, LW 23). What DeMarcus Cousins means to this team has been shown buy his absence — they are 0-8 without him this season, including losing every game last week. The Kings are far from great with him, but their defense is a disaster without his presence in the paint.

source:  28. Magic (13-36, LW 27). Good to see Nikola Vucevic back on the court this week following his concussion. Orlando has lost 11 straight on the road and that’s not likely to change Monday night in Indiana. But then the Magic stay home through the All-Star break.

source:  29. Lakers (16-31, LW 28). Was the latest news Kobe Bryant is out through the All-Star Game the first in a string of “setbacks” that has him out the rest of the season as the Lakers rack up more lottery Ping-Pong balls? It should be, but this is Kobe and if he can get back on the court you know he will. Pau Gasol is out this week (but not out of the trade rumors) but Steve Nash and Steve Blake could return.

source:  30. Bucks (8-39, LW 30). The Bucks were 1-14 in January. February is only going to be better because it is shorter. All we can hope for is Larry Drew gives John Henson a boatload of minutes.

Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis headline NBA All-Defensive teams

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It can be one of the most challenging selections to make on the ballot — NBA All-Defensive Teams.

The reason is all the variables: What kind of system was the player in? What were they asked to do within that system? Were they asked to cover a lot for lesser defenders on the court with them?

The votes are in, and it is Utah’s Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis at the top with the most points. Just as interestingly, six players made All-Defense for the first time.

Here is the voting breakdown. Voters had to choose one center, two forwards, and two guards for each team.

FIRST TEAM (player, team, total points, first team votes)

Rudy Gobert, Utah, 192 (94)
Anthony Davis, New Orleans, 163 (73)
Robert Covington, Philadelphia, 90 (27)
Victor Oladipo, Indiana, 136 (58)
Jrue Holiday, New Orleans, 105 (39)

SECOND TEAM (player, team, total points, first team votes)

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia, 90 (4)
Draymond Green, Golden State, 86 (26)
Al Horford, Boston, 85 (24)
Dejounte Murray, San Antonio, 80 (32)
Jimmy Butler, Minnesota, 79 (20)

Just missing the cut were:
Chris Paul, Houston, 74 (20); Paul George, Oklahoma City, 69 (22); Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee, 43 (15); Kevin Durant, Golden State, 31 (7); Klay Thompson, Golden State, 24 (8); Josh Richardson, Miami, 22 (3); Marcus Smart, Boston, 18 (5); Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City, 17 (3).

The six first-timers on the All-Defensive Teams are Covington, Oladipo, Holiday, Embiid, Murray, and Butler.

The fact that two Pelicans — Holiday and Davis — made All-Defense but the team was just average defensively speaks to what they were trying to cover up on that roster much of the season.

Forward was particularly deep and difficult to choose this season. On my final (official) ballot I had Antetokounmpo on the squad, but that meant leaving off Green (who is unquestionably an elite defender when he wants to be, but was up and down during the regular season with his focus on that end). The injuries to Andre Roberson and Kawhi Leonard took some of the pressure off at forward and let a deserving Horford in the club, but it was still a deep field.

Guard was a challenge as well, with CP3 being deserving (he was on my ballot) and Klay Thompson being the perennial “I wanted to put him on the team but…” guy.

Clint Capela with the Rockets had a fantastic defensive season, but with Gobert and Embiid filling the center spot that’s a tough field to crack.

Celtics hope return home can slow LeBron, Cavs in Game 5

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BOSTON (AP) — The Celtics expected to see a different LeBron James in Cleveland after the Cavaliers fell into a 2-0 hole to open the Eastern Conference finals

Two games and back-to-back wins later, James has reminded everyone exactly why he’s been to seven straight NBA finals.

Boston will be back in the embrace of its raucous fans at TD Garden for Game 5 on Wednesday. But a team that has thrived on youth this postseason suddenly looks disoriented without a go-to player and opposite a more veteran squad that has found a new attitude thanks to the fuel being provided by its biggest star.

“My teammates are putting me in position and wanting me to be in attack mode and trusting me to put our guys in position to be successful,” James said. “It’s not about me. It’s about the collective group, and I’m one of the byproducts of that.”

While the Cavs are certainly feeling rejuvenated, coach Tyronn Lue said it hasn’t changed their sense of urgency.

“We still gotta play,” Lue said. “We have veteran guys who have been there and know what it takes, but this is a young team, a good team that’s playing at home so experience is not going to be a factor. We have to come in there and have the same mentality that we had in Game 3 and 4.”

Two games ago, the numbers seemed all on the Celtics’ side.

They had moved to 9-0 at home during these playoffs and taken 2-0 series lead, which has been a magic number for a franchise yet to surrender such an advantage during its storied history (37-0). Over the last 96 minutes, Boston has been outscored by 39 points, has dropped to 1-6 on the road and is suddenly facing a must-win game to maintain home-court advantage.

Coach Brad Stevens said at the start of the playoffs that he believed there was value in the greenness of a young group that had several players getting their first taste of postseason basketball. He was proven right with Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum all thriving as first-time postseason starters.

Their success had the cumulative effect of masking the absences of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Now, the lack of an alpha like Irving capable of creating his own shot is sticking out with every 40-point game James produces.

Al Horford, Boston’s only healthy All-Star, was never a dominant scorer, but more of a facilitator who worked well in a finely tuned system.

Horford started off the series strong but his scoring and assist numbers have declined over the last two games.

Lue’s move to reinsert Tristan Thompson back into the starting lineup in Game 2 is a huge reason.

Thompson has not only helped things move better on the offensive end for Cleveland, he’s combined with Larry Nance to make things difficult on Horford. Horford had just four shots and seven points in 30 minutes in Game 3. He scored 15 points in Game 4 but was just 5-of-13 from the field with one assist.

If the Celtics are going to get back to the by-committee style that got them here, it must begin with his leadership. To that end, Horford said they’ll focus on correcting their issues, but also won’t dwell on them.

“As a group, we’re excited to be back, going back home,” he said. “Obviously we understand the challenge of it. We can’t think about the past. We just have to worry about this opportunity. We have a Game 5 at home, and we have to make the most of it.”

Cleveland is hoping James’ once quiet supporting cast continues its surge in Boston.

Kevin Love just missed his third straight double-double in Game 4 and sharpshooters JR Smith and Kyle Korver were 12 of 19 from the 3-point line in Games 3 and 4.

Korver’s efforts have stood out.

At 37 years old he was all over the court scoring in Game 4, diving for loose balls and collecting three blocks. While he anticipated being sore from all the activity, Korver said playing “fun basketball” is still propelling a guy looking for his first ring after appearing in 124 playoff games for five different teams during his 15-year career.

“There’s not many of us `03 class guys still around,” James said of Korver. “I feel like we’re just cut from a different cloth because we’ve been around for so long. We have this work ethic and you see him every day putting in the work, putting his mind, his body into it. It’s not about his age.”

 

Report: Timberwolves would dump Thibodeau before trading Karl-Anthony Towns

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In the NBA, when it comes down to a struggle between an elite player and the coach/GM, who wins? The player. A top 10 NBA player is much harder to get than a coach. If you don’t believe it’s the player go ask David Fizdale or Kevin McHale or Paul Westhead or.. I could fill up the entire NBC server with instances, you get the point.

As the tension between Karl-Anthony Towns and coach/GM Tom Thibodeau has bubbled to the surface in Minnesota, some teams have called up Thibodeau and the Timberwolves to check on KAT’s availability in a trade.

But would the Timberwolves really trade Towns? If one side is going to lose this battle, it’s Thibodeau, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on The Russillo Show (hat tip Uproxx).

“I think their owner would trade management/the coach before he would trade Karl-Anthony Towns. I don’t think they would allow that. I just don’t believe they’d allow that kind of decision. And I don’t know that they’d want to trade him… he’s Karl-Anthony Towns, they’re not moving him, Towns is eligible for his extension this summer. You know Jimmy Butler… it’s more of a question of Andrew Wiggins. That to me would be, if someone was going to get moved — and I’m not saying anyone’s going to get moved — I think Andrew Wiggins is the one you’re going to look at first. Because you don’t have to make a decision on Towns and Jimmy Butler and one of those guys having to take less on an extension, because you can’t have three [max] guys.”

To be clear, Thibodeau isn’t going anywhere this summer (unless he makes some kind of a power play move, like trying to trade Towns). The Timberwolves improved by 16 games last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 — that was a step forward. Maybe not as big of one as some wanted/expected, but it wasn’t the kind of season that gets a coach/GM fired.

There’s also an odd dynamic in this with Jimmy Butler — he is Thibodeau’s guy. Butler has his back, and he can be a free agent in a couple of years, so if Minnesota wants to keep him then keeping the coach matters.

As for trading Wiggins, that is something to keep an eye on. Even if it’s not likely. After a disappointing 2017-18 season, there has been buzz around the league about the Timberwolves testing the market for Wiggins. The problem is Wiggins’ five-year, $148 million fully guaranteed contract kicks in next season — few teams want to take that on. To move Wiggins, Minnesota will have to take back bad contracts and/or send out sweeteners with him. Demand will not be high, despite Wiggins’ potential.

As Wojnarowski noted, both Butler and Towns have new contract coming up in the next couple of seasons, and both are clear max players. It puts Minnesota in a tight spot with the cap. They will be looking for some relief.

Just remember, if it comes down to Thibodeau or Towns, the player always wins. Especially a young, on-the-rise player.

Boston vs. Houston Finals? In 2-2 series, team with home court wins 80% of time

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Game 1 of the NBA Finals will see the Boston Celtics at the Houston Rockets starting May 31.

Or, at least that’s what the historic odds favor.

Most fans (and media/analysts) expect the Finals will still be Cleveland vs. Golden State, those are the two proven teams. However, as our own Dan Feldman noted, historically in a 2-2 series the team with two home games wins four out of five times.

Tuesday night, Houston looked every bit the kind of team that can stand up to the defending champion Warriors. Down 10 entering the fourth quarter, Houston’s improved ball-pressure defense wore down a Golden State team and took Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson (and in the fourth Stephen Curry) out of their rhythm. The Warriors couldn’t get the shots they wanted, didn’t get to the rim, went 0-of-6 from three and 3-of-18 overall in the fourth quarter. They looked like they were replaying the final games of the 2016 NBA Finals again (just with Durant). Meanwhile, Chris Paul was efficient and James Harden made plays that got Houston the comeback win. It was the kind of victory that can define a championship run.

Still, they need two more wins against a Warriors team that is loaded with All-Stars and has been to three straight Finals for a reason. Golden State believes it has another gear, now it needs to find it.

Out East, Boston heads home for Wednesday night’s game — the Celtics are 9-0 in the postseason and 22.4 points per 100 possessions better than on the road. Boston’s young role players have just been vastly superior on the parquet on both ends of the court. Plus, while the Cavaliers won Game 4, the Celtics won the last three quarters and seemed to find some defensive setups and plays that work for them.

Cleveland, however, has LeBron James.

Finally, we’ve got the kind of playoff drama we have wanted out of these conference finals.