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.

Kelly Loeffler calls WNBA players supporting her opponent for senate ‘out of control cancel culture’

Sue Bird wears shirt supporting Raphael Warnock in senate race against Kelly Loeffler
Julio Aguilar/Getty Images
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WNBA players and Kelly Loeffler hit a stalemate.

Players want to oust Loeffler as Atlanta Dream co-owner because Loeffler – a Republican U.S. Senator from Georgia – holds political stances they disagree with and is advocating against the league supporting Black Lives Matter. Loeffler said she won’t sell, and the league won’t force her out.

So, players have turned to Loeffler’s senate race, wearing “VOTE WARNOCK” shirts in support of Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock.

Holly Rowe of ESPN:

Loeffler statement:

ATLANTA—Today, political outsider and conservative businesswoman Kelly Loeffler issued the following statement in response to WNBA players wearing “VOTE WARNOCK” t-shirts. The shirts endorse Kelly’s Democrat opponent, Raphael Warnock, following her criticism of the league’s embrace of the Black Lives Matter political organization.

“This is just more proof that the out of control cancel culture wants to shut out anyone who disagrees with them. It’s clear that the league is more concerned with playing politics than basketball, and I stand by what I wrote in June:

“We come together around sports, but promoting a political agenda divides us rather than unites us. The lives of every African American matter, and there’s no place for racism in our country. But I oppose the BLM political organization due to its radical ideas and Marxist foundations, which include defunding the police and eroding the nuclear family. On the other hand, our flag represents our values of freedom and equality for all. If we can’t unite behind our flag, much less the national anthem during this struggle, then what keeps us together? It’s sad to see that there’s more interest in tearing our country apart than in solutions that bring us together. I’ll continue to defend American values and our flag, because this is not a game – it’s the future of our country. “

“Cancel culture” is a vague term with shifting definitions. But people supporting voting for one political candidate over another? That comes nowhere near any reasonable definition of cancel culture.

WNBA players are not just basketball players. They’re human beings with varied interests – including politics. That should come perfectly naturally to a self-described “political outsider” who’s a sitting senator and running for re-election. If it’s reasonable for Loeffler to be interested in politics (it is), it reasonable for WNBA players to be interested in politics.

As far as Loeffler restating her previous points, she remains errant.

Writer recants report that Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because team didn’t spend enough

Pacers executive Larry Bird
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The report from ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan that Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because the team didn’t spend enough?

Never mind.

Pacers release:

Statement from Larry Bird

“A published report indicated that I left my position as President of Basketball Operations in 2017 because ownership was not willing to spend “big money” and that it frustrated me enough to step aside. Nothing could be further from the truth. I want everyone to know I left there because it was time for me to move on from the Pacers.

“I had worked with Kevin Pritchard and at that time I felt Kevin was ready to take over and he has proven that. I can’t thank Herb and Mel Simon, along with Pacers Sports & Entertainment, for the opportunities to, at first, coach, and then later move into the front office.”

Statement from ESPN senior writer Jackie MacMullan:

“About three weeks ago during a discussion on the podcast The Hoop Collective, I misspoke when I expressed my opinion regarding the business practices of the Indiana Pacers, and inferred that Larry Bird had been frustrated during his time as team president. It was a careless remark, based solely on my opinion, and therefore should have never been said. Larry Bird never expressed those feelings to me, and I apologize to both Larry and team owner Herb Simon for poor choice of my words.”

I don’t know why the Pacers bothered quoting Bird, who still works for the organization as Advisor to the President of Basketball Operations. MacMullan’s clear recantation says everything necessary (and speaks to her integrity and humility).

It’s good this story got cleared up.

Some things that remain true:

Three Things to Know: Is it time to worry about the Laker offense?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Is it time to worry about the Laker offense?

The Los Angeles Lakers have the worst offense in the bubble.

We’re not just talking about the 86 points on 35.2% shooting in Wednesday’s loss to Chris Paul and the Thunder, although that was a low point.

Four games into the NBA’s restart, the Lakers are scoring less than a point per possession while shooting 39.4% overall and 25.2% from three. Their offense has been worse than the Wizards in Orlando — and how many Wizards starters could you name right now? The Lakers’ starting five — LeBron James, Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Anthony Davis, and JaVale McGee — have a dreadful 74.4 offensive rating though four games (and a -30.1 net rating).

Or, since a picture is worth 1,000 words, take a look at the Lakers’ shot chart in the restart.

That’s a lot of red.

Should Lakers’ fans be worried?

Probably not. This is some small sample size theater with just four games. Coach Frank Vogel has been playing around with the lineup rotations, things haven’t been playoff tight. Plus, after the Lakers beat the Clippers opening night they had the top seed all but sewn up, there hasn’t been real motivation for L.A. to play its best.

The Lakers players feel they are just missing shots they normally hit.

“I think it’s just as simple as making shots. We’re getting good looks. Everyone’s not shooting the ball very well, especially from three…” Anthony Davis said on a Zoom call with reporters after the Thunder loss.

I think we’re fine. I don’t think this is anything eye-opening or something that we need to be afraid of. If our defense was bad, I think we’d be a little more in shock about our team and where we are but I think our defense is where want it to be. I mean, we clinched first. We’re fine.”

The bigger reason the Lakers are fine: LeBron James. The Lakers have a very motivated LeBron (although he has shot just 42% overall and 27.3% from three over the last four games). They still have Davis, who has been one of the MVPs of the bubble so far. Those two form the best pick-and-roll combo in the league, and so long as they are on the roster the Lakers have a chance to win it all.

The shooting is a concern — and not a new problem. The Lakers were a below-average shooting team in the season before the shut down (21st in the league on open look three-point percentage). We’ve watched LeBron’s play cover up the flaws in a team and take them to the Finals for years, and it certainly could happen again, but the Lakers shooting — and right now their entire offense — is a concern.

2) Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons leaves game with a knee issue

Non-contact injuries keep fans and coaches up at night, which is why Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons walking off the court with a limp and going straight to the locker room with a knee issue Wednesday was very concerning.

Simmons did not return to the game after that.

The good news is there is reportedly no swelling and the MRI came back clean, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. Officially, Simmons is day-to-day.

Simmons had eight points on 2-of-10 shooting when he left the court. Through three games of the restart — where he is playing more off the ball as a power forward — he’s averaged 11.7 points and seven rebounds a game.

3) Memphis lost again, now 0-4 and could fall out of the eighth seed

The Grizzlies came to the NBA’s restart in Orlando with a 3.5 game cushion for the eighth seed, all they had to do was hold on to that through eight games. Now, after and 0-4 start, that lead is down to just one game over Portland.

On Wednesday, Memphis couldn’t slow down what had been a previously struggling Utah offense and lost 124-115.

The Grizzlies next four games? The Thunder, Raptors, Celtics, and Bucks. Memphis is going to have to find a couple of wins in there without Jaren Jackson Jr., who is out for the rest of this season with a torn meniscus in his left knee.

Before games started in the bubble, the idea of two teams passing Memphis — meaning the Grizzlies would fall even out of a play-in series for the eighth seed — seemed impossible. Right now, both the Pelicans and Spurs are just two games back, and both have soft schedules the rest of the way.

Memphis wanted to get some playoff experience for their talented young roster during the restart. Well, this is it — every game becomes must-win now for the Grizzlies. They need to be a focused team that finds another gear. For them to hold on and get in a play-in series will require a couple of wins in their last four.

The race for eighth in the West remains the best thing at the NBA restart. On Thursday Portland faces Denver, while New Orleans takes on winless Sacramento.

LeBron James: On behalf of basketball community, we won’t miss Donald Trump’s viewership

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NBA players kneeled for the national anthem.

President Donald Trump called the protest – which is meant to call attention to racism, particularly through police brutality – “disgraceful” and said he stopped watching games.

And in yet another predictable turn in this news cycle, Lakers star LeBron James fired back at Trump.

LeBron:

I really don’t think the basketball community are sad about losing his viewership, him viewing the game.

And that’s all I’ve got to say. I don’t want to – I’m not going to get into a – because I already know where this could go, where it could lead to for tomorrow for me. I’m not going to get into it.

But I think our game is in a beautiful position. And we have fans all over the world. And our fans not only love the way we play the game – we try to give it back to them with our commitment to the game – but also respect what else we try to bring to the game and acknowledge what’s right and what’s wrong.

And I hope everyone – no matter the race, no matter the color, no matter their size – will see what leadership that we have at the top in our country and understand that November is right around the corner. And it’s a big moment for us as Americans. If we continue to talk about we want better, want change, we have an opportunity to do that.

But the game will go on without his eyes on it. I can sit here and speak for all of us that love the game of basketball. We could care less.

LeBron has frequently criticized the president. Trump has also criticized LeBron. That’s how it goes.

In this case (and others), LeBron has the moral high ground. Kneeling during the national anthem is a patriotic act designed to make the United States a better place for all its people to live – something far more noble than saluting a piece of cloth during a song.

However, LeBron is wrong to speak for the entire basketball community. A lot of people love basketball. They don’t all hold the same political views. Some care about remaining in the good graces of the president of the United States, whomever that is. Some even care about the approval of Trump specifically.

Is there a limit on how much you love basketball if you’d stop watching because of a peaceful protest before a game? Obviously. But there’s still room to love basketball and also care about other things.

LeBron doesn’t have to personally dignify people who care both about basketball and Trump. But LeBron shouldn’t try to speak on their behalf, either.

LeBron’s rebuke would have been powerful enough (and more fair) on its own.