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.

Terry Rozier on Celtics’ challenge: “Too talented, yeah. Too talented.”

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Too many mouths to feed.

Among the many “what is wrong with the Celtics?” theories the idea that there are too many players who want touches and shots had a lot of traction around the league. Last playoffs, then rookie Jayson Tatum, second-year player Jaylen Brown, and “scary” Terry Rozier had increased roles — and thrived. They were the alphas (along with Al Horford), the guys with the ball in their hands leading a team to the conference finals, and they liked it — these are young players trying to carve out a role (or, in Rozier’s case, prove to other team’s he’s a starting point guard) and they didn’t want to take a step back. But that’s what had to happen with the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to the rotation. The result was a lack of a pecking order on offense, uncomfortable sacrifices, and precious little of the fluid play that got them within a game of the Finals a year ago.

Rozier seems to agree with that theory, speaking to Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports in a story about Kyrie Irving’s adjustment to being a leader.

“I don’t think we’ve all been on a team like this,” Rozier told Yahoo. “Young guys who can play, guys who did things in their career, the group that was together last year, then you bring Kyrie and Hayward back, it’s a lot with it.”

When asked if the roster was too talented, Rozier didn’t back down.

“Too talented, yeah. Too talented.”

If everyone buys in, if everyone sacrifices (including Irving), if guys are willing to accept a role, all that talent can make the Celtics versatile and the team everyone expected. The team to beat in the East.

To get there will require Irving to be a leader — in words and actions. That’s more than just calling out the young core, it’s getting them involved and feeling like contributors so they are willing to make sacrifices. It’s doing the little things yourself. Can Irving do all that and turn Boston into the conference favorite we expected.

Or were Nets fans right, he is going to get frustrated and leave this summer?

The second half of this season in Boston is going to be fascinating.

Philadelphia signs Corey Brewer to 10-day contract in effort to add depth

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The Philadelphia 76ers remain a step behind Toronto and Milwaukee — and maybe Boston — in the Eastern Conference, despite adding Jimmy Butler to form a “big three” with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. One issue is getting those three to make sacrifices to their games and meld together. The second big issue is depth: J.J. Redick is their fourth best player, then things drop off a cliff.

Enter veteran Corey Brewer.

For at least 10 days, anyway.

The 76ers signed Brewer to a 10-day contract, the team announced Tuesday.

“For me, I love playing basketball. I just wanted another opportunity,” Brewer told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I feel like I did enough last year that I should be on a team. But sometimes things don’t work out the right way … you can’t look it like that. An opportunity is an opportunity. I get to come here, and I gotta prove myself…

“I’m like a glue guy,” he said. “I do all the little stuff. I play hard, I’m going to run hard, and I feel like the way Ben [Simmons] pushes it, that’s right up my alley.”

Brewer is the king of the leak out and may benefit from some Simmons passes that way.

Brewer split time last season between the Lakers and Thunder, and in OKC he showed he could play a role on the right team and shot 34.3 percent from three. That fit was not evident on the young Lakers, Brewer looked out of place and struggled with his shot, which is likely why he was not able to land a guaranteed contract this past offseason.

This is a 10-day contract, the Sixers can sign him to two of those before having to either let him go or commit to him for the rest of the season. This is likely the first in a series of roster moves over the next few weeks as Elton Brand looks to find the right pieces to go around his big three stars so the team can make a push this offseason.

Warriors, Nuggets battle for first in West

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Playing in big games has become the norm for the Golden State Warriors.

Not so much for the Denver Nuggets.

Tuesday’s matchup between the top two teams in the Western Conference is new territory for Denver. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, the Nuggets have been rebuilding and retooling, not competing for titles, but they have arrived this year and are challenging to be the best team in the Western Conference.

The winner of Tuesday’s game in Denver will sit atop the conference standings. Denver (29-13) has been up there for a while now, but the Warriors (29-14) might yet find another gear in the second half of the season as they pursue a third consecutive NBA championship.

They are about to get a new, big piece when DeMarcus Cousins returns this week.

The center, who signed a one-year deal in the summer, tore his Achilles almost a year ago. His season debut is projected to come on Friday at the Los Angeles Clippers. Golden State is expecting it will take time for Cousins to get fully immersed and integrated into the offense.

“We’re excited, but it’s a little daunting, too,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said in the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s not going to be simple just to plug him in. There’s going to be an adjustment period. He knows that, but it’s a fun challenge.”

The Nuggets have a big enough task stopping Golden State’s other stars. Guard Steph Curry, a two-time league MVP, hit 11 3-pointers in a 48-point effort to beat Dallas on Sunday, and then there’s Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to worry about.

And the Warriors have a revenge factor to use. The Nuggets beat them 100-98 in Denver on Oct. 21 when Juancho Hernangomez blocked Damian Jones‘ layup at the buzzer.

The Nuggets have been playing at a high level lately, especially at home, where they are 18-3 and have won their last 12. The latest was a grind-it-out 116-113 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, which might have been a perfect tune-up for the Warriors.

Denver has its own star power in center Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray. Jokic, averaging team-highs with 19.7 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, had consecutive triple-doubles last week and then clocked in with 40 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists against Portland.

With or without Cousins, Golden State will have a tough time handling the Serbian. But the Warriors are best when they force teams to adjust to them, and they come at teams from different angles. One night it could be Curry, the next Durant. When tuned in, Golden State is hard to beat.

The Nuggets are ready for the challenge after getting everyone’s best this season.

“As teams give us their best shot because we’re No. 1 in the West right now, everybody gives the Warriors their best shot,” said Murray, who is averaging 18.5 points. “We just know we have the home court, and we beat them last time here.”

PBT Podcast: Breaking down the MVP race, other NBA mid-season awards

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Patience is not the NBA community’s strong suit — we were talking MVP race the first week of the season.

Now, however, it’s time. Teams are more than halfway through the season and we have seen enough games, we have enough data to start discussing who is the frontrunners for all of the league’s end-of-season awards.

Is it James Harden or Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP?

Can anyone challenge Luka Doncic for Rookie of the Year?

It’s a deep field for Coach of the Year, but is Mike Budenholzer the front-runner and can Doc Rivers, Dave Joerger or someone else catch him?

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports talk about their picks at this point of the season and who is in the running long term.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.