PBT NBA Power Rankings: Thunder stay on top, Bucks stay on bottom

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More and more I think Adam Silver’s first NBA Finals as commissioner will feature Indiana and Oklahoma City — which would be good basketball but not exactly Super Bowl ratings. Things can change, but those are the two best teams right now.

 
source:  1 Thunder (41-12, Last Week No. 1). We gave been praising Kevin Durant for his play with Russell Westbrook out, but lets not ignore Serge Ibaka — he is averaging 19.3 points a game on 65.7 percent shooting, plus pulling down 8 boards a game in his last 10. Really fun showdown Tuesday at Portland.

 
source:  2. Pacers (39-11, LW 2). They were winners of five in a row including an OT victory over the Trail Blazers before they decided to take the second half off Sunday against Orlando. Lance Stephenson will use his All-Star snub (I would have picked him, but he was a bubble guy) as fuel the rest of the season, but he has to keep playing within himself and not try to do too much.

 
source:  3. Heat (35-14, LW 3). They feel pretty locked into the second seed in the East — 3.5 back of the Pacers, 9.5 games ahead of the three seed Raptors. With that lack of motivation they still seem to coast and do things like drop games to the Jazz. Last season they snapped out of it and won 27 in a row, this team doesn’t look like a team with that kind of run in them.

 
source:  4. Rockets (34-17, LW 9). Winners of five in a row, and that includes victories over the Spurs and Suns. The real fuel of the run is an offense scoring 112.1 points per 100 possessions (third best in the NBA for that stretch) thanks to Dwight Howard and James Harden going on scoring streaks.

 
source:  5. Spurs (37-14, LW No. 10). Tim Duncan is not playing in the All-Star Game this year, and that is the league’s coaches gift to him — he certainly deserved a spot but it is known he wanted the weekend off. He got it. By the way, injuries or not the Spurs are 3-1 on the rodeo road trip so far.

 
source:  6. Clippers (36-18, LW 5). They got Chris Paul back Sunday night and the offense exploded (thanks in large part to the Sixers “defense”). Now come the two big questions: Can they build on the impressive play of Blake Griffin and the offense while CP3 was out? Can they improve their defensive consistency to a level that has them challenging the Thunder?

 
source:  7. Trail Blazers (36-15, LW 8). They are 5-5 in their last 10 and that includes losses to the Thunder, Warriors, Grizzlies and Pacers (although they did go to OT with Indy on the road). Read into that what you wish. The tough schedule continues this week with the Thunder then the Clippers on the second night of a back-to-back.

 
source:  8. Suns (30-20, LW 7). Goran Dragic is the biggest All-Star snub in the West, no doubt, and he showed it with a 34 points, 10 assists game against the Warriors. But in the end the NBA is about marketing and Kobe’s spot went to New Orleans’ Anthony Davis (the game is in New Orleans).

 
source:  9. Mavericks (31-21, LW 11). Winners of five in a row, they have moved up to a tie for the sixth seed in the deep West (tied with Phoenix). This race down the stretch for the final spots in the West will be one to watch — three games separate the six and nine seeds in the conference

 
source:  10. Grizzlies (27-23, LW 6). They simply did not look good in their last few games (a 1-3 week), Saturday night they set a record earning only one free throw all game. Which is really all about how much they miss Mike Conley.

 
source:  11. Warriors (30-21, LW 4). You think they are an offensive force, but they score 103.7 points per 100 possessions, which is 15th in the NBA. Middle of the pack. Average. In their last 10 games its 103 per 100. The defense and some spot shooting carries this team but they need to get more easy baskets and rely less on the jumper.

 
source:  12. Raptors (26-24, LW 12). In an ideal world, Kyle Lowry would have been an All-Star for Toronto. It’s not an ideal world. The Raptors went 2-3 on a tough road swing through the Western Conference but now are home for 8-of-10.

 
source:  13. Wizards (25-25, LW 14). How does the team that beat the Thunder and Blazers let Cleveland do whatever they want to them on offense? Tough couple games before the All-Star break, at Memphis and at hot Houston.

 
source:  14. Nets (23-26, LW 16). They have won 3-of-4 thanks to their radically improved defense (allowing just 97 points per 100 possessions in their last five games) but the real test for this team comes after the All-Star break when they head out on a seven-game road trip. They can win or lose the Atlantic Division in that stretch.

 
source:  15. Hawks (25-24, LW 13). They have lost three in a row and 10 of their next 13 are on the road (including the Bulls and Raptors this week). The Hawks continue to play solid defense but their offense in the post Al Horford era is a mess.

 
source:  16. Bulls (25-25, LW 15). The NBA’s grittiest team continues to do its thing — they are 11-7 since the Luol Deng trade. They just grind you down with defense and Joakim Noah is at the heart of that, he deserves headlines for things other than cursing at officials.

 
source:  17. Pelicans (22-28, LW 21). While others were deserving also make no mistake — Anthony Davis deserves to be an All-Star. He is putting up numbers, but the Pelicans offense can only go so far with Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson sidelined.

 
source:  18. Timberwolves (24-27, LW 17). They have dropped five of six and the reason is injuries — Nikola Pekovic is out, Kevin Martin is out and the Wolves are just banged up. The All-Star break couldn’t come at a better time for them.

 
source:  19. Nuggets (24-25, LW 18). The defense really misses JaVale McGee (he’s not perfect but he’s better than J.J. Hickson on that end) and now the offense is going to miss Ty Lawson for at least a few games with a broken rib. For his sake, let’s hope Andre Miller gets traded at the deadline.

 
source:  20. Bobcats (22-29, LW 20). Steve Clifford drew up a simple defensive system, one that could use the slower-footed Al Jefferson in the paint, and everyone has bought in, making Charlotte the sixth best defense in the league. That is how you build a foundation for a franchise going forward.

 
source:  21. Pistons (21-29, LW 22). Mo cheeks is out but there is no coach that was going to win as much as Joe Dumars expected with this roster — the big three of Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe don’t mess well together and Brandon Jennings at the point is, well, Brandon Jennings. Keep an eye on Monroe at the trade deadline.

 
source:  22. Knicks (20-31, LW 19). Carmelo Anthony’s shooting percentage by quarter: 1st 51 percent, 2nd 46.4 percent, third 44.8 percent, fourth 37.3 percent. What this shows me is the load the Knicks are asking Anthony to carry offensively every game is just wearing him down.

 
source:  23. Celtics (18-34, LW 25). If you were going to bet on one team to make a move at the trade deadline, smart money would go on Boston or Orlando. Teams are interested in guys like Brandon Bass, a veteran that can be pugged in at the four or five, start or play off the bench, and be solid.

 
source:  24. Kings (17-34, LW 27). They remain the one team in the NBA most capable of beating anyone or losing to anyone on a given night. Nice wins last week over Chicago and Toronto, then they fell to Washington and Boston.

 
source:  25. Magic (16-37, LW 28). They have won three in a row, the last of those an impressive come-from-behind victory over the Pacers Sunday. Rookie Victor Oladipo sparked it with a hot fourth quarter — his relentless aggressive, hard play is a good piece of the future for this franchise.

 
source:  26. Lakers (18-32, LW 29). Kendall Marshall is averaging 21.3 points per game created by assists since he joined the Lakers, that would be second best in the NBA for the season (trailing only Chris Paul). Even with all the other point guards healthy Mike D’Antoni needs to play this kid.

 
source:  27. Jazz (17-33, LW 23). Another team that could be selling at the deadline — Richard Jefferson has played well of late and could be caching the eye or teams looking for veteran with help. Marvin Williams has been solid, too.

 
source:  28. Cavaliers (17-33, LW 26). Chris Grant got fired and you have the feeling if Mike Brown hadn’t just gotten a five-year deal he might have been gone, too. This is an organization in need of a culture change and that takes time and a GM with a real plan.

 
source:  29. 76ers (15-37, LW 24). That loss to the Clippers Sunday night — by 45 points and it wasn’t that close — almost dropped Philly into the bottom slot in the power rankings. All this losing just has to wear on coach Brett Brown.

 
source:  30. Bucks (9-41, LW 30). The future in Milwaukee is Giannis Antetokounmpo and he will be in the Skills Challenge All-Star Saturday night. Focus on that and not the fact the Bucks haven’t won back-to-back games all season.

Second chance points, clutch LeBron defense earns Lakers win to go up 3-1 on Denver

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It’s a simple and obvious truth about any basketball game: The team that shoots better usually wins.

The Denver Nuggets shot 50.6% in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, including 10-of-28 from three (leading to a true shooting percentage of 62%). The Lakers shot 47.5% overall and 10-of-30 from three (a true shooting percentage of 59.7%). The Nuggets shot better Thursday night.

However, the better shooting team does not win when it gets crushed in another key area.

The Lakers grabbed the offensive rebound on 40.4% of their missed shots — including at three critical possessions in crunch time — and scored 25 second-chance points to Denver having six. Combine that with an aggressive and attacking LeBron James and Anthony Davis getting to the free-throw line 28 times — Denver as a team had 23 free throw attempts — and LeBron playing fantastic defense down the stretch on Jamal Murray, and a team can overcome a shooting deficit.

The result was the Lakers holding off a resilient Denver team to win 114-108, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. Game 5 is Saturday night.

While the Nuggets came back from 3-1 down on the Jazz and Clippers, this series feels different — Denver may have run out of miracles. The way the Lakers closed out this game showed why the Lakers will not go the ways of Jazz and Clippers.

Once again, Davis was the best Laker on the floor, scoring 34 points on 10-of-15 shooting plus playing strong defense (his light rebounding numbers, five in this game, are overblown because the Lakers as a team are rebounding well).

But there are two key reasons the won the Lakers the game — two critical reasons they were able to hold off a Denver comeback when the Jazz and Clippers faltered in similar situations:

• The Lakers were dominant on the offensive glass, as mentioned above. They got a second chance on four out of 10 missed shots (the league average is about 26-27% of missed shots become offensive rebounds). Dwight Howard was doing it early, Davis was doing it late (plus Rajon Rondo had a critical one), but the Lakers getting a second chance to score and run off some clock down the stretch changed the game.

• LeBron James asked to guard Jamal Murray down the stretch — in the final five minutes of the game Murray was 0-of-3 shooting.

“LeBron asked for the assignment and obviously I granted it…” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said postgame. “Nothing was really working in terms of trying to slow him down until ‘Bron took that assignment.”

Vogel isn’t kidding. Murray was torching the Lakers, getting into the lane, and finding a way to finish — including maybe the best layup of the playoffs so far.

Murray finished with 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting, but LeBron held him mostly in check down the stretch (Murray did hit four free throws).

LeBron also had a strong game despite his jumper not falling because he hunted mismatches, throwing the Denver defense into a scramble, plus LeBron commands a double team when he gets the ball at the elbow or on the block and that opens things up.

Another key for Los Angeles was a great first half from Dwight Howard, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds in the first half while keeping the ball out of Jokic’s hands. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 13 points.

Davis rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter, limped around on it, stayed in the game and made some plays down the stretch. A slowed Davis would be a reason for concern for the Lakers.

“My ankle feels fine,” Davis said postgame. “I’ve got tonight, tomorrow, before the game to get it back to where it is, but it’s good enough to play. I rolled it pretty bad, but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

If Denver is going to shock the world, it needs to keep Paul Millsap and his defense on the floor more, then the Nuggets need Gary Harris and other bench players to step up with big moments.

The Nuggets also need to find a way to slow LeBron and Davis. There may not be an answer to that question.

Watch Jamal Murray hit insane hand-switching layup around LeBron

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Are. You. Kidding. Me.

You are not going to see a better layup these playoffs than this one by Denver’s Jamal Murray, going around LeBron James near the end of the first half of Game 4.

Murray went up thinking dunk, had to change his mind because of LeBron, brought it down, went around him, and spun it in off the glass. Insane. It had some people on Twitter referencing the legendary Michael Jordan hand-switching shot. Not sure I’m willing to compare this Murray shot to a layup that helped launch a dynasty, but it’s close.

Murray had 16 in the first half but the Nuggets trailed at the break 60-55 in a high scoring first half. Anthony Davis had 19 to lead the Lakers.

Former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell “sad, angry, disgusted” with Breonna Taylor decision

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NBA players — like large swaths of the United States — are shaking their heads at the decision not to prosecute the police sho shot Breonna Taylor in her home. That includes LeBron James, who said the walls of Taylor’s neighbors got more justice than she did.

Now former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell has spoken out on the issue.

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We’re Sorry Breonna😔🤦🏾‍♂️

A post shared by Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) on

The hate and racism in too many of the responses to that Instagram post highlight the injustice and additional hurdles Black people in America have to clear every day.

Louisville has faced a night of protests and backlash to the decision by the grand jury, which included the two police officers getting shot (they both survived).

 

Report: Bulls paying Billy Donovan $6 million-plus annual salary

New Bulls coach and former Thunder coach Billy Donovan
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
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Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf just spent the NBA hiatus – at least if you looked beyond “The Last Dance” itself – getting dragged for not spending enough to give Michael Jordan another year of title contention in Chicago.

Paying to hire Billy Donovan is a way for Reinsdorf and the Bulls to repair their reputations.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I’d be surprised if all four years are fully guaranteed. Coaching contracts of this length usually contain a team option or two.

But that’s still a hefty salary. Especially in these times. Especially considering it was believed the Bulls would keep Jim Boylen for financial reasons.

Donovan left the Thunder despite them offering him a new contract. He likely knew he could get more elsewhere.

Credit Chicago for being the team to spend. The Bulls needed a solid coach after Boylen and Fred Hoiberg.

Donovan won’t solve all Chicago’s problems, but he should help on multiple fronts. This upgrade costs nothing but Reinsdorf’s money, which every Chicago fan is perfectly willing to spend.