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.

James Harden scores 37 but Joel Embiid’s 32 leads 76ers to 121-93 rout of Rockets

Associated Press
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid relished the chance to face James Harden, and wasn’t going to let a little back tightness stop him.

Embiid had 32 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Philadelphia 76ers past fellow MVP contender Harden and the Houston Rockets 121-93 on Monday night.

“I love playing against guys you guys say are better than me,” Embiid said.

Harden, selected Western Conference player of the week earlier in the day, finished with 37 points – giving him 20 straight games with at least 30.

Philadelphia played without four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler (sore right wrist), and Embiid more than made up for his absence.

“It was really fun for us,” Embiid said. “Don’t think it was fun for them.”

Embiid was questionable before the game with lower back soreness and coach Brett Brown hinted during pregame it might be best for the Philadelphia big man to sit this one out. Embiid clearly had other intentions.

“I want to fight with my teammates,” he said. “Whatever I have to do, I’ll do for my team.”

His 24 first-half points helped Philadelphia to a 65-50 halftime lead, and he punctuated an entertaining opening 24 minutes by pinning Harden’s layup attempt with 7.5 seconds left for a crowd-pleasing block. The duo had to be separated with 38.7 seconds left in the half, with each being issued a technical, after Harden took exception to Embiid’s foul on him.

The 76ers broke the game open in a dominant third quarter as they outscored Houston 29-13 to take a 94-63 advantage into the fourth. Ben Simmons stole Harden’s pass, made a layup and finished a three-point play after being fouled by Harden to make it 73-52. The lead kept growing, getting as large as 31.

“We were due for a game like this,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said.

Harden had 10 points in the third but missed four of six field goal tries as the 76ers hounded him defensively with double-teams and different looks. A tired-looking Harden’s air ball with 12.3 seconds left in the third showed the effects of the Philadelphia defense – and, perhaps, Harden’s offensive workload.

With the game out of range, Harden sat in the fourth.

“This is not a great way to rest him, but we rested him today,” D’Antoni said.

 

Doc Rivers seemingly blames Steve Ballmer for Clippers losing Joe Ingles

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Entering the 2014-15 season, the Clippers had to waive someone to meet the regular-season roster maximum. Their choice came down to Joe Ingles and Jared Cunningham, neither of whom had guaranteed salaries.

L.A. kept Cunningham and waived Ingles. Cunningham never made a significant NBA impact. The Jazz claimed Ingles on waivers, and he became a quality starter in Utah.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers was also team president at that time.

Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News:

When asked Wednesday if he regrets that decision, Rivers answered, “all the time.”

“I said it the day we released him that this was a bad decision and that we’re going to regret it,” he said. “Unfortunately I was working for someone who said we couldn’t eat a contract. We were begging to eat one contract and they said that will never happen and we had to let him go.”

Did Rivers confuse the timeline and think he was blaming Donald Sterling, the former Clippers owner who was notoriously cheap? Current owner Steve Ballmer bought the team and was announced as the owner before the start of the 2014-15 season, when Ingles was signed for camp and released. Ballmer has talked big about spending, and is Rivers’ boss right now. It’d be strange for Rivers to criticize Ballmer like this, but I also can’t figure out whom else he’d be referring to besides the owner. As team president, Rivers had no other oversight within basketball operations.

Maybe Rivers wanted to keep both Ingles and Cunningham and waive someone with a guaranteed salary – likely Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Ekpe Udoh or Glen Davis. But, in hindsight, the obviously right call would have been waiving whichever of those players was necessary to keep Ingles.

The frequent criticism of the Clippers about Ingles is somewhat unfair. They brought Ingles to training camp when other teams didn’t. The only reason they were positioned to waive him is because they were ahead of the curve on him.

But they also had the unique opportunity to evaluate him up close and still decided he wasn’t worth a roster spot.

How did that decision get made? Rivers passing the buck only adds confusion. It seemed as if it were his decision.

Luka Doncic becomes second NBA teenager to record triple-double, Bucks rout Mavs anyway

Associated Press
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Is Luka Doncic an All-Star?

He’s not a starter (in my vote, anyway) but in what is an exhibition designed to give the fans what they want, why not have Doncic in the game? He is what the fans want. I’m not convinced he’ll make the cut — at least in the ridiculously deep West, in the East he probably would — but it’s a legitimate conversation. The kid can flat-out ball.

Case in point, he dropped a triple-double on the Bucks on MLK Day, becoming only the second teenager to record an NBA triple-double. (The other was Markelle Fultz, who was 10-days younger when he got his, also against Milwaukee.) Doncic finished the game with 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists.

Doncic’s play was not enough to keep the Bucks from racking up their fifth straight win, and doing it pretty easily (although Dallas made an 11-0 fourth-quarter run to make it a little interesting). Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points and 15 rebounds, while Eric Bledsoe had 21 points, and Brook Lopez finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocks (that was Lopez’s first double-double with the Bucks).

Reports: Houston trades Carmelo Anthony to Chicago, who will waive him

Associated Press
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Carmelo Anthony‘s sabbatical is over. Sort of.

Anthony, who has been on the Houston roster but not with the team after that experiment crashed and burned 10 games into the season, will be traded to the Chicago Bulls. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story (and other reports have since confirmed it). However, he’s not going to be putting on a Bulls’ jersey.

He may not be waived until after the Feb. 7 deadline, in case the Bulls find a way to use his salary in a one-for-one trade (his salary cannot be combined with others in a deal because he was just traded). If/when he is waived, at that point there will be more roster shuffling around the league and a landing spot for ‘Melo may open up.

Houston’s trade is much like the trade from Oklahoma City to Atlanta last summer that moved Anthony off the Thunder roster. The Hawks waived him and Anthony signed with the Rockets. For the Rockets, this is about saving money.

The Bulls also make a little under a million in this deal. If another team signs Anthony, it would be a benefit for the Hawks.

It’s unclear where Anthony’s ultimate landing spot will be, although his agent has said there are options.

After his struggles in Houston — where the future Hall of Famer thought he deserved more than a bench role due to his stature, even though because of his declining offensive skills and defense that’s all he warranted — it’s hard to imagine another contender or even playoff team picking him up. Maybe a franchise going all in on the Zion Williamson chase but wants a bump at the gate from the name recognition Anthony brings him in? Although for teams trying to develop young talent why take the ball out of those young guys’ hands to let Anthony jack up contested twos? Most likely it will be a team battling injuries and looking for help.

In 10 games for the Rockets this season coming off the bench, Anthony averaged 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds a game, shot just 40.5 percent overall and 32.8 percent from three. The Rockets’ defense was 10.4 points per 100 possessions better when Anthony sat.