PBT NBA Power Rankings: Heat on the top, Sixers fall to very bottom

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We have a new team at the top and the bottom of PBT’s weekly NBA Power Rankings. Miami’s defense is back and propelled them to a couple wins that have them back on top of the chart. It has taken some sustained losing — a real effort — on the part of a Sixers team that started fast, but Philly is finally on the bottom of the rankings. Where they seemed to strive to be.
source:  1. Heat (40-14, Last Week No. 2). The only people really concerned about LeBron James’ broken nose are the people who want to put him in Space Jam 2. What should catch the attention of the other contenders in the NBA is the way the Heat defended in beating the Thunder (and Bulls) — when they are focused on D Miami is hard for anyone to beat.

source:  2. Pacers (42-13, LW 4). Soft schedule this week (Lakers, Buck, Celtics, Jazz) which is exactly what a team needs as it tries to fit Evan Turner into the sixth man role. Turner can be a big upgrade for them but he’s going to have to play within the system in way he did not in Philly (where he could run and gun to his heart’s content).

source:  3. Thunder (43-14, LW 2).. There is a whole lot of “see, the Thunder aren’t as good with Westbrook” crap after he came back and the Thunder dropped two in a row. First off, Miami played one of its best game of the year and the Thunder lost to the Clippers because of their defense, not Westbrook. Second, you need to wait 10-15 games then see how the Thunder look. With the losses they are still 21-6 when he plays with Durant. Things are fine in OKC.

source:  4. Spurs (40-16, LW No. 6). They went 6-3 on the rodeo road trip and they did some of that damage without Tony Parker — Patty Mills stepped up with monster games after the All-Star break. Don’t sleep on how well this team survives injuries. Now the Spurs are at home and look to be locking down a top three seed in the West, likely top two. Again.

source:  5. Rockets (38-18, LW 3). They have still won 9 of 10 and have done it some improved defense but mostly a whole lot of offense. When James Harden was asked All-Star Weekend if this team was a contender he sounded like a guy not yet fully sold as he talked about growing and learning. I think they have more learning to do come the playoffs.

 
source:  6. Clippers (38-20, LW 10). After watching the Clippers get ground down by Memphis then beating Oklahoma City thanks to their offense (nobody played good defense that game) I still have this question: Will the Clippers get out of the first round? Glen Davis will help in that regards, he is a huge upgrade over Ryan Hollins, currently the first big off the bench.

source:  7. Trail Blazers (38-18, LW 7). LaMarcus Aldridge being out with a groin strain is the first time a Portland starter has had to miss a game this season. They picked up a nice comeback win over Minnesota without him thanks in part to a big game from Thomas Robinson (and Wesley Mathews’ points in the fourth quarter).

source:  8. Grizzlies (31-24, LW 9).  They picked up a quality win over the Los Angeles Clippers last week now this week they have another interesting test against the Thunder.What really matters is beating teams like the Lakers and Cavaliers (both on the schedule this week) so they can climb past Dallas or someone else who stumbles and get the eighth seed (right now Memphis is the nine seed, on the outside looking in.

source:  9. Suns (33-22, LW 10). That we are still talking about these Suns as a playoff team when they haven’t had Eric Bledsoe for going on two months is why Jeff Hornacek is your leading Coach of the Year candidate. That award usually goes to the guy whose team most exceeded expectations, and that’s the Suns.

source:  10. Warriors (34-22, LW 11). They have put together a nice three-game win streak and continue to play quality defense even without Andrew Bogut. They make a swing through the Eastern Conference (Detroit, Chicago, New York and Toronto) and those are the kinds of games a team just 2.5 games from falling out of the playoffs has to win (at least most of them).

source:  11. Mavericks (34-23, LW 8). They keep winning but have done it mostly against a pretty soft schedule. Things get more interesting coming up this week with the scrappy Bulls and Spurs. Plus Memphis is just two games back and looming to knock Dallas out of the playoffs. They need more key wins.

source:  12. Bulls (29-25, LW 13). Winners of five in a row, including over the Nets and Raptors — that makes Chicago this weeks “third best team in the East.” That the Bulls sans Rose and Deng are playing like this is a tribute to Tom Thibodeau’s culture, and another sign of where the East really stands.

source:  13. Raptors (30-25, LW 12). Kyle Lowry stayed put at the deadline, the Raptors continue to play quality defense and now the target is not just making the playoffs but winning the Atlantic, having home court in the first round and advancing to the second. With the easiest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way winning the division is very doable.

source:  14. Nets (26-28, LW 14). Lost in much of the Jason Collins talk — the Nets could use his skill set. Collins is a good post defender, sets strong screens and is strong on the boards. In certain match ups the Nets need those skills, they can still be a bit soft.

source:  15. Wizards (28-28, LW 15). If they lose Nene for the rest of the season it’s not good — Washington’s defense was +6.7 per 100 possessions better when he was on the court. When Nene, Marcin Gortat and John Wall played together the Wizards outscored opponents by +10.1 per 100 possessions and had an elite defense. Without that hard to see them advancing past the first round.

source:  16. Bobcats (27-30, LW 19). The sweep of a home-and-home with Detroit this week was huge for solidifying a playoff spot in the East. The win over Memphis was a big step that direction, too. Now though a tough week on the road at San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

source:  17. Timberwolves (27-29, LW 18). This team really misses the offense that Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic bring — they need to scoring from those two to beat good teams because the Timberwolves are not a good defensive team. At all. Which is why they will miss the playoffs (they can’t make up 6.5 games at this point).

source:  18. Hawks (26-29, LW 16). This is a team falling fast, snapping their eight-game losing streak against the Knicks but with All-Star Paul Millsap out (at least a couple more games with a knee bruise) you have to wonder if they can hold off the Pistons (3.5 games back) or Cleveland (5 back).

source:  19. Pelicans (23-32, LW 17). New Orleans was an amazing host for the All-Star weekend of festivities. I may have gained 20 pounds with all I ate. But the team may be eating to get over the three close losses last week, including letting the Knicks win and letting Nene beat them with a dunk.

source:  20. Pistons (23-33, LW 20). Had a chance to get in the playoff mix and instead got blown out in both ends of a home-and-home against Charlotte (they have now dropped four of five overall). Detroit could still get back in the playoff mix (Atlanta is banged up and sliding) but Detroit is going to have to defend a whole lot better than they are right now to make that happen. Not sure John Loyer can get them to do that.

source:  21. Cavaliers (22-34, LW 23). They were hot winning eight straight, and they look better with Jarrett Jack in the starting lineup, but when they ran into Toronto and Washington last week they lost. Cleveland needs some key wins to keep the playoff dream alive, and they have Toronto, Oklahoma City and Memphis on the schedule this week.

source:  22. Nuggets (25-29, LW 21). Brian Shaw consistently talks about the energy and will to compete that he doesn’t see in his Nuggets. He’s right. But it’s not as easy to get that out of a team as Phil Jackson made it look (Frank Vogel as well). Denver has won on of its last eight and has two against Portland this week.

source:  23. Knicks (21-35, LW 22). The idea of giving up the one decent trade chip they have in Iman Shumpert to land a short-term, modest upgrade at the point in Darren Collison was never a good idea. But now that they are waiving Metta World Peace it seems this is a team waiving the white flag on this season. That would be the smart thing to do, but what will Carmelo Anthony think?

source:  24. Kings (19-36, LW 26). They don’t have a big three in Sacramento, they have an “only three” — Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins accounted for 92 of the Kings 109 points on Sunday. Those three can play, the rest of the roster needs a lot of work. (And spare me the Jimmer Fredette talk, the Kings couldn’t get a second round pick for him at the deadline.)

source:  25. Lakers (19-36, LW 28). They are terrible but they are entertaining — Summer League sensation Kent Bazemore got 33 minutes on Sunday. Throw in Kendall Marshall with the free-flowing Mike D’Antoni system and you have a fun team to watch… usually watch lose, but at least it’s fun.

source:  26. Magic (17-40, LW 27). Glen Davis is gone via buyout, which means they can just make Tobias Harris the four full time and not have to showcase Big Baby. The Magic are a pretty good team at home lately but have a 15-game road losing streak.

source:  27. Celtics (19-38, LW 24). Check out Celtics blogs and you see a lot of talk about the players in the upcoming draft and available in free agency. As it should be. This fan base needs the Red Sox in Spring Training ASAP so they can focus on a quality roster for a while.

source:  28. Jazz (19-36, LW 25). Trey Burke looked good at first when he finally got back and healthy, but the league has figured out he can’t shoot and that’s an issue. He is shooting 28.3 percent from three in his last 10 games and 33.8 percent overall. He’s also shooting just 46.2 percent in the restricted area and 40 percent in the paint overall. He can’t finish. That is the summer goal.

source:  29. Bucks (10-45, LW 30). They picked up a win over Orlando and that was enough to move them out of last in these power rankings in a very long time. Don’t worry, they have still lost 12-of-14, they will still have more ping-pong balls than anyone, but right now they play harder and better than one team.

source:  30. 76ers (15-41, LW 29). Their 10-game losing streak got them here, but they can bounce out of the cellar next week if they can win the big Monday night “showdown” with the Bucks. Somebody will win that game, it’s in the NBA rulebook.

Bucks to retire jersey Marcus Johnson’s number

via NBA.com
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Marcus Johnson is a Milwaukee legend. He averaged 21 points a game in his seven seasons with the Bucks and is sixth on the all-time franchise list in points (10,980), is its all-time leader in offensive rebounds (1,468), is third in total rebounds (3,923), and made 4,546 during his time in Milwaukee. He is now a color commenter for the team.

Now, the team is going to retire his No. 8.

The ceremony will be March 24, a story broken by the Journal-Sentinel.

Johnson will be the ninth Bucks player to have his number retired and the first since the team’s move to its new home Fiserv Forum.

Current Bucks legend Giannis Antetokounmpo told the Journal-Sentinel he was happy. Antetokounmpo turned to Johnson at points for help with footwork, post moves, and more.

“I’m really happy for him, I think he deserves to have his jersey retired,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s amazing. He’s just sitting down there like a normal person, but this guy was one of the best players in the league when he was playing. … He’s a legend.”

Johnson won an NCAA national championship at UCLA under the legendary John Wooden before going on to an NBA career that included five All-Star appearances and three All-NBA teams.

Paul George hits game winner, lifts Thunder past 76ers 117-115

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Paul George converted a four-point play with 5.1 seconds left, sending Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder to a wild 117-115 victory over Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday.

George’s clutch shot capped a wild finish that included another memorable exchange with Westbrook and Embiid. Westbrook hit the floor out of bounds under the basket after a foul by Embiid late in the game, and Westbrook fouled out with 14.9 seconds remaining after he got Embiid while shooting a 3-pointer.

Embiid made all three foul shots, tying it at 113, and Jimmy Butler‘s driving layup put Philadelphia in front with 6.9 seconds to go. But George drained a 3 while being fouled by Butler and made the foul shot.

Philadelphia had one last chance, but Butler missed a 3-point attempt in the final seconds. The 76ers have lost 19 in a row to the Thunder.

George finished with 31 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Westbrook had 21 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for Oklahoma City, and reserve Dennis Schroder also scored 21 points.

The Thunder had dropped five of six, including a 138-128 overtime loss against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.

Embiid, who was a game-time decision because of back tightness, had 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists. JJ Redick scored 22 points for Philadelphia, and Ben Simmons finished with 20 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists.

Oklahoma City led by as many as 16 points in the first quarter, but Philadelphia rallied in the second and trailed 59-56 at the break.

 

Rumor: Suns, Magic have inquired about Knicks’ Frank Ntilikina

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Where do the Knicks stand on Frank Ntilikina, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft (taken ahead of Dennis Smith Jr. Zach Collins, and Donovan Mitchell)?

This should tell you all you need to know: The Denver Nuggets decided to cast Emmanuel Mudiay aside and the Knicks traded for him and instantly Mudiay jumped Ntilikina on the depth chart.

Ntilikina has played good defense but unimpressive offense for the Knicks this season and there is a thought from other teams around the league they may try to trade the young European.

A few teams are interested, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, but — shocker! — there may be a split in the front office about what to do between president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry.

Despite the Knicks’ clear lack of confidence in Ntilikina, teams have inquired about the 20-year-old, with the Magic and Suns expressing interest, according to a source. And this is where it gets interesting. There seems to be a debate within the Knicks on whether to deal Ntilikina. He was drafted by Mills and has supporters in the front office. But, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, Perry, who took the job after Ntilikina was drafted, recently approached the Atlanta Hawks to gauge whether the team was interested in dealing for the guard (Hawks have Trae Young and weren’t interested).

The Suns and Magic both desperately need point guards. However, neither are offering much in trades knowing that come free agency next July there will be better, more established targets — D'Angelo Russell, Terry Rozier, among others.

Ntilikina is a good perimeter defender whose skills could be developed in the right situation into a rotation point guard. Probably. But because the offers will be lowball, the Knicks would essentially just be dumping the No. 8 pick of a season ago, a guy who is only 20 years old. That would be a mistake — if the Knicks can’t get decent value back, keep Ntilikina and try to develop him themselves. Point guards take longer to come around in the NBA, maybe Ntilikina will develop into a player the Knicks want to keep.

But the rumors are out there and it’s something to keep an eye on.

Markelle Fultz returns to Philadelphia to do shoulder rehab with team

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Markelle Fultz is back with the 76ers.

Not in uniform for games, but he is back from Los Angeles and in Philadelphia working out with the team to recover from thoracic outlet syndrome, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story, then Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia confirmed it.

Fultz was in the arena for the Sixers game Saturday against the Thunder on national television (though not suited up to play).

There is no timetable for Fultz’s return, although his agent has said he expects Fultz to be back on the court this season. Whether that would be with the Sixers is another question, teams have called about the availability of the No. 1 pick from the 2017 NBA Draft, but the offers have been so lowball that none of them have been seriously considered by Philadelphia.

After consulting with a number of specialists just a few weeks into the season (and just after the Jimmy Butler trade), the 20-year-old Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a pinching of the nerve through the collarbone area. Since December he has been in Los Angeles is doing physical therapy to relieve the issue.

Fultz has returned to Philadelphia and is continuing that therapy.