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.

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.