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.

Jordan Clarkson urges NBA to allow players to compete in more global events

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The NBA is trying to walk a fine line. On the one hand, the league and its owners want to globalize the NBA — it is the best, most watched basketball league on the globe and they want people in Europe and Asia to follow the NBA the way American soccer fans follow the Barclays’ Premiere League. That will make the owners more money, and never forget this is a business first, second, and third. With that, the owners allow players to compete for their native countries in major events, such as the FIBA World Cup or Olympics.

However, there is a “club vs. country” tug of war in the NBA. Players want to represent their countries — and sometimes are pressured to do so — while NBA teams see injury risk. They look at the story of Dante Exum blowing out his ACL playing for Australia as a cautionary tale.

So when the Cavaliers’ Jordan Clarkson wanted to play for the Philippines in the Asian Games (his mother is a native of that country, so he is allowed), the NBA shot it down at first saying this tournament was not part of the agreement between FIBA and the NBA that allows the league’s players to take part in major international events (the Olympics, the basketball World Cup, etc.). However, the league eventually flipped and allowed a “one-time exception” for Clarkson (plus Houston’s Zhou Qi and Dallas’ Ding Yanhuyang).

Now Clarkson says he wants the NBA to allow players to compete in more global events, he told Agence France-Presse at the Asian Games.

“After being told no so many times, I refused to give up. I kept fighting,” he said. “I’m here now, ready to compete.”

“I think they get the point — in Asia kids are picking up a basketball. I feel like the NBA is allowing us to do our thing.”

Basketball is a growing sport in Asia — it’s huge in the Philippines already, and it’s growing fast there and in countries such as China. The NBA wants its foot in the door there. It wants to be part of that market — the NBA plays exhibition games in China every year for a reason.

The Asian Games — the second largest multi-national sporting event in the world behind the Olympics — is a good exception to make. Clarkson and other NBA stars playing there — including in the future — is good for the NBA.

However, the league is going to face a challenge trying to find that line in future years between promoting the game and the NBA internationally and protecting its investments in its players.

Watch the top 60 blocked shots of last NBA season

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We love blocked shots. One player is attacking the rim, another gets in his way and rejects that shot. Frankly, we overestimate their importance on defense at points (because it’s a quantifiable stat in a world where defense is hard to quantify), but they matter.

And they are fun.

Check out the top 60 blocks from last season, as put together by NBA.com. It all starts with a chase down block by Kevin Durant (who has improved his rim protection in recent years) and ends with Anthony Davis showing why he is a beast.

It’s Sunday, and what else are you going to do? Watch preseason football?

Grizzlies expected to bring rookie Jaren Jackson along slowly

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Jaren Jackson was one of the standout rookies of Summer League. It started in Salt Lake City at the Jazz Summer League, where he looked like the future of the NBA five — knocking down threes, being athletic enough to run the court on the break, blocking shots, and being physical inside. In Utah, he averaged 15.7 points per game and five boards a night.

Expect the Grizzlies to bring Jackson along slowly, however, once the regular season starts. Jackson likely will come off the bench behind the starting frontline of Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green. That will not be popular with the fan base, but the Grizzlies want to trust their veterans and make a playoff push.

Look at what Grizzlies executive John Hollinger told the Peter Edmiston of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

I think whatever happens, we want it to happen organically, and not get ahead of ourselves, and make sure we’re taking all the right steps on him, and not getting too excited and skipping ahead….

“We don’t want to put him into overtly physical matchups yet because he’s 18 and his body is still filling out,” he said.

Strength is almost always the biggest challenge facing young big men in the NBA (and Jackson is still 18, he will turn 19 during training camp). These are grown men they are going against nightly, and while Jackson had plenty of strength to hang with the Summer League crowd, things are very different when the big boys come to play. Even in an NBA moving away from old-school power ball, it still matters.

While the Grizzlies will work to not rush Jackson, that plan is somewhat dependent on players with a history of injury issues staying healthy. Jackson is not going to get 30 minutes a night, he’s not going to get the touches that fellow rookies such as Trae Young and Luka Doncic will receive, and he may not be in the mix for Rookie of the Year. We’ll see how things shake out, but on a Grizzlies team looking to put itself in the playoff conversation, the coach likely will lean on veterans he trusts.

Where Jackson will rank in this draft class three years from now could be very different. He has the potential to be the star of this class (or at least one of a few breakouts, this is an interesting group).

Victor Oladipo: ‘I play nothing safe now’ because ‘that really didn’t get me anywhere’

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Victor Oladipo transformed last season.

Traded to the Pacers, he showed up to camp in better shape than he had ever been before, and with a new confidence in his handles and shot making. Coach Nate McMillan realized what he had, put the ball in Oladipo’s hands, and got out of the way. The result was a 48-win Pacers team where Oladipo was the league’s most improved player, made an All-NBA Team, the All-Defensive Team, and was an All-Star for the first time.

Oladipo, after going to the USA Basketball mini-camp in Las Vegas, is back in a Miami gym with the same team of trainers and staff who transformed his body and game a year ago. In a fantastic profile by J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star, Oladipo talks about the mental transformation he has undergone as well.

“I push the envelope. I play nothing safe now,” Oladipo says. “I’m the guy if we’re down two, I’m pulling up for three. I work too hard to not push the envelope. I used to be conservative but that really didn’t get me anywhere.”

His trainer, Al Watson, talked about getting Oladipo better prepared for defenses that focus on him and late-game situations.

“Last year we started doing a lot of tightening up his ball-handling skills. This year we took it to another level because I watch a lot of film on him,” Watson says. “In the fourth quarter, he’s like the point guard. Wanted to focus on a lot of combination moves, working on traps. It’s no secret now. They’re going to be double-teaming him.

“You look at the great players, Kobe, they had to do a little bit of everything. His shot from the perimeter may be off so he’s got to learn, ‘Let me get myself going, get to the mid-post, get some fouls.’ He’s got to be able to attack with all different facets of the game. We do a lot of sprinting, getting to your spots. Got to get open. I touch everything with in-game situation stuff.”

Oladipo’s team includes an off-the-court group trying to better position himself to make money off his stardom. He doesn’t want to play it safe off-the-court, either.

Indiana is going to lean heavily on Oladipo again. They added some depth — Doug McDermott, drafting Aaron Holiday — and are counting on more from players such as Myles Turner. However, by and large, the Pacers are running it back, and they are sneaking up on nobody this season. Internal improvement will be their key.

Oladipo is ready. He’s not playing it safe anymore.