PBT NBA Power Rankings: Miami putting its foot down on the gas

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The PBT power rankings have returned with not a lot of change from last week — Miami, Indiana, San Antonio and Oklahoma City are the top four (in whatever order you wish) then there is a gap to the Clippers, Rockets and teams trying to knock on that door. Meanwhile the Sixers look like they really might go 0-36 to end the season.


 
source:  1. Heat (42-14, Last Week No. 1). Miami is 9-1 in its last 10 games and, just as it did last season, is starting to find its focus and a groove as the playoffs near. They are just 2.5 games back of Indiana in race for top in the East, and LeBron is back in the conversation with Kevin Durant for MVP. But they really could have used Caron Butler (or Danny Granger).

 
source:  2. Pacers (46-13, LW 2). Evan Turner is still trying to find his groove — he shot 8-of-14 vs. Boston then 2-of-9 vs. Utah. He needs to find it fast. Last week’s soft schedule is gone as this week it is the Warriors, plus on the road to face the Bobcats, Rockets and Mavericks.

 
source:  3. Spurs (43-16, LW No. 4). San Antonio is starting to get healthy — Sunday night even Tony Parker was back and he looked surprisingly sharp in the win over Dallas. Interesting showdown this week vs. Miami, but with a lot of home games the next couple weeks look for them to make a run at OKC and the best record in the West.

 
source:  4. Thunder (45-15, LW 3).. After a couple rough games as he tried to shake the rust off, Russell Westbrook shot 11-of-13 on Sunday. That’s good, the Thunder are going to need a lot of offense with Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha now out until about the start of the playoffs. Steven Adams and Perry Jones are now starters in OKC.

 
source:  5. Clippers (41-20, LW 6). The addition of Danny Granger drew a lot of attention this week, and while he’s an upgrade over Antwan Jamison he is not a massive upgrade over Jared Dudley (Dudley has shot better from every spot on the court this season). Glen Davis is the real buyout season steal — he is a massive upgrade over Ryan Hollins and will get as many minutes as he can handle. Is that enough of an upgrade to have the Clips in the Spurs/Thunder class?

 
source:  6. Rockets (40-19, LW 5). In their last five games the Rockets have lost to the Warriors and Clippers, beaten the Suns. On the schedule this week is Miami, Indiana and Portland (and at Orlando, where Howard remains infamous). Next week it’s the Thunder. Bulls and Heat again. We’re about to see just how good Houston really is right now.

 
source:  7. Trail Blazers (41-18, LW 7). Winners of five in a row without LaMarcus Aldridge — that is big, I don’t care if the schedule was pretty soft in that stretch. This is how they hold on to a top 4 seed. The streak could reach 7 hosting the Lakers and Hawks, but then it’s a tough Texas road swing.

 
source:  8. Grizzlies (33-25, LW 8).  So maybe Dave Joerger can coach just fine once you give him a healthy roster with a few more offensive options. Memphis is hot and just 1.5 games back of the eighth-seed Suns, but they are going to have to win on a heavy road schedule the rest of the way to fully close that gap, including three games this week.

 
source:  9. Bulls (33-26, LW 12). Key to the Bulls hot play recently is that Joakim Noah is giving them offense — he had a triple-double Sunday and the Bulls have broken 100 in four straight games. They have won 9-of-10 but have big tests vs. Memphis, Miami this week.

 
source:  10. Warriors (36-24, LW 10). They are 2-2 so far on a six-game road trip with the Pacers and Celtics remaining on the docket. So 3-3 looks possible. I thought Steve Blake was a great deadline move by the Warriors but he’s been pretty meh so far, still trying to find his way in their systems.

 
source:  11. Mavericks (36-25, LW 11). Vince Carter has gone retro with a fun little scoring run of late — at least 15 in each of the last five games — but the loss to the Spurs on Sunday was a reminder that as constructed this is a third tier team in the West. Very likely they are a one-and-done playoff matchup, and if the Grizzlies are the eight seed teams would much rather face Dallas.

 
source:  12. Suns (35-24, LW 9). This is a tough week on the schedule — Clippers, Thunder and Warriors — but after that they have a softer schedule than the Grizzlies who are chasing them (Memphis spends a lot more time on the road). The Suns might steal one this week with Goran Dragic back and sparking their offense again.

 
source:  13. Wizards (31-28, LW 15). Winners of six in a row including dramatic triple-overtime win over Raptors — doing it recently without Nene is even more impressive. The John Wall/Marcin Gortat pairing had some rough patches to start, but they have looked pretty good recently.

 
source:  14. Raptors (33-26, LW 13). DeMar DeRozan has scored 30 points or more in three straight games and averaged better than 26 points a game in February. What was impressive Sunday when he did it against Golden State was DeRozan was getting his shots within the flow of the offense. The ball is not sticking, there isn’t too much isolation. That bodes well for the future.

source:  15. Timberwolves (29-29, LW 17). They got Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin back on Saturday, which will certainly aid their dreams of a late playoff push. Problem is that to catch the pace the 8-seed Suns are on Minnesota will have to go about 19-5 the rest of the way. That’s asking a lot.

 
source:  16. Nets (28-29, LW 14). If they want to climb up to a top four seed and have home court in the first round they need to make up four games on Toronto or Chicago — which means beating the Bulls Monday night would be big.

 
source:  17. Bobcats (27-32, LW 16). Rough stretch for Charlotte with the Spurs and Thunder last week then the Heat and Pacers to open this week. They let Ben Gordon go but because he wouldn’t take a low-enough buyout to make them happy they waived him March 2, a day too late for him to land on a playoff roster this season. Agents notice that kind of thing and it doesn’t help the Bobcats come free agency.

 
source:  18. Cavaliers (24-37, LW 21). They have 3.5 games to make up on the struggling Hawks to climb into the final playoff spot in the East — Kyrie Irving clearly wants it as he got his first ever triple-double last week (against the Jazz). The Hawks have the easier schedule remaining so the Cavs need wins like this week against the Bobcats and Knicks.

 
source:  19. Hawks (26-32, LW 18). They are 1-9 in their last 10 games and are barely holding on to the final playoff spot in the East. Things don’t get easier this week on a West Coast road swing with the Trail Blazers, Warriors and Clippers on the docket. The Hawks really miss Paul Millsap and his return in the coming week or two would be a huge boost.

 
source:  20. Pistons (23-36, LW 20). No, it does’t took like Isiah Thomas is coming in to be GM of the Pistons, which is good news for fans of the franchise but bad news for us bloggers (Thomas would be a headline machine). The Pistons are just hard to watch because their defense is so bad. So very bad.

 
source:  21. Lakers (20-39, LW 25). The Lakers beat the Kings last week, making them not the worst team in the West. Much to the disappointment of a fan base now fully in tank mode (for a year). As we might have expected, MarShon Brooks fits pretty well in the free-wheeling Mike D’Antoni offense.

 
source:  22. Nuggets (25-33, LW 22). They are 2-10 in their last dozen games, and both wins were against the Bucks. Ouch. Ty Lawson being out just left this team rudderless on the court and there is nothing Brian Shaw can do about it.

 
source:  23. Kings (20-39, LW 24). DeMarcus Cousins got suspended one game last week for punching Patrick Beverley in the stomach, plus he picked up another technical (his 15th this season) and is one away from an automatic suspension. If Cousins wants to know why he doesn’t make Team USA this summer for the World Championships, moments like this are it.

 
source:  24. Jazz (21-38, LW 28). Maybe they caught Indiana on an off-night, but the Jazz picked up a moral victory against the Pacers last week. Of course, it was another loss in the standings. Trey Burke has had his ups and downs this season, but he’d still be third on my ROY ballot right now.

 
source:  25. Pelicans (23-36, LW 19). Losers of seven in a row but that could change this week with a soft schedule (Kings, Lakers, Bucks). Jrue Holiday is now out for the season as well as injuries have just decimated what could have been an interesting team.

 
source:  26. Knicks (21-38, LW 23). Carmelo Anthony is frustrated, but how much money is he willing to leave on the table to go to a contender? If the Bulls amnesty Carlos Boozer and dump Taj Gibson’s salary they will be able to offer ‘Melo within a couple million of what the Knicks can, but if I were Chicago I’d keep Gibson and try to get ‘Melo to take closer to $14 million (depending on other moves, but like $8 million less than the Knicks). See how bad he really wants to win.

 
source:  27. Magic (19-43, LW 26). Victor Oladipo has not looked good of late, but Tobias Harris is healthy and had 31 on Sunday, reminding us that he was a real steal a year ago and will be part of the future being built down there. Oladipo will too, but he needs seasoning.

 
source:  28. Celtics (20-40, LW 27). Rajon Rondo’s birthday AWOL wasn’t really that big a deal. That said he has looked pretty good when playing of late and that is likely going to spark a lot more Rondo trade talk this July.

 
source:  29. Bucks (11-47, LW 29). They didn’t just beat Philly last Monday, they destroyed them. Dominated them. Which really says more about the Sixers than anything, but the Bucks played the Pacers better than you would think last week and this week the schedule is soft enough we could see another win.

 
source:  30. 76ers (15-45, LW 30). Coach Brett Brown said he isn’t sure his team can win another game this season — they lost to the Bucks and Magic last week. I’m not sure I can watch another Sixers game this season, it’s that ugly.

Trail Blazers reportedly tried recently to get Trevor Ariza to join them in bubble

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Trevor Ariza opted-out of playing for Portland in the NBA’s restart so he could spend time with his son. Due to a custody case, he had a limited window to visit and he chose family over basketball.

However, as his custody window shifted and Portland started to look at a deeper playoff run — and maybe a matchup with the Lakers in the first round — some Trail Blazers players tried to get Ariza to come to the bubble after all. If Zion Williamson and others could leave the bubble for family emergencies, why couldn’t Ariza be let in, the players asked?

That plan didn’t work out, reports Chris Hayes of Yahoo Sports.

But because his visitation period had been amended with a conclusion date now near the start of August, there was some optimism among the players that Ariza might be allowed into the bubble to further strengthen their chances of a deep playoff run. If the Trail Blazers were to snag the final playoff spot, they would face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round and a pesky Ariza would have been useful guarding James.

The possibility was explored, but sources said the Trail Blazers had to have previously applied for a hardship waiver or a late-arrival form for Ariza to be considered for entry into the bubble. Even if those steps were taken, the league would have likely denied the request because Ariza chose to opt out, wasn’t included on the restart roster, and didn’t arrive with his team on July 9.

The league put together strict rules about who could and couldn’t be inside the bubble — rules agreed to by the players’ union. Those rules are working at keeping the virus out. The league was not going to bend the rules for Portland now.

Ariza chose time with his son and wanted it bad enough to give up between $1.1 million and $1.8 million in salary (depending on how far the Trail Blazers got). Nobody should knock that choice; it was his to make, and picking family is never the wrong option.

Ariza is under contract for $12.8 million with Portland next season, but only $1.8 million of that salary guaranteed next season. If Portland wants to reduce payroll, they can buy Ariza out and make him a free agent at age 35. There would be suitors, Ariza has proven to be a helpful glue guy on good teams.

That glue just can’t help Portland this season.

No positive COVID-19 tests from 343 players in NBA bubble last week

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As has happened the past few weeks, Wednesday the NBA and NBPA announced that there were no positive tests among the 343 players tested for COVID-19 in the past week at the league’s restart campus in Orlando.

The NBA has had no positive tests from players inside the bubble.

The NBA’s plan for a restart began with testing players in their home markets before they arrived in Orlando (a number of players tested positive, and were quarantined/treated in those markets). Once teams arrived in Orlando, players were quarantined and tested again. The goal was to keep the virus outside of the bubble.

That has worked through one week of games.

The league did send a memo to teams reminding them players and staff need to wear a mask while on the NBA campus (when they were not practicing or playing games). The goal is to contain any outbreak, should the virus get into the bubble. That outbreak has yet to happen.

At least so far. There are about two months of games remaining on the NBA campus, family members will arrive next month, and there are still other ways the virus could penetrate the bubble. The league isn’t celebrating victory yet.

But so far, so good.

NBA Power Rankings: Toronto looks like best team in bubble so far

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Things in the bubble are getting interesting — young teams are taking it seriously, while some playoff-bound teams see it more as an extended exhibition season. That is leading to upsets and movement in our power rankings.

EDITORS NOTE: We are not including the eight teams not invited to the restart in the rankings the rest of this season.

Lakers small icon 1. Lakers (51-15, 2-1 in bubble, Last week No. 2). Of course, LeBron James has been good in the bubble restart — 19.3 points and seven assists a game — but Anthony Davis has been the early bubble MVP. He was a beast and feasted against Utah Monday, scoring 42 points with 16 rebounds despite being matched up against reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert for much of the night. Davis led the Lakers to the win sealed them as the No. 1 seed in the West.

Raptors small icon 2. Raptors (48-18, 2-0, LW 4). The win over the Lakers was a reminder — Toronto is a contender (but I still have to rank the top-seeded Lakers higher, I’d take them in a series). The Raptors have been the best defensive team in the bubble with sharp rotations and smart schemes (just ask LeBron and AD). On the other end of the court they can get scoring from a variety of players: Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet (he dropped 36 on the Heat), among others. Do not sleep on the Raptors. Possible second-round preview against the Celtics on Friday.

Bucks small icon 3. Bucks (54-14, 1-3 in bubble, LW 1). The Bucks are treating the bubble games like the preseason, a slow warmup to when things matter. It hasn’t been all bad, Gianni Antetokounmpo has looked every bit the MVP when called upon, and the Bucks’ defense is locked in — they held James Harden to 5-of-14 shooting and 24 points, while the Rockets as a team shot 39.6%. But Mike Budenholzer sat Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton for the second half against the Nets (a loss), and they aren’t taking the won/loss record seriously. They are easing into the games that matter, something their record over the first 65 allows them to do.

Clippers small icon 4. Clippers (45-22, 1-2, LW 3). Both of the Clippers’ losses in the bubble have been close ones (Lakers opening night, the Suns on Devin Booker’s game-winner), and they have been shorthanded without Montrezl Harrell (they just got Lou Williams back on Tuesday). Paul George and Kawhi Leonard have played well, and the L.A. defense has been strong, but these Clippers feel like the ones we watched for most of the season, just waiting for them to get healthy and find some chemistry together. We’re still waiting for the switch to flip with this team.

Rockets small icon 5. Rockets (42-25, 2-1, LW 6). Milwaukee’s defensive strategy is “protect the paint at all costs, we’ll give up some threes” played into Houston’s hands and the Rockets launched 61 from beyond the arc. However, it was a stretch of good defense in crunch time of that game that turned heads — the Rockets have not been a great defensive team in the bubble (18th in net rating), but they’ve been good enough when it mattered. Danuel House and Ben McLemore have stepped up with Eric Gordon still out.

Thunder small icon 6. Thunder (41-25, 1-1, LW 7). OKC has played good defense in the bubble, and having Andre Roberson back in the rotation certainly helps with that (and is just a good story after he missed 900+ days due to injury). Despite the OT loss to Denver, the Thunder remain one of the best clutch teams in the league, which makes them a very dangerous first-round playoff opponent. Dennis Schroder is out of the bubble for the birth of his child but is expected to return.

Heat small icon 7. Heat (43-25, 2-1, LW 8). Knocking off Boston while Jimmy Butler had the day off was a message game — Miami is going to be a very tough out come the playoffs. The Heat have been a top-10 offense and defense so far in the bubble (small sample size, but a good sign). Bam Adebayo has more than just the best name in the league, he has become a real problem for opponents, dropping 22 on Denver and then having 21 points and 12 boards against Boston. He’s playing at an All-NBA level.

Celtics small icon 8. Celtics (44-23, 1-2, LW 5). Despite a very off night from Jayson Tatum against the Bucks (he bounced back with 34 against Portland) and a minutes limit on Kemba Walker, the Boston offense has been good inside the bubble. The Celtics are 2-1 because they can’t get stops — a 117.9 defensive rating through three games. If the Celtics want to make noise in the playoffs, that is the side of the ball Brad Stevens and crew need to turn around.

Pacers small icon 9. Pacers (42-26, 3-0 LW 15). T.J. Warren is your didn’t-see-that-coming MVP of the bubble so far, scoring 119 points through three games and lifting the Pacers to that undefeated record in Orlando. Pair him with Victor Oladipo (who is playing… and collecting those checks) and Malcolm Brogdon and the Pacers have a formidable offense. Indy seems locked into the five seed and a likely first-round matchup with Miami. How will the Heat slow down Warren?

Nuggets small icon 10. Nuggets (44-22, 1-1, LW 9). Denver has not been able to get everyone healthy, in the bubble and on the court together during the restart. Even as Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton and the rest come back, it will take time to get them into game shape. Fortunately Denver has Bol Bol, who is an impressive playmaker on top of everything else.

Blazers small icon 11. Trail Blazers (31-38, 2-1, LW 13). Jusuf Nurkic is back and his passing and screen setting has helped spark the Portland offense to be one of the best in the bubble — but he hasn’t helped the Blazer defense much. That’s a concern, but the Blazers are now within 1.5 games of Memphis and thinking about passing them for the eighth seed (and their fans are already jumping the gun, looking ahead to the Lakers). Portland is going to need a lot from Carmelo Anthony and Gary Trent Jr. to make a run to the postseason.

Sixers small icon 12. 76ers (40-27, 1-1, LW 11). Philadelphia’s defense has been terrible through the first two games in the bubble — including giving up 53 points to T.J. Warren — although that has been covered up somewhat by strong play from Joel Embiid and a Shake Milton game-winner against the Spurs. There’s a soft stretch of the schedule ahead where Philadelphia can find its rhythm. It needs to, right now the 76ers aren’t scaring anybody in the first round.

Mavericks small icon 13. Mavericks (41-29, 1-2, LW 10). Luka Doncic became the youngest player in NBA history to record a 30-20-10 triple-double (besting some guy named Oscar Robertson by a year and a half). Thanks to that the Mavericks finally pulled out a close-game win, having lost their first two bubble games to Houston and Phoenix in close ones. The Mavericks seem on track to get the Clippers in the first round, a tough matchup, but if Denver sneaks up to the two seed the Doncic will make the Mavs an upset favorite.

Jazz small icon 14. Jazz (42-25, 1-2, LW 12). Utah has struggled to score through the first three games of the restart, and that has been particularly true when their bench units are on the court (this is where not having Bojan Bogdanovic as a secondary playmaker hurts). Jordan Clarkson has put up points off the bench (although consistency is not his middle name), but after that the depth falls off. As it was during the season, Utah’s defense has been good but not great.

Spurs small icon 15. Spurs (29-37, 2-1, LW 19). The Spurs four-guard starting lineup — Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, DeMar DeRozan, and Lonnie Walker IV — have the Spurs playing fast and winning games (including beating Memphis is a critical game if San Antonio is going to keep its playoff streak alive). Rudy Gay and Patty Mills are playing well off the bench, and for the first time in a couple of years the Spurs are a very entertaining team to watch.

Magic small icon 16. Magic (32-36, 2-1, LW 16). The loss of Jonathan Isaac is just brutal, a cornerstone of this franchise’s rebuild and he is likely out for all of next season as well. Orlando’s offense has been one of the best in the league at the restart (although soft defenses on the schedule helped with that) and it has them up to the seven seed in the East, where they will be able to avoid the Bucks in the first round (not that facing Toronto is much easier).

Suns small icon 17. Suns (29-39, 3-0, LW 20). The bubble Suns are undefeated and Devin Booker has the shot of the restart so far with his game-winning turnaround over Paul George to beat the Clippers. The biggest surprise in the bubble: How well Cam Johnson has played. He has taken a leap forward in Orlando (even with the rough game against the Clippers) and it’s a big boost for Phoenix.

Pelicans small icon 18. Pelicans (29-38, 1-2, LW 14). After dropping their first two games — and knowing they probably needed to win out to make the postseason — the Pelicans took Zion Williamson out of bubble wrap and found a way to beat the Grizzlies and keep their playoff hopes alive. The Pelicans have been good defensively but struggled on offense in the bubble, Williamson helps the offense but is still a defensive liability, that’s the end of the court he needs to improve upon. New Orleans’ schedule softens up from here.

Grizzlies small icon 19. Grizzlies (32-36, 0-3, LW 17). Losing Jaren Jackson Jr. for the rest of this season makes the Grizzlies much more vulnerable — they are not going to be able to fill his minutes with play nearly as good. Memphis has had a rough 0-3 start in the bubble, but all three losses are by single digits. They need to find some wins to keep the eighth seed but it won’t be easy with Utah, Oklahoma City, and Toronto the next three on the schedule.

Nets small icon 20. Nets (32-35, 2-1, LW 21). Caris LeVert has looked good as the focal point of the offense in the bubble — he had 34 points against Washington — although this is not going to be his role next season when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are on the court. With the win over Washington the Nets are all but a mathematical lock to make the playoffs (likely as the eighth seed).

Kings small icon 21. Kings (28-39, 0-3, LW 18). The playoff drought that goes back to 2006 is not ending in the bubble, not after the Kings coughed up all momentum losing their first two games at the restart. Buddy Hield has looked off — out of shape in the eyes of some scouts — and has shot 32.6% overall and 27.6% from three in Orlando. His contract extension kicks in next season.

Wizards small icon 22. Wizards (24-43, 0-3, LW 22). The 0-3 Wizards could be on their way to an 0-8 bubble record, but the goal here was to get run for guys like Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant. Both have played well but struggled once defenses started to focus more on them.

President Donald Trump: ‘I think it’s disgraceful’ NBA players kneel during anthem

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Everyone knew it was coming. As the vast majority of NBA players and coaches have kneeled during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and support of the Black Lives Matters movement, there would be politicians/talking heads who saw the opportunity to blast the league and score points with their base. They couldn’t pass it up.

Enter President Donald Trump.

In a phone call into Fox and Friends on Wednesday morning, the president ripped the NBA and its players for taking a knee during the anthem. It came with other over-the-top claims that Trump throws out like bread crumbs to pigeons.

“When I see people kneeling during the playing and disrespecting our flag and national anthem, what I do personally is turn off the game. I think it’s disgraceful. We work with [the NBA], we worked with them very hard trying to get open. I was pushing for them to get open. Then I see everybody kneeling during the anthem. That’s not acceptable to me. When I see them kneeling during the game, I just turn off the game. I have no interest in the game. Let me tell you this, plenty of other people out there, too…

“The ratings for the basketball are way down, as you know. I hear some others are way down, including baseball. We have to stand up for our flag, stand up for our country. A lot of people agree with me. If I’m wrong, I’m going to lose an election. That’s okay with me. I will always stand for our flag.”

Ratings for the NBA games from the restart are way up — TNT drew double its usual regular-season audience for the opening night games, and ratings have been up about 14% across the board for the games from Orlando.

As for the reaction to Trump’s comments around the league?

“I mean, so what? Really, I don’t even care,” was Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers comment. “We know that justice is on our side, right?”

Kneeling for the anthem is just a part of the social justice message from the league. The league has written “Black Lives Matter” on the court, players could choose to wear a number of social justice messages on the nameplate on the back of their jerseys, and players have spoken about causes in countless television and other media interviews.

More than talk, players have put their money behind causes, such as LeBron James pushing to register Black and other people of color to vote, and push back on voter suppression efforts.

Trump wasn’t done being wrong or over the top, mentioning himself in the same breath as Abraham Lincoln.

“Nobody has done better for our Black community than me. Nobody. With the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln; it’s true. Criminal justice reform, opportunity zones, best employment numbers in history. Again, nobody has done for the black community – by far. I’ll give the one exception: Abraham Lincoln.”

Everyone around the league expected this at some point. The reaction around the league has been a shrug, knowing the president is playing election-year politics the only way he knows how.

The Pelicans’ J.J. Redick summed up most people’s thoughts a week ago in an interview with Yahoo Sports, reacting to a different Tweet from the president.

“First of all, I don’t think anybody in the NBA cares if President Trump watches basketball. I couldn’t care less. As far as his base, I think regardless of the specificity of tweeting about the NBA, every tweet of his is meant to divide, every tweet is meant to incite, every tweet is meant to embolden his base.”