NBA Power Rankings: Spurs, Clippers are your clear top two

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The Spurs and Clippers are both on double-digit winning streaks and that vaults both to the top of the PBT weekly NBA power rankings. At the bottom sit the Sixers and their 20-game losing streak — should that impact Michael Carter-Williams’ candidacy for Rookie of the Year? I don’t think it should.
source:  1. Spurs (50-16, Last week No. 1). Winners of 10 in a row and that gives them the best record in the NBA and 50 wins on the season (for 15 straight years, which is just insane). Heading into Sunday night they had the fourth best offense in the NBA in their last 10 games (110.2 points per 100 possessions) and third best defense (98.9 per 100). And you know they can sustain it.
source:  2. Clippers (48-20, LW 2). Going into the season we said “if they can defend they are contenders.” Over their last 15 games they have the second best defense in the NBA (99.7 allowed per 100 last 15; 98 in last 10 games). They are contenders. Danny Granger, given less rigid role by Doc Rivers, is thriving. Winners of 11 in a row with a soft schedule ahead.
source:  3. Pacers (49-17, LW 6). Winners of three in a row but they haven’t looked impressive beating Boston, Philadelphia and Detroit. Better tests this week with the Knicks, Bulls and Grizzlies on tap. Indiana still not playing the same lockdown defense they did earlier in the season, but that they can get back.
source:  4. Heat (45-19, LW No. 4). Miami’s execution at the end of the win over Houston was a reminder that they still have another gear they can get to. Dwyane Wade’s maintenance plan is working — when he has played he has shot a career best 55 percent (59.4 true shooting percentage). When he has played he has been fantastic and was again Sunday.
source:  5. Thunder (48-18, LW 5).. OKC has stumbled because their defense — in particular their perimeter defense — has slumped. They really miss Thabo Sefalosha and Caron Butler is just not much of a defender anymore. This is something to watch when the playoff match ups come into focus.
source:  6. Bulls (37-29, LW 7). They are just half a game back of Toronto for the three seed and after the next 11 days (Pacers twice, Thunder, Blazers) the schedule gets pretty soft for them. Real chance they make it.
source:  7. Rockets (44-21, LW 3). Rough week with losses on the road to the Heat, Thunder and Bulls, but this season the schedule lightens up (Jazz, Timberwolves, Cavaliers) and Houston has done a good job this season of beating the teams they are supposed to. I wonder if the Rockets will move to upgrade the point guard position this offseason.
source:  8. Grizzlies (39-27, LW 9).  They have a slim one-game lead over Phoenix for the final playoff spot in the West and face some challenges this week with both the Heat and Pacers on the docket. Mike Conley is in my Top 10 of current NBA players who I want the ball in their hands in the final seconds with the game on the line.
source:  9. Warriors (42-26, LW 8). This team is a roller coaster — they have an ugly home loss to the Cavaliers then an inspiring 18-point comeback against the Trail Blazers. Roller coaster is a nice way of saying they are inconsistent, which could come back to haunt them in the playoffs.
source:  10. Mavericks (40-27, LW 10). Dallas is just 1.5 games ahead of the Suns (and falling out of the playoffs) but they just crushed Oklahoma City on Sunday and now their next eight games are at home (where they are 21-10). This is where they solidify that playoff spot.
source:  11. Suns (38-28, LW 11). They have been playing .500 ball the last 10 games, do that in the West and you fall. They are now one game back of Dallas for last playoff spots. Their schedule is relatively soft until start of April, they need to stockpile wins now.
source:  12. Trail Blazers (43-24, LW 12). Stat that should worry Portland fans: They have lost their last 12 games against teams that would make the playoffs in the West (hat tip to Ben Golliver of Blazers Edge). Soft schedule this week (Bucks, Wizards, Bobcats) they need to pick up some wins.
source:  13. Wizards (35-31, LW 13). If they get Nene back healthy I still think the Wizards could be the third best team in the East come the playoffs — but they have gone an impressive 8-3 without him. Beat the Nets last week and looked good, then not so much in loss to Bobcats. Andre Miller is providing a real boost off the bench.
source:  14. Raptors (37-28, LW 14). Their lead over Chicago for the three seed is down to half a game, they need some wins.They beat the Grizzlies last week in a quality win, but lost to the Nets and Suns. Their defense continues to look pretty good… at least until the Suns came to town and dropped 121 on them.
source:  15. Nets (33-31, LW 15). Big wins against Raptors and Heat not only solidify their playoff spot but keep dream of Atlantic Division crown alive (they are 3.5 games back of Toronto with 18 games to play, that’s going to be hard to make up without a Raptors collapse). Should be fun Goran Dragic/Deron Williams showdown Monday night.
source:  16. Bobcats (33-34, LW 17). Winners of four in a row and eight in a row at home. Looking back at the All Star Game selections I think Al Jefferson was the biggest snub — he’s averaging 26.6 points per game this month.

source:  17 . Timberwolves (33-32, LW 15). They are playing fairly well of late, it’s just too late to make a playoff run. I don’t envy Flip Saunders this summer, trying to decide if Kevin Love has one foot out the door or if there is a chance of keeping him if the team turns it around (and if so, how to get a rim protector on the roster).
source:  18. Knicks (27-40, LW 20). Doesn’t matter that he was hired after it started, Phil Jackson is going to get credit for the Knicks six game winning streak. Playoffs remain a longshot, they have 3.5 games to make up on Hawks with 15 to play, the Knicks have 9 on the road and 10 against teams over .500 (Hawks have 7 on road, 9 vs. +.500).
source:  19. Hawks (29-35, LW 24). They have won three in a row with the Knicks suddenly closing some ground. The question is were these wins a mirage or has Atlanta stopped the collapse. Games this week against Charlotte, Toronto (home and home) and Pelicans are the kinds of games where they need to get wins to hold off the Knicks.
source:  20. Nuggets (29-37, LW 18). This team is just being carried by the strong play of Ty Lawson and the hustle of Kenneth Faried. After that, the Nuggets need to do some roster evaluation.This is the team most likely to snap the Clippers 11-game winning streak for a while — Denver gets them at home in the mile high air on the second night of a Clips back-to-back.
source:  21. Cavaliers (26-41, LW 23). They may have lost Kyrie Irving for the season (as of this writing we still don’t know extent of his bicep injury) which would remove any reason to really watch the Cavs. Cleveland picked up two really nice wins last week also, beating Golden State and Phoenix, but this week is brutal (Heat, Thunder, Rockets, Knicks).
source:  22. Kings (23-44, LW 19). DeMarcus Cousins got the night off Sunday and predictably the Kings lost. On the bright side Kings fans, the NCAA Tournament is fun to scout and in May there should be demolition downtown to make way for the new arena.
source:  23. Pistons (25-41, LW 25). Saturday night’s neck injury to Andre Drummond was frightening. I’d rest him the rest of the way. And a few other guys too. Remember if the Pistons pick this year is Top 8 they keep it, 9 or beyond and it goes to the Bobcats (Detroit currently would have the 8 pick).
source:  24. Pelicans (27-39, LW 22). Anthony Davis went off for 40 and 21 Sunday night Anthony Davis is 21 years old and still figuring the game out. Next season if this team can keep Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday healthy they should be a playoff team.
source:  25. Lakers (22-44, LW 21). The shadow of Phil Jackson no longer hangs over this franchise, which is a blessing and a curse to current management. Kobe Bryant is demanding an immediate turnaround but unless someone wants to gift wrap them a trade that is not going to happen, it’s going to take a while. Kobe is what the Lakers sell fans while rebuilding.
source:  26. Celtics (22-45, LW 27). Kris Humphries hit a ridiculous shot to send the game against the Pelicans to overtime, and don’t tell anyone but Humphries has played pretty well of late. If a team gets him at $4 million a year this summer and brings him off the bench for 15-20 minutes a night he can be a solid role player.
source:  27. Jazz (22-45, LW 26). I had picked Trey Burke to win the Rookie of the Year award in my preseason predictions, then he got injured. He has had a rough go since returning, but in this class he’d still be third on my ROY ballot.
source:  28. Magic (19-48, LW 28). With the Sixers epic losing streak a lot of people are pointing toward Victor Oladipo for Rookie of the Year. As if the Magic are playing well. In his last 10 games Oladipo is averaging 14.9 points a game with a true shooting percentage of 53 and a usage rage of 23.1 (percent of possessions he uses when on the court). In his last 10 Michael Carter-Williams is averaging 14.9 points a game with a true shooting percentage of 46.2 and he is taking on more of the Sixers offense (25.1 usage rate). Not sure I blame MCW for the fact the players around him are worse than the ones around Oladipo.
source:  29. Bucks (13-54, LW 29). Brandon Knight has played pretty well of late — he has averaged 19.9 points a game in his last 15 and has guided the Bucks offense to play better than expected. He’s not the answer long term at point but he could be a good reserve (and was a better fit here than Brandon Jennings at his price).
source:  30. 76ers (15-51, LW 30). The losing streak is up to 20 and the next realistic shot they have at a win is against Detroit at home (when the streak will be 26 and tied with the longest in NBA history). The idea of them finishing the season on a 36-game losing streak is not unrealistic.

Report: Kings, Hawks could pass on Luka Doncic if Suns don’t take him No. 1

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Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton?

That’s the question many NBA fans are asking themselves, but according to one report it’s not the only thing several teams in the Top 3 of the 2018 NBA Draft are thinking about.

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony says that while the Phoenix Suns may still be considering taking Doncic with their No. 1 overall pick, the Sacramento Kings (2) and Atlanta Hawks (3) are not.

The Kings and Hawks are reportedly leaning toward taking an American frontcourt player, which would point us toward guys like Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, and Mo Bamba.

Via ESPN:

The growing consensus among NBA decision-makers in attendance at Stark Arena in Belgrade is that the teams drafting behind the Phoenix Suns at No. 1, the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks are likely to pass on European prodigy in favor of American frontcourt players. The question remains whether a team will trade up into the top three to snag Doncic, or if he will fall to the No. 4 (Memphis) or even the No. 5 pick (Dallas) after being heavily scouted in the Euroleague playoffs against Panathinaikos and mostly struggling.

The information we’re missing is whether the Kings and Hawks are turned off by Doncic specifically. Is it because they haven’t scouted him as much as the other guys? Is it because of perceived team need? Do they think Doncic has peaked already? Are they worried about less information being available from a Euro prospect? All are possible.

With all the hype around Doncic, it would be shocking to see him fall out of the Top 3. It’s happened before, but both Ayton and Doncic are the guys atop this draft that people are licking their chops to get.

Could we see a team trade up to get Doncic from the Hawks or Kings if Phoenix goes elsewhere? Is this just false information funneled to the media as a means of depressing the market for Doncic or for ferreting out a big trade offer?

The conference finals aren’t even over yet and here we are talking about the incessant drama of the NBA offseason. I love this league.

Larry Brown once told Trevor Ariza to never shoot

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Larry Brown is a legendary basketball coach, but he’s also been known to ascribe to a certain style. Brown’s regimen has sometimes rubbed players the wrong way, and likewise Brown has been overly attached to players which he likes.

For Houston Rockets wing Trevor Ariza, Brown’s staunch attitude almost ruined his career.

Ariza was a second-year player with the New York Knicks during the lone season Brown coached in the Big Apple in 2005-06. The UCLA product didn’t shoot well from the 3-point line in college or during his rookie season, so when Brown came to town he told Ariza to stop shooting from beyond the arc entirely.

Seriously.

Via Dan Woike and the LA Times:

More than a decade ago when Ariza was a second-year player, his coach with the New York Knicks, Hall of Famer Larry Brown, thought Ariza shouldn’t shoot from the perimeter. Like ever.

“He told me not to even look at the basket or shoot the ball,” said Ariza, 32. “I was definitely afraid to shoot. I just wouldn’t. I would not shoot.”

Woike’s story is pretty incredible, and goes on to detail how Ariza’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers reignited his career and his confidence to shoot the ball. That’s obviously crucial for the Houston Rockets who need Ariza docked in the corner as Chris Paul and James Harden run pick-and-rolls and isolate.

Stories like this always sound wild, if only because they’re contextually being compared to completely different eras. Ariza was drafted in 2004, and has seen three different eras of NBA basketball (Iverson era, point guard PNR era, 3-point era) pass by during his time.

Larry Brown’s in the Hall of Fame but he whiffed on this one.

Stephen Curry goes berserk, Warriors beat Rockets by 41 in Game 3

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Stephen Curry had yet another big third quarter. Who could have seen that coming?

On the heels of the Houston Rockets’ 22-point win in Game 2, the Golden State Warriors decided to turn up the intensity as they returned home to Oakland on Sunday. The Warriors leapt out of the gate, scoring 31 points in the first quarter and playing monumental defense at the rim. Houston suffered from blown attempts in the paint for the entire first half, but it was their 3-point defense that stabilized their offense. The Rockets shot just 27 percent from beyond the arc in the first two quarters.

Then, perhaps expectedly, came the third quarter. The realm of 2-time NBA MVP Curry.

Golden State’s golden point guard failed to miss a single field goal in the quarter, helping the Warriors rally to start the half as well as fend off a Houston charge midway through the period. Curry completely took over with around six minutes left, dropping five of the Warriors’ next six made baskets.

It was enchanting, and everything we’ve come to expect from Curry when he’s at his best. After a made bucket, there was a shimmy. After a follow-up layup, a defiant stance on the baseline as he yelled to the crowd about Oracle Arena being his house.

Indeed, it was.

Curry and the Warriors did not let off the gas in the fourth quarter, finally burying the Rockets that both sides called a truce with 5:11 left, subbing out their big stars.

Houston was led by James Harden, who scored 20 points with nine assists and five rebounds, although he turned the ball over four times. Chris Paul had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Eric Gordon helped with 11 points off the bench. The Rockets turned the ball over 20 times, allowing 28 points off turnovers to the Warriors.

For Golden State it was Curry’s 35 points and six rebounds as the big story. Kevin Durant added 25 points, six rebounds, and six assists. The Warriors shot 41 percent from 3-point range as every starter scored in double-digits. Golden State was also able to limit its turnovers to just eight.

Game 3 exemplified the stratification between the two teams. Houston was arguably the best team of the regular season, with the caveat being that Curry was out for huge swaths of time due to injury. With Curry back on the floor and playing at full tilt, Golden State again looks unbeatable.

Steve Kerr was able to counter the Game 2 strategy from Mike D’Antoni, who ran everything during Houston’s win directly at Curry on defense to tire out the recently-returned star. Kerr’s tweaks resulted in a complete eruption from Curry, one Houston was powerless to stop. Coupled with the continuous pounding from Durant and the incessant, extra pass 3-pointers, the Rockets didn’t have a counterstrike option.

Game 4 is in Oakland on Tuesday at 6:00 PM PST. We’ll see if D’Antoni can work his magic and come up with another new strategy to try and slow the Warriors.

Marcus Morris: II did a s–t job defensively against LeBron’

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The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t dead. Not yet, at least.

LeBron James helped lead his team to a victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday, 116-86, to set the series at 2-1 with the Cavaliers trailing.

James was efficient, scoring 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting while adding 12 assists, five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. As a team Cleveland shot an impressive 50 percent from 3-point range, dwarfing their marks from Games 1 and 2 in the series.

Meanwhile, the team-first strategy implemented by the Celtics finally got its first big test of the Eastern Conference Finals. A top defensive team, Boston was embarrassed by how it played in Game 3 and they weren’t afraid to admit it. Four of its five starters were double-digit minuses in the box score, including Marcus Morris, who many were touting as a LeBron stopper (or LeBron slower).

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Morris gave his honest opinion of how he played vs. LeBron. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown said he was embarrassed.

Via Twitter:

Sounds about right.

Because you play the same team over and over again, by the time you get to the conference finals it’s all about finding counters to your opponent’s counters. The game-by-game strategy changes so much, and out of necessity.

The Cavaliers finally found their sweet spot, not only from beyond the 3-point line but in limiting the offensive contributions of both Morris and guys like Al Horford.

How Brad Stevens counters Ty Lue’s Game 3 strategy should be fun to watch, and reciprocal changes in the coming games will be the story of the series. Boston still has the edge, but the Cavaliers aren’t letting someone take The King’s crown without a fight.