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.

LeBron James, Doc Rivers, others around NBA react to, participate in protests

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The NBA family spoke out loudly and quickly in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer.

Protests have erupted nationwide following Floyd’s death, and the NBA family is commenting on — and in the case of some players, participating in — those protests. That includes the biggest name in the sport today, LeBron James.

Pistons’ coach Dwane Casey made a powerful statement recently, and on Sunday Doc Rivers released this statement through the Clippers.

A number of players have been involved in the protest, including Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie of the Timberwolves, who were with former NBA player Stephen Jackson — a childhood friend of Floyd’s — during a protest in Minnesota.

The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to help lead a peaceful protest that started at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park. He was joined by the Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon.

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Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a brilliant op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times that talked about where the rage of the riots comes from in the black community.

“Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.

“So, maybe the black community’s main concern right now isn’t whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19.”

And all this is just the tip of the iceberg of involvement of the NBA family, just like the protests are the tip of the iceberg of the frustration felt in black communities around the nation.

Jonas Valanciunas on return: “It’s kind of like coming back from the summer”

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Memphis is in when the NBA returns, and in whatever form it returns. The Grizzlies had earned the eighth seed in the West behind the standout play of rookie Ja Morant, and if the NBA goes with a play-in format for the final playoff seeds (as expected), there will be teams gunning for that slot.

Memphis’ veteran big man Jonas Valanciunas will be ready, he told Michael Wallace at the team’s official website. Valanciunas spent time in Memphis and Miami during the lockdown, checking in with family back in Lithuania, but is back in the gym getting up shots. He described the return process this way.

“It’s kind of like coming back from the summer. We’ve had two-and-a-half months off. But then again, I play with the (Lithuania) National Team every summer, so it’s not like you always have so much time off every summer. So it’s sort of like coming back and getting ready for training camp again, to get back in shape and into game rhythm. It’s unusual, with guys wearing masks and stuff, but it is sort of like getting yourself ready for training camp right now.

A lot of players feel the same way, that this was sort of like an offseason (just one where they couldn’t get in the gym and work on a specific skill or weakness). Now things are ramping up again. This is why players want a handful of games before the playoffs (or play-in tournament) start, to get their legs under them.

Memphis will have strong teams, and more veteran units, coming for their playoff spot in the form of Portland and New Orleans. Valanciunas says the Grizzlies will be ready.

We’re really motivated. We don’t need to find extra motivation. We’re young. We want to establish our names and build as a unit.

It’s going to be a unique format when the NBA returns, in what has been a season turned upside down. That, however, can be a bonding experience for this young Grizzlies team, something that makes them better faster.

Some NBA players reportedly expect families can’t come to Orlando until September

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Nothing is set in stone until the owners vote on Thursday, but the NBA’s return likely will have teams reporting to the “bubble” (or campus, or whatever term of art the league ends up using) in Orlando in mid-July. Games would start July 31 and run into late September and maybe even October.

For players, that’s a long time to be stuck in a hotel without seeing family or loved ones, so families joining the players has long been part of the plan. Except, now comes a note from Tim Reynolds at the AP that some players think their families may not be able to join them until deep into the postseason.

The smaller the bubble, the easier it is to maintain with extensive testing, which is why not all 30 teams are expected to be invited and the size of team traveling parties will be smaller. It has been expected that families wouldn’t be invited to join players at least until after the first round of the playoffs (when a lot of players left).

However, if games start July 31 and the league plans to play a couple of weeks of regular-season games, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot, then it will be September by the time the NBA gets to a final eight teams. Which will have players separated from their families for a couple of months.

It’s easy to understand the players’ frustrations with that. No matter what direction Adam Silver goes with this restart, there are going to be some unhappy teams and players.

 

Sixers head into playoffs with healthy Ben Simmons but new, untested starting five

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Philadelphia heads into the NBA’s restart — in whatever format it takes — as a team that, on the surface, benefits some from the break.

Ben Simmons was expected to return from his back issues in time for the playoffs, but it was going to be close, and he wouldn’t be fully rested and ready. Now, the All-Star is healthy and not the only player trying to shake off the rust from a long break. That’s 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.2 assists a game, and some strong defense back in the lineup.

But that lineup has never really fit together this season in Philadelphia, which is why heading into the restart playoffs the Sixers will have a new one.

Philly is expected to roll out a starting five of Simmons, Shake Milton, Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson, and Tobias Harris, reports The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. That lineup has played zero minutes together this season (Milton hit his groove with the team late and by that point Embiid and Simmons were battling injuries). Learning chemistry on the fly in what will be, at best, a shortened and condensed regular season before the playoffs start, is a tough way to go.

It’s also the right move, Milton brings the shooting and floor spacing this roster needs. Philly had envisioned Al Horford as a floor-spacing four (who could spell Embiid at the five), but it hasn’t worked out. When Simmons, Embiid and Horford have been on the court this season, the team has scored less than a point per possession (defensively, they also gave up less than a point per possession, the Sixers basically played their opponents even in those minutes). It hasn’t meshed.

When Milton, Simmons, and Embiid have played together this season — in limited minutes and different situations than the one proposed — the offense has been only slightly better and the defense has been a mess. That’s likely not the case with Richardson and Harris on the court, but nobody knows exactly how this will work. It looks good on paper, but we’ve thought that all season about the 76ers.

Which makes Philadephia one of the most interesting teams to watch when games restart. All season long this team has not lived up to expectations (for which coach Brett Brown’s seat is very hot, even if blame for the roster issues should go higher up the ladder). Now comes a real test. If the 76ers suddenly get it together they become a real threat to the Bucks in the East (if the league keeps an East/West format). Or, this could be the latest Sixers lineup to fall short.

Either way, they become must-watch television.