PBT Power Rankings: Spurs running away at top, but a new team in cellar

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The Sixers win! The Sixers win! That was enough to move them out of the bottom spot of the PBT Power rankings for a week… which since they are not getting relegated is about the only excitement at the bottom of the table. At the top it is San Antonio then everybody else right now.

 
source:  1. Spurs (57-16, Last week No. 1). Winners of 17 in a row (the longest streak in the league this season), but expect it to end this week with this gauntlet of games — at Pacers, Warriors, at Thunder, Grizzlies. This run has boosted Manu Ginobili’s Sixth Man of the Year candidacy and he is the frontrunner now, and Gregg Popovich should be in the Coach of the Year discussion as well.

 
source:  2. Clippers (52-22, LW 2). Earlier this season the Clippers proved they could win without Chris Paul when Blake Griffin stepped up, Saturday night against the Rockets the Clippers showed they can win without Griffin when CP3 steps up. Doc Rivers will not be in the top couple slots but he has earned consideration for being on the lower slots of the Coach of the Year ballot, particularly with his handling of DeAndre Jordan.

 
source:  3. Thunder (54-19, LW 3).. Kevin Durant has scored 25 or more points in 38 straight games. Let that sink in. That’s nearly half a season. Start your “M-V-P” chants. The Thunder are three back of the Spurs and will not catch them for the best record, lots of road games ahead including at the Rockets and at the Suns this week (after showdown with San Antonio).

 
source:  4. Rockets (49-23, LW 4). No Dwight Howard or Patrick Beverly this week and they take on three playoff teams (Brooklyn, Toronto and Oklahoma City), so expect some losses. The Beverly injury is one to watch — they will need his perimeter defense come the playoffs, particularly since they will likely face a jump shooting team in Portland or Golden State in the first round.

 
source:  5. Heat (50-22, LW No. 6). The loss to Indiana was another game where it was LeBron James against the world, not a lot of help coming his way. There has been a lot of that in Miami this season — remember when we thought Michael Beasley would be a good fit there and he was playing well? He’s out of the rotation now. Shane Battier needs to find his shot soon.

 
source:  6. Pacers (52-21, LW 5). Yes, they beat Miami and are now ranked below them — did you watch the next two games? David West expressed frustration at how this team got up for Miami them turned around two nights later and sleepwalked against Washington. He speaks for all of us. Their ugly loss to Cleveland on Sunday makes it four of five games where they didn’t score more than 80 points, the offense is a real mess.

 
source:  7. Trail Blazers (47-27, LW 13). LaMarcus Aldridge returns and the Blazers win three in a row, including beating the Bulls and Grizzlies — beating Memphis was the first time in 13 tries the Trail Blazers beat another team from the West’s top nine. The Blazers are not going to catch Houston for the four seed (four games in the loss column too much to make up) but playing back to form them become a tough first round matchup.

 
source:  8. Warriors (45-28, LW 9). A lot of talk about Mark Jackson’s job security this week, and the fact ownership there is impatient will put pressure on any coach and GM with that team. However, Stephen Curry loves Jackson and that is a great guy for the coach to have in his corner.

 
source:  9. Grizzlies (43-29, LW 8).  Their defense went AWOL against the Trail Blazers Sunday and it better return — of the three teams battling for final playoff slots in the West the Grizzlies have the easiest schedule. That said, they need road wins like the games they have this week in Denver (second night of a back-to-back at altitude is tough) and at Minnesota). They don’t have much margin for error.

 
source:  10. Suns (44-30, LW 10). They were in the soft part of the schedule and needed to rack up wins — and they did winning six in a row (before Sunday’s ugly loss to the Lakers). Starting Wednesday it gets serious — Clippers, Trail Blazers, Thunder and Spurs are four of the next five. Two of their last three are against the Mavericks and Grizzlies, and it could come down to that.

 
source:  11. Mavericks (44-30, LW 12). They had an eight game home stand where they needed to make a push to solidify their playoff position and instead they have gone 4-3 (with Golden State the remaining game). Starting Thursday they are on the road for four, but only the Clippers are above .500. Every game for Dallas is a playoff game from here on out.

 
source:  12. Bulls (41-32, LW 7). It’s taking career nights from guys like D.J. Augustin, but the Bulls are still finding enough offense to win games. The good news is they are just one game back of the Raptors for the three seed and they play only one team over .500 from here on out (get the three seed, get the struggling Pacers in the second round and… who knows?).

 
source:  13. Raptors (42-31, LW 15). They are bound for the playoffs for the first time since 2008, having secured a spot this week. Now the goal is to win the Atlantic Division for only the second time ever — they have a 2.5 game lead over the Nets, which should be enough to hold on north of the border.

 
source:  14. Nets (39-33, LW 11). Kevin Garnett could return to the lineup this coming weekend, which would be huge for Brooklyn. They need him as their defense has started to really show its holes without him there to quarterback that end of the floor.

 
source:  15. Wizards (38-35, LW 18). Back-to-back wins over the Hawks and Pistons were a big boost, they leave the Bobcats three games back — the Wizards to not want to be the 7 seed and get the Heat or Pacers in the first round. A win Monday over Charlotte would pretty much lock them into the top six.

source:  16 . Timberwolves (36-36, LW 20). Lots of talk this past week about Kevin Love bolting town in 2015 and how the Timberwolves are not ready to trade him yet. Talk that will depress Wolves fans as not many people around the league think he sticks around long. On the bright side, rookie Gorgui Dieng has found a groove lately and has played well.

 
source:  17. Knicks (31-43, LW 16). The playoff dream remains alive (and Phil Jackson will still get the credit for it). Atlanta is trying to help out (having lost six in a row) but the Knicks have lost four of five and remain two games back. This week the lineup is Jazz, Nets, Wizards and Heat and the Knicks need at least two, better yet three wins this week to make up some ground.

 
source:  18. Bobcats (35-38, LW 19). If they want to avoid Miami or Indiana in the first round (and they do) they need to sweep the two games remaining against Washington, the first of which is Monday night. In his last 15 games Al Jefferson is averaging 25.1 points a game on 56.3 percent shooting, plus is pulling down 10.6 rebounds a night.

 
source:  19. Cavaliers (30-45, LW 22). Winners of four of five (they are now 4-4 without Kyrie Irving) and they could get Irving back this week. The slump of he Hawks keeps their faint playoff hopes alive but it will be tough to make up 2.5 games at this point, even on Atlanta.

 
source:  20. Pelicans (32-41, LW 21). If you’re looking for a team that could play spoiler down the stretch watch New Orleans — their last six games are against potential West playoff teams. Hopefully they will have Anthony Davis back by then, he is day-to-day with an ankle issue.

 
source:  21. Hawks (31-41, LW 14). Atlanta has lost six in a row and keep hope of a playoff spot alive in New York. The Hawks have a much easier schedule than the Knicks down the stretch (only four games left against teams over .500) but that will not matter without some wins. To get their wins they are going to have to play better defense, that is the side of the ball where they are really struggling.

 
source:  22. Nuggets (32-41, LW 17). Losers of three in a row and that eliminated them from the playoffs, which is quite a fall for a team that won 57 games last season. On the bright side Kenneth Faried averaged 19.3 points a game and 9.9 rebounds a game during March. Not bad at all.

 
source:  23. Kings (25-48, LW 23). The Kings let Royce White go after his two 10-day contracts as they continue to look for players and combinations that can be part of their rotation in the future. Ray McCallum has played well in a limited window, but can they really keep him and Isaiah Thomas around? They have played the two together, the ultimate definition of going small.

 
source:  24. Lakers (25-48, LW 27). They are savoring their role as playoff spoilers, even if with each win they worsen their lottery odds. Mike D’Antoni is on the hot seat, mostly because his style of play fits poorly with what an aging Kobe Bryant does well anymore. And the Lakers will be selling Kobe to the fans the next couple of years.

 
source:  25. Magic (21-53, LW 28). While nobody was looking, Orlando played some pretty good ball last week, beating the Bobcats and Trail Blazers, and almost beating the Raptors. Nikola Vucevic looked good in those games and should be a bigger part of the plans in Orlando going forward.

 
source:  26. Celtics (23-50, LW 25). Jerryd Bayless is a guy who looks like he could stick around in Boston going forward, playing well of late. Boston can try to play playoff spoiler this week and make things hard on the Bulls and Wizards, but they will have to do it on the road.

 
source:  27. 76ers (16-57, LW 30). Break up the Sixers! They only tied the NBA streak for most consecutive losses, but they avoided making it all their own with a win over the Pistons (and to be fair, the Sixers played pretty well in the couple of games leading up to that).

 
source:  28. Pistons (26-47, LW 29). They keep playing their big front line together big minutes — Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond — and it continues not to work. At this point you have to wonder if the order to do that comes from above the coach, or if it is creative tanking to hold on the top 8 draft pick they have (if it is 9 or higher it goes to Charlotte). Either way it’s not pretty, as you could see when they got blown out by the Sixers.

 
source:  29. Jazz (23-51, LW 26). How bad is Utah playing? They got blown out by the Pistons by 20 points — the same Pistons that lost to the Sixers. This has not dampened enthusiasm around league front office’s for Gordon Hayward — if the Jazz will not pay him big another team will.

 
source:  30. Bucks (14-59, LW 29). They did pick up a win last week but it looks like they will end the season with the NBA’s worst record and lottery odds of 25 percent to get the top spot in the NBA Draft.

LeBron James dunks way to 26, but Lakers have long way to go, drop opener in Portland

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The Portland Trail Blazers know who they are and what they want to do — they return mostly the same core players, led by All-Stars Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, still running Terry Stotts offense as they have for years.

The Lakers have LeBron James… and a lot of other new faces. Too many of whom are not a threat from three and all of whom are still getting to know each other.

In LeBron’s Lakers’ debut, continuity and shooting won out.

Throughout much of the night, and especially when things tightened up late, Portland knew what it wanted to do and executed — it was Lillard time, he finished the game with a team-high 28 points. In contrast, too often the Lakers looked disorganized, particularly on defense. Their offense felt clumsy in the half court, with LeBron working to get guys involved more than just take over.

The Trail Blazers won the fourth quarter 35-28 and with it the game, 128-119, much to the delight of a raucous Portland crowd.

The Lakers are now 0-1 in the LeBron era. It’s just one game, but it showed that the Lakers have a long way to go to get to be the team they want to be this season — and it also showed the potential of what they can be.

“We had some good, we had some bad, which is to be expected in game one,” LeBron said after the loss. “I liked our fight to get back into the game when we were down double digits, I liked the way we competed at times, I liked the way we shared the ball at times as well.”

These new-look Lakers did what Luke Walton had promised — they ran, they attacked the rim scoring a ridiculous 70 points in the paint, and they moved the ball. The Lakers had 17 fast break points in the first half, this is a team that averaged 17.5 fast break points a game last season (LA finished with 34).

And Los Angeles dunked. LeBron got in on the fun and was throwing it down.

That, alone, does not win games.

The Lakers shot just 7-of-30 from three, missing a lot of quality looks from the corner. Maybe in other games those start to fall, but concerns about the lack of shooting with the Lakers go back to how Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka constructed the roster, and that looked like a real issue on opening night.

LeBron also struggled to connect passes to teammates, he finished with six assists but turned the ball over on 18.8 percent of his possessions on the night. In the halfcourt, he let Rajon Rondo run the shot often (he had  13 points and 11 assists and was a +11 in 32 minutes, it was a good night for him).

“We had some turnovers, which I expected, just trying to get a feel for one another,” LeBron said. “We can do a better job.”

Portland, on the other hand, knocked down the kind of shots they struggled to hit against the Pelicans in the playoffs last April — they were 13-of-37 from three (35.1 percent). The surprise came from Nik Stauskas, who was 5-of-8 from three on his way to 24 points on the night.

Los Angles moved well off the ball and when LeBron got the rock at the elbow he found a lot of cutters. However, when Rajon Rondo or Lance Stephenson was initiating the offense, the Blazers laid back and took away passing lanes, daring the Lakers to shoot.

Some of the Laker youth showed promise — Josh Hart had 20 points and was 3-of-5 from three, Brandon Ingram had 16 points and Kyle Kuzma 15. However, they are still adapting to playing with LeBron, they often struggled from three, and like the entire team they were up and down on the night.

There were flashes when the Lakers were running when you saw how dangerous this Lakers team can be with a roster full of unselfish playmakers. These Lakers are fun. They are entertaining.

But they are not yet the team they need to be — and on the road, against a Portland team that knows exactly who it is, that is not enough. Welcome to the Western Conference, LeBron, there are a lot of teams like Portland out there.

Ben Simmons triple-double, Joel Embiid’s 30 leads 76ers past Bulls 127-108

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Markelle Fultz heard 20,000 Philadelphia 76ers fans exhort him to shoot each time he touched the ball, a roaring confidence boost for a No. 1 pick closer to a bust than brilliance.

Fultz had the look he wanted in the second quarter. He dribbled to the foul line without a defender in his path, pulled up and uncorked a jumper. The ball rattled around the rim before it fluttered through the net.

Sixers fans rose to their feet, erupted in cheers and chanted “Fultz! Fultz! Fultz!”

Yes, a simple jumpshot from the top pick of the 2017 draft in the second game of the season was enough to get a rise out of the fans – and a sigh of relief from Fultz.

“It makes me feel better for the whole crowd to feel as good as I want to,” Fultz said.

The curious case of Fultz’s missing jumper continued against the Bulls when one of the more scrutinized players in the NBA managed to steal the spotlight from his more accomplished teammates with routine – yet highlight-reel worthy – baskets.

Until he gets his shot right, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid will continue to lead the Sixers.

Simmons had a triple-double with 13 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists and Embiid had 30 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Philadelphia 76ers past the Chicago Bulls 127-108 on Thursday night.

Fultz scored 12 points on 5 of 15 shooting, the most shots taken by a Sixer.

“He shot it to mean it,” coach Brett Brown said. “He didn’t look afraid of anything. He missed the shots but they looked good.”

Fultz is coming off a miserable rookie season that was shortened because of a right shoulder injury, a broken shot and busted confidence. Even his personal shooting coach said Fultz suffered from the “yips,” an assertion shot down on media day by the second-year guard. Fultz simply blamed his lost season on the injury. Brown tried to give Fultz a confidence boost by putting him in the starting lineup – yet has benched him for the start of the second half.

Fultz was 1 of 6 in 15 minutes in the first half and didn’t play again until late in the third and the Sixers leading by 88-68.

“The challenge is to grow him and help us win the game,” Brown said. “There’s no book that tells you how to do that, so you’re going to have to figure some stuff out. There will be some pain along the way and some positives.”

With or without Fultz, the 76ers had plenty of positives after an opening-night disaster in Boston.

Simmons reached a triple-double with 2:34 left in the third, the 13th of his career and the first Sixer to ever get one in the home opener. Sixers fans chanted “Trust the Process!” when Embiid ended the third with free throws.

Fultz proved a long-range ace again in the fourth – this time with a 3! He drained his first career 3-pointer for a 108-88 lead and the Philly fans that are firmly perched in his corner went wild and again chanted his name.

The Sixers know that if they want to become legitimate Eastern Conference contenders, Fultz will have to become the star they envisioned when they drafted him.

“I’m never afraid,” Fultz said. “I worked hard this summer. Tonight, I didn’t make a lot of them, but I’m going to keep shooting them. If I see an open shot, I’m going to go shoot it.”

He didn’t even mind when Chicago’s defense sagged off him, daring him to take shots. The Bulls, not expected to win much in the East, scored a combined 35 points in the second and third quarters. Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 30 points in their season opener.

“When we started missing shots, we stopped guarding and rebounding,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Ben Simmons racked up his first triple-double of season in three quarters

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The first triple-double of the season went to the Pelicans Elfrid Payton with the “just made it” version of 10, 10, and 10.

Ben Simmons racked up the first of what will be many triple-doubles this season in his second game, Thursday night against the Bulls. He finished the night with 13 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists. Here is the assist that put him over the top, along with a few other highlights.

Philadelphia started the second half on a 19-2 run and controlled the game the rest of the way, going on to win by 19. There was even a Markelle Fultz pull up three that fell.

Kobe Bryant: “The Lakers are going to surprise a lot of people,” make playoffs

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Lakers fans are not known for their reasonable expectations or patience, and LeBron James coming to the team has only enabled those tendencies. However, around the team a lot of people are tamping down expectations, with some even suggesting the Lakers will miss the playoffs.

Kobe Bryant is a Laker fan, and he is tamping down nothing.

In a wide-ranging Q&A with The Undefeated, Kobe addressed his expectations for the Lakers this season.

“The Lakers are going to surprise a lot of people. Rob [Pelinka, the Lakers’ general manager] has smartly built a team of physical players. Big, versatile, fast, physical players. He understands that if you want to challenge Golden State, you can’t challenge them with shooting. That’s what they do. You’ve got to beat them somewhere else. You have to beat them with size. Chippiness. Feistiness. Strength and speed. And he has a team that has that. He has a mixture of vets that are still in their primes and young kids that are hungry and open-minded and willing to learn. A team that can compete and challenge. That is a dangerous mix.”

So, Kobe, we’re talking about a playoff team?

“Oh, God, yes. C’mon.”

I predicted the Lakers as a playoff team, somewhere around 47 wins. They are going to be good, I like the young core with Brandon Ingram (who will have to be the No. 2 option this season), Lonzo Ball and the rest. The young players are going to have to step up, and the veterans — particularly Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee — can help.

But the margin for error is slim, as it is with every team in the West playoff hunt not in Houston or the Bay Area. A slow start and it’s fair to ask questions about the Lakers. Injuries will play a role in the West no doubt. The Lakers should be a playoff team but they are no lock.

If they do fall short, Kobe will not be the only disappointed fan asking questions.