PBT NBA Power Rankings: Spurs set the bar while Pacers fall like a rock

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Not much change at the top — the Spurs and Clippers remain at the top and while there is a little shuffling below them it’s still all the same teams. Well, except the Pacers who are crashing harder than Justin Bieber’s career.

 
source:  1. Spurs (60-17, Last week No. 1). The loss to the Thunder shows what makes this an interesting playoffs for the Western Conference — it’s all about match ups. Oklahoma City gives San Antonio trouble, although I don’t read too much into a road loss on the second night of a back-to-back (which is why the Spurs stay on top of the rankings).The Spurs are the NBA’s first 60-win team and have set the bar for everyone else — if you want to win an NBA title you need to be better than San Antonio.

 
source:  2. Clippers (55-23, LW 2). Health is the prevailing question in L.A., with key bench contributors Jamal Crawford and Danny Granger likely out until the playoffs begin. With a likely looming first round series against Golden State (and potential second round vs. OKC), the Clippers need Glen Davis focused (and playing for his next contract), plus a healthy Crawford and Granger to advance.

 
source:  3. Heat (53-23, LW No. 5). LeBron James said he wants to play every Heat game down the stretch, but if Miami beats Indiana in their showdown Friday night and can lock up the No. 1 seed in the East, look for Erik Spoelstra to give him a game or two off.

 
source:  4. Thunder (55-21, LW 3).. Interesting potential playoff preview Wednesday when the Thunder and Clippers meet — if things follow form that would be the second round matchup. Speaking of matchup problems for teams, the Thunder likely would prefer not to see the Suns in the first round — Phoenix’s style puts up points on OKC. (The Thunder are 3-1 vs. Memphis and 1-2 vs. Dallas.)

 
source:  5. Rockets (51-25, LW 4). Sunday’s come from behind win is huge for a team trying to hold on to home court advantage in the first round. What really matters is getting Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley back healthy — they shouldn’t rush back for the regular season but they are needed likely against Portland in the first round.

 
source:  6. Warriors (48-29, LW 8). The players seem unfazed by the assistant coach turmoil going on around this team and just keep picking up key wins. They continue to play good defense nightly — particularly when Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut are both on the court. It’s that defense as much as the jump shooting that makes them dangerous in the postseason.

 
source:  7. Trail Blazers (50-28, LW 13). Playing better since LaMarcus Aldridge’s return (shocking!) they are just 1.5 games back of Golden State for the fifth playoff seed in the West — the two teams play Friday night in a showdown that could determine the slot. Five seed likely gets Rockets, six the Clippers. Both tough, but Houston is more vulnerable.

 
source:  8. Suns (46-31, LW 10). Tough stretch of games started with a loss to Clippers but then wins over Portland and Oklahoma City. Four of final five are on the road (starting with the Spurs) but this team just keeps on winning. Big games Saturday vs. Mavericks then April 14 vs. Grizzlies.

 
source:  9. Bulls (45-32, LW 12). If they met today I’d pick the Bulls to beat the Pacers in the second round of the playoffs. A lot of things can change by then but the Bulls just keep winning with their defense and Joakim Noah as the focal point of the offense. They know who they are, which is more than you can say for the Pacers right now.

 
source:  10. Raptors (45-32, LW 13). While nobody south of the border was paying attention the Raptors have won 6-of-7 — they are going to win the Atlantic Division. Holding off the Bulls for the three seed will be more difficult, but a soft schedule this week (Sixers, Knicks, Pistons) will help.

 
source:  11. Mavericks (47-31, LW 11). They have a 1.5 game lead on nine seed Memphis, which is a nice cushion late in the playoff chase, but with games this week against the Spurs and Suns they need to play more like the team we saw against the Clippers last Tuesday than the couple of sloppy wins since.

 
source:  12. Grizzlies (43-29, LW 9).  Five games left and they control their own fate — the Heat are tough on Wednesday but after that the Sixers and Lakers are beatable. Then they close against the Suns and Mavericks and that could decide it all.

 
source:  13. Pacers (52-21, LW 6). Oh how the mighty have fallen. Their offense always had a small margin for error and a little more stagnation and a little more guys seeming to think about their numbers has hurt them. Plus they are just missing shots they used to make. C.J. Watson should return this week and they could use that point guard to help organize the offense.

 
source:  14. Nets (42-34, LW 14). Kevin Garnett could return this week and along with Andrei Kirilenko that should help a Nets defense that has been a mess of late. Like against the Knicks last week. They are likely the five seed and if they face Toronto in the first round they could advance to the second round, which is the least you could ask considering what Prokhorov is paying for this roster.

 
source:  15. Wizards (40-37, LW 15). Nene is back practicing and is expected to return to the Sixers lineup this week — that makes Washington a far, far more dangerous team. They need to pick up a couple wins down the stretch to keep the six seed, the Bobcats are just one game behind them.

 
source:  16. Bobcats (39-38, LW 18). Winners of four in a row, which has secured them a playoff spot, and as of right now they are above .500. Make sure your remember that and coach Steve Clifford when filling out your Coach of the Year ballots (he’s not going to win but should get mentioned).

 
source:  17. Hawks (34-42, LW 21). Quality offensive outings against the Pacers and Cavaliers have given them a two-game cushion over a banged-up Knicks team — they are in the driver’s seat to make the playoffs, with only two of their remaining six on the road and half the games against teams below .500.

source:  18 . Timberwolves (38-38, LW 16). They pulled out a thrilling come-from-behind close win over the Heat last weekend — if they had pulled out some close ones earlier in the season we’d have them in our playoffs mix. But alas, the discussion moves on to Kevin Love in the off-season.

 
source:  19. Knicks (33-45, LW 17). Carmelo Anthony is doing his best to play through a shoulder injury but this team just isn’t good enough to win games against quality teams without him. Problem is, they are two games back of Atlanta and there are nothing but quality teams left on the schedule — at Toronto, Chicago, at Brooklyn, Toronto. They need a lot of help from the Hawks to make he postseason now.

 
source:  20. Cavaliers (31-47, LW 19). Kyrie can say whatever he wants about his future and the speculation surrounding it, his contract negotiations this summer will tell you all you need to know — will he take a full five year deal with the Cavaliers or will he ask for an opt out after three? And if he does ask, how will the Cavaliers organization handle it?

 
source:  21. Kings (27-50, LW 23). They have five straight 50-loss seasons (not counting the lockout year… but they weren’t exactly impressive that season either). I love the energy Vivek Ranadive is bringing as Sacramento owner, but it shows you how hard it can be to turn an entire franchise around.

 
source:  22. Nuggets (33-44, LW 22). Easily the craziest play of last week was Brian Shaw drawing up a play for a game winning three for Timofey Mozgov — he is a career 20% shooter from three who has taken 18 threes all season (hitting four). I have no idea why.

 
source:  23. Pelicans (32-45, LW 20). They have lost five in a row and have a brutal closing stretch of games — Suns, Thunder twice and Rockets twice. But hey, they have Anthony Davis.

 
source:  24. Magic (22-55 LW 25). The team is not for sale, the DeVos family wants you to know. That’s swell. But this is still a massive rebuilding project in its early stages, this is a team that needs a little lottery luck this year.

 
source:  25. Pistons (28-49, LW 28). It’s unlikely to happen — they likely will have a 3.5% shot at it — but if the Pistons won the NBA Draft lottery and Joe Dumars was kept, do you think he would draft Joel Embiid then refuse to trade Josh Smith, Andre Drummond or Greg Monroe?

 
source:  26. Lakers (25-52, LW 24). Unless they win out — and they are not going to win out — this will be the worst Lakers team in the history of the franchise since it moved to Los Angeles. What’s more there are just not reasonable quick turnaround scenarios out there — it’s going to take a few years at least to rebuild the Lakers.

 
source:  27. 76ers (16-57, LW 27). Two wins in a couple weeks means the Bucks will finish with the worst record in the NBA, not the Sixers. By the way, Michael Carter-Williams has secured himself the Rookie of the Year trophy, with Victor Oladipo second. Despite Oladipo’s play of late.

 
source:  28. Jazz (24-53, LW 29). Is Tyron Corbin capable of developing players at the level the Jazz need him to during this rebuild? His contract is up at the end of the season and this is a very patient Utah ownership that doesn’t like change, but they need to ask that question.

 
source:  29. Celtics (23-54, LW 26). They are 1-13 in their last 14 games and last weekend lost to both the Sixers and the Pistons. That is some terrible basketball. There’s a lot of rebuilding to do in Boston and I don’t know that Rajon Rondo wants to stick around for all of it.

 
source:  30. Bucks (14-63, LW 30). This team has the worst record in the history of the Bucks franchise — and what hurts is they didn’t go into this season trying to tank. The O.J. Mayo signing has been a disaster and Larry Sanders’ season has gone up in a puff of smoke. Hey but they’ll have the highest lottery odds. So they got that going for them, which is nice.

Marcus Smart shoves down Joel Embiid from behind, gets ejected (video)

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Marcus Smart recently bemoaned the lack of physicality in the NBA.

After Joel Embiid dropped his shoulder into him on a screen, Smart brought some to tonight’s Celtics-76ers game.

Smart shoved Embiid in the back, sending the center to the floor. A cheap shot? Yes. Embiid wasn’t looking. But Smart would surely argue Embiid started it. I also doubt Smart intended to push Embiid from behind. Smart just wanted to get at Embiid as quickly as possible, and Embiid happened to be facing the other way when Smart arrived.

Smart got a flagrant 2 and the accompanying ejection. Embiid received a technical foul.

Before James Harden, how many players scored 30 points against every other team in a season?

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James Harden became the first player in NBA history to score 30 points against all 29 opponents in a season.

But the NBA has had 30 teams for just 15 of its 73 seasons.

Obviously, the larger league makes Harden’s feat more impressive. He had to score 30 against more teams. The Rockets also play most opponents, those in the Eastern Conference, only twice. In previous eras, players had more cracks at scoring 30 against fewer teams.

Still, anyone to score 30 points against every opponent has a certain immunity to bad matchups. It’s special.

How many players have done it?

We must start with Wilt Chamberlain, who scored 30 points against all nine teams in the 1964-65 NBA. He began the season with the San Francisco Warriors and, with them, scored 30 against the 76ers. Then, he got traded to Philadelphia and scored 30 on the Warriors. He also dropped 30 on every other team.

Including that season, there have been 85 times a player scored 30 points in a game against every opponent in a season.

Only Harden, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird have done it since the NBA-ABA merger. Jordan (1986-87) and Bird (1984-85) did it against 22 teams.

Everyone else did it against 17 or fewer teams.

Here’s everyone to score 30 in a game against every opponent in a season with the player’s highest-scoring game against each team listed, starting with Chamberlain doing it against every team then following in chronological order:

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Bucks avoid luxury-tax exposure as Pelicans reportedly claim Christian Wood off waivers

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The Bucks’ mission: Win enough to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo long-term.

This summer will present an inflection point. Three Milwaukee starters – Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon – will be free agents, and the luxury tax looms. (The Bucks recently signed Eric Bledsoe to an extension, providing some cost-certainty.)

Will Milwaukee pay the luxury tax to keep this team intact? If so, how much tax and for how long? It’s a long way off, but the Bucks ought to start considering the possibility of the repeater tax down the road.

That’s why it was so risky for Milwaukee to waive Christian Wood and sign Tim Frazier. That put the Bucks in jeopardy of paying the luxury tax this season if they won the championship (triggering bonuses in Tony Snell‘s contract) and Wood went unclaimed. Obviously, Milwaukee would probably gladly pay the tax, miss out on payments to non-tax teams and start the repeater clock to win a title this year. But it’s still better to win without those downsides.

Thankfully for the Bucks, they’re off the hook.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

https://twitter.com/ShamsCharania/status/1108474930688155650

This is a nice pickup by the Pelicans. The 23-year-old Wood has looked good in limited NBA minutes and in the NBA’s minor league. His 2019-20 minimum salary is unguaranteed until that regular season begins. So, this is a low-risk addition with solid upside.

Maybe Milwaukee could use Wood in the frontcourt right now. Nikola Mirotic just suffered an injury that will sideline him a few weeks, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is out for tonight’s game against the Cavaliers with an ankle injury.

It’s unclear how quickly Wood will report to New Orleans, but he could step into the lineup if Anthony Davis misses more time.

No timetable for CJ McCollum to return from unusual knee injury

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Nobody really knows what to expect.

Including the guy whose knee has become the focus of attention in Portland.

It looked like it could be much worse when it happened Saturday in San Antonio. CJ McCollum drove the lane, there was some contact with Jakob Poeltl but nothing that drew a foul, yet when McCollum landed he went to the ground, instantly grabbed his knee and just laid there, curled up behind the baseline.

McCollum “just” suffered a strained popliteus, the muscle in the back of his left knee. “Just” as in there were no torn ligaments, but that’s a muscle McCollum said he needed to research when he got the news.

“I think it’s definitely a different type of injury because I’ve never really seen it before, besides Kevin Garnett years ago…” McCollum said. “I had to do some research on it.”

What that research showed is back in 2009 Kevin Garnett missed 13 games and basically the playoffs because of this injury. That same timeline would have McCollum back right around the start of the playoffs.

But there is no timeline for McCollum. Mostly because nobody knows exactly what to expect.

“I feel alright…” McCollum told NBC Sports. “The timeline now is just to continue to evaluate after a week, to take it a week at a time, a day at a time and see where I’m at.

“I think because there’s not a lot of information and research on it, this is just kind of a case-by-case basis based on the player, on where he is in his career, and how fast they can recover and heal. That’s how we’re approaching it, just doing what the trainers tell me to do, adding some different nutrients, different things in the weight room, just trying to speed the healing process.”

McCollum admitted it was nerve-racking when the injury happened and he had to wait a day for the diagnosis.

“Any time you have an injury around the knee, those types of areas, you have concern, you don’t know for sure what it is, you need an MRI to tell you what is happening, what’s going on in the knee,” McCollum said. “It was definitely a scary time, just because there is so much uncertainty. Essentially another day where you don’t really know what’s going on, then you have to sit with the MRI for an hour and basically wait to tell them your fate.”

While recovering, McCollum is busy promoting his new partnership with Old Spice. Particularly, he likes the Fresher Collection, which uses natural ingredients in a body wash, shampoo, deodorant, and more to help guys smell better.

“They’ve released their Fresher Collection with real ingredients that are a real benefit, like moisturizing with Shea butter and relaxing with lavender,” McCollum said. “Might as well be fresh when I’m not able to play.”

Make no mistake, McCollum wants to play.

The hope (and maybe expectation) is he will be ready for the playoffs, starting in the middle of April. McCollum said he believes this Portland roster is poised to make some postseason noise.

“We need to execute, we need to execute down the stretch,” McCollum said. “In the playoffs, it becomes a half court game. You’ve got to be able to get stops, you’ve got to be able to score in a slower paced game, and I think we’re built for that.

McCollum pointed to players such as the improved Jusuf Nurkic, plus Enes Kanter, Seth Curry, and Jake Layman as versatile players who can help them win in the postseason. McCollum said this roster is better poised for the playoffs.

“We have some depth, we have some key guys at certain positions who can help us compete against a lot of different teams that play different ways,” McCollum said.

But to do that, Portland needs McCollum back. He averaged 21.3 points per game this season, but what he brings in terms of shooting and ability to drive opens up much more for all his teammates. McCollum is part of the backcourt, along with Damian Lillard, that fuels everything Portland does.

Which means he needs to get his knee healthy. However long it takes.