PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Check out those Golden State Warriors

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Sorry, but for this week only the PBT Power Rankings are coming out on Tuesday. I was in New York with my wife, who ran the marathon, and I could either go to the Chelsea Market and eat then take a walk on the High Line on a sunny day, or do the rankings. The rankings lost. Badly. But we’re back now on Tuesday and the Golden State Warriors have vaulted to the top with four teams still undefeated around the NBA.

 
source:  1. Warriors (3-0, Last Week No. 7). My question coming into the season was if Steve Kerr could keep the Warriors playing quality defense (they were top five last season). Well, it’s just three games but they have had the best defense in the NBA. Klay Thompson has looked like a guy deserving the max he just got. We’ll have a better picture of this team after a week against the Clippers, Rockets and Suns.

 
source:  2. Grizzlies (4-0, LW 10).  They are undefeated behind the combination of a strong defense (allowing 89.5 points per 100 possessions) and a whole lot of Marc Gasol — 22.5 points on a .606 true shooting percentage plus 8.5 boards a game so far. However, Courtney Lee’s injury hurts, as the lack of outside shooting eventually will catch up with this team.

 
source:  3. Heat (3-0, LW 17). LeBron who? The Heat offense has been impressive to start the season and they picked up wins over Toronto and a depleted Wizards team. Chris Bosh is averaging 25.7 points and 11.3 rebounds a game, reminding you he is a No. 1 offensive option. Interesting tests with the Rockets, Bobcats and Mavericks on the docket this week.

 
source:  4. Rockets (4-0, LW 8). Trevor Ariza has shot the ball well so far, 17.3 points a game plus hitting 59.3 from three. The Rockets play 7 of their first 11 on the road, but the first week was soft (Lakers, Jazz, Celtics, Sixers). That’s about to change — Heat, Spurs and Warriors are up this week.

 
source:  5. Spurs (1-1, LW 1). Not the most impressive first week for the champs, which nobody is reading anything into. What, you doubt this team will find a groove? They have Kawhi Leonard back, Tim Duncan has looked strong, and by the way Tony Parker is knocking down threes (6-of-6 this season so far). Houston ad New Orleans up this week.

 
source:  6. Mavericks (3-1, LW 6). Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki have quickly found their groove from last season while Chandler Parsons is averaging 18.8 a game and shooting 44.4 percent from three. Their only loss was a tight one on the road to the Spurs. Still questions about their defense, but they are winning.

 
source:  7. Clippers (3-1, LW 3). They haven’t really impressed so far. They have lapses of interest and effort (third quarter against the Jazz Monday for example). Do that in the showdown against Golden State on Wednesday and they will get crushed. That said good record to start as they have eight of their first nine games at Staples Center and don’t leave California until Nov. 19.

 
source:  8. Cavaliers (1-1 LW 2). One good, one bad game from LeBron, but the fact he has played 42.5 minutes a night early on catches your eye. That’s a lot of burn. Three games on the road this week, including an interesting one in Portland.

 
source:  9. Bulls (2-1, LW 4). Derrick Rose’s injury had his detractors saying “I told you so” but he came down on Kyrie Irving’s foot, a fluke thing, and he will be back playing on Tuesday. I don’t get why some in Chicago are so eager to hate their own best player. Soft schedule this week.

 
source:  10. Suns (2-1, LW 12). It may be a work in progress, but the Suns three-guard lineup — Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas — sparked the late run that gut them a win over the Spurs. Then they lost to Utah. Up and down team early.

 
source:  11. Raptors (2-1, LW 14). That loss to Miami should have the Raptors looking in the mirror — 15 missed free throws and defensive lapses down the stretch. This team is just not the same when Amir Johnson isn’t in the lineup (he missed against the Heat). Another showdown with Washington Friday night.

 
source:  12. Kings (3-1, LW 22). Three quality wins — the Clippers, the Trail Blazers, and in Denver on the second night of a back-to-back — has people thinking the Kings are going to be better than projected. They’ve got the Suns this week and could steal that team’s “surprising young team in the West” moniker if they keep playing like this.

 
source:  13. Wizards (2-1, LW 15). They had some nice games from Otto Porter (21 the night Paul Pierce got ejected) and the team looks good when John Wall is on the court. Interesting game with the Raptors Friday but a fairly soft schedule early, which is good for them with Bradley Beal still out.

 
source:  14. Knicks (2-1, LW 21). They picked up about as quality a sin as it gets in Cleveland and when they share the ball they offense seems to click. The defense is still a concern, it needs to improve or there will be some ugly losses to balance out their scales.

 
source:  15. Nets (2-1, LW 19). It’s fun to watch owed Mikhail Prokhorov take shots at Jason Kidd, but what really matters is they got Brook Lopez back in the rotation Monday in the win over OKC. Showdown with the Knicks this week but very winnable games on the schedule to get them off to a fast start.

 
source:  16. Hawks (1-1, LW 16). The Hawks are strong where you’d expect — Kyle Korver is knocking down threes and Al Horford remains very good at everything — but they are getting bat on the boards early. As expected, this team just hangs in the middle of the pack in the East so far.

 
source:  17. Thunder (1-3, LW 5).. The schedule maker was not kind to the Thunder to start the season: Already they have seen the Trail Blazers, Clippers and Nets with Brook Lopez back, this week they get the Raptors, Grizzlies and surging Kings. They are bottom five in offense and defense early on.

 
source:  18. Trail Blazers (1-2. LW 9). Rough start to the season for Damian Lillard who is shooting 26.8 overall and has a true shooting percentage of just .439 (it was .568 last season). He’s taking more threes this season — 53.7 percent of his attempts so far — and is hitting just 31.8 percent of those. He’s also just shooting 37.5 percent inside three feet.

 
source:  19. Pelicans (1-2, LW 11). Anthony Davis is a freak, averaging 23.7 points and 13.3 points a game, not to mention 4.3 blocks a night. The problem on the bayou is the rest of the New Orleans offense has all the spice of a rice cake — Tyreke Evans is shooting 39.2 percent, Eric Gordon 25 percent, Ryan Anderson 34 percent and so on.

 
source:  20. Nuggets (1-2, LW 13). It’s early, but this offense should be better than just 94.1 points per 100 possessions, 27th in the league. They are still playing with good pace but just not making plays or knocking down the open looks they do get.

 
source:  21. Hornets (1-2, LW 18). Lance Stephenson’s arrival has not boosted the Hornets offense so far, in fact he frustrated coach Steve Clifford enough to be benched in the fourth against Memphis. He was better against the Knicks, and Al Jefferson is putting up numbers as always, but this team still has a long way to go on that end of the court.

 
source:  22. Pacers (1-2, LW 23). The schedule makers were kind to a team they didn’t know would be broken down, giving them the Sixers, Bucks and Celtics in their first six games. Hasn’t helped them win, although Roy Hibbert has looked more like the guy from a couple years ago.

 
source:  23. Timberwolves (1-2, LW 24). Minnesota has actually outscored its opponents by 1.8 points per 100 possessions through three games, yet struggled late in contests. Meet the new Timberwolves, same as the old Timberwolves.

 
source:  24. Bucks (1-2, LW 27). Defensively, these Bucks are a pretty good team. A surprisingly good team — fifth best in the NBA right now. The offense is the side that needs work, starting with limiting turnovers — 20.8 percent of their possessions have ended in a turnover this season. You can’t just throw away one in five trips down the court.

 
source:  25. Celtics (1-2, LW 28). Impressive win over the Nets to start the season, but then they threw up a brick against Houston. Almost literally, going 1-of-25 from three. What really matters is Rajon Rondo has looked solid (that’s good news whether you’re in the “keep him” or “trade him” camp).

 
source:  26. Jazz (1-3, LW 26). The schedule maker has done no favors for Utah early, they have already played Houston, Dallas, Phoenix and the Clippers, then this week host LeBron and the Cavaliers, then Dallas, then they head out on the road for six of seven.

 
source:  27. Pistons (0-3, LW 20). Detroit’s offense has just been a mess, and it’s not all Josh Smith’s fault (he’s taking fewer threes, but he’s oddly struggling to hit around the rim this week). Stan Van Gundy went out trying to find shooting this summer but with Jodie Meeks injured you get a lot of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (2-of-16) and D.J. Augustin (3-of-13) as the guys who have taken the most threes, and that’s not good.

 
source:  28. Lakers (0-4, LW 25). Their 0-4 start is the worst the franchise has seen since 1957. In Minneapolis. Where the Lakers name made some sense. The reason is their defense, which is 8.7 points per 100 possessions worse than any other team in the league so far. Small sample size alert, but that is crazy bad.

 
source:  29. Magic (0-3, LW 29). There have been flashes, like Nikola Vucevic putting up good numbers and rookie Elfrid Payton having good nights. Still no wins. The schedule maker did them no favors to start the season: 19 of 28 on the road to start the season.

 
source:  30. 76ers (0-4, LW 30). If you want a bright spot, in each of the Sixers four losses they held the lead at one point in the third quarter. But that’s about it, save for Nerlens Noel shutting down James Harden at the rim.

Watch Donovan Mitchell drop 43, upstage LeBron return as Cavs top Lakers

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CLEVELAND (AP) — As a kid growing up in New York, Donovan Mitchell idolized LeBron James. On Tuesday night, he upstaged him.

Mitchell scored a season-high 43 points and Jarrett Allen returned from injury to add 24, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 116-102 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in James’ only visit home this season.

With Anthony Davis missing the final three quarters because of illness, the Cavs improved to an NBA-leading 11-1 on their floor, their best start at home since 2015-16, when James led them to a championship.

Mitchell, who has Cleveland fans dreaming of another title run, took over in the second half and scored 29 points with the kind of performance James had routinely during his 11 seasons for the Cavs.

“You always want to spoil the homecoming,” Mitchell said with a smile.

With Cleveland leading by 12 in the fourth, Mitchell buried a 3-pointer from the left wing to finish the Lakers. After dropping the shot, the All-Star guard strutted around the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse floor nodding his head as James helplessly watched.

“He’s Mitchell,” James said. “He’s a special kid.”

Darius Garland added 21 points and 11 assists for Cleveland.

James finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds, losing for just the third time in 20 games against the Cavs.

Dennis Schroder and Russell Westbrook added 16 points apiece as Los Angeles had its four-game winning streak stopped.

Davis went out after eight minutes with flu-like symptoms. The eight-time All-Star had scored 99 points in his previous two games and had been playing as well as he has in several seasons after being plagued by injuries.

Davis didn’t attempt a field goal and scored just one point before leaving.

“It got progressively worse as the day went on,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “His temperature was 101 and some change. A-D wanted to try to play, but he felt too weak. He’s drained and dehydrated.

“That’s a huge loss, obviously, with the way he’s been playing lately.”

Without Davis clogging the middle, Allen, who missed the last five games with a bruised back, made his first 10 shots and helped the Cavs take a 57-49 halftime lead.

“Next man up,” James said when asked how he reacted to losing Davis. “That’s a tall task – literally and figuratively.”

The Cavs welcomed James back with a video tribute during an early timeout. After a montage of clips, including some from 2016, James waved to the crowd and then blew kisses to show his appreciation.

The warm scene was in contrast to what happened almost exactly 12 years ago, when he came back with the Miami Heat and was met with boos and worse on a night James has said he’ll never forget.

James said he was caught off guard by the tribute.

“It’s always love coming back here,” he said. “The memories I have here will never be forgotten.”

 

Ben Simmons targeting Friday vs. Hawks to return from calf strain

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Ben Simmons has missed the Nets’ last three games with knee pain tied to a left calf strain, and he will be out Wednesday, too, when Brooklyn takes on Charlotte.

However, he plans to return on Friday (Dec. 9) against the Hawks.

Simmons was adjusting to a new role in Brooklyn. In Philadelphia he was a point-forward with the ball in his hands playing off Joel Embiid (at least at first), but in Brooklyn the ball needed to be in the hands of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the halfcourt. Simmons is playing more small-ball five, and is asked to be aggressive and attack when he gets the ball — not shoot jumpers — and to push the rock in transition. It took a while for Simmons to settle into that space, but he seemed to in games against Philadelphia (11 points, 11 assists), Toronto (14 points, six assists) and Indiana (20 points). Then the injuries hit.

Brooklyn sits at 13-12, with a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense for the season. While there are doubts about the ceiling for this team, it has a talent level that should be better than this record, it’s just been beset by injuries, controversy causing Kyrie Irving to miss time, and a coaching change. The Nets have yet to hit their stride.

But they could have a clean injury report on Friday night, and maybe that can be the start of this team getting on a run.

Suns, Hawks reportedly show interest in Kuzma trade, Wizards see him as cornerstone

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyle Kuzma was the kind of quality, two-way role player the Lakers needed around LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win the 2020 NBA title (the type of player the Lakers wish they had now).

In Washington, his role has been elevated — he’s a 20-point-a-game scorer (20.6 points per game this season, to be precise) who is a key part of generating offense, not just playing off the stars of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. As he told Shams Charania of The Athletic:

“As soon as I got traded, I was ready to be more,” Kuzma told The Athletic.

It’s been enough to draw the interest of a couple of teams looking for a trade, Charania adds. The Wizards are not necessarily interested in moving on, however.

Several teams, such as the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, have expressed trade interest in Kuzma, according to league sources. By the same token, the Wizards have shown interest in Hawks forward John Collins, and the sides seriously discussed a potential deal last offseason, league sources added…

However, the Wizards’ front office, led by general manager Tommy Sheppard, has made clear that it views Kuzma as a cornerstone moving forward as the franchise has seen him thrive since the mega-trade in the 2021 offseason. The Westbrook trade provided future flexibility and assets for the Wizards, who have been known to be aggressive and active in research across the league.

Kuzma has a $13 million player option for next season that he will unquestionably opt out of, making him a free agent in search of a healthy raise (north of $20 million a year, although expect something more in the ballpark of the four-year, $104 million Jalen Brunson contract). If the Wizards are willing to pay they likely can keep him (they have his Bird rights). But if Washington isn’t sure it wants to pay market value, or if management sees a shifting path for future seasons, it should consider trading Kuzma at the deadline.

If he becomes available, far more teams than the Hawks and Suns would be interested, quality two-way forwards are in demand around the league. Kuzma would have some leverage over where he gets sent because he can leave as a free agent (teams would offer up less if they believed Kuzma would only be a rental for this season).

Magic send Jonathan Isaac to G-League for practice, rehabilitation

2022-2023 Orlando Magic Media Day
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There was a time when it was thought Jonathan Isaac might be the Magic’s next big star.

However, he has not stepped on an NBA court since he was in the bubble (Feb. 8, 2020), then he tore his ACL in August of that year (which came on the heels of missing much of that season with an injury to the same knee). Last March he had a setback and another procedure, and at this point he has missed two full seasons plus the start of this one.

Isaac is still working toward recovery and the Magic have assigned him to the Lakeland Magic of the G-League to get in some practice.

Because NBA teams barely practice during the season — the schedule of games nearly every other day plus travel and recovery doesn’t permit more than film sessions and walk-throughs — these kinds of baseball-style minor league rehab assignments are more and more common.

The story from the Magic’s official website notes this will be the first time Isaac will play 5-on-5 with other players during his rehab, which is a significant step forward.

There is no timeline for his return, but the Magic have him under contract this season for $17.4 million and two more fully guaranteed years at the same price. There is no reason for the franchise to walk away, even if some around the league question if his knees will ever let him back on an NBA court again.

The Magic have found their next star in Paolo Banchero and have built a promising young core, something Isaac — an elite defender before his injuries — should fit in well with. If he can get healthy and back on the court.