PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Things still golden for Warriors at top of the list

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This early in the season, the power rankings feel like small sample size theater. Teams move up and down quickly as we try to get a feel for how good they really are (and we don’t have the data to really know that yet). There are teams in this list I think will fall as we move along, others that will rise (hello San Antonio), but where is where I have things as of the second week of the season.

 
source:  1. Warriors (5-1, Last Week No. 1). After their win over the Rockets Saturday coach Steve Kerr came down hard on his team speaking to the media — that’s a smart coach trying not to let a hot start go to their heads (they lost the next night to Phoenix). But also he was right, they have had sloppy moments early they just survived. David Lee is out but Draymond Green has been a rock solid fill in — 12.8 points a game, .576 true shooting percentage and 7.4 rebounds a game. Good time to do it, he’s a restricted free agent next summer.

 
source:  2. Rockets (6-1, LW 4). Easy for the Rockets to dismiss the loss to the Warriors — no Dwight Howard, Patrick Beverley or Terrence Jones and it was still tied midway through the fourth. They need Howard on offense to really work inside out. Three winnable games this week (Timberwolves, Sixers, Thunder).

 
source:  3. Grizzlies (6-1, LW 10). That impressive record looks a little shaky upon closer inspection — they are 21st in the NBA in offense and their bench has been nonexistent. But they have their next seven at home so look for the wins to keep piling up.

 
source:  4. Raptors (6-1, LW 11). Winners of four in a row thanks to the backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, they are building up a nice early cushion in the East toward their goal of at least one playoff round at home (and with that advancing to the second round or beyond). They are in the middle of a seven-game home stand so expect them to pad that cushion a little more.

 
source:  5. Bulls (5-2, LW 9). Early on this feels like the Bizzaro Bulls team — they are fourth in the league in offense but middle of the pack (17th) on defense. You know that will change over time, but Tom Thibodeau is trying to lean on his bench guys more and they are not playing good defense, that is what is hurting the numbers.

 
source:  6. Kings (5-2, LW 12). They swept a home-and-home with struggling Denver then beat Phoenix, but they way they played in a loss to OKC Sunday has me thinking this ranking may be generous. We’ll have a better sense of this team after this week when they are at Dallas, at Memphis then host the Spurs.

 
source:  7. Heat (5-2, LW 3). This is a fun team to watch on the offensive side of the ball because they share it — they have the most assists per 100 possessions in the NBA this season. That ball movement helped get them a nice win over Dallas on Sunday. But their defense isn’t going to win them games, they need to outscore teams.

 
source:  8. Clippers (4-2, LW 7). The least impressive 4-2 team in the league, their defensive rotations and their energy level have just not been impressive in any game. Plus, Lob City has taken fewer shot attempts in the restricted area than any other team in the NBA so far this season.

 
source:  9. Wizards (5-2, LW 13). That’s a nice record considering the offense has yet to find a good groove without Bradley Beal in the lineup. They’ve done it with a top five defense and could pad that record with only Detroit and Orlando on the schedule this week.

 
source:  10. Trail Blazers (4-3. LW 18). They are +7.4 points per 100 possessions as a team, meaning they are playing better than their record indicates. Good news for them that what looked like it could have a bad injury for Nicolas Batum is just a contusion.

 
source:  11. Nets (4-2, LW 15). They have the second best points per 100 possessions differential in the East (trailing only Toronto) — they also have played a very soft schedule. Let’s see how they look after this week on the road in Phoenix, Golden State and Portland.

 
source:  12. Mavericks (4-3, LW 6). They have the best offense in the NBA this young season gut have ugly losses to the Heat and Blazers because their defense has been terrible. Dirk Nowitzki should pass Hakeem Olajuwon for ninth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list at home against the Kings this week.

 
source:  13. Suns (4-3, LW 10). There are moments Isaiah Thomas has looked like the sixth man of the year this season, there are moments (like against his former team the Kings) when he can’t seem to find a rhythm off the bench. It’s a good thing he’s had big nights because Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe have looked pedestrian and have yet to really find a rhythm this season.

 
source:  14. Pelicans (3-2, LW 19). Anthony Davis made the late driving layup to lift the Pelicans over the Spurs this week, and that felt a little like a “we have arrived” moment for New Orleans. We’ll see if they can continue that momentum Monday taking on the Cavaliers on the road.

 
source:  15. Spurs (2-3, LW 5). Kawhi Leonard says his sight isn’t fully right yet, and they miss Tiago Splitter inside, he’s been out injured. That beautiful Spurs offense we saw last season is bottom five in the league right now, but does anybody expect that to last? Didn’t think so. Good road tests against the Clippers and Warriors this week as they take on all the California teams.

 
source:  16. Cavaliers (2-3 LW 8). They are going to miss Matthew Dellavedova (out six weeks with an ACL sprain), he was getting a lot of run and they don’t have a replacement as good as him. The offense shows moments of finding itself but that 27th ranked defense is the real issue and thing that needs to improve.

 
source:  17. Celtics (3-3, LW 25). Good news that Marcus Smart is only out a couple weeks, he’s been a rookie to watch. A team leaning on Evan Turner and Jeff Green is as unpredictable night-to-night as you would expect (and with Smart out we get more Turner).

 
source:  18. Jazz (3-4, LW 26). They picked up an exciting win over the Cavaliers on a Gordon Hayward game winner, plus Dante Exum is coming along a little faster than expected. Put this team on your League Pass watch list, they play hard and their games are entertaining.

 
source:  19. Hornets (3-4, LW 21). One of the most disappointing teams in the early going. They lack shooting from the outside (29 percent from three and their offense has no spark, ranked 25th in the league. They lost to the Lakers and that was the easy part of the road trip, now they get Portland, Phoenix and Golden State.

 
source:  20. Bucks (3-4, LW 24). They’ve had a soft schedule so it was a little hard to read them, then the Bucks went out and handed Memphis its only loss. This has looked like a strong defensive team, but that will get tested by Miami this week.

 
source:  21. Hawks (2-3, LW 16). You know the game plan every team has for the Hawks includes the line “don’t help off Kyle Korver at the arc” yet he gets open and is shooting a ridiculous 61.3 percent from three to start the season. Also, young German point guard Dennis Schroder is starting to look like a guy Mike Budenholzer can lean on in the rotation.

source:  22. Timberwolves (2-4, LW 23). Ricky Rubio has been key to the couple of Timberwolves wins — he shot 47.6 in those games and was a +15. He struggled with his shot in their losses. Fans may love rookie Zach LaVine but he is a big drop off from Rubio and it’s going to show while the Spaniard is out.

 
source:  23. Pistons (2-4, LW 27). Stan Van Gundy started the Josh Smith/Greg Monroe/Andre Drummond trio and it wasn’t terrible (they have played 38 minutes together and are +5). But I’m far from sold they can sustain that, especially as the competition gets tougher this week (Bulls, Wizards and Grizzlies all on the road).

 
source:  24. Knicks (2-5, LW 14). They have dropped four in a row, the offense has more resembled a trapezoid, and their defense has been atrocious. On the bright side they are home this week with some winnable games (Orlando, Denver), plus New Yorkers can still get the best bagels anywhere. That should be some consolation.

 
source:  25. Thunder (2-5, LW 17).. There were signs of hope in the win over the Kings Sunday, the best game the Thunder have played so far this season. This week they face a few other struggling teams (Bucks, Pistons) and maybe can pick up some wins and try to tread water until the help arrives next month.

 
source:  26. Nuggets (1-5, LW 20). Kenneth Faried told PBT this week that the slow starts for the Nuggets is all about them trying to get guys back from injury all together on the same page. Said it’s been a challenge as small injuries have had guys in and out of lineup, but he also said in the West they know they have to figure it out sooner rather than later.

 
source:  27. Magic (2-5, LW 29). They picked up a couple of wins and rookie point guard Elfrid Payton seems to be learning from being thrown into the fire, he’s had a couple solid games. Tobias Harris is dangerous with the ball in his hands at the ends of games.

 
source:  28. Lakers (1-5, LW 28). They picked up a nice win over struggling Charlotte (five days rest helped), which was a good one because the schedule is not kind for the next couple weeks. Byron Scott needs to play Ed Davis and Jeremy Lin more and together.

 
source:  29. Pacers (1-6, LW 22). Nice game by Donald Sloan dropping 31 on the Wizards but the injury gods continue to show the Pacers no mercy, now with Roy Hibbert going to play through a sore knee. Their only win is against the Sixers but with Utah and Denver at home this week maybe that changes. Maybe.

 
source:  30. 76ers (0-7, LW 30). The last winless team in the Association, but at least Tony Wroten is putting up numbers — he is putting up 21.9 points a game, by far the best on the team. He’s a guy that really worked to improve his game (we could see the improvement at Summer League) and now it’s paying off.

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.