PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Rockets, Grizzlies move to the top of the charts

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This early in the season there is still a lot of shifting around in the rankings as we are just starting to get a real sense of the pecking order, while teams that got off to a slow start find a groove (such as San Antonio). About the only thing we can count on right now is the Sixers and Lakers to be bad.

 
source:  1. Rockets (9-1, Last Week No. 2). Nobody is shooting threes like the Rockets, who have averaged 32.7 attempts per game (hitting 36.1 percent, which is okay but not great). Even with that, they just had two rough offensive outings and got wins because they played the Sixers and Thunder. Big showdown Monday with Memphis but the schedule is still pretty kind to Houston.

 
source:  2. Grizzlies (9-1, LW 3) They have racked up the wins but against one of the softest schedules in the NBA so far — Phoenix, New Orleans and Charlotte are the only potential playoff teams they have seen, and they needed a 26 point comeback on Kings and struggled with the Lakers. This week the schedule stiffens with the Rockets, Raptors and Clippers.

 
source:  3. Warriors (8-2, LW 1). What I like most from Steve Kerr’s offense is that he’s got them playing a little bit faster, and that pace seems to be picking up. Also, they are getting used to the offense and the turnovers seem to be going down. Still, that was not a good loss to a Spurs team (on the second night of a back-to-back).

 
source:  4. Mavericks (7-3, LW 12). They are benefitting from a soft spot in the schedule (save for upstart Sacramento, but Dallas came from 24 down to win) and that continues this week. Well, up until a weekend showdown with Houston. If you have Chandler Parsons on your fantasy team, play him that night.

 
source:  5. Trail Blazers (7-3. LW 10). They keep picking up wins (against soft teams last week) behind the hot shooting Damian Lillard — the NBA’s Western Conference Player of the Week is averaging 7.1 attempts from three a game and is hitting 46.5 percent of them. The days of going under the pick with him are long gone.

 
source:  6. Spurs (5-4, LW 15). Back-to-back road wins over the Clippers and Warriors announced San Antonio’s slow start was over and they are back to being the Spurs. That their defense is still top five without Tiago Splitter is impressive because when you watch them play you see how much they miss his rim protection.

 
source:  7. Bulls (7-3, LW 5). Lost in all the “Derrick Rose injury watch” overhype, the Bulls have a Top 10 offense. They are scoring 106 points per 100 possessions. As their defense starts to round into Tom Thibodeau form, this team looks more and more dangerous.

 
source:  8. Raptors (8-2, LW 4).
Loss to the Bulls just showing the Raptors where the bar will be set in the Easter playoffs. Their seven-game home stand ends this week and starting Saturday 5-of-7 are on the road, including at Cleveland Saturday. Some real tests ahead for Toronto.

 
source:  8. Cavaliers (5-3 LW 16). The offense has found its groove, as expected, with great ball movement and guys who can knock down the open look. Plus they have that LeBron James guy (playing 39 minutes a night). But the questions remain on defense, where this is still a bottom five team in the league.

 
source:  9. Wizards (7-2, LW 9). I don’t know that you can be an unimpressive 7-2, but the Wizards have picked up their wins against a soft schedule so far. However, they likely get Bradley Beal back this Friday and he instantly makes them more dangerous.

 
source:  11. Clippers (5-3, LW 8). The Lakers hole at the three spot is creating some serious defensive issues for the team. These are not the kinds of flaws that show up too often in the regular season, but they get exploited mercilessly come the playoffs. Tough week, facing the Bulls then at Memphis and Miami.

 
source:  12. Pelicans (5-3, LW 14). They are outscoring teams by 6.4 points per 100 possessions, sixth best margin in the NBA and ahead of teams like Memphis and Cleveland. We said the key to them this season (aside health) was getting the defense up to at least average. It’s still early, but the Pelicans are currently 14th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, which is pretty much average.

 
source:  13. Kings (6-4, LW 6). The beat the Spurs, but it is a little disturbing that they blew better than 20 point leads against both Dallas and Memphis. Keeping Rudy Gay for a couple more years was a win-win for both sides, he’s found a home in the California capital.

 
source:  14. Suns (5-5, LW 13). Isaiah Thomas has looked great coming off the bench. Like “can we still keep bringing him off the bench?” good. Interesting week for the Suns as they head out for an Easter road trip but all four games (Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, Indiana) are winnable.

 
source:  15. Heat (5-5, LW 7). Dwyane Wade went down with a hamstring injury (he’s missed two games so far), then not so coincidentally Chris Bosh and Luol Deng have off shooting nights. When defenses can focus on fewer threats it makes it can take away the space and pace the Heat rely on.

 
source:  16. Hawks (5-4, LW 21). This is a team getting nice play out of Jeff Teague and Al Horford on offense, plus they are moving the ball and as a team assisting on 2/3 of their buckets. However, their bottom 10 defense so far has them hanging around .500.

 
source:  17. Bucks (5-5, LW 20). We knew the Greek Freak would be fun to watch, as would Jabari Parker. What nobody saw coming was Brandon Knight playing beautifully and the Bucks having a top three defense. You’ve got to give Jason Kidd a round of applause for his work so far.

 
source:  18. Nets (4-5, LW 11). A tough West Coach road swing exposed some issues for the Nets. Now Joe Johnson is calling the team “selfish” and Brook Lopez isn’t his old self late in games, all of which means the struggles from the West could well follow Brooklyn home.

 
source:  19. Celtics (3-5, LW 17). The collapse and loss to Cleveland was a tough to swallow, even if it took LeBron going LeBron to make it happen. The Celtics have the sixth most efficient offense in the NBA but when your defense is 27th you still lose more than you win.

 
source:  20. Jazz (4-7, LW 18). Utah’s offense is 13.3 points better per 100 possessions when Gordon Hayward is on the floor. With Derrick Favors the offense is +10.6 better. And you wonder why the Jazz decided to pay those two guys big money.

 
source:  21. Hornets (4-6, LW 19). They went 1-2 on a West Coast road swing but they Hornets showed some real signs of life. Lance Stephenson seems to be getting more and more comfortable with his teammates. It was always going to be a process in Charlotte, with that team looking a lot better in the second half of the year compared to the first.

 
source:  22. Pacers (4-7, LW 29). Roy Hibbert remains on of the best rim protecting big men in the game and the heart of the Pacers defense, but when he sits down the Pacers offense gets 13.2 points better per 100 possessions. Still, credit the Pacers for finding themselves lately and picking up a few wins.

 
source:  23. Magic (4-7, LW 27). Losing rookie Aaron Gordon to injury is a punch to the gut, but on the bright side Victor Oladipo is back and finding his way. You have to like the way they competed against Toronto and Washington this past week.

 
source:  24. Knicks (3-8, LW 24). The Knicks will take the win over struggling Denver as it ends their seven game losing streak, and they have three more winnable ones coming up (Milwaukee, Minnesota and Philly). So, anyone still think Steve Kerr has second thoughts about not taking this job last summer?

 
source:  25. Thunder (3-8, LW 25). The return of Reggie Jackson has been a boost to a previously terrible offense, but it doesn’t exactly make it good. We’ll see how much the Thunder are improving in winnable games against Utah, Denver and Brooklyn this week — these are the kind of wins they need to keep their heads above water before the dynamic duo returns next month.

 
source:  26. Pistons (3-7, LW 23). Brandon Jennings is putting up impressive numbers and the defense isn’t terrible, but until the Pistons can get the front line to work together — and until Andre Drummond really blossoms under Stan Van Gundy — this team is going to struggle. The question is how long.

source:  27. Timberwolves (2-7, LW 22). They had two of the ugliest losses of the season, giving up better than 130 points on back-to-back nights. Ricky Rubio is a better defender than he gets credit for and they clearly miss him. They are reportedly shopping veteran Corey Brewer and don’t be shocked if other veterans on that team find themselves in a lot of trade rumors.

 
source:  28. Nuggets (2-7, LW 26). This team is a mess and you’ve got a feeling Brian Shaw’s seat has to be getting pretty warm right now. When your home fans are booing the team’s effort, it’s not a good sign.

 
source:  29. Lakers (1-9, LW 28). On the season now the Lakers have a defensive rating of 114.7, which is 3.8 points per 100 possessions worse than anyone else in the NBA, and if they keep this up it would be the worst NBA defense since at least 2000. But hey, Kobe Bryant is scoring.

 
source:  30. 76ers (0-9, LW 30). We try to focus on the good of seeing Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel together, but when you trail 78-29 at the half in a game as the Sixers did last week there really are no positives. Teams trying to avoid giving the Sixers their first win of the season this week: San Antonio, Boston, Phoenix and New York.

Referee bumps into waitress, tray of drinks spilled on court during Blazers game

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Katy Stevens has been a courtside server at Trail Blazers games for more than a decade — but this year has been unlike any other.

Back in December, LeBron James knocked her over, then helped her back up.

Then on Friday night, veteran referee Tony Brown backed into her and spilled an entire tray of drinks onto the court.

Let me say, as a guy who waited tables/bartended through college and a little while after — that job is hard. Katy is earning her money, and I felt terrible for her. I was not alone, as NBC Sports Northwest noted.

It was a rough night all the way around in the Moda Center. Portland, without Damian Lillard due to a groin injury, fell to the Pelicans 128-115 in a contest between two teams trying to catch Memphis for the final seed in the West (and the Grizzlies lost to the Lakers Friday).

Watch LeBron James score 32; Anthony Davis’ big second half lift Lakers past Grizzlies

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James scored 32 points, Anthony Davis recovered from an early injury scare to get 28 points and 13 rebounds, and the Los Angeles Lakers returned from the All-Star break with a 117-105 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.

Avery Bradley added 14 points for the Western Conference-leading Lakers, who finished strong after blowing most of their 25-point lead accumulated in a superb first half. Davis had 14 points and seven rebounds in the fourth quarter as Los Angeles improved to 42-12 with its fourth straight win since Feb. 6.

Josh Jackson scored a season-high 20 points for the Grizzlies, who have lost back-to-back games in California after heading into the All-Star break with eight wins in 10. Ja Morant added 17 points as Memphis dropped to 0-2 on its four-game West Coast trip, which matches its longest road stretch of the season.

Davis departed less than two minutes after the opening tip when he bruised his right calf on an opponent’s knee. The All-Star went to the locker room and missed the rest of the first quarter, but returned early in the second before scoring 24 points in the second half.

Although James, Davis and Dwight Howard were busy in Chicago over the break, the Lakers returned with impressive defensive focus across the roster. Los Angeles held Memphis to 15-for-38 shooting and forced 11 turnovers in the first half to jump to a 19-point lead.

The Grizzlies trimmed the lead to four points early in the fourth quarter with a prolonged surge. The Lakers hung on with a series of big plays, including a jaw-dropping rebound dunk by Alex Caruso off a missed free throw by Davis with 6:16 to play.

James clinched it with a driving layup followed by a gorgeous fadeaway jumper with 1:12 left. Davis then hit his second 3-pointer in the final minute.

The Lakers improved to 3-0 against the Grizzlies this season. They meet again in Memphis on Feb. 29.

 

Pilot in Kobe Bryant helicopter crash had FAA reprimand for flying in reduced visibility

Image courtesy Kurt Helin
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The pilot of a helicopter that crashed into a Southern California hillside, killing Kobe Bryant and eight others, was reprimanded five years ago for flying without permission into airspace while he had reduced visibility, according to a Federal Aviation Administration enforcement record.

Ara Zobayan was counseled by an FAA investigator after he violated FAA rules by crossing into busy airspace near Los Angeles International Airport on May 11, 2015, according to the record, which was first reported Friday by the Los Angeles Times.

The record doesn’t indicate whether Zobayan was carrying any passengers at the time.

Zobayan, 50, died Jan. 26 when his helicopter plunged at high speed into a hillside in Calabasas, northwest of Los Angeles. Zobayan had been trying to climb above a cloud layer when the aircraft banked left and plunged 1,200 feet (366 meters) at high speed. There has been speculation that the pilot became disoriented in the foggy weather. The crash remains under investigation.

The crash also killed Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, along with six others. The victims will be honored at a Feb. 24 public memorial at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

At the time, Zaboyan was chief pilot for the charter service Island Express Helicopters Inc.

He was flying for the same company during the 2015 incident.

According to the FAA report, Zobayan’s helicopter was near the Hawthorne, California, airport and heading north when he asked the LAX tower for permission to cross LAX airspace. Zobayan was told that weather conditions didn’t meet the minimum for pilots using visual flight rules — that is, flying by sight.

Zaboyan was asked whether he could maintain “VFR conditions.”

Zaboyan replied that he could “maintain special VFR” — meaning he sought permission to fly by sight in less-than-optimal visibility.

When air traffic control denied the request and told him to stay clear of the area, Zobayan replied that he could “maintain VRF” but during the conversation, the helicopter entered the airspace, according to the record.

Zobayan contacted authorities and his company after the incident and was cooperative. But an FAA investigator faulted him for failing to properly plan and review current weather at LAX, which would have allowed him time to communicate earlier with the tower in order to receive clearance, according to the record.

The report said Zobayan “admitted his error, took responsibility for his action, and was willing to take any other necessary steps toward compliance.”

“There are no indications that this is a repeated incident and there are no signs that this incident is a trend with Mr. Zobayan,” the report said.

Zobayan was counseled “on operating in Class B airspace, special VFR weather minimums, proper planning, reviewing weather, and anticipating required action,” the report said. “He was cooperative and receptive to the counseling.”

Island Express Helicopters Inc, reported that it conducted additional ground and flight training with Zaboyan.

Veteran helicopter pilots were divided over the severity of the FAA violation, the Times reported.

“I don’t know a single pilot out there who hasn’t violated a rule,” Shawn Coyle said. “If that’s the only violation he’s ever had then I would say he’s pretty safe.”

But former Island Express pilot Kurt Deetz said entering LAX airspace without approval can be dangerous because of the possible presence of commercial jets. He also questioned Zaboyan’s communication with air traffic controllers.

“You can’t request special VFR and then they deny you and you say, ‘Oh wait a minute, actually I’m VFR’, ” he told the Times. “That’s not how it works. It shows that perhaps his understanding of special VFR as opposed to VFR was cloudy.”

Watch Zion Williamson score 25, lead Pelicans to crucial win vs. Trail Blazers

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Zion Williamson had 25 points for his seventh straight game with at least 20 points, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 128-115 on Friday night.

The No. 1 draft pick was playing in just his 11th game after a right knee injury sidelined him for the first half of the season.

The Pelicans, who led by as many as 22 points, have won four of their last five games.

The Blazers, who have lost three straight, were without Damian Lillard, who is expected to miss three or more games because of a groin injury that occurred in Memphis last week. It kept Lillard out of the All-Star Game and the 3-point contest last weekend.

Lillard is averaging a career-high 29.5 points and 7.8 assists per game. His absence hurts the Blazers, who went into the game 3.5 games back of Memphis for eighth in the Western Conference standings.

And it’s not just Lillard: Portland had only nine players available for the game.

CJ McCollum took over as point guard and finished with 27 points and 10 assists. Hassan Whiteside added 19 points and 12 rebounds.

The Pelicans were among four teams, along with the Blazers, fighting for those last playoff berths with just a third of the season left. Coach Alvin Gentry said he’s treating the last 27 games like a college season.

“We want to play to get into a tournament. We want a high seed. Those are the things that we’ve talked about. Obviously, we have to play good basketball,” Gentry said.

The Pelicans also won the previous three meetings this season with Portland. Earlier this month in New Orleans, Williamson had 31 points and nine rebounds in a 138-117 victory over the Blazers.

Williamson, who played just one season at Duke before going pro, went into the game against the Blazers averaging 22.1 points and 7.5 rebounds.

His streak of games with 20-plus points is the longest among NBA rookies this season. And he was the first player since Michael Jordan to have 20 or more in eight of his first 10 NBA games.

Lonzo Ball’s 3-pointer put the Pelicans up 29-17 in the opening quarter. But the Blazers closed within 40-38 early in the second on Whiteside’s dunk. It was as close as Portland could get, and Williamson’s dunk gave New Orleans a 54-46 lead.

Williamson’s layup pushed the Pelicans’ advantage to 65-50 and New Orleans led 73-63 going into halftime. He led all players with 19 points.

Consecutive jumpers from Carmelo Anthony and Whiteside’s dunk pulled Portland within 80-75 in the third quarter. The Pelicans pulled away with a 12-0 run to head to the fourth with 102-83 lead.

Portland closed the gap a bit in the fourth when back-to-back 3-pointers from Trevor Ariza and McCollum got the Blazers within 114-105. Jrue Holiday‘s 3 and Ball’s layup extended New Orleans’ lead again and fans at the Moda Center headed for the exits.

Holiday finished with 20 points and nine assists.