PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Warriors, Grizzlies solidly in top two slots

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No real changes this week at the very top of the rankings — the Warriors and Grizzlies are playing the best ball in the NBA so far this young season. No change at the bottom either, and I don’t anticipate we’ll see one anytime soon. Likely all season. I don’t even know what to write about the Sixers anymore.

 
source:  1. Warriors (14-2, Last Week No. 1). Winners of nine in a row now, this team’s starting five is a ridiculous +28.7 points per 48 minutes. Which means when David Lee returns Steve Kerr has to bringing him off the bench and keep the impressive Draymond Green as a starter. Do not mess with what works.

 
source:  2. Grizzlies (15-2, LW 3) They have five wins in a row including a couple real quality ones over the Clippers and at the Trail Blazers last Friday (probably Memphis’ best game of the season). They are beating quality, because the next four up are Houston, San Antonio, Miami and Dallas.

 
source:  3. Spurs (12-4, LW 5). Ettore Messina coached the Spurs to a couple wins, who have gotten Kawhi Leonard in a groove and, more importantly, have the second best defense in the NBA this young season despite not yet having Tiago Splitter and his presence in the paint back. Fun showdown with Memphis this week.

 
source:  4. Trail Blazers (13-4. LW 4). They had to go out on the road and won all three, but Memphis comes in playing a playoff style game and beats them at home. Read into that what you want. Only four teams are top 10 in the NBA in offensive and defensive efficiency so far and the Blazers are one of them.

 
source:  5. Mavericks (13-5, LW 7). You know which team leads the NBA in alley-oop dunks so far this season? Yup, Dallas. It is the new Lob City. That’s in part due to the Mavericks doing something the Knicks did not enough — use Tyson Chandler as the roll man. He can finish.

 
source:  6. Rockets (13-4, LW 6). Picked up wins this week starting Isaiah Canaan, Tarik Black and Donatas Motiejunas (who had a big game against DeMarcus Cousins and Kings), which is impressive. Dwight Howard is close, don’t be shocked if he plays Wednesday against Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies.

 
source:  7. Raptors (13-4, LW 2). Without DeMar DeRozan the Raptors’ margin for error is much smaller and that showed against the Lakers where they could have used another athletic defender. Dwane Casey said Sunday he likes Greivis Vasquez next to Kyle Lowry starting in the backcourt, expect them to stick with that for a while.

 
source:  8. Bulls (11-6, LW 9). Sunday in win over Brooklyn was fifth time this season Bulls have had their planned starting five together — and that group is +24.9 per 100 possessions and the Bulls are 5-0 when they start. Just need to keep that group together (Bulls fans reach for wood to knock on).

 
source:  9. Clippers (11-5, LW 13). They have won four in a row and six of seven with their offense really clicking in that stretch. What’s more they have a soft schedule ahead this week (save for dealing with Anthony Davis) so expect the streak to keep going.

 
source:  10. Cavaliers (8-7 LW 17). Kevin Love is getting his touches closer to the basket, he’s shooting a higher percentage and suddenly the Cavs offense clicks and they are winning. They’ve also shown signs of defensive life. Couple games coming up against Raptors should be good test.

 
source:  11. Wizards (10-5, LW 8). It’s really this simple: With Nene in the lineup the Wizards are a threat to beat anyone, but with him out (foot issues again) they look pedestrian. He keys their defense and they hope to get him back this week.

 
source:  12. Suns (10-8, LW 10). Their offense has slipped with Isaiah Thomas out (which led to ugly losses to Orlando and Denver) and they need to find it fast because this week they head to Texas for a Dallas-Houston two-step.

 
source:  13. Kings (9-8, LW 11). They showed some fight without DeMarcus Cousins Sunday, even if they still fell to Memphis, but there are reasons to feel good in Sacramento: They have put together this record against the toughest schedule of any team in the NBA so far.

 
source:  14. Hawks (9-6, LW 15). They are 7-3 in their last 10 games and we need to point out again that Jeff Teague is playing fantastic ball this season, getting the Hawks offense humming. It’s a crowded position but he’s playing like a guy who has to be considered for the All-Star Game.

 
source:  15. Heat (9-7, LW 14). Dwyane Wade returned Sunday against New York — way to ease back in — and the Heat went 3-4 without him. The Heat’s offense just flows much better when he is out there, plus the post game interviews are improved as well.

 
source:  16. Bucks (10-8, LW 16). The Bucks have been a feel-good story to start the season — they are everyone’s League Pass favorites — but it may be about to be midnight on the Cinderella start. They have a top 10 defense on paper but how does it hold up to two games against Dallas and one against the Cavs this week? The Rockets put up 117 points on them last week.

 
source:  17. Nuggets (8-8, LW 18). After a dreadful start the Nuggets have won 6-of-7, mostly with an improved offense that Arron Afflalo is pulling along, and one that is playing a little more slowly (where coach Brian Shaw has wanted it). Will they be able to sustain it is the question.

 
source:  18. Pelicans (7-8, LW 12). Anthony Davis gets mentioned in some early MVP talk, and he’s been the best player in the league this young season, but the MVP almost always comes from a top five team and the Pelicans have lost three straight to fall below .500. Which is to say, as the season wears on, he’ll fade out of that top spot for a lot of voters, although he’ll get a slot down the ballot.

 
source:  19. Pacers (7-10, LW 22). David West is back and while he certainly showed a little rust the Pacers offense will be better with him. They’ll need it with a tough week ahead on the road out West in Phoenix, Portland and Sacramento.

 
source:  20. Nets (6-9, LW 23). Not that Nets fans should feel good about this record anyway, but here is some bad news: It has come against the softest schedule of any team in the NBA this season. On the bright side, Kevin Garnett does a great snapping turtle impression.

 
source:  21. Celtics (4-10, LW 20). They are leading the league in moral victories lately, hanging with Cleveland, Chicago and San Antonio for much of the games. Of course, that and four bucks gets you a latte at Starbucks (including a nice tip).

 
source:  22. Thunder (5-12, LW 22). Russell Westbrook is back, Kevin Durant will be back soon. They can still sneak into a bottom seed in the West if they start to win at the pace they did last season — to get to 49 wins (what it took to make the playoffs in the West last season) they need to go 44-21 the rest of the way.

 
source:  23. Magic (7-12, LW 19). Quality win in Phoenix Sunday after dropping their previous three. It doesn’t get any easier this week as they keep swinging through a Western road trip and get the Warriors and Clippers among others.

source:  24. Timberwolves (4-11, LW 27). They have the Sixers this Wednesday and with no Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin or Nikola Pekovic this may be Philly’s best shot at a win. Sixers and Timberwolves could be a really interesting game in three years when these teams mature.

 
source:  25. Lakers (4-13, LW 26). Kobe Bryant turned back the clock Sunday night, picking apart the Raptors defensive doubles early and hitting some key shots late. This is how the Lakers will win games — they didn’t play good defense against Toronto, they just hit a lot of tough shots (particularly in the second quarter).

 
source:  26. Jazz (5-12, LW 21). Free Rudy Gobert… actually, just play him more. Next to Derrick Favors. They have lost five in a row but have been tougher at home where they get the Nuggets and Magic this week.

 
source:  27. Knicks (4-14, LW 24). Carmelo Anthony came back Sunday earlier than expected and looked pretty good dropping 31. Not that it meant the Knicks would get a win. This team seems to settle for more jumpers and attack the rim less than any in the league (and that’s not how you rack up wins).

 
source:  28. Hornets (4-14, LW 25). I thought they’d miss Josh McRoberts some, but not this much. Word is out now that anyone not named Kemba or Jefferson can be had in a trade as they decide to shake up the chemistry on a team that went from top five defensively last year to bottom five this year.

 
source:  29. Pistons (3-14, LW 26). Andre Drummond had his best games this season by far when Brandon Jennings was out, but he returns and Drummond is back to his old ways (1-of-8 against Golden State). Coincidence? Probably not, and just one more thing you can thank Joe Dumars for.

 
source:  30. 76ers (0-16, LW 30). If you’re thinking about watching a Sixers game, head out to the movies instead. I saw Big Hero 6 over the weekend, that was good and much better than expected. I really want to go see Birdman, that looks fantastic. Personally just not a Hunger Games guy.

Teams forced into difficult choices to trim traveling parties for restart

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The 22 teams participating in the NBA restart were all at the Disney campus together for the first time Friday.

None of them, however, made it to the Orlando, Florida, area with their usual travel party.

Leaving families behind for several weeks — or maybe even three months, depending on how deep a team goes in the playoffs — during a pandemic isn’t the only hardship that teams are dealing with during this restart. Space limitations within the quasi-bubble at Disney also meant that teams had to cut their official traveling parties down to 37, including players, so many people who usually travel with a club aren’t on this trip.

“We’re not able to take everybody — and that stinks, because of the amount of work that they all put in every single day,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “We’ve tried to identify how to be the most efficient we can be with people that can be excellent remotely as well. I think that that’s one of the things that we’ve had to identify. In some cases, their excellence remotely probably hurt their chances of going initially.”

It’s expected that as the bubble population shrinks after six teams are eliminated from playoff contention and then eight more are ousted in the first postseason round, teams will be allowed to bring in more staff.

But until then, while teams are playing games on-site at Disney, there will be plenty of work done back in home markets and home arenas as well. Some teams left player development coaches behind, some even left assistant coaches, and all teams traveled with only one media relations staffer and one equipment manager. In normal circumstances, some teams travel with as many as three people to handle media requirements and two for equipment.

“You know, it’s tough,” Orlando President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said. “We kind of shied away from some of the language that was being thrown around — the whole idea of essential (staff) and non-essential (staff). It’s not about that. This is a very narrowly defined circumstance, and it requires certain skill sets to address this circumstance.”

Players counted against the list of 37, and most teams brought the full complement of 17 players. That left 20 spots for coaches, assistant coaches, player development, video, security, strength and conditioning, athletic training, media relations and content creators.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said the process of figuring out who goes and who doesn’t was brutal.

“We already have had a model of everybody sharing responsibilities,” Spoelstra said. “We already had a meeting about this where there’s an absolute understanding that this is an ‘all hands on deck’ situation. And that means bags, laundry, cleanup, everything … that’s not just for equipment managers, that’s everybody — coaches, trainers, weight room staff, head coach, coaches, we’re all going to be involved in every aspect of it.”

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan also expressed disappointment that tough decisions had to be made on the staffing end.

He completely understands the NBA perspective. Keeping the number of people in the bubble manageable is a key part of the NBA’s plan for being able to finish the season; the more people in the bubble, the more risk there is of something going wrong.

“Everybody deserves the opportunity, but for the safety of the league and the players we can’t do that,” Donovan said. “So, what we’ve got to do is understand, whether it’s myself or assistant coaches, we may have to be setting up video equipment, we may have to have one of our coaches filming practice in Orlando. There’s things that we’re going to have to do that are going to be outside the box that will normally been taken care of.”

Chris Paul playing cornhole. Luka Doncic trick shots. Welcome to life in the NBA bubble.

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Teams have emerged from quarantine in the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, getting some run in on the court, and are starting to explore life in the NBA bubble.

Then they are documenting it on social media.

For example, Chris Paul and Darius Bazley played some cornhole.

Dallas’ Luka Doncic was hitting trick shots on the court.

Then Doncic and Boban Marjanovic were doing Disney Channel ads.

Complaints about the food by players have died down, in part because they are out of quarantine and get a choice of restaurants, in part because they saw the backlash and realized the complaints looked elitist. Or maybe it’s just the Mickey pancakes.

Everyone is out and exploring the campus and having fun…

Well, except for Robin Lopez, who sees no reason to leave his room.

Zion Williamson “just went back to square one” with quarantine workouts

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Zion Williamson looks cut — like he spent the entire quarantine doing workouts — and ready to be a force at the NBA restart in Orlando.

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Built for this 💪

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What workouts did Zion Williamson do during the break to get that look? He took everything back down to step one and built it up again working out with his stepfather Lee Anderson, Williamson told reporters on Friday (hat tip Andrew Lopez of ESPN):

“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said Friday. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”

Williamson did a little more than that. He also had approval from the league to go to the Pelicans practice facility throughout the quarantine and get treatment on his knee, the one that kept him out the first 45 games of the season. So he stayed healthy.

He also worked on other aspects of this game, such as his jump shot. Williamson took 76.7% of his shot attempts at the rim this season, and while getting to the rim is critical to his game, he’s going to have confidence in his shot and knock down jumpers to reach higher levels in the league.

The Pelicans enter the bubble 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed in the West, and with the softest schedule of any team in Orlando (matching their schedule before the interruption), they have a legitimate chance of forcing a two-game play-in series. It’s not easy, but there is a path to the playoffs for New Orleans (setting up a Zion vs. LeBron James first-round showdown that league broadcast partners are drooling over).

A stronger, improved Zion could help get the Pelicans there.

Paul George: “I feel great again,” says Clippers finally fully healthy

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Paul George symbolized the Clippers’ health all season long. George missed the first 11 games of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, then all season long it was still a lingering issue — until the suspension of play gave him time to heal.

“The whole season, all the way up until maybe a month or two ago, I had to always do shoulder rehab stuff, warming the shoulder up,” George said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “Just so much went into stuff I had to do before I actually took a foot on the floor. Now I feel great again.”

It wasn’t just Paul George, the Clippers had Kawhi Leonard managing his knee/thigh issue and an assortment of other injuries that didn’t give Doc Rivers the full arsenal at his disposal. That was until around the All-Star break — after that break Los Angeles went 7-2 with a +11.5 net rating that was best in the league by far.

The season being shut down may have halted that momentum, but it also gave a banged-up Los Angeles roster a chance to get healthy.

“For this team, man, I think our aspirations, again, this time off has given us what we needed,” George said. “We had some guys that was banged up, nagging injuries. The more time gave us more time for us to aid those injuries and to get back to 100.”

Health matters — which is why Montrez Harrell brought his own personal, portable sauna, a secret Reggie Jackson let out of the bag.

Health matters to Rivers, too, but what he wants more is that team chemistry back — and the Clippers have a long way to go on that end in Rivers’ eyes.

“This is not a normal way of starting back,” Rivers said of the mini-training camp all 22 teams at the NBA restart will get in Orlando. “Usually going into training camp, guys have been scrimmaging for three and four weeks, they’ve been playing, shooting on hoops. That’s not happening. This is a group, some of the guys have not touched a basketball or seen a gym until two weeks ago. We got a lot of work to do on both ends.”

The Clippers are not alone, every team is going to take time to find its rhythm again. Pick-and-roll combos need to get used to reading each other (and the defense) again at full speed, defensive rotations will be a step slow, and a few passes are going to head into the bench rather than the player in the corner.

When the Clippers get that rhythm back, with a healthy roster — finally — they again become a legitimate threat to win it all.

First, they just need to navigate the bubble. And maybe borrow Harrell’s sauna.