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.

Watch LeBron James pass Kobe Bryant for third on the all-time scoring list

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LeBron James just passed a Laker legend.

Kobe Bryant may be No. 1 in the hearts of Lakers fans, but he is now No. 4 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list after LeBron James passed him with a layup with 7:23 left in the third quarter. The basket gave LeBron 33,644 points.

LeBron got a massive ovation from the Philly fans for his accomplishment.

Kobe Bryant Tweeted his congratulations.

LeBron now has Karl Malone (second) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ahead of him on the scoring list. Kareem was on SiriusXM NBA Radio this past week with Frank Isola and Brendan Haywood and said LeBron could pass him if he’s focused.

“I think it is up to LeBron. If he wants to do it, he’ll do it. He has the talent. He has the opportunity. So it’s just up to him as to how he wants to end his career. I certainly cannot be upset about it. The reason that they keep these records is so that we learn how we are improving. And we learn how to teach the game, taking note of the accomplishments of the great players. So, hey, it’s a natural progression. I don’t have any problem with it.”

Another report Wizards shooting down all trade talk around Davis Bertans

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Washington GM Tommy Shepard has been clear and not changed his position: he had no intention of trading Davis Bertans.

Instead, the plan is to re-sign the sharpshooting 6’10” power forward this summer. Bertans — who averages 15.3 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 42.6 percent from three on 8.7 attempts per game — would fit well as a floor spacer on a John Wall/Bradley Beal team looking to make noise in the playoffs next season.

That has not stopped teams from looking at the Wizards situation, then calling to see if they can land Bertans in a deadline trade — a floor-spacing big could help teams such as Denver and Boston. However, those teams are still getting hung up on according to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.

Inquiries to Washington have gone nowhere; several executives tell SI.com that the Wizards wouldn’t even discuss a deal. Some teams, though, are holding out hope Washington will make Bertans available before the trade deadline.

Shepard and Washington are making a bet Bertans wants to stay in Washington, he is an unrestricted free agent this summer. If Washington gets the sense Bertans wants out this summer, they need to trade him now and get something in return. If they believe he wants to return, then they need to get owner Ted Leonsis to open up the checkbook. After this breakout season, and at a position of need for a lot of teams around the league, Bertans likely will get offers at or above $17 million a season, and Washington might need to overpay a little to keep him.

Washington’s plan — as evidenced by words and actions — is not to rebuild but to get healthy and make a run up the East standings next season. They have Beal (playing at an All-NBA level this season), they get Wall back (he has looked good in practice of late), and from there they re-sign Bertans, count on growth from rookie Rui Hachimura, and put together a roster of role players who can win games in the East. 

Debate amongst yourselves if that is the smart direction to go, it’s clearly the one the Wizards have chosen.

Donovan Mitchell scores 25, Rudy Gobert has 22 and key late block, Jazz rally past Mavs

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Rudy Gobert had 22 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks to propel the surging Utah Jazz to a 112-107 come-from-behind victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.

Donovan Mitchell scored 25 points and Bojan Bogdanovic added 23 for the Jazz, who have won 14 of their last 15 games.

Luka Doncic scored 25 points for the Mavericks, who have dropped two of three after winning four straight. Doncic managed only two points in the final quarter.

Seth Curry added 19 points for Dallas.

Gobert’s three-point play — a dunk and a free throw — gave the Jazz their first lead since the first half at 96-95. The Mavericks responded with a 3 by Curry and two free throws from Delon Wright.

Gobert broke a 104-all tie with a tip-in, and after Tim Hardaway Jr. and Royce O’Neale exchanged 3-pointers, Gobert blocked what looked like an easy layup for Wright.

Mitchell made a pair of free throws, and then Gobert rebounded Doncic’s missed 3-pointer and was fouled. He made one of two free throws for the final margin.

The Mavericks raced to a 32-19 lead behind Doncic’s playmaking and shooting. The Jazz later scored 12 consecutive points and took a brief 37-36 lead on Georges Niang’s 3-pointer.

Kristaps Porzingis scored 15 points and Hardaway and Wright each chipped in 11 for Dallas.

Portland’s struggles do not have Damian Lillard pushing for trade, “I can weather the storm”

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Damian Lillard isn’t going anywhere.

The Trail Blazers are 19-27, sitting as the unexpected 11 seed in the West, and there calls from some quarters of the Pacific Northwest for Portland to do something drastic to try and salvage the season. Too often, those calls are followed by “what if Lillard decides this isn’t working and pushes for a trade?”

It’s not going down that way. Not according to Lillard.

In a league where it’s become commonplace for superstars to use their leverage — either to get traded or to force the team to make bold moves they want — Lillard remains loyal and trusts the front office in Portland. He realizes what this season has become for the Trail Blazers and he wants the franchise to think about next season, not desperation moves to save this one. Here is what he told Jason Quick of The Athletic.

“That don’t have nothing to do with my commitment to the team,” Lillard said. “I mean, it’s not like we are going to do something that is going to take us to the championship at this point. I think it’s more important for us to protect the assets we have, the guys who are going to be here and who are going to help us going forward. I don’t think it makes sense to sacrifice that just to make a desperate play.

“It’s been a tough season, but the season is not over. We can make something of this season as we are, but it’s not worth, you know, saying ‘OK, let’s force something and go do something that at the end of the day doesn’t make sense.’ But that has nothing to do with my commitment. I said it after last game (Golden State): I feel like I can find a way. I can weather the storm. I can go through hard times.”

He also has made clear he isn’t going to push GM Neil Olshay to make specific trades.

Lillard is averaging 28.3 points and 7.6 assists per game, he scored 108 points in his last two games, and he’s playing at an All-NBA level again. He remains one of the game’s top guards and a player the Trail Blazers can build a contender around. His five-year max contract extension doesn’t kick in until next season.

Portland’s challenge is this: Lillard is 29 and in his prime. If they are going to win a title with him that has to happen sooner rather than later. Portland should not make desperation moves to salvage this season — getting Jusuf Nurkic back in the next few weeks could turn things around without a trade — but even looking ahead: If they are fully healthy next season are they on the level of the Lakers or Clippers? To my eyes, no. Then the question becomes what needs to be done to get there? If it’s time for something bold, should they test the trade market for CJ McCollum?

The Trail Blazers have some big questions to answer after this season.

The thing they don’t need to worry about is Lillard.