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.

Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett Hall of Fame induction pushed back to May

Kobe Hall of Fame
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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Kobe Bryant and the rest of this year’s Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class won’t be inducted in 2020 – or at the birthplace of basketball.

The Hall announced Friday that the enshrinement ceremony will be held May 13-15, 2021, and the entire festivities will be moved to Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.

This year was to be a highlight for the Hall of Fame, located in Springfield, Massachusetts. Bryant, killed in January in a helicopter crash, headlined a decorated class featuring Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett that would have been enshrined in the recently renovated museum.

But the coronavirus pandemic scuttled those plans and hit the Hall so hard that it eliminated several full-time positions and cut senior management pay in the 25-40% range.

“These are people who have been a big part of the Hall’s success in recent years; it hurts deeply,” said John Doleva, President and CEO of the Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “The decision to reschedule Enshrinement into May of next year, along with diminished museum guest visitation and a very uncertain future regarding our multiple collegiate and high school basketball events this fall, has forced us to make these very difficult decisions. Our goal now is to conserve resources so that we may stabilize in 2021 and return to our growth trajectory in 2022 and beyond.”

“For this single event, and only because of the pandemic, we will relocate the entire event one time to Mohegan Sun which has been a long-time marketing partner of the Hall. Mohegan Sun has shown they can effectively operate a ‘near-bubble’ for our event which provides a more secure environment for our guests,” Doleva explained. “In making this announcement today, our goal is to provide this date and location change with ample notice for our network broadcast partners, nationally and internationally traveling guests and the many basketball constituents the Hall serves.”

Mohegan Sun is a long-time partner of the Hall. Doleva says it can operate a “near-bubble” to provide a secure environment for guests.

 

Vlade Divac steps down as Kings GM; Joe Dumars takes over in interim

Vlade Divac out
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Days after the Kings’ playoff drought reached 14 seasons — second-longest in league history and only one year behind the Donald Sterling Clippers — the repercussions hit GM Vlade Divac and he is out.

Divac has stepped down as the Kings’ general manager, the team announced Friday. Joe Dumars, the former Pistons GM who had been working as a consultant with the team, will step in during the interim while the search for a new GM takes place.

“This was a difficult decision, but we believe it is the best path ahead as we work to build a winning team that our loyal fans deserve,” Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé said in a statement. “We are thankful for Vlade’s leadership, commitment and hard work both on and off the court. He will always be a part of our Kings’ family.”

While there are legitimate questions about the job Luke Walton did in his first season in Sacramento, his job is safe, something first reported by Sam Amick of The Athletic and since confirmed by James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area. The Kings also said there will be no other major roster moves made until a new GM is in place.

“Joe has become a trusted and valued advisor since joining the team last year, and I am grateful to have him take on this role at an important time for the franchise,” said Ranadivé.

Divac was a member of the best Kings’ teams ever (during the Chris Webber era) and is in the Hall of Fame as a player. Playing and being a GM, however, are two very different skill sets. Divac did sign a contract extension with the Kings a year-and-a-half ago.

The NBA restart bubble was not kind to the Kings, and that ultimately doomed Divac.

After a promising finish as the ninth seed a season ago, playing a fast-paced style that suited young star De'Aaron Fox, Divac made a move to switch coaches last off-season and fired Dave Joerger to hire Walton. However, under Walton the Kings played slower and were much easier to defend. The Kings did get healthy and start to find a groove right before the league was shut down, going 7-3 in those last 10, but once in the bubble Sacramento was a mess again with a bottom-10 defense in Orlando, and they finished 3-5 in the seeding games.

The salt in the wound in Orlando — and what really eats at Kings’ fans — was the elite play of Luka Doncic in Orlando, and all season long.

Divac — who had scouted in Europe and has deep connections there — chose to use the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on Marvin Bagley out of Duke instead of Doncic. While the Kings had scouted Doncic extensively (Ranadive even went to Europe to watch him play and backed taking Doncic), Divac and the front office staff thought the athleticism of Bagley gave him a higher upside than Doncic. (Scouts were often divided on Doncic: Nobody thought he would be bad, but some questioned his ceiling because he already had so much polish to his game and he’s not an explosive athlete by NBA standards. Divac and the rest of the Kings’ front office fell into this camp.) Plus, Divac liked the idea of a big man to pair with their point guard Fox, rather than bringing in another ball handler in Doncic.

Doncic almost certainly will make an All-Seeding Games team out of the bubble in Orlando, and in his second NBA season is an MVP candidate (he will get bottom of the ballot votes). Bagley did not play in any seeding games due to another injury, this one to his foot.

Moving on from Divac may be the right move for the Kings, but it begs the question: Who are they going to hire to replace him? What is the new GM’s basketball philosophy and what kind of team does he want to build? And, will he have the power to do it, or will Ranadive keep his reputation as an owner who likes to meddle in basketball operations?

The Kings need a change — but they need the right change. That will be the tricky part.

Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. taken off court on stretcher after collision

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It was the kind of play that happens countless times a game: Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. was trying to chase Doug McDermott over an off-ball (and moving) screen when collided with pick-setting 6’11” center Goga Bitadze.

This ended up being no standard collision — Jones’ head and neck whipped back, and he instantly went to the ground.

Jones was grabbing his neck at first and was on the ground for about 10 minutes — in the eerie silence of a fanless bubble arena in Orlando — before being taken off the court on a stretcher.

The good news is Jones has just suffered a neck strain, the team announced. There is no timeline for his return, but this could have been much worse.

The Heat and the Pacers, who already have tension between them thanks to a beef between Jimmy Butler and T.J. Warren, will face each other in the first round of the playoffs starting Monday.

Jones, who tested positive for the coronavirus before coming to Orlando (and was quarantined), will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He has been making the NBA minimum since coming into the league and was in line for a life-changing payday this summer after playing strong defense while averaging 8.6 points per game — and some spectacular dunks — in nearly 23 minutes a night for Miami. Our thoughts are with him after this incident.

The time Shaq peed in Suns teammate Lou Amundson’s shoes – and worse!

Suns players Lou Amundson and Shaquille O'Neal (Shaq)
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Gilbert Arenas has earned a reputation as the NBA player who relieved himself in a teammate’s shoe (Wizards forward Andray Blatche’s).

But Arenas’ tactic wasn’t unique.

Shaquille O’Neal got into a prank war with Suns teammate Lou Amundson during the 2008-09 season. It got intense as Phoenix, coached by Alvin Gentry, reached the final game of its season.

ESPN’s Amin Elhassan on “The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz” local hour, hosted by Mike Ryan:

Shaq is the big prankster, the big joker. But if you do something against him, there’s no tit for tat. There’s tit for nuclear war.

He goes to Lou’s locker, grabs his sneakers, pees in them.

That’s the start, right? He then goes and let’s just say “messes with” some of Lou’s haircare devices, like his brush and his comb and stuff. Messes with them. Let me put it this way: Messes with them in a way that – I was comfortable telling you he peed in the shoes. I’m not comfortable telling you what he did to the hair stuff. And then this part, I will tell you: He tampers with Lou’s mouth guard.

He tampers with it.

He tampers with it.

Lou shows up at like 8 or whenever he usually shows up. And he’s skittish and nervous. And Suns.com is there like, “What do you think Shaq is going to do?” “I don’t know. I think he’s going to do something, though.”

So, I’ll never forget this. He’s sitting at the locker, and he opens – he starts to reach for the sneakers and then looks at them and says, “Nah, something doesn’t feel right.” Opens the door up, pulls out a fresh pair of sneakers for the last game of the year, right? Again, this is irregular behavior. Usually, you have a couple of sneakers. You break them in for the year, and you switch between two or three or three or four, whatever. So to break out a whole brand new pair … was weird.

Most of the time when you’re an NBA player, you don’t put on the mouth guard immediately. You have it in a case, and you give the case to the trainer. Then, you go out to the bench. Then, when you’re about to come into the game, that’s when you grab your mouthpiece.

There’s no funnier image than Alvin drawing up a play, kneeling down, coaches standing around him. Lou is sitting there, because now he’s in the game. The guys who are in the game are usually seated. Sitting there just staring at the clipboard, like, “OK, coach. I got you.” And everyone else is just staring at Lou. No one’s paying attention.

Puts the mouth guard in. One, two [sounds of disgust], takes the mouth guard out and flings it with tremendous accuracy at the bench. Everyone starts dying. I remember going back and watching the broadcast, “Oh, Suns bench seems to be getting a lot of fun.” They had no idea what’s happening.

What did Shaq do to Amundson’s mouth guard? My imagination is running WILD.

Elhassan also explains why Grant Hill took 25 shots – his most in four years – in that game. Hill needed to score 26 points to average 12 points per game for the season, which would trigger a large bonus in his shoe contract. Hill’s gunning got him 27 points.

It’s a good podcast with other fun anecdotes and worth a listen.