PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Golden State still on top, but welcome Detroit to the cellar

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Consider this something to read while we all wait to see who Rajon Rondo has breakfast with next. When a team wins 12 in a row, has the best record in the West and is playing the best defense in the NBA, they end up on top of ProBasketballTalk’s weekly NBA power rankings. No shock there. The biggest surprise may be at the other end of the list where Philly has won two of three and ceeded the bottom spot to Detroit.

 
source:  1. Warriors (17-2, Last Week No. 1). We know about all the firepower they have from their stars on offense, but focus too much on Curry/Thompson and things happen like Draymond Green dropping 31. As he did on Chicago. This team is about to get deeper as David Lee expects to return this week, but with the way Green is playing Steve Kerr has to bring Lee off the bench.

 
source:  2. Spurs (15-5, LW 3). The Spurs made a statement with a win over Memphis last week, then the next night picked up the most Spursian of wins — no Tony Parker, no Manu Ginobili, limited minutes from Tim Duncan (18) and they still beat Minnesota. Tiago Splitter appears close to coming back and that is big for the Spurs’ defense and depth.

 
source:  3. Rockets (16-4, LW 6). The Rockets are an impressive 7-3 without Dwight Howard (five of those games against quality, +.500 teams) which is key as he is not going to be back “any time soon.” The Rockets are winning with quality defense and getting good performances from Donatas Motiejunas.

 
source:  4. Trail Blazers (16-4. LW 4). They have won four in a row and seem to do it a different way every time. The one constant is quality play from Damian Lillard (who has taken a big step forward in his third year — and he was an All-Star last year). They are on the road this week but against the East so the Bulls are the only team that should pose a real threat.

 
source:  5. Clippers (14-5, LW 9). They have won seven in a row and that string could stretch out for a while with a pretty soft schedule coming up (save for the Suns Monday night and the Wizards later in the week). In the West, you have to make sure to get your wins against the teams you’re supposed to beat because the schedule will get brutal.

 
source:  6. Grizzlies (16-4, LW 2) They lost to the Spurs and the shorthanded Rockets, but picked up a nice win against the Heat. However, what was the best news in Memphis last week was that Marc Gasol’s MRI was negative. He’s their MVP candidate.

 
source:  7. Mavericks (16-6, LW 5). Sunday night was the most comfortable Chandler Parsons has looked in the Dallas offense, scoring 28 points (it helps that Milwaukee largely left him alone, nine of his 14 shots were uncontested). Not fair dropping this team in these rankings despite a good week, but welcome to life in the West.

 
source:  8. Cavaliers (11-7 LW 17). They beat the Raptors last week and continue to do it by putting up boatloads of points — LeBron James’ passing is opening up the offense. Good tests this week that will jeopardize that streak — Toronto, Oklahoma City and New Orleans all are on the schedule.

 
source:  9. Raptors (15-5, LW 7). When DeMar DeRozan went down coach Dwane Casey tried to downplay his loss defensively to PBT (and other reporters). Nope, their defense has really struggled without him and it’s costing them games, they are just trying to outscore opponents now.

 
source:  10. Hawks (13-6, LW 14). They have won six in a row and gotten fantastic play out of the point guard spot (Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder) but have done so against the easiest schedule in the NBA so far. That does not change this week with the Pacers, Sixers and two against the Magic on the docket. The week after, then things get serious.

 
source:  11. Wizards (13-6, LW 11). Not a pretty loss Sunday on the first end of a home-and-home with Boston. Part of that is tied to them still keeping a cap on Nene’s minutes — they need his defense, but they really need him healthy come the playoffs.

 
source:  12. Bulls (12-8, LW 8). They are 10-3 on the road but just 2-5 at home in Chicago, which is going to have to change for them as they have a lot of home games on the schedule in the coming weeks (including Brooklyn and Portland this week).

 
source:  13. Suns (12-9, LW 12). Jeff Hornacek has moved P.J. Tucker into the starting lineup and is bringing Marcus Morris off the bench now. What really works for this team is how much better Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe seem to play without Isaiah Thomas in the lineup.

 
source:  14. Kings (10-10, LW 13). DeMarcus Cousins spent time in the hospital due to the viral infection and while they finally picked up a win with him out they are still 1-15 without him over the past couple seasons. He should return to action this week, they are 9-5 with him in the lineup.

 
source:  15. Bucks (11-11, LW 16). They have lost four of five but against Cleveland, Houston and Dallas (twice) and looked pretty good in those losses. Things don’t get any easier ahead with Oklahoma City, the Clippers, Phoenix and Portland.

 
source:  16. Pelicans (9-10, LW 18). There were murmurs around the league that if Monty Williams couldn’t get the Pelicans to play better defense with Omer Asik on board his job could be in jeopardy at the end of the season. Well, the Pelicans are 24th in defensive efficiency. Something to watch as the season goes on.

 
source:  17. Nuggets (9-11, LW 17). They have lost three in a row and looked really ugly doing it in losses to Washington and Atlanta. This is a roller coaster, up and down team and the ups come when their inconsistent shooting is on, lately it hasn’t been.

 
source:  18. Thunder (7-13, LW 22). While Kevin Durant dropped 27 on Sunday and showed flashes of his old self the Thunder are still trying to find a groove with Russell Westbrook and Durant back. This is a stretch where they need to get wins — Milwaukee and Phoenix are on the docket and are the kind of teams the Thunder need to beat if they are going to make this playoff run.

 
source:  19. Heat (9-11, LW 15). They have lost four straight and it really comes down to this — they can’t get stops. Without LeBron James on the roster Chris Andersen just looks old and they don’t have the same level of athleticism and maturity on that end of the floor.

 
source:  20. Celtics (7-11, LW 21). They have won three in a row and not so coincidentally those came when Jeff Green has shown up and played well. It also helped to have the Pistons and Lakers on the schedule. Eagerly awaiting the reports of who Rondo has breakfast with this week.

 
source:  21. Nets (8-10, LW 20). The most interesting thing about the Nets: Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, are coming to watch them play against the Cavaliers. Great, now LeBron has more motivation than just playing in New York to put up numbers.

 
source:  22. Magic (9-14, LW 23). Of all teams to tip the historic imbalance between the West and East this season (the West has won 70 percent of the games between conferences so far), the Magic are 4-5. And it could have been 5-4 if they had held on against Golden State. Problem this week is they take on Washington and Atlanta of the East.

 
source:  23. Pacers (7-13, LW 19). They are 0-4 on a road trip through the West and have a tough go this week with the hot Hawks, the Clippers, the Raptors, and finally the Trail Blazers. Against that gauntlet they are really going to miss Ian Mahinmi, who is out for 6-8 weeks.

 
source:  24. Lakers (5-16, LW 25). Kobe Bryant needs just 63 points to pass Michael Jordan on the all-time NBA scoring list, and it will likely happen on an upcoming Lakers three-game road trip (San Antonio, Minnesota and Indiana). Recently both Toronto and Detroit threw early double teams at Kobe and he carved them up with passing and the Lakers won. Don’t expect to see that much anymore, teams will dare Kobe to beat then.

 
source:  25. Hornets (5-15, LW 28). You can always count on the Knicks to help you snap a 10-game losing streak, but that doesn’t solve the larger issues of bad offense (Lance Stephenson’s shot selection can get ugly) and disappointing defense.

source:  26. Timberwolves (4-15, LW 24). Reports came out a week ago Monday that Flip Saunders told his team to play back and let the Clippers shoot threes in their meeting. Um, Chris Paul shoots 41 percent, J.J. Redick 38 percent, Jamal Crawford 37 percent, and Spencer Hawes 34 percent. Interesting strategy, Flip. The Timberwolves have lost five in a row.

 
source:  27. Jazz (5-15, LW 26). After a fast start they have lost eight in a row, but they got some good news that starting two guard Alec Burks should return this week from his shoulder injury (but he will need surgery on it after the season).

 
source:  28. Knicks (4-18, LW 27). They have lost eight in a row but if you want a silver lining they are not getting blown out — the last four of those losses were by a combined 13 points. The Knicks just don’t close out games well. The bad news? The Knicks have had one of the easiest schedules in the NBA so far this season.

 
source:  29. 76ers (2-18, LW 30). Two wins in three games, beating the Timberwolves and Pistons. The key has been they played pretty good defense in those games (granted against teams that can’t shoot the ball well).

 
source:  30. Pistons (3-18, LW 29). The loss to the Sixers was ugly, but I think the final shot against OKC Sunday summed up their play best: down two and with less than 10 seconds on the clock the Pistons settled for having Josh Smith take a three pointer for the win. A guy who shoots 25 percent from three but ran to the arc and got the pass. That’s just bad basketball.

Jeremy Lin says “at times it kind of sucks” being only Asian-American in NBA

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When Jeremy Lin landed in Toronto — after being bought out and waived by the Hawks, clearing the way for him to sign with the Raptors for the playoff push — the number of cameras and reporters in the Raptors locker room instantly ballooned. Lin remains one of the most popular players worldwide in the NBA, he’s a social media phenom, and there are cameras there to track his every move and send it around the world, particularly back to Asia.

Lin isn’t in the NBA because he’s famous and sells tickets — he’s a quality guard who can help a team, there’s a reason the contending Raptors picked him up — but he inhabits the role of both player and groundbreaker.

Lin talked about that (and Asians in popular culture) with Cary Chow of the Undefeated in an interesting Q&A at The Undefeated, where he said being the only Asian-American in the NBA is not easy.

At times it kind of sucks. At other times it’s amazing. Amazing because you get to challenge everyone’s viewpoints and perspectives. I’m rooting for so many more Asians to come in. Last year, when I was with Brooklyn and we had Ding [Yanyuhang] on the summer league team, I was like, ‘Dude, please make the team. We’d have so much fun together during the season.’

On the feeling that he has to represent an entire race.

Yeah. At first it was something I ran from and really struggled with. Now I embrace it way more and am more equipped to handle it. I’m not perfect, but I kind of know who I want to be at this point in my career, so I keep trucking along and doing things the right way and stay above all the distractions.

Lin has handled his fame deftly over the years. He has challenges and opportunities not open to other players, and that’s the balancing act. It takes someone smart, but also grounded and balanced to pull it all off. The Raptors got all that, along with the extra cameras around the team.

Mostly, though, the Raptors got a player who is going to help them make a deep playoff run.

 

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

Associated Press
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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.