PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: It’s the Warriors world

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If you’ve been wondering “when do the Western Conference powers start beating up each other?” the answer is pretty much now. As we head into the Christmas day slate of games things will get interesting, but for now the top remains the same as Golden State is just winning and winning and winning.

 
source:  1. Warriors (21-2, Last Week No. 1). When Andrew Bogut was out we quickly saw how much he meant to this team — the rim protection on defense was not nearly the same, and equally important his passing on offense that helps them move the ball strong to weak quickly was gone. For about a half. By the time Golden State rolled into Dallas Saturday they were again a force again in an impressive win. Still, Bogut is key for them come the playoffs, best to get him fully healthy now.

 
source:  2. Rockets (18-5, LW 3). The Rockets were 8-3 with Dwight Howard out (surprisingly Rockets had fifth best defense in league in last 10 without Howard) and in that time James Harden averaged 29.1 points a game, shot 39 percent from three, dished out 6.1 assist and pulled down 6 rebounds a game. James Harden is playing like an MVP, and that didn’t change on Howard’s return when Harden dropped a triple double Saturday.

 
source:  3. Grizzlies (19-4, LW 6) I only moved them up to third because while they beat Charlotte and Philadelphia they didn’t exactly look good doing it. This coming week is different, win these games any way you can and you move up: Warriors, Spurs, Bulls and Cavaliers.

 
source:  4. Trail Blazers (18-6. LW 4). They have a top 10 offense, a top 10 defense, they look like they can beat anybody, but they also are fully capable of mailing it in and losing to Minnesota. Tough stretch coming up with the Spurs twice this week, plus the Rockets and Thunder on the road to start next week.

 
source:  5. Spurs (17-7, LW 2). That loss to the Lakers was the kind of game which leads to the :45 second, angry Gregg Popovich press conference. What should make him feel better — not happy, Popovich is never happy — is the return of Tiago Splitter to the lineup. Splitter even started on Sunday night. That should improve their defense.

 
source:  6. Clippers (16-7, LW 5). Doc Rivers said the key to Chris Paul’s improved shooting this season is he is taking the first good, open look he gets. “That’s what we need him to do, take the open shot. I jokingly tell him, the option you are looking for is you. When you’re coming wide open off the pick and roll, he’ll do it tonight at least once or twice, he’ll look around and I’ll be ‘what is the better option than right now.’ And he’s doing it.”

 
source:  7. Mavericks (17-8, LW 7). They are 0-6 vs. Western Conference playoff teams and 17-2 vs. everyone else. That can’t make Mark Cuban comfortable. Chandler Parsons isn’t comfortable due to lower back soreness, he missed one game and could miss more.

 
source:  8. Cavaliers (13-9 LW 8). Has LeBron James lost some bounce this season? Probably, he’s not as aggressive going to the rim. But his playmaking skills and his desire to use them with his new teammates is part of the reason he’s not attacking as much. Also, there’s just not the space in the Cavs offense yet that there was in Miami.

 
source:  9. Raptors (18-6, LW 7). Kyle Lowry must make the All-Star team in the East. I know the point guard spot is loaded (Irving, Rose, Wall) but Lowry is simply playing too well (PER of 23.2, as a snapshot) to be ignored.

 
source:  10. Bulls (15-8, LW 12). Derrick Rose is getting his points a little differently (that floater is a weapon) but he’s starting to get them again and that’s good news in Chicago. The best sign of a title contender is a top 5 offense and defense (in terms of efficiency), the Bulls have that.

 
source:  11. Wizards (17-6, LW 11). Quality win over the Clippers last week, showing on the right night this team can beat anyone. Consistency is always the question, they had down games against Boston and Orlando. Still, they won those two and eight of their last nine.

 
source:  12. Hawks (16-7, LW 10). It wasn’t pretty when their winning streak was snapped by the Magic. The Hawks have played the easiest schedule in the NBA so far but that is about to change: Bulls, Cavaliers (twice), Rockets, Mavericks, Clippers, and Bucks (twice) make up the next eight games.

 
source:  13. Thunder (11-13, LW 18). Winners of five in a row and eight of nine, they could be the eight seed inside a week as after the top seven in the West things have fallen off. On Tuesday Kevin Durant should get to 15,000 points in his career, second youngest to do it behind LeBron.

 
source:  14. Bucks (12-12, LW 15). Maybe the most entertaining team in the league and also one of its biggest surprises at .500 and in the playoffs in the East. What’s been impressive is the quality play Jason Kidd is getting out of his bench, which is not flush with big names.

 
source:  15. Pelicans (11-12, LW 16). They got great guard play Sunday night from Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans but this team needs Anthony Davis back in the lineup (chest contusion) if they are going to start winning more consistently.

 
source:  16. Kings (11-13, LW 14). Ownership wants to play faster (more Spurs-like) and Tyrone Corbin is going to oblige now that Mike Malone has been fired. One problem: This roster really isn’t built to play faster or move the ball like the Spurs. DeMarcus Cousins is a halfcourt guy (Team USA tried to get him to run more with limited success) but at least he can pass, their starting two guard doesn’t have the handles or the passing skills, Rudy Gay’s legs aren’t as young as they once were and he’s a volume scorer, and there’s just not enough overall athleticism. We’ll see how this strategy goes.

 
source:  17. Suns (12-13, LW 13). P.J. Tucker was given some starts for defensive reasons and nightly he gets the toughest opponent assignments — he had DeMarcus Cousins against the Kings, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin against the Clippers. That’s versatility. His defense hasn’t helped much as they have lost five in a row and are falling fast down the Western Conference standings.

 
source:  18. Nuggets (10-14, LW 17). JaVale McGee is going to be out for months, just another of the guys they would normally have in their rotation who are banged up (that’s five now). This team is still dangerous, however. Just ask the Raptors.

 
source:  19. Nets (10-12, LW 21). They have been beating up lottery bound teams but are struggling with any team looking like a playoff squad. Which could be trouble this week against Miami, Toronto and Cleveland.

 
source:  20. Heat (11-13, LW 19). Josh McRoberts is out for a while and that is a blow to Miami on both ends of the floor — the team’s defense has struggled all season but the offense has become disjointed in recent weeks. Chris Bosh missing time doesn’t help.

 
source:  21. Magic (10-16, LW 23). There are a number of holes in Tobias Harris’ game, but if you need a game-winning play he should be in your top 10 because the guy just gets buckets in the clutch. The Hawks learned that the hard way.

 
source:  22. Lakers (8-16, LW 24). They get to keep their first round pick in the next draft if it is top five, they keep their second round pick if it is in the first 10 of the second round. The Lakers picked up a trio of nice wins this week — including an upset of the Spurs — and currently they sit tied for eighth worst record. Magic isn’t only Lakers fan rooting for losses.

 
source:  23. Celtics (7-14, LW 20). Rajon Rondo is dropping triple-doubles (three this season) but has been sat at the end of games as well. All of that has to be viewed through the prism of free agency/trades — do the Celtics need to move him so they don’t get nothing when he walks?

 
source:  24. Pacers (7-17, LW 23). They have Roy Hibbert and David West back in the lineup but it hasn’t mattered against a string of tough competition. The Pacers have lost eight in a row and are about to face a series of games against the deeper West, much of it on the road.

 
source:  25. Hornets (6-17, LW 25). Jeff Taylor can come back from his suspension due to domestic violence this week, which could make it easier on Charlotte if they can find someone to take on Lance Stephenson. Also, more Michael Kidd-Gilchrist please.

source:  26. Timberwolves (5-18, LW 26). Kobe Bryant said he saw himself 17 years ago in Andrew Wiggins. That’s high praise. But what Kobe came in the league with was a chip on his shoulder, a crazy work ethic, and a drive to prove himself every night. Does Wiggins?

 
source:  27. Jazz (6-17, LW 27). If you’re a Jazz fan your hope stems from the flashes you see from this team, like the win over San Antonio. They have moments but like a lot of young teams they simply are not consistent. Yet.

 
source:  28. Pistons (5-19, LW 29). Surprising wins over Phoenix and Sacramento on the road to end their losing streak. Now they have Jodie Meeks back in the rotation and once he shakes the rust off he will really help their outside shooting and spacing. Things they desperately need.

 
source:  29. Knicks (5-21, LW 28). With the New York media feeding a storm around this team — “they don’t like each other or the triangle” — they snapped their 10-game losing streak. But next week will be rough with Dallas, Chicago, Phoenix and Toronto.

 
source:  30. 76ers (2-21, LW 30). They are playing hard — they were up 18 on Memphis in the fourth — but are learning the hard way about closing out victories. Right now it’s about seeing what players can be part of the future, and K.J. McDaniels and Robert Covington can be.

Brianna Stewart heads to New York on first day of WNBA free agency

Las Vegas Aces v Seattle Storm - Game Four
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Former MVP Breanna Stewart is headed to New York.

The most coveted free agent this offseason, who won the WNBA MVP award in 2018, announced on social media that she was going to New York with a photo of her in a Liberty shirt. Stewart had spent her entire career in Seattle since the Storm drafted her first in 2016. She won two championships with the team in 2018 and 2020.

The 28-year-old wing has averaged 20.3 points and 8.6 rebounds in her WNBA career. She missed the 2019 season with an Achilles injury.

By coming to New York it brings Stewart closer to home. She grew up in Syracuse which is an hour flight from New York. It also is an easier flight to Spain to see her wife Marta’s family.

New York representatives, including coach Sandy Brondello and owner Clara Wu Tsai met with Stewart in Turkey last week. Stewart had narrowed her choices down to Seattle and New York before choosing the Liberty.

The move turns the Liberty into an instant championship contender. New York is one of the WNBAs original franchises, but has never won a championship. The Liberty already added 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones and Kayla Thornton through a three-way deal to complement 2020 No. 1 draft pick Sabrina Ionescu.

The news was met with elation on social media by Jones, Ionescu and Nets star Kevin Durant, who said on a podcast that he had reached out to Stewart to get her to come to New York.

Stewart was the second big-name free agent to announce her intentions to play for another team this season. Candace Parker said last weekend that she was going to sign with the Las Vegas Aces and officially did.

“As I’ve gone through free agency this time around, of course I’m thinking of where I can compete for my third championship, but the words home and family are what I kept coming back to,” Parker said. “After evaluating the landscape together with my family, we’ve decided the Las Vegas Aces are the right organization for us at this point in our lives. To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

Wednesday was the first day that free agents could sign with teams. Other moves announced included:

— Brittney Sykes with Washington

— Lexie Brown and Stephanie Talbot with Los Angeles

— Teaira McCowan with Dallas

— Alysha Clark with Las Vegas

Many free agents were waiting for Stewart to make her decision, including Courtney Vandersloot.

Vandersloot announced on social media that she wasn’t returning to Chicago, where she had spent her entire career. She has led the league in assists six times during her 12-year career and helped the Sky win the 2021 WNBA championship.

“To the Sky organization who drafted the little guard from a mid-major and believed in me from the jump, I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Vandersloot wrote on Instagram. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have realized my dreams because of you. Although I never planned for this day to come, I have decided it is time for me to pursue a new beginning.”

Stewart and Vandersloot are currently playing together in Turkey.

While Stewart and Vandersloot will be playing for different WNBA teams this season, Brittney Griner, who is also a free agent, announced in December when she returned home from her 10-month ordeal in Russia that she planned to remain with the Phoenix Mercury. Her long-time Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi is also a free agent, but she too is expected to go back to Phoenix.

Weather strands Pistons in Dallas, forces postponement of Wednesday game vs. Wizards

Winter storm, Minneapolis, December 2022
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The Detroit Pistons talked smack to Luka Dončić and paid the price, watching him drop 53 on them Monday night.

Then the Pistons have been stranded in Dallas ever since. In recent days, freezing temperatures have grounded more than 2,000 flights out of both the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Love Field, impacting thousands of passengers. The weather also has hit the Pistons, who were supposed to fly home to Detroit to take on the Wizards on Wednesday night. The league has officially postponed that game.

“Due to severe weather conditions in the Dallas area, the Pistons have been unable to fly back to Detroit after their game on Monday at American Airlines Center,” the league said in its official release. “The date for the rescheduled game will be announced at a later time.”

The Wizards have won six in a row and are 12-5 in their last 17, jumping them back into the play-in picture in the East.

This is not the only game that could be lost due to the weather in Dallas, the Pelicans — fresh off a loss to the Nuggets on Tuesday — may not be able to fly into the city for their Thursday game.

Freezing temperatures are expected to continue in Dallas through Wednesday, warming up slightly on Thursday, but by Friday getting up to a relatively balmy 50 degrees and sunny.

Watch Dennis Schroder hit the most casual half-court buzzer beater ever

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Act like you’ve done it before.

The Lakers’ Dennis Schroder drained a half-court buzzer-beater against the Knicks — turning his back on the shot and being completely non-pulsed when it happened.

The Lakers had been 2-of-16 from 3 before that shot, and they ended up needing those points. Despite a historic triple-double from LeBron James, the Lakers had to go into overtime to beat the Knicks, 129-123.

Three things to Know: Is Nikola Jokić going to win third straight MVP?

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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Is Nikola Jokić going to win third straight MVP?

That’s a weird headline to write just days after Joel Embiid outplayed Nikola Jokić head-to-head. Embiid absolutely is in the MVP mix again this season — 33.6 points and 10 rebounds per game with strong defense will do that — and that 47-point game is the kind of thing that sticks in voters’ minds. Jayson Tatum, Luka Dončić and Giannis Antetokounmpo are in there, too (not sure Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry will play enough games to win the award).

But Jokić is averaging a triple-double this season — 25.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and 10 assists — and his team is in first place in the West. It’s a season worthy of a third straight MVP. If someone is going to dethrone him, well, you come at the king, you best not miss.

Jokić had 28 points, 16 rebounds and 15 assists on 10-of-14 shooting in the Nuggets’ win over the Pelicans on Tuesday night — Denver is now 16-0 this season when Jokić has a triple-double.

Heading into the season there was a sense MVP voters would be hesitant to make it a historic three straight MVPs for Jokić — putting him in Larry Bird and Bill Russell territory — when the Nuggets haven’t been to the Finals yet. However, Denver sits atop the West and looks like a contender with Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. healthy.

Plus, Jokić’s numbers are undeniable — the Nuggets are 20.2 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court this season. They win because of him, Denver gets outscored by 8.5 points per 100 when he is off the court. And we’re not going to dive into EPM, VORP and the rest of the advanced stats, just know they love Jokić like no other, too.

Jokić may not win his third MVP, there are other deserving guys in the mix and we have 30+ games to go this season. Just don’t be shocked if he does, he has been that good.

2) LeBron has historic night as he chases big his historic night

LeBron James is now just 89 points short of passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. He probably passes KAJ next week, Abdul-Jabbar has 38,387 career points, LeBron is now at 38,299.

First he made some history on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. LeBron had a triple-double of 28 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, making him the first player in NBA history to have a triple-double in his 20th season.

More impressively, with those 11 assists he moved past both Mark Jackson and Steve Nash into fourth on the NBA’s career assists list. Think about that for a second, the league’s all-time leading scorer is fourth in assists, too.

The Lakers couldn’t hold on to a late lead in regulation — LeBron missed a couple of long jumpers that could have sealed the win — and Los Angeles needed overtime to get the 129-123 victory. They needed it after dropping two games to start this road trip. Anthony Davis moved back into the starting lineup and the Lakers need to string together a few weeks of wins to climb back into the play-off — or even the play-in mix — or all this history by LeBron will be squandered by the franchise.

3) Banchero, Henderson lead group that will make Rising Stars worth watching

The Rising Stars challenge is often the forgotten child of All-Star weekend. It takes place on Friday night and isn’t all that interesting.

This year may be different — a deep cast of talent will play in the new format that was a hit last season. The 28 players will be divided into four teams of seven, with those four teams going into a tournament bracket. The games were not timed, but players competed to a target score of 40 — something that last season led to the young stars defending and playing hard. It was entertaining.

Here’s the list of who will be playing:

Rookies

Paolo Banchero (Orlando Magic), Jalen Duren (Detroit Pistons), AJ Griffin (Atlanta Hawks), Jaden Ivey (Detroit Pistons), Walker Kessler (Utah Jazz), Bennedict Mathurin (Indiana Pacers), Keegan Murray (Sacramento Kings), Andrew Nembhard (Indiana Pacers), Jabari Smith Jr. (Houston Rockets), Jeremy Sochan (San Antonio Spurs), Jalen Williams (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Sophomores

Jose Alvarado (New Orleans Pelicans), Scottie Barnes (Toronto Raptors), Josh Giddey (Oklahoma City Thunder), Jalen Green (Houston Rockets), Quentin Grimes (New York Knicks), Bones Hyland (Denver Nuggets), Evan Mobley (Cleveland Cavaliers), Trey Murphy III (New Orleans Pelicans), Alperen Sengun (Houston Rockets), Franz Wagner (Orlando Magic)

The G-League team will consist of:

Sidy Cissoko (G League Ignite), Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite), Mojave King (G League Ignite), Kenneth Lofton Jr. (Memphis Hustle), Mac McClung (Deleware Blue Coats), Leonard Miller (G League Ignite), Scotty Pippen Jr. (South Bay Lakers)

It’s a group worth watching on Friday night (Feb. 17) of All-Star weekend.