PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Rip City moves to front of the line

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For the first time this season we are seeing some life out of the Eastern Conference in these rankings — they have three of the top six teams in the Rankings. However, the top spot still goes to the West and it’s a new team — Portland. They are top 10 in offense and defense and that’s the ultimate sign of being legit.

source:  1. Trail Blazers (26-7. Last Week No. 2). They have won nine of 10 and are 2-1 in games that LaMarcus Aldridge has missed recently. They are 15-2 at home — if they can hold their ground in a deep West home court could be huge for them in the playoffs. UPDATED: They passed a big test Tuesday night against Toronto and and there is another once coming against Atlanta on Saturday.

source:  2. Bulls (21-9, LW 10). They have won six in a row and what should really scare teams is they are doing it with offense more than defense. They have looked like the best team in the East of late, they are healthy, and if they can stay that way the road to the Finals out East will go through the Windy City.

source:  3. Warriors (24-5, LW 1). They lost both games in Los Angeles last week — without Andrew Bogut teams have found you can go at them and get shots in the paint. Bogut is going to miss a couple more weeks at least but the good news is the Warriors are home for six of the next seven.

source:  4. Rockets (21-8, LW 8). What the Rockets hope Josh Smith brings them is depth and versatility up front. They got that in his first game as a Rocket — they fed him heavily late in the game and in overtime because Vince Carter was trying to guard him. Smith wasn’t efficient (9-of-21 shooting for 21 points) but it got the job done and the Rockets won. However, against the Spurs Sunday he was 2-of-7 shooting and largely a non-factor. The jury is still out on this pickup, but it was low risk (only $2 million).

source:  5. Raptors (24-7, LW 6). They picked up a quality win on the road against the Clippers, plus they got 61 points out of Lou Williams and Kyle Lowry against Denver. They are a very impressive 11-4 without DeMar DeRozan and have the best offense in the NBA so far this season.

source:  6. Hawks (22-8, LW 7). They are 15-2 in their last 17 and that includes wins over the Clippers, Mavericks, Rockets, Bulls and Cavaliers. Good test against Portland this week, but the Hawks are showing they are legit.

source:  7. Mavericks (22-10, LW 4). It’s small sample size theater but the Mavericks are defending better since Rajon Rondo arrived, which is what they needed most out of him. What is evident is they need another big behind Tyson Chandler — Jermaine O’Neal may be that guy but he’s undecided about coming back. Even without Chandler that was a quality win Sunday over the Thunder.

source:  8. Grizzlies (22-8, LW 3) They dropped four in a row before beating the Heat on Saturday, and their defense hasn’t been the rock it was. The good news for them is that after the Spurs this week the schedule softens up for a short while (as much as it can in the West, anyway.

source:  9. Clippers (20-11, LW 5). Yes, they picked up a quality win over the Warriors on Christmas Day, but the best thing any Clipper did last week was Spencer Hawes’ suit on Christmas Day. That was real and it was spectacular.

source:  10. Suns (18-14, LW 12). Winners of six in a row, but that is how the Suns seem to run — red hot then ice cold (they had lost six in a row before this). You’d like to think this latest streak means they found their groove, but I’m not convinced yet because the defense still isn’t that great, just average, and the offense will only carry them so far.

source:  11. Spurs (19-13, LW 9). They have dropped six of their last eight games and may be without Tony Parker — the catalyst for their offense — for “a while” due to his recurring hamstring injury. Still, good luck finding anyone around the league willing to write off the Spurs, we’ve all seen their obituaries before only to watch them rise up.

source:  12. Wizards (21-8, LW 11). Sure, it was only beating the Knicks, but Washington’s win on Christmas Day showed why this team has a legitimate chance to make the Eastern Conference Finals. The reason is their defense — at 99.2 points per 100 possessions it is the best in the East (and fourth best in the NBA overall). That and John Wall can carry them a long way.

source:  13. Thunder (15-17, LW 15). It’s not easy to string together consistent wins in the West, especially with Kevin Durant missing time with a sprained ankle. A few losses has them now three games back of the red-hot Suns in the race for the final playoff spot in the West, four back of the seven seed Spurs. I still expect the Thunder get there, but the path is not that easy.

source:  14. Cavaliers (18-12 LW 11). The finger pointing at coach David Blatt has begun, and there are legit questions about if he can reach this team. That said, the best player in the NBA said he was in “chill mode” against Orlando until Tobias Harris trash talked him. The Cavaliers can’t win with LeBron in chill mode, they need him to step up and be a real leader. And that might start with hustling back on defense.

source:  14. Pelicans (15-15, LW 15). Despite the gaudy block numbers of Anthony Davis — pretty much all AD’s stats are gaudy — the Pelicans are 26th in the NBA in defensive efficiency. They brought in Omer Asik to solidify the defense and if that’s not happening coach Monty Williams is going to feel his seat getting very warm.

source:  16. Bucks (15-16, LW 16). This team has had to deal with a lot of injuries and credit Jason Kidd for finding lineups that continue to work. Even Jared Dudley is having the kinds of big games (10-for-10 shooting nights) the Clippers had hoped for last season.

source:  17. Heat (14-17, LW 18). Chris Bosh is set to return Monday, which should help the Heat’s spacing and their offense. Miami was 3-5 during a long home stand without Bosh and their offense has been three points per 100 better when he is on the court this season.

source:  18. Kings (13-17, LW 19). Well, firing the coach has really fixed everything. The Kings do have DeMarcus Cousins back and did beat the Knicks Saturday (in overtime, thanks to 39 from Cousins) but they still aren’t defending so they still don’t win consistently. Which is what Malone had been preaching.

source:  19. Nets (13-16, LW 21). Lionel Hollins is finding it was a lot easier to put together a quality offense around Marc Gasol than it has been with the ingredients the Nets have given him. Challenging road games vs. Bulls and Heat up for the Nets this week.

source:  20. Nuggets (13-18, LW 17). You still see flashes from them, but nothing consistent. In fact, the weak play has been worse in the last month, this seems to be a team regressing as it moves along.

source:  21. Magic (12-21, LW 23). Things I didn’t expect to type — the Magic are the nine seed in the East, just three games back of Brooklyn and Miami for making the playoffs. They’ve won two of three and were up on the Cavaliers (until Tobias Harris started barking at LeBron James).

source:  22. Jazz (10-20, LW 26). More from Derrick Favors, speaking to PBT, about the improvements in the Utah offense: “That’s one of the things Quin talked to the whole team about coming in, was the spacing on the floor, particularly on the pick-and-roll with me and whichever guard is in it. It’s always open for the guard or they dish to me and I drive to the basket to make a play, or for whoever is on the perimeter they get a wide-open jump shot, a wide open three. That’s something Quin really talked to us about.”

source:  23. Hornets (10-21, LW 22). They had played well without Lance Stephenson (coincidence?) but even a 42-point night from Kemba Walker can’t get them a win. The bigger issue for this team remains the slip in defense from top five last season to 19th so far this season.

source:  24. Pistons (7-23, LW 27). They upset the Cavaliers and had their best offensive showing of the season and won two in a row since they waived Josh Smith. Coincidence? I think not. It doesn’t mean the Pistons will rattle off 10 wins in a row, but they are finding a comfort with the offense now.

source:  25. Pacers (11-21, LW 24). George Hill is back and while he has been much maligned in Indy he is a needed talent with this roster. Some challenging games ahead with Chicago, Miami and Milwaukee up this week.

source:  26. Celtics (10-18, LW 20). I expect you’ll start seeing Brandan Wright showcased more as Danny Ainge will want to trade him again at the deadline. The Celtics have lost four in a row and their offense has been the reason. It’s not pretty.

source:  27. Lakers (9-22, LW 22). No, the Lakers are not better without Kobe Bryant. However, what they are is more predictable and easy to defend on offense — when Kobe is pounding the ball in an isolation set everyone else stands around, the Lakers become predictable. The offense needs to be less a shrine to Kobe and more about player movement — and it was on Sunday night against the Suns. But the Lakers still lost.

source:  28. 76ers (4-25, LW 28). They have a Top 10 NBA defense. Seriously. They 10th in defensive efficiency. The fact that they have just four wins on the season speaks to just how anemic the offense is. They are on a rough West Coast road trip this week with the Warriors, Suns and Clippers coming up this week.

source:  29. Timberwolves (5-24, LW 29). Losers of eight in a row but the cavalry may be on the horizon — Ricky Rubio is practicing a little and could be back on the floor in a couple of weeks. They play the Jazz twice and the Kings this week, it’s a good chance to end that losing streak.

source:  30. Knicks (5-27, LW 30). They have lost seven in a row and 18-of-19. In the last game Carmelo Anthony did not return after halftime with a sore left knee, so the team leaned heavily on Tim Hardaway Jr. and Cole Aldrich for offense. That pretty much sums it up.

How Jaylen Brown snuck into Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton show and sat next to Kanye West

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Celtics forward Jaylen Brown has a huge contract extension and bright future.

But he isn’t a star yet.

That’s why Brown, despite his emerging presence in the fashion scene, didn’t get invited to Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton show last year.

Brown on All The Smoke:

I didn’t get invited to that one, but I wasn’t tripping. At the time, I’m second year in the league. My merit ain’t like that. I ain’t got the clout. But I’m like, I can’t miss that. They ain’t never had a person of color being a Louis V designer ever. It’s history. So, I’m like, I don’t got no ticket, but I’m going to pull up and just see what’s going to happen. The least I can do is say I tried. I’m from Atlanta, so you know.

So, I had photographers with me, and I had videographers and my manager is with me and stuff like that. So, I had a little group of people with me. So, I said, “This is what we’re going to do.” I said, “We’re going to get in the car. We’re going to pull up real fast, come to a stop real quick. Everybody jump out.”

“Everybody jump out quick. When we jump out, everybody open the door. Slam it open. The driver, you got to slam on the brakes. Rrrrrrrr. Everybody jump out, slam the door open, we’re going walk fast. ‘No pictures. No pictures. No pictures.’ We’re going to keep walking. We’re going to walk so everybody causing a commotion. All the people trying to take pictures. “Who is it?” Du, du, du, du, da. Then, we get to the front. I said, when we get to the front, there’s probably going to be a list.

“Look, there’s probably going to be al list.” I thought the whole thing out. So, I told my manager, I told her, I was like, “When they say they can’t find my name on the list, I need you to go crazy.” I didn’t even think she was going to be ready for it. I’m surprised, a little small. I didn’t even think she was going to be ready for it. I’m like, “When you see the list, just go crazy. Act like this is an outrage.”

She sold it.

She surprised me. So, we get to the list. She’s like, “You’re not.” “This is crazy! He should be on this list!” Du, du, du, du, da. And they’re like, “OK, OK, calm down, calm down, calm down. Calm down, calm down, calm down.” Just let them go in. And I ended up going in, and I ended up sitting right next to Kanye and Travis.

It’s crazy, right? I ended up meeting Diddy’s sons in there, just seeing them and saying, “What’s up?” Just walked in with them from the jump and just finessed my hole way in.

Look, I’m sitting right next to Kanye, Travis. I’m sitting dead across from Rihanna. When the show is over, Virgil came out and gave Kanye a hug. At the end, he was crying. I was on like, man, if I was in my right mind, I’d go out there and [hugging motion].

All The Smoke has the best stories.

Chris Paul calls out Jordan Bell for untucked jersey, wins technical that helps OKC force OT, win

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This may be the ultimate savvy veteran play, or it was a guy winning by snitching. Either way, it’s very Chris Paul.

The Oklahoma City Thunder were down two with 1.1 seconds left and had just fouled Karl-Anthony Towns, who went to the free throw line with the chance to ice the game. When KAT missed the first free throw, Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders sent Jordan Bell into the game for Jeff Teague — but Bell’s jersey was not tucked in and Chris Paul called it out (you can hear him on the audio) and referee Scott Foster takes notice.

Chris Paul knew exactly what he was doing.

The untucked jersey led to a delay of game penalty on the Timberwolves and, since Minnesota already had a delay of game warning from earlier, a technical foul and free throw for Oklahoma City. Which they sank, so now it was a one-point game, but the Thunder still had no timeouts. If KAT had missed the second free throw intentionally, the scramble for the rebound would have forced a full-court heave by a Thunder player to win it. Instead, KAT sank the free throw, putting the Timberwolves up by two (still with 1.1 on the clock).

Then this happened.

The game went to overtime, where Shai Gilgeous-Alexander got hot and scored 11, and the Thunder pulled away for the 139-127 win.

CP3 may have just lost a few votes if he runs for players’ union president again, but he got the win.

David Fizdale wasn’t the solution for the Knicks. No coach is.

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David Fizdale’s tenure as New York Knicks coach fits the pattern.

When Fizdale took the Knicks job, he said, “Culture and accountability. I’ll be putting those words on walls in a lot of places” and talked about building a foundation for the franchise. The Knicks were going to build through the draft, find and develop talent, get players who fit their culture, be patient and build the kind of roster that would attract superstar free agents someday.

Except Fizdale (and management) didn’t do any of that. The same way it didn’t work for Phil Jackson in building a culture and identity for the franchise, or Mike D’Antoni, or Isaiah Thomas or Mike Woodson or Lenny Wilkins, or anyone else the Knicks have had in the coach’s seat or front office for the past 20 years — not so coincidentally how long James Dolan’s has owned the team.

The Knicks’ identity has been not hiring the people capable of executing the plan and/or not sticking with the plan long enough to make it work. The Knicks’ identity has become trying to shortcut the process and take big swings, only to miss and fall short.

Fizdale fell into that pattern. Despite his talk of slowly building a culture and foundation, it wasn’t long after Fizdale signed there were reports Knicks would clear out cap space for LeBron James if he wanted to play for Fizdale (LeBron is a fan of Fizdale from their time together in Miami). This past summer, management hoped Fizdale’s popularity with players could help land Kyrie Irving and/or Kevin Durant. Instead, that duo chose to go to another borough — one where the team had been patient, built a culture, and drafted and developed young players into the kind of roster superstars wanted to join.

The Knicks were the Knicks. Fizdale became the scapegoat, and on Friday he was fired as head coach of the New York Knicks.

The pattern was predictable, as was the fact as soon as he was let go, the chorus popped up blaming him for the Knicks woes. “Fizdale was the problem and now the Knicks can search for the right guy.” Except, there is no right guy. At least there will not be until James Dolan hires a top-flight, experienced executive to really build that culture and foundation, then gets out of the way and lets his hire do it (and by out of the way, I mean lets him clean house in basketball operations and change everything, much the way David Griffin did last summer in New Orleans).

Not that Fizdale was blameless in this or shouldn’t have been fired.

Fizdale was essentially the first contestant sent home on an episode of “Chopped” — he was asked to make a meal out of the mismatched basket of ingredients/players that absolutely did not fit together. A basket assembled by team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry, a basket with far too many power forward a crop of rookies and second-year players that were going to have prominent roles. Nobody was going turn that group into a competitive playoff team, and the fact that was the expectation of management — and what was sold to Dolan — speaks to the bigger issues.

Fizdale, however, did nothing to turn that basket of players into a respectable team. There are very legitimate reasons for him to be chopped by management — Fizdale did not develop a team identity on either end of the floor, his rotations were head-scratching, and his team seemed listless and disinterested. The Knicks are 4-18, are losers of eight straight, have not been competitive, were blown out by 37+ their last two games, and the Knicks are a team on its way to a seventh consecutive season without a trip to the playoffs, making it 13 out of 16 seasons the Knicks have been home for the postseason.

The Knicks have had 12 coaches in the past 20 years — not exactly a sign of stability and organizational direction. There were good men in that mix. Mike D’Antoni has success in Phoenix before he was in New York, and after he left he has had it in Houston, but the Knicks brought him in and then didn’t build a roster to fit his run-and-gun style. He lasted three-and-a-half seasons, which is the longest tenure of any coach in the Dolan era. Mike Woodson had success in Atlanta (and got the Knicks to the playoffs a couple of times, including the second round once). Larry Brown and Lenny Wilkins are both in the Hall of Fame as coaches.

Yet the organization struggled through all of them. Dolan remains the one constant. We all know what the problem is, but we also know he’s not going to sell the team (maybe spin it off with the Rangers and the rest of Madison Square Garden into its own company, but that’s different from giving it up). There is a status that comes with owning the Knicks in New York City, and Dolan is not going to give up that spotlight.

Knicks fans can hope that a new executive is brought in and is given the real power to clean house — but past candidates for team president who asked for that power did not get the job. Plus, Perry and Mills (like Fizdale) have more than a year left on their contract, Dolan trusts Mills, so expecting a change may be unrealistic.

Until there is a change in how the Knicks are run, whoever is hired to be the head coach will ultimately fall into the pattern of all the coaches before him (or her). The pattern is set. Only Dolan can break it.

Giannis Antetokounmpo celebrated his birthday by scoring 27, leading Bucks in rout Clippers

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 27 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to their 14th straight victory, a 119-91 rout of the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night.

Antetokounmpo, on his 25th birthday, made 11 of 20 shots and recorded his 21st double-double of the season.

“I was 25 once, but I wasn’t that good,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said after joking that he wanted to see Antetokounmpo’s birth certificate.

Antetokounmpo left the game with Milwaukee ahead by 36 with 8:56 to play. While he sat, the Milwaukee crowd started “happy birthday” chants for their star — and he loved it.

The Bucks led by as many as 41 and extended their longest winning streak since winning 16 consecutive games over two seasons in 1973.

Khris Middleton added 17 points and Pat Connaughton and Ersan Ilyasova each scored 13 off the bench for Milwaukee.

Rivers pulled all of his starters out of the game with the Bucks leading 101-67 with 9:25 remaining in the fourth quarter. The group exited to the chant of “Overrated! Overrated!” from the Milwaukee crowd.

Kawhi Leonard had 17 points and Paul George added 13 for the Clippers.

JaMychal Green missed his second straight game for Los Angeles after suffering a bruised tailbone last Friday night against the San Antonio Spurs.