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.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
63

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,325

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks
Feb. 11 at Warriors
Feb. 13 at Trail Blazers

When is LeBron projected to break the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 9 at home against the Milwaukee Bucks, although a hot game on Feb. 7 against the Thunder could make that game a possibility.

How long has Kareem held the scoring record?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar set the all-time scoring record — to far less fanfare than is happening with LeBron — on April 5, 1984, when he scored his 31,420th point, breaking the record which had been held by Wilt Chamberlain. This was the height of the Showtime Lakers era and the team made the Finals that season but lost in seven games to Larry Bird and the Celtics. The Lakers would win the NBA title three of the next four years and Kareem would keep adding to that point total and his legacy until he retired after the 1989 season.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• LeBron scored 26 points and added seven rebounds and seven assists on Thursday night. He also gave the Lakers their first lead of the game on a 3-pointer with 2:35 left, and the Lakers held on to beat the Pacers 112-111. LeBron shot 11-of-19 from the floor and 2-of-5 from 3 for the game.

• LeBron had his first triple-double of the season — and became the first player ever with one in his 20th season — scoring 28 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists — to help lead the Lakers past the Knicks in overtime on Tuesday night. With those 11 assits LeBron moved past both Mark Jackson and Steve Nash to be fourth on the NBA’s all-time assists list.

• LeBron James did suit up to play Tuesday night against the Knicks (in Madison Square Garden on national television, that shouldn’t have been a surprise). Anthony Davis was cleared to play as well.

• After sitting out against the Nets on Monday, LeBron is officially questionable to play Tuesday in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and will be a game-time decision. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said LeBron has “really significant soreness” in his left foot (after playing 44 minutes against Boston). LeBron and the medical staff will speak after LeBron starts to warm up Tuesday to determine if LeBron can play in Madison Square Garden, a game he hates to miss because he loves playing in that venue.

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Watch altercation that leads to Donovan Mitchell, Dillon Brooks ejections

Memphis Grizzlies v Cleveland Cavaliers
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
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Donovan Mitchell was already having a rough night — six points on 2-of-11 shooting — but at the end of the third quarter it got worse.

With a little less than six minutes left in the third quarter, the Grizzlies’ Dillon Brooks drove the lane and went right into the body of Michell, knocking him back. Brooks went up to shoot, but the Cavaliers’ Evan Mobley slid in for the block and knocked Brooks to the ground. The ball bounced to Mitchell, who started to go the other way when Brooks swung his arm and — it looked like intentionally — hit Mitchel in the, um, family jewels. Mitchell fell to the ground, threw the ball at Brooks, and then the two had to be separated.

Both Brooks and Mitchell were given Flagrant 2 fouls and ejected.

While Cavaliers coach JB Bickerstaff complained that what Mitchell did was a justified reaction — and it was the reaction most of us would have had — throwing the ball at another player then trying to go at him is an ejection every time. After the game, Mitchell said he would appeal the flagrant and any fine, saying he should be able to defend himself.

Both Mitchell and Brooks can expect to hand over some of their next paychecks to the league.

The incident initially sparked a little run from Ja Morant, but then the Cavaliers picked up their offense and Cleveland pulled away for a 128-113 win behind 32 from Darius Garland.

 

Embiid, Morant, Lillard headline list of All-Star Game reserves

Memphis Grizzlies v Portland Trail Blazers
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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Joel Embiid was a lock. Few others were.

The fans made their voice heard and selected the five All-Star game starters from each conference. Embiid was the odd man out in the East frontcourt (there was going to be a snub no matter who was left off), and we can debate if Zion Williamson has played enough games to deserve being named a starter, but there were no egregious choices.

The brutal selections are always the last couple of reserves — there are more deserving players than spots — and that choice falls to the league’s coaches, who vote to pick the seven bench players from each conference (three frontcourt players, two guards, and two wildcards).

Here are the 2023 All-Star Game reserves.

WEST

Ja Morant (Memphis Grizzlies)
Domantas Sabonis (Sacramento Kings)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers)
Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
Lauri Markkanen (Utah Jazz)
Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies)

West Biggest Snubs: Anthony Davis, Devin Booker, De'Aaron Fox, Anthony Edwards

EAST

Joel Embiid (Philadephia 76ers)
DeMar DeRozan (Chicago Bulls)
Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics)
Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat)
Jrue Holiday (Milwaukee Bucks)
Julius Randle (New York Knicks)
Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana Pacers)

East Biggest Snubs: Trae Young, James Harden, Jimmy Butler, Pascal Siakam, Jalen Brunson

Here are some thoughts and notes on the selections:

• This is the first All-Star game for Gilgeous-Alexander, Jackson and Haliburton — and they all deserved it.

• For my money, the biggest snub is Pascal Siakam of the Raptors. While the team has disappointed, Siakam has played not just at an All-Star level but at an All-NBA level averaging 24.9 points, 8 rebounds and 6.2 assists a game, plus solid defense. He is a top 15 player in the league, let alone top 24.

• Davis and Booker not making the roster must be solely a matter of games missed for the coaches, because both are deserving.

• Jaren Jackson Jr. making it may be the biggest surprise — he’s an elite defender and solid offensive player, but he also missed the first 14 games of the season and defense-first players have a hard time getting the nod for a fan exhibition. The coaches voting in Adebayo from the Heat over Butler was thinking along the same lines, the coaches appreciate the defense and well-rounded game of the Miami big man.

• The coaches put one Heat player and one Knick on the team, balancing the scales for two teams who could have made a case for two players.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks) and LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers) will be the team captains this season (as voted by the fans), who will select their starters from a pool consisting of Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets), Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics), Donovan Mitchell (Cleveland Cavaliers), Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets), Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets), Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans), Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), and Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks).

• In a change to the format this year, James and Antetokounmpo will pick their teams on the court — playground style — just before the All-Star Game. They will choose from a pool of starters, and then the backups from the group of reserves above.

• The Celtics’ Joe Mazzulla will coach Team Giannis, while the Nuggets’ Michael Malone will coach Team LeBron.

• The All-Star Game will take place Feb. 19 in Salt Lake City. The entire weekend of events will be broadcast on TNT.

• As it has been the past few years, teams will play the first three quarters somewhat traditionally (although the winner of each quarter individually raises money for its team charity). Then the clock will be turned off for the fourth quarter and the first team to reach a target score — 24 points (in honor of Kobe) higher than the total of the team leading after three quarters. Meaning simply, if team Giannis leads 100-99 after three quarters, the first team to get to 124 wins.

Anunoby hottest name at trade deadline… or would be if Raptors decide to trade him

Toronto Raptors v Phoenix Suns
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The Knicks are standing at the front of the line, but if the door opens Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans will be among the teams trying to push their way through the door.

O.G. Anunoby trade rumors are maybe the hottest topic around the league in the run-up to the trade deadline, something sources have told NBC Sports but is not breaking news at this point, recent reporting by both Zach Lowe of ESPN and Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report have detailed exactly that. Lowe said on his podcast that the “entire league” is interested in the young wing. Teams are calling Massai Ujiri about Anunoby, but the Raptors have yet to tip their hand about whether they will be sellers at the deadline, stand pat, or become buyers.

Anunoby has not publicly or privately asked for a trade, but would “embrace a change of scenery” Haynes said on the podcast (it should be noted there are similar rumblings about a number of dispirited Raptors this season, the losing has worn on them). Haynes added that part of the motivation for the Grizzlies and Pelicans in this case is to keep the other team from landing him.

The Knicks are reportedly offering three first-round picks for Anunoby, and while it’s up for debate which of the seven first-round picks they control are in the mix — and how protected they are — that is now the floor for an offer to interest the Raptors. Lowe said Anunoby could draw a Donovan Mitchellsized trade package.

There are obvious reasons the league is calling, Anunoby is an All-Defensive Team level wing averaging 16.9 points per game, can finish at the rim and hit threes. It doesn’t hurt that he is just 25 and is locked in next season at $18.6 million.

Everybody wants to talk about Anunoby, but it’s all moot until Ujiri and the Raptors do.