PBT’s weekly NBA Power Rankings: If you’re not taking the Hawks seriously, you should

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For a while we kept saying “sure the Hawks are winning, but they need to beat some quality teams before we fully buy in.” Well, they are beating quality teams so we are buying in and they move to the top of the power rankings this week (although I’d still take the No. 2 team in a seven game series).

 
source:  1. Hawks (25-8, Last Week No. 6). Who is the No. 1 seed in the East now? That’s right. They have won 18-of-20 and are 7-2 against the West. My coach of the year at the 1/3 mark of the season: Mike Budenholzer. Let’s hope whoever is announced to buy this team (very possibly in the next couple weeks) doesn’t come in and start changing things around on the basketball side.

 
source:  2. Warriors (26-5, LW 3). They have won three in a row to start off a stretch of seven-of-eight at home (and only 3 of seven are over .500). Their defense has slipped some without Andrew Bogut but is still ninth in the league in the team’s last 10 games.

 
source:  3. Bulls (24-10, LW 2). It wasn’t always pretty, but they still won three of four last week. Tom Thibodeau is doing a good job of keeping Derrick Rose’s minutes under control, but Pau Gasol is playing more than 35 a night and Joakim Noah more than 31 — take your foot off the gas a little Thibs and get your bigs some rest as we get into the new year.

 
source:  4. Trail Blazers (26-8. Last Week No. 1). They’re still without Robin Lopez in the paint, so Terry Stotts had been starting Joel Freeland but now he is injured as well. Which will mean the Meyers Leonard show for a little while.

 
source:  5. Mavericks (25-10, LW 7). Winners of five in a row. Since Rajon Rondo arrived the Dallas defense has improved by more than three points per 100 possessions, plus Rondo is showing some real chemistry with Tyson Chandler, while the Rondo/Dirk Nowitzki +/- numbers are amazing. And Rick Carlisle still has more than half a season to fit all the pieces together properly.

 
source:  6. Grizzlies (24-9, LW 8). They had won three in a row including a nice win over the Spurs (again) until a schedule maker’s loss in Denver. That said they are still 3-4 without Zach Randolph in the lineup. Interesting test Wednesday on the road against Atlanta, a team that has been dismissing the best of the West lately.

 
source:  7. Clippers (23-11, LW 9). The Clipper’s starting five — Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan — is +15.5 points per 100 possessions. Sub Jamal Crawford in for Barnes and the defense struggles but that lineup is still +9.9 per 100. But getting solid play out of the bench is a nightly adventure.

 
source:  8. Spurs (21-14, LW 11). San Antonio was 8-10 in December, which is just the third losing month in all of Tim Duncan’s career. That’s ridiculous. They remain without Kawhi Leonard but have won three of their last four, with some winnable games ahead.

 
source:  9. Rockets (23-10, LW 4). They had their most lopsided loss and most lopsided win of the season on the next night. So I wouldn’t really use the word consistent with the Rockets. Maybe they get a little more with Josh Smith coming off the bench, it took him all of five games to lose his starting spot, but he is helping their defense.

 
source:  10. Raptors (24-10, LW 5). They have dropped 4-of-6 on a tough road swing, falling to Chicago, Portland, Golden State and Phoenix. The Suns and Warriors really exposed the Raptors’ 21st-ranked defense — as good as Toronto’s offense is they are not getting out of the East without more consistent defense.

 
source:  11. Thunder (17-17, LW 13). Rust? They don’t know of rust in OKC where Kevin Durant missed six games then came back and dropped 78 in his first two back on the court. They are just two games back of Phoenix at the eight seed, but the Thunder have 10 of their next 13 on the road so the charge to the playoffs will be a bit uphill for a while.

 
source:  12. Wizards (22-11, LW 12). They have gone 1-3 on the road against some of the top of the West, including losing three in a row. Things don’t get easier for John Wall and company with the Pelicans, Bulls and Hawks all on the schedule this week.

 
source:  13. Suns (20-16, LW 10). If the NBA just took the top 16 teams for the playoffs regardless of conference the Suns would be a relatively comfortable 13 seed with a 2.5 game cushion on falling out of the playoffs. Instead they are the eight seed in the West and if they look over their shoulder they will see a healthy Thunder team closing fast.

 
source:  14. Pelicans (17-16, LW 15). This team has some tough late losses, but none more painful than Omer Asik’s accidental tip to send the game vs. the Spurs to OT (which San Antonio eventually won). That said, why Tyreke Evans and the Pelicans guards go away from Anthony Davis in crunch time remains a mystery. Feed the man the ball.

 
source:  15. Bucks (18-17, LW 16). They have won four games on the road and, as the current sixth seed in the East, are a comfortable five games up on the nine seed (Indiana). These Bucks are headed to the playoffs this season, which is going to get Jason Kidd some COY votes.

 
source:  16. Cavaliers (19-15 LW 14). No LeBron James for more than a week, and while teams with strong systems in place survive those kinds of losses short term (think Spurs or Bulls when guys are out) the Cavaliers are not that. What they are getting is Minnesota Kevin Love — he scores and rebounds like a beast, but is nonexistent on the other end of the court.

 
source:  17. Heat (15-20, LW 17). They had lost four in a row until a win Sunday against Brooklyn, and with that have fallen to the eight seed (and they are just ?? ahead of the Pacers). We’ll see if they can hold that playoff spot in a rough five-game road trip out West.

 
source:  18. Nets (16-17, LW 19). They are 12-3 against teams below .500, which pads their not-that-impressive record and makes it look better than it is. Good news that Deron Williams sore side from Sunday night is not something going to keep him out long term.

 
source:  19. Jazz (12-22, LW 22). They have won six of nine and even in their losses they are a very tough out. Add me to the chorus of people who wants to see more Rudy Gobert on the court, with him out there the Jazz defense will win them some games.

 
source:  20. Pacers (13-22, LW 25). They are within two games of the eight seed in the East, and the are doing it with defense — they have allowed 97.2 points per 100 possessions their last 10 games, second best in the NBA.

 
source:  21. Pistons (10-23, LW 24). . They have won five in a row since waiving Josh Smith, and in those games the Piston’s offense is 13.7 points per 100 possessions better and their defense is 11.7 per 100 better. This is not all about the Smith trade, they have had a soft schedule the last five, but the timing of the improvement also is not a coincidence.

 
source:  22. Kings (14-20, LW 18). Since the firing of Mike Malone we have seen some of the old DeMarcus Cousins — sloppy, lazy defensive moments, and he got ejected from one game for throwing Avery Bradley to the ground. The Sacramento defense is falling apart of late, which also may be Malone related.

 
source:  23. Nuggets (14-20, LW 20). Still tough to get a feel for this team as we start to approach the midway point of the season, and if the team doesn’t have a personality that usually means trouble for the coach. The question though is really what kind of team does management really want to build? That’s not clear, either.

 
source:  24. Magic (13-24, LW 21). There have started to be playoff dreams in Orlando, they are just three games out of the eight seed, but after dropping three in a row before heading out this week for four tough ones on the road they need to just rack up some wins.

 
source:  25. Hornets (11-24, LW 23). They have lost Al Jefferson for a month, which essentially kills the “they can still turn this around and make the playoffs” vibe in Charlotte. Expect a lot of Lance Stephenson trade rumors for the next six weeks as they try to move him.

 
source:  26. Lakers (11-23, LW 27). The Lakers have played the toughest schedule in the NBA so far. It’s a tribute to Kobe that mid-season he can switch his mentality and the way he plays (even if he denies anything is different, it is, he is showing trust in his teammates).

 
source:  27. Celtics (11-20, LW 26). Rajon Rondo returned to Boston last week, showed that he can still play some defense and can still score plenty (he dropped 29), which are both things Celtics fans hadn’t seen from the point guard in a while.

 
source:  28. 76ers (4-28, LW 28). Great news for the Sixers — they are back home for five of the next seven. Er… maybe not such great news as the Sixers are 0-14 on their home court. They have to win one eventually, right?

source:  29. Timberwolves (5-27, LW 29). Ricky Rubio should be back in the next couple of weeks, he’s showing improvement in practice. In the short term, read Dan Feldman’s great story about how a stint in the D-League inspired Shabazz Muhammad’s great run of play recently.

 
source:  30. Knicks (5-31, LW 30). Carmelo Anthony is on track to be voted in an All-Star Game starter by the fans, a game at Madison Square Garden, but his knee is clearly an issue. Will he fight through and play in that game then shut it down?

Nets GM says he’s unsure if Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving would return for playoffs (don’t bet on it)

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The idle hands of time forced by the NBA’s coronavirus hiatus has lead to everything from conspiracy theories to outright fantasies about the future of the NBA when play returns.

One of the favorites: the delay allows Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to return when the NBA playoffs start, and the Brooklyn Nets become the most dangerous seven seed ever and a potential contender.

When asked about that idea Wednesday in a conference call, Brooklyn GM Sean Marks took the diplomatic “there’s no way we can know” approach.

If you’re reading this, seeing the odds of the Nets as 66-1 as NBA champions and thinking “that’s not a bad bet” let me help you out:

Save your money. Spend it on a takeout dinner from a struggling local restaurant, that will help far more people than giving away your money to a casino. Marks saying it’s too early to tell is the GM being diplomatic and deferential to his stars. They are not returning this year, something NBC Sports has heard from sources, plus it just makes sense. Let’s get into why.

The second part of that Tweet, the idea that rehab has been slowed a little because of facilities being closed, is one reason not to expect KD and Irving.

That ties into the bigger issue: Injuries often occur when players find the load on them and their activity level spiked. Sports science has shown leaps in stress levels on muscles leads to fatigue and more injuries, that returns need to be ramped up slowly (why you see minutes limits on guys when they first come back). Durant and Irving are the faces of the Nets franchise and they need both of them to be contenders. So are the Nets going to take those guys, who have missed extended time due to injuries, and throw them straight into an NBA playoff game with that intensity? Let’s politely say that kind of return has not worked well for Durant in the past. Two weeks or so of a condensed training camp will not be enough to have them ready for playoff basketball.

On another note, Marks said the suspension of the league also has brought to a stop the Nets search for their next head coach after Kenny Atkinson was let go.

The front office will pick the next coach, but if that “blue chip, veteran” coach does not get a thumbs up from Durant and Irving, the interview is over.

Regional TV challenges with moving NBA season to a mid-December start

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NBA to think about playing games deep into the summer, that idea was already on the table. At the Sloan Sports Analytic Conference hosted by MIT, Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin proposed moving the NBA to a mid-December start. Essentially, Koonin wants to move the entire NBA schedule back by two months. Currently the NBA regular season starts in mid-October.

Koonin’s idea is to move away from the NFL season as much as possible. He said at the time “Relevance equals revenue. We’ve got to create the most relevance, and the revenue will fix itself.”

Under Koonin’s proposal, the NBA schedule would tip-off in mid-December and the NBA Finals would wrap up in August. Koonin’s hope is that with less competition from the NFL, the NBA ratings would go up. He said “A big piece is you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to enhance ratings. Sometimes, moving away from competition is a great way to grow ratings.”

This is far from the first time a proposal has been floated to move the start of the NBA season. Many suggest that casual fans don’t really care about the NBA until Christmas anyway. That’s when the NFL season is winding down and the NCAA football season is just about wrapped up. Currently, the NBA season overlaps with the NFL season, including the NFL playoffs, by three-and-a-half months from mid-October through January.

The NBA, and the NHL, have the winter months of February and March mostly to themselves. In mid-March, the NCAA gets the shine for the NCAA Tournament, but that’s only for a few days a week.

Starting in late-March/early-April, the NBA shares the sports calendar with MLB. Baseball’s Opening Day usually comes two-to-three weeks ahead of the NBA Playoffs.

By getting clear of the NFL, the NBA avoids a ratings monster that now dominates Sundays, Monday nights and Thursday nights. In addition, the NBA would avoid college football’s foothold on Saturdays. Overlapping more with the less-popular MLB could give the NBA a ratings boost.

Yet, it’s with MLB that a seemingly overlooked challenge lies for pushing back the NBA schedule.

While the focus generally lies on the NBA’s nationally televised games on ABC, ESPN and TNT, the vast majority of games are broadcast on regional sports networks or RSN’s. The national TV contracts pull in billions of dollars to be sure, but the RSN deals make up a big portion of the television pie as well.

When you remove games broadcast on NBATV, which usually pick up an RSN feed, the best NBA teams generally play between 20 and 30 games on national TV. That leaves over 50 games to be broadcast by the RSN. And those RSN’s pay tens of millions of dollars to do so.

Unfortunately for the NBA, many of those RSN’s pay tens of millions to also broadcast games for the region’s MLB team as well.

As of the 2020, here are the markets that share an RSN for both NBA and MLB games:

  • Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Braves – Fox Sports South/Fox Sports Southeast
  • Brooklyn Nets and New York Yankees – YES Network
  • Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Braves – Fox Sports Southeast
  • Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox – NBC Sports Chicago
  • Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds – Fox Sports Ohio
  • Dallas Mavericks and Texas Rangers – Fox Sports Southwest
  • Detroit Pistons and Detroit Tigers – Fox Sports Detroit
  • Golden State Warriors and San Francisco Giants – NBC Sports Bay Area
  • Houston Rockets and Houston Astros – AT&T SportsNet Southwest
  • Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Angels – Fox Sports Prime Ticket/Fox Sports West
  • Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Dodgers – Spectrum SportsNet
  • Memphis Grizzlies and Atlanta Braves – Fox Sports Southeast
  • Miami Heat and Tampa Rays – Fox Sports Sun
  • Milwaukee Bucks and Milwaukee Brewers – Fox Sports Wisconsin
  • Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Twins – Fox Sports North
  • Orlando Magic and Miami Marlins – Fox Sports Florida
  • Philadelphia 76ers and Philadelphia Phillies – NBC Sports Philadelphia
  • Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks – Fox Sports Arizona
  • Sacramento Kings and Oakland A’s – NBC Sports California
  • San Antonio Spurs and Texas Rangers – Fox Sports Southwest
  • Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays – Sportsnet
  • Utah Jazz and Colorado Rockies – AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain

All told, only eight NBA franchises don’t share an RSN with an MLB team.

It’s not a challenge for RSN to move a handful of games to an alternate channel for a handful of weeks in late-March/early-April. In addition, the early part of the baseball season regularly features day games that wrap hours in advance of the NBA game that evening.

When you start talking about RSN’s choosing how to handle months of overlap, months that baseball has had to themselves for years, things get messy. Not every television provider offers the alternate channels. Some contracts have specific language on when, if and how often their games can be bumped.

Moving the NBA calendar to run December-August vs October-June has a lot of pitfalls. It will involve negotiation between the NBA and NBPA as well. Some prominent players, like Damian Lillard, don’t like the idea of giving up the warm summer months to play basketball. You also have the challenge of attendance in arenas during the nicest parts of the year weather-wise. Some fans may not want to be inside on beautiful spring and summer evenings.

However, this will ultimately come down to TV and their money. And the RSN’s will have just as large a say in that process as the major networks.

Mark Cuban backs off belief NBA season could resume in mid-May

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban
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Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has backed off his belief that the NBA season could resume in mid-May. In appearance on ESPN’s Get Up, Cuban said, “I have no idea” when the NBA could resume the 2019-20 season.

Last month Cuban said he thought a return to play could happen as soon as mid-May. That timeline likely included the NBA Finals being played in late-July, after the two-month suspension of play.

Cuban’s Mavericks were on the verge of making the NBA playoffs. That would have been the Mavs first postseason appearance after a three-year absence. Dallas hasn’t advanced out of the first round since winning the NBA championship in 2011.

Cuban also added about returning to play: “I mean, I haven’t had any conversations where anybody discusses an actual date.”

The NBA season has been suspended since Wednesday, March 11. That night games in Oklahoma City and Sacramento were postponed after players and officials were tested for coronavirus. The league was already prepared to play games without fans present, but suspended operations after positive COVID-19 tests.

Four Nets players who tested positive for COVID-19 showing no symptoms

Kevin Durant
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On a conference call with the media Wednesday morning, Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks shared some good news. The four Nets players who had tested positive for coronavirus are no longer showing symptoms.

Kevin Durant was one of the four Nets to come forward and say he had tested positive for COVID-19. Durant said at the time that he was feeling fine, but this report clarifies that he’s now clear of symptoms. Durant has been out for the entirety of the 2019-20 season as he rehabs from the torn Achilles’ he suffered during the 2019 NBA Finals.

Over a dozen NBA players tested positive for coronavirus since mid-March. About half of those players have been identified. Multiple reports have surfaced over the last two weeks of players being cleared of symptoms.

Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics was recently cleared of COVID-19 after a positive test. Reports are that he plans to donate his blood plasma to National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project for research on the blood of those recovered from coronavirus.