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

23 Comments

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?

Damian Lillard on players keeping strict bubble: ‘My confidence ain’t great’

Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA is creating a bubble for its players at Disney World. Anyone who enters the bubble must pass multiple coronavirus tests beforehand. Everyone inside the bubble will receive frequently coronavirus testing and be distanced from people outside the bubble.

So why does it matter that coronavirus cases are rising in Florida?

Because the bubble has vulnerabilities. And if the bubble is penetrated by people who come into contact with the surrounding community, their likelihood of having coronavirus affects the odds of them spreading coronavirus within the bubble.

Disney employees who enter and exit the NBA campus (and NBA commissioner Adam Silver who plans to do the same) are required to stay distanced from players, but could get too close or even spread coronavirus via surfaces. Players could suffer significant injuries that require them to seek medical attention outside the bubble.

And players could sneak out of and back into the bubble or sneak in someone.

Royce Young of ESPN:

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard expressed serious doubt that all the protocols and rules will be strictly followed by players.

“My confidence ain’t great,” Lillard said with a laugh Wednesday. “My confidence ain’t great because you’re telling me you’re gonna have 22 teams full of players following all the rules? When we have 100 percent freedom, everybody don’t follow all the rules. I don’t have much confidence. But hopefully it’ll be handled to a point where we’re not putting everybody at risk or in a dangerous position.”

“I know there’re going to activities for us and all that stuff, but I mean, I’m gonna be chilling. I feel like there’s still a possibility for something to spread within that bubble, just with so many people doing so many different things that we’ve got to follow to be safe, even though we’re not exposed to the public. So for me, it’s going to be: What time is practice, what time can I get in the weight room, what time can I get some shots up, what’s the plan for game day. And then I’m gonna be in the room. I’m gonna have my PS3, my PS4, I’m gonna have my studio equipment, my mic, my laptop, I’m gonna have all my books. That’s it, man. I’m gonna be in the room, chilling.”

“It was just so many rules where everybody was like, ‘Man, are we even playing? Is this even worth it?'” Lillard said.

Why are they playing? Money. A lot of money.

The restrictions are cumbersome. Five-on-five basketball games are generally an unsafe activity amid this pandemic. To counteract that, the NBA must implement tight protocols that greatly minimize the risk of anyone playing with coronavirus.

Will players abide? Lillard knows NBA players well and has doubts, which is why he’s taking extra precautions by staying in his room so much. There are videos and rumors of players not socially distancing.

If caught leaving the bubble, players will face a 10-day quarantine. That’s a strong disincentive.

But the temptation to live freely is strong, too.

Though many voiced reservations, players signed up for this. Hopefully, they follow the rules designed to keep everyone in the bubble safe.

They have at least one doubter, though.

Doc Rivers: Lou Williams expected to join Clippers for restart

Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Lou Williams
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LOS ANGELES (AP) — L.A. Clippers coach Doc Rivers says Lou Williams is expected to join the team for the NBA’s restart in Florida.

Williams has described himself as “50-50” on whether he would finish out the pandemic-interrupted season because he didn’t want to distract from the ongoing push for social justice in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in police custody.

“Obviously, up until we get on the plane, anything can happen,” Rivers said during a video conference with media Wednesday. “But I do expect Lou to be with us. I would be very surprised if he’s not.”

Williams, last year’s Sixth Man of the Year, was averaging 18.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists in 60 games before the league shut down in March due to the coronavirus.

Rivers said he doesn’t think any of the Clippers are opting out from resuming the season. The team heads to Orlando, Florida, on July 8.

“But listen, it is their choice and we support that,” the coach said. “There are so many reasons for everybody to play but there are also very valid reasons for guys to opt out. I don’t think many will. I think they are all invested in what we are trying to do. But again you don’t hold it against anyone on any team. This is extraordinary times and we just have to support each other.”

Guard Landry Shamet echoed other players’ feelings about traveling to Florida at a time when COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise in certain states.

“It’s obviously a concern, but we’re in the best possible situation and scenario to combat that,” he said. “If there’s a scenario where you feel more comfortable it would be being in a bubble. That’s as controlled as any environment can be, so that’s one positive that I’ve been thinking about.”

Rivers added, “I’m hoping when we get to the bubble it becomes the safest place in America.”

LeBron James’ voting rights group converting arenas into polling places

LeBron James Orlando
Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

ATLANTA (AP) — If basketball icon LeBron James gets his way, NBA arenas and other sports venues around the country will be mega polling sites for the November general election.

James and his voting rights group, formed this spring with other black athletes and entertainers, are joining with other professional basketball leaders and Michigan’s top elections official to push for mega voting sites to accommodate in-person balloting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

More Than A Vote, the James organization dedicated to maximizing Black turnout in November, shared its plans with The Associated Press on Wednesday after the Detroit Pistons became the second NBA franchise to announce plans to use its arena for voting later this year. In Georgia, Fulton County elections officials this week approved the Atlanta Hawks’ proposal to use State Farm Arena as a polling site. Plans call for the arena to serve as a countywide early voting site ahead of Election Day.

The idea, which comes after Kentucky used large facilities in its June 23 primary, is to use large spaces that allow for in-person voting while still enforcing social distancing guidelines. It also underscores the attention on the mechanics of voting amid the pandemic, with the intensity already reflected in both President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden warning that state and local officials have the power to “corrupt” the election.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson called her “partnership” with the Pistons an “blueprint for other teams and leagues seeking to advance our common goal of protecting access to the vote for all.”

Lloyd Pierce, head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, said the arrangement in his city ensures “high turnout” in a safe environment. Benson, Pierce and David Fizdale, former New York Knicks head coach, will advise NBA franchises and arena management entities around the country on how to replicate the existing deals.

The Milwaukee Bucks also confirmed they are willing to use their home arena as a voting site in the most populous city in the key battleground of Wisconsin.

The coordinated push is a turnabout, of sorts, in the often-partisan jousting over voting procedures.

Some Democrats panned Kentucky elections officials for limiting in-person June primary voting in the state’s two most populous counties to Louisville’s Exposition Center and the University of Kentucky football stadium in Lexington. Voting rights advocates argued in federal court that the plan, part of culling voting sites statewide amid coronavirus concerns, would harm minority voters.

A federal judge rejected their claims, and voting proceeded without the melee that some advocates had forecast.

Now, Benson, a Democrat, is pushing the arena model not as an example of potential voter suppression, but a way to fight it. “One of our greatest challenges in protecting voters’ access to democracy this November is identifying accessible locations where citizens can safely vote in person,” she said.

Amid COVID, that could outweigh potential logistical difficulties of large sites. Lines for such venues can still be long — just as with normal polling locations — as was seen in Lexington at some points on primary day. Voters also could face traffic jams or public transit hiccups given the number of people involved. General elections also have considerably larger turnout than primaries.

Nonetheless, there’s a growing bipartisan push for large-venue voting. NFL executive Scott Pioli last week presented the National Association of Secretaries of State a plan for widespread use of professional and college sports facilities.

James’ group is officially nonpartisan. But the NBA star has been open about its emphasis on the Black community, where Trump faces intense opposition for his white identity politics. James has not endorsed Biden, but he endorsed Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016.

In Milwaukee, meanwhile, the Bucks owners, the Lasry family, are major Democratic Party donors. Bucks executive Alex Lasry helped lead the effort that landed the Democratic National Convention in the city.

Missouri man freed from prison with help from WNBA’s Moore

AP Photo
Leave a comment

A Missouri man was freed from prison Wednesday after a county prosecutor declined to retry his case, punctuating years of work by WNBA star Maya Moore and other supporters who argued he was falsely convicted of burglary and assault charges.

Moore was on hand when Jonathan Irons, 40, walked out of the Jefferson City Correctional Center. She clapped as Irons approached a group of people waiting for his release. She then dropped to her knees at one point before joining a group hug around Irons.

He had been serving a 50-year prison sentence stemming from the non-fatal shooting of a homeowner in the St. Louis area when Irons was 16. But a judge threw out his convictions in March, citing a series of problems with the case, including a fingerprint report that had not been turned over to Irons’ defense team, according to The New York Times.

The Missouri attorney general’s office unsuccessfully appealed the judge’s decision, and the lead prosecutor in St. Charles County decided against a retrial.

Moore and Irons became friends after meeting through prison ministry, according to the Times. The 31-year-old Moore, a Jefferson City, Missouri, native who starred at UConn before helping lead Minnesota to four WNBA titles, put her career on hold last season to help Irons.

Moore said in January she planned to sit out a second season and miss the Tokyo Olympics. After Irons’ convictions were thrown out in March, she told the AP her plans hadn’t changed.

“’My decision to take another year was bigger than this case,” she said at the time. “But obviously this case was in the forefront of my mind. I’m looking forward when this is done to finally getting some rest and time with my family.”