PBT NBA Power Rankings: It’s the Hawks, Warriors then a step back to everyone else

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The best teams in January are not necessarily the ones that we will see playing in June — at this time last season the top of the PBT Power rankings was Indiana and Portland. (The Spurs were third, the Heat fifth, obviously they met in the finals.) That said, right now Atlanta and Golden State are separating themselves from the pack. After that there are a lot of teams on the second tier, all pretty close to one another.

 
source:  1. Hawks (33-8, Last Week No. 1). Winners of 12 in a row and that includes a gauntlet of the other best teams in the NBA — several of those wins with at least one of their stars Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap and Al Horford. Question is how many of them the coaches put on the All-Star team.

 
source:  2. Warriors (32-6, LW 2). MVP-candidate (he’s got my vote at the halfway mark) Stephen Curry is going to be voted in an All-Star starter by the fans. But will he be the only Warriors representative? Klay Thompson will be on the bubble with the coaches’ vote because the West is so deep with guards.

 
source:  3. Spurs (26-16, LW 5). They get Kawhi Leonard back Friday night and promptly go out and beat Portland (then crush Utah Sunday). This team is just getting healthy and they have six of their next eight at home, don’t be shocked if they go on a little run.

 
source:  4. Grizzlies (29-11, LW 9). Another West test on Monday against Dallas, although Memphis has a great record against other playoff teams out West at 10-3 (while Dallas struggles against good teams). Another deserving player on the All-Star bubble, Mike Conley.

 
source:  5. Clippers (27-14, LW 7). Doc Rivers wants the Clippers to play faster, but the Clippers defensive inconsistency has made that difficult. “One of the things that I have said since I’ve been here is that it’s hard to run when you are taking the ball out of bounds.” The Clippers have done that a lot lately.

 
source:  6. Trail Blazers (30-11. Last Week No. 3). They have the third best defense in the NBA on the season but that has slipped the last five games (14th in the NBA in that stretch). Well, to be fair, they have struggled on both sides of the ball lately. The good news is Robin Lopez got his cast off and is getting closer to returning.

 
source:  7. Rockets (28-13, LW 6). That loss to Golden State last week was ugly because Houston’s regularly solid defense got roasted. Same thing happened against Orlando. The Warriors and Suns are on the schedule this week and Houston needs to get that defensive groove back.

 
source:  8. Mavericks (28-13, LW 8). Dallas is in the middle of a heavy road stretch of games, something that runs through early February. They are 4-3 in their last 7 games and the offense is struggling. With Nowitzki and plenty of scorers on the roster we’ll call this an offensive slump for now and see if it continues.

 
source:  9. Suns (24-18, LW 11). The eight-seed Suns see the Thunder three games back in the rear view mirror, but they also know have a heavy home schedule the second half of the season. The Suns are on a 47-win pace right now and they will likely beat that number — and they are working the trade market hard offering Miles Plumlee up.

 
source:  10. Wizards (28-13, LW 12). The Wizards are playing well and that is mostly due to their starters — John Wall, Bradley Beal, Paul Pierce, Nene, and Marcin Gortat are +12.4 per 48 minutes when on the court together. Consistent play out of the bench is something the Wizards still are searching for.

 
source:  11. Raptors (26-13, LW 10). DeMar DeRozan is back and this team still isn’t getting stops and still isn’t winning, having dropped 7-of-9, including blowing a lead to a Pelicans team without its two best players Sunday. Maybe they can find themselves on the road, where they are for six of their next eight.

 
source:  12. Bulls (27-15, LW 4). The Bulls’ mid-season slump continued last week and there is no one simple answer — Joakim noah needs some nights off to recover from ailing injuries, Derrick Rose is inconsistent, and Jimmy Butler is having a personal slump. Add to that a tough slate of games — Cavs, Spurs and Mavericks are up this week. The Bulls need to find their missing defense.

 
source:  13. Cavaliers (21-20 LW 16). Two wins in a row and it’s amazing how much better this team looks with LeBron James back. Well, on offense anyway, their defense still struggles (Timofey Mozgov hasn’t solved the issues in the paint) and there are questions of depth, but right now this team just needs to rack up a few more wins and get its confidence back.

 
source:  14. Thunder (19-20, LW 13). Quality win over Golden State on Friday night, reminding everyone what this team can do when right. But they are not right consistently. They better start with a tough rest of the month ahead — to make sure they pass the Suns the Thunder needs to go 30-12 the rest of the way.

 
source:  15. Bucks (21-19, LW 15). They had a nice London vacation last week (that includes picking up an easy win over the Knicks) but the injury gods continue to turn their wrath on Milwaukee — now backup point guard Kendall Marshall is lost for the season.

 
source:  16. Pelicans (20-20, LW 14). Anthony Davis (toe injury, nothing major) and Jrue Holiday have missed time yet the Pelicans found a way to win two of their last three. Good to see Alexis Ajinca step up Sunday with a 22-point game, if he can become a solid role player for them off the bench it would be a huge boost.

 
source:  17. Pistons (16-25, LW 18). . They are 8-2 in their last 10 games and are just one back of the Nets for the eight seed in the East. We’ll see if the hot streak continues with the Hawks, Bucks and Raptors on the schedule this week (I have a feeling it will).

 
source:  18. Heat (18-22, LW 17). Remember the “space and pace” offense the Heat were going to keep this season? Not so much. They are playing at a crawling pace of late and are the slowest team in the league this season. With that their offense hasn’t been impressive.

 
source:  19. Hornets (16-25, LW 20). What does it say about Lance Stephenson’s reputation around the league that his hometown Brooklyn Nets were thinking about trading for him, did their due diligence asking around the league about him, and pulled out of the deal?

 
source:  20. Nuggets (18-22, LW 19). The most interesting thing about the Nuggets the next few weeks is the trade watch — Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler and others are available at the right price. After that we can focus on what kind of team the Nuggets are trying to build and who should coach them.

 
source:  21. Nets (17-24, LW 24). The Nets want to move two of their big three contracts and it seems likely that they will find a taker for Brook Lopez — pulling back from trades now was just an effort to get a higher price. Now, finding a taker for Deron Williams or Joe Johnson will be far more difficult.

 
source:  22. Pacers (15-27, LW 21). For a team that prides itself on defense letting Mo Williams go off for 52 had to hurt. So did losing to a Hornets team without Kemba Walker or Al Jefferson. This team has playoff dreams still but the Pistons seem more likely to catch the Nets right now.

 
source:  23. Kings (16-24, LW 22). Blake Griffin says DeMarcus Cousins deserves to be an All-Star and I think the West coaches will agree with him and vote Cousins in. Good for him, but don’t expect much from a Kings team with a very heavy road schedule the rest of the season.

 
source:  24. Magic (15-28, LW 26). They went 2-2 through a gauntlet of good teams last week thanks to wins over the Bulls and Rockets. They are just 3.5 games back of a playoff spot in the East but will need to get hot the rest of the way, relatively, to make up that ground.

 
source:  25. Jazz (14-26, LW 23). The Utah offense is still the Gordon Hayward show, he is the glue that makes it all work. The Utah defense doesn’t work period. They can outscore a team like the Lakers (as they did last week) but they are not consistent enough defensively to get guys like Derrick Favors talked about seriously as an All-Star.

 
source:  26. Celtics (13-25, LW 27). They have more trades to come — no chance Tayshaun Prince is on this roster past the deadline, for one. In theory they could make a run at the playoffs, they are just 2.5 back of the eight-seed Nets, but management has no interest.

 
source:  27. Lakers (12-29, LW 25). If you think Kobe Bryant is going to not play next season, then clearly you’ve never had $25 million sitting on the table in front of you before. He’ll be back next season, likely playing fewer minutes a night and taking some off, as part of a farewell tour while the Lakers continue to struggle.

 
source:  28. 76ers (8-32, LW 28). Michael Carter-Williams has played fairly well of late for the Sixers, giving them an offensive boost to go with their solid defense. So why is he mentioned in trade talks? Sell high, and some with Sixers not convinced he’s a quality starting point guard in the league.

source:  29. Timberwolves (7-32, LW 29). They finally won a game last week thanks to 31 from Andrew Wiggins, who has developed as a good shooter much more quickly than people expected (he’s got a ways to go but is improving at a rapid rate). He’s the kind of shooter that the Cavaliers could use.

 
source:  30. Knicks (5-36, LW 30). If your choice is to watch a Knicks game or go see American Sniper, go to the theater. Not that the movie is all that easy to watch, but it’s less painful than a Knicks game.

Watch Tom Brady tell Charles Barkley to “take a suck of that” after he holes fairway shot

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It was the highlight of an entertaining — if not always pretty — afternoon of live golf, raising money for charity.

Tampa Bay Bay Buccanneers quarterback Tom Brady (it’s so weird to type that) was on his fourth shot on the par-5 7th hole at the Medalist Golf Club. Brady had a rough front nine to that point, and commentator Charles Barkley decided to up the trash talk (as if Barkley should talk about someone else’s golf game).

“How many shots do you want? Come on, I’m going to give you some shots man, I want some of you,” Barkley said.

“Don’t worry, it ain’t over yet,” Brady countered as he walked up to his fourth shot, 130 yards from the pin. “I think you just made him mad, Chuck,” host Brian Anderson said. “No, he can take a joke,” Barkley replied. Then this happened.

Brady earned that trash talk.

It wasn’t the only great exchange between the two; they had some fun on an earlier on a par 3 when Barkley bet Brady couldn’t get it on the green.

Increasing buzz teams well out of playoffs will not come to Orlando for games

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The Golden State Warriors have been public about it, they expect their season to be over. Golden State is far from alone, multiple teams well out of the playoff picture have questioned the expense and risk-to-reward ratio of coming back to play a handful of regular season games without fans in Orlando.

More and more, the buzz has been the NBA league office sees things the same way. I am not the only reporter hearing this: Steve Popper of Newsday wrote a column saying there was no reason to invite all 30 teams to the bubble city and the USA Today’s well-connected Jeff Zillgett added this:

This is where we throw in the caveat: There are no hard-and-fast plans from the NBA yet and every option is still being considered. One lesson Adam Silver took from David Stern was not to make a decision until you have to, and Silver is going to absorb more information in the coming weeks — such as from the recent GM survey — before making his call.

That said, the league seems to be coalescing around a general plan, which includes camps starting in mid-June and games in mid-July in Orlando.

For the bottom three to five teams in each conference, there is little motivation to head to Orlando for the bubble. It’s an expense to the owner with no gate revenue coming in, teams want to protect their NBA Draft Lottery status, and the Warriors don’t want to risk injury to Stephen Curry — or the Timberwolves to Karl-Anthony Towns, or the Hawks to Trae Young — for a handful of meaningless games.

The league is considering a play-in tournament for the final seed or seeds in each conference (there are a few format options on the table, it was part of the GM survey). That would bring the top 10 or 12 seeds from each conference to the bubble, depending upon the format, and they would play a handful of games to determine which teams are in the playoffs (and face the top seeds).

Either way, that would leave the three or five teams with the worst records in each conference home. Which is the smart thing to do, there’s no reason to add risk to the bubble for a handful of meaningless games.

Eight-year NBA veteran Jon Leuer announces retirement

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Jon Leuer is only age 31, but the big man has battled ankle and other injuries in recent seasons, playing in only 49 games over the past three seasons. Last July, the Pistons traded him to the Bucks in a salary dump, and Milwaukee quickly waived him. Leuer struggled to get healthy and did not catch on with another team.

Sunday he took to Instagram to announce his retirement.

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I love the game of basketball. I still want to play, but I know deep down it’s not the right decision for my health anymore. The past 3 years I’ve dealt with a number of injuries, including 2 that kept me out this whole season. It’s taken me a while to come to grips with this, but I’m truly at peace with my decision to officially retire. As disappointing as these injuries have been, I’m still thankful for every moment I spent playing the game. Basketball has been the most amazing journey of my life. It’s taken me places I only could’ve dreamed about as a kid. The relationships it brought me mean more than anything. I’ve been able to connect with people from all walks of life and forged lifelong bonds with many of them. What this game has brought me stretches way beyond basketball. I’m grateful for this incredible ride and everyone who helped me along the way. 🙏🏼🙌🏼✌🏼

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Leuer — a second-round pick out of Wisconsin for the Bucks in 2011 — averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds a game for the Pistons in the 2016-17 season, and for the years at the peak of his career he was a quality rotational big man teams could trust, either off the bench or as a spot starter.

Over the course of his career he played for the Bucks, Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Suns, and Pistons. He earned more than $37 million in salary, most of it from a three-year contract the Pistons gave him in 2016. It was not long after his body started to betray him.

Leuer has been riding out the quarantine in Minnesota is wife Keegan (NFL coach Brian Billick’s daughter) and the couple is donating thousands of meals a week to the needy in that community.

 

New York Governor clears path for Knicks, Nets to open facilities for workouts

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As of today, 19 NBA teams have their practice facilities open for players to come in for individual workouts, but 11 have yet to open the doors. Some it’s the decision of the team, some it’s that the municipality or state had not allowed it.

The Knicks and Nets — in the heart of New York, the part of the nation hardest hit by COVID-19 — are two of those teams whose facilities are closed. However, on Sunday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said they could open the door for practice.

“I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena — do it! Do it!” Cuomo said at his press conference. “Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

While the teams have not formally announced anything yet, it is likely at least the Nets will open soon for the players still in market to workout (the majority of players from the New York teams went home to other parts of the country). The Knicks, well out of the playoff picture, may be much slower to open their facilities back up.

When they happen, the workouts come with considerable restrictions: one player and one coach at each basket, the coach is wearing gloves and masks, the balls and gym equipment are sanitized, and much more.

One part of a potential plan for the NBA to return to play called for a couple of weeks of a training camp at the team facilities, followed by 14 days of a quarantined training camp in Orlando at the bubble site. Multiple teams reached out to the league about doing their entire training camp in Orlando to avoid having players quarantine twice (once when the player reports back to market, once when the team goes to the bubble city).