PBT’s Weekly NBA Power Rankings: No. 1 vs. No. 2 this week… and No. 3.

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There are some real tests for the top-ranked Hawks this week against the No. 2 Grizzlies and the No. 3 Warriors. Down on the bottom of the scale, while the Timberwolves remain there the return of Ricky Rubio this week should hang that soon.

 
source:  1. Hawks (40-8, Last Week No. 1). There’s a lot of buzz around Friday night’s Hawks showdown with the Warriors, a potential Finals matchup of the two best teams from the first half of the season. But the entire week is tough for Atlanta — New Orleans and Washington Monday then Wednesday, then Memphis looms on Sunday. If Hawks winning streak reaches 20 on Monday, only fifth NBA team to do that.

 
source:  2. Grizzlies (35-12, LW 4). They are 10-2 in their last dozen games, which is not so coincidentally when Zach Randolph returned and started putting up his usual double-doubles nightly. I’ve got a feeling this is the team that snaps the Hawks winning streak, Memphis has been playing great defense during their streak.

 
source:  3. Warriors (37-8, LW 2). They lost to the Bulls and Jazz last week, but that’s just a blip. Still, David Lee at the five for stretches and more Leandro Barbosa are not my favorite things to see. Did we mention the big showdown with Atlanta on Friday night?I kno

 
source:  4. Clippers (33-15, LW 5). They had their six game win streak snapped in New Orleans, then responded on Saturday with maybe best game of season vs. Spurs. They Clippers have done it all with offense, scoring 113.9 points per 100 possessions in last eight games, best in NBA in that stretch. Defense 17th in league in that same time frame.

 
source:  5. Spurs (30-18, LW 3). An ugly home loss to the Clippers was another sign that the bench play of the Spurs is not what it was during their run last season, with Boris Diaw not looking the same and Manu Ginobili in a slump. That would be an issue if it continues into the playoffs.

 
source:  6. Rockets (33-15, LW 6). The Rockets are 6.7 points per 100 possessions better when Dwight Howard is on the court and now they will be without him for weeks with a knee injury. They are currently the five seed in the West (although they would have home court over four seed Portland) but this is the kind of thing that could see them slide down the seedings and make the playoffs that much tougher.

 
source:  7. Cavaliers (29-20 LW 11). They have won 10 games in a row, thanks in part to Kyrie Irving just going off when LeBron James was out. Still, they watched Andrew Wiggins drop 33 on them last week and you have to think the GMs of this team — LeBron and David Griffin — have to have a knot in their stomach about the long-term impact of the Kevin Love trade.

 
source:  8. Mavericks (32-17, LW 7). Rajon Rondo is out for at least a week with a orbital bone fracture in his face. When he is on the court the Dallas defense improves by 5.5 points per 100 possessions, the problem is the offense dips by 6.7 per 100. They need Rondo to find an offensive groove with this team by the playoffs.

 
source:  9. Suns (28-21, LW 10). A lot of people predicted the Suns would set during a tough run of eight games they are in the midst of, however they are 3-3 so far and are almost through the tough patch (only Memphis and Portland remain). They have a two game lead on the Pelicans and a four game lead over Oklahoma City for the final playoff spot and will be tough to catch.

 
source:  10. Trail Blazers (32-16. Last Week No. 8). Damian Lillard did get screwed out of not being an All-Star, but he didn’t unleash that anger on the Hawks last weekend. Will he in a tough stretch of games this week that include the Suns, Mavericks and Rockets?

 
source:  11. Raptors (33-15, LW 13). Is it possible to win six games in a row and not look great doing it? The Raptors have their wins but didn’t blow our doors off beating the Wizards or Nets. In their last 10 games the Raptors have the fifth best offense in the NBA but still the 21st ranked defense. That end of the court is still an issue.

 
source:  12. Bulls (30-19, LW 9). They are bucking for the title of most inconsistent team in the NBA — they beat the Warriors then turn around and fall to the Lakers. Even within games their play is erratic. I keep saying in radio interviews on paper the Bulls are the best team in the East but if they can’t put the pieces together it’s moot (and Tom Thibodeau may take the fall for that).

 
source:  13 Wizards (31-17, LW 12). Another team that, like the Bulls, looks good on paper and tantalizes you with stretches of impressive play, followed by just some terrible losses. They have a good measuring stick game Wednesday vs. Atlanta, but the question is can they sustain it after that?

 
source:  14. Pelicans (25-22, LW 14). Coach Monty Williams’ seat is getting warm in New Orleans and it’s largely due to the fact a team with Anthony Davis and Omer Asik on the back line is still 23rd in the NBA in defense. That end of the court is why the Pelicans are so up and down. (This offseason, the Big Easy would be an interesting landing spot for Tom Thibodeau if he’s out in Chicago.)

 
source:  15. Thunder (23-24, LW 15). Fans may not have hit the panic button yet in OKC but they sure have at least figured out where it is. The one good thing in OKC favor is a heavy home schedule the rest of the way but four games is going to be a lot to make up on a Phoenix team that will not roll over, the Thunder need to string together a healthy winning streak fast.

 
source:  16. Bucks (25-22, LW 18). They picked up a quality win over Portland last week and we’re going to get to see a lot of Giannis Antetokounmpo All-Star weekend — things continue to look up for the Bucks. Clipper fans are likely watching this Jared Dudley play and say “where was this guy when we had him?”

 
source:  17. Hornets (20-27, LW 16). It’s impressive that the Hornets have gone 4-1 without Kemba Walker so far, giving hope that they can hold on to the eight seed in the East until the star point guard returns. The Bobcats offense has taken the expected dive without walker but they are defending well again and that can keep them in the playoffs.

 
source:  18. Heat (21-26, LW 17). In his last five games Heat fan favorite Hassan Whiteside has averaged 15.2 points shooting 61.8 percent plus pulling down 12.8 rebounds. More than the numbers, when he is on the court the Heat are just more active and energetic on defense with deflections and blocked shots. .

 
source:  19. Jazz (17-30, LW 20). They beat the Warriors on Friday with maybe their best game of the season, showing both the potential and development of this team. Can they replicate that in a tough stretch this eek against Portland, Memphis and Phoenix?

 
source:  20. Pistons (18-30, LW 19). . Pistons fans got to boo Josh Smith and watch him struggle and his Rockets lose. That was cathartic. But then this same Pistons team got manhandled by the Sixers last week, so everything is not right yet. Just less bad.

 
source:  21. Nets (18-28, LW 21). They have dropped four in a row and 12 of their last 14 games, they have slid out of the playoffs, and the talk is now should they buy out Kevin Garnett and let him play for a contender. The front office is more focused on moving players like Brook Lopez or Joe Johnson to clean up the books before a sale of the team than than they are Garnett’s future.

 
source:  22. Nuggets (19-29, LW 22). JaVale McGee is back on the court and that ups the entertainment value of the league right away. This is another team where the most interesting story the next few weeks will be if Wilson Chandler gets traded, not anything they do on the court.

 
source:  23. Celtics (16-30, LW 23). If I were going to bet on one team to make another deal before the trade deadline, Boston would be at the top of the list. They keep playing Tayshaun Prince minutes and that has to be to showcase him, not because they want to make a run at the eight see, right?

 
source:  24. Pacers (17-32, LW 22). The Pacers are just four games out of the playoffs, so in theory they could make a run at it, but they just lack the offense to get it done.

 
source:  25. Kings (17-29, LW 25). DeMarcus Cousins deserved to be an All-Star and was a great selection to fill in for Kobe Bryant on the roster. He’s the first Kings All-Star in more than a decade, when Peja Stojakovic and Brad Miller were on the squad together in 2004.

 
source:  26. Knicks (10-38, LW 27). The Knicks are playing better of late because their defense has been less bad (I don’t know that I’d say good) and Carmelo Anthony is doing things like putting up 31 points on the Lakers. What happens after the All-Star Game when ‘Melo shuts it down? That could get ugly.

 
source:  27. Magic (15-35, LW 26). No coach is on a hotter seat than Jacque Vaughn, who in his first year looked like he could get this team to play defense but has not any more. If they make a coaching change in season, it may come after they get back this week from a road trip that finishes against the Thunder and Spurs.

 
source:  28. 76ers (10-38, LW 29). If you’re into moral victories, the Sixers had one against the Hawks last week. Michael Carter-Williams had another triple double and, while I’m not sold he’s a star, should be a solid rotation guard in the league for a while.

 
source:  29. Lakers (13-34, LW 28). No Kobe Bryant or Nick Young and they played hard and found a way to beat the Bulls last week to end their losing streak. Still, the most interesting thing about this team the rest of the way is how Jordan Clarkson develops.

source:  30. Timberwolves (8-39, LW 30). Don’t expect them to stay on the bottom long, not with Ricky Rubio close to returning to the lineup (possibly Monday), along with Kevin Martin and Nicola Pekovic. Those three take Minnesota out of the pushover category and will get them a few wins, along with Andrew Wiggins’ improved play.

Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid usher 76ers past Nets and into 2nd round

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Joel Embiid showed no mercy. He buried a 3-pointer that gave the 76ers a 24-point lead and waved his arms like a boss, exhorting an already jacked crowd to get louder.

Philly obeyed its most popular player and went wild – and the All-Star center believes the good times have only just started.

“We think we can win it all,” Embiid said.

Ben Simmons thumped his chest after a big dunk , Embiid pointed toward an overmatched defender on a slam of his own, and Philadelphia flexed its offensive muscle from the opening tip to beat the Brooklyn Nets 120-100 on Tuesday night and close out their Eastern Conference playoff series in five games.

Up next, a second round series against the Toronto Raptors, who dropped their playoff opener before winning four straight against Orlando – the same thing the Sixers did to Brooklyn.

“We still have more to do. A lot more to do,” coach Brett Brown said.

Any late arrivals missed the defining moments of the game from a jovial Sixers team that enjoyed toying with the sickly Nets.

The Sixers stunned the Nets with a 14-0 run in front of the loudest and rowdiest packed house of the season.

Embiid again shook off a bad left knee and had six points and five rebounds in the first two minutes to chants of “MVP!” The Nets later trailed 20-2, and Simmons put an exclamation point on the stunning first quarter when he drove the paint and used a right-handed jam to make it 32-12 – with a thump of his chest for emphasis.

“They did whatever they wanted before we could even get on the board,” Nets All-Star guard D'Angelo Russell said.

Brooklyn’s Jared Dudley was soundly booed during pregame introductions and each time he touched the ball in the first. Dudley had stirred trouble when he said Simmons was “average” in the half-court. Dudley bumped Embiid in Game 4, triggering a skirmish with Jimmy Butler that spilled into the stands. Dudley heard “Dudley sucks!” chants from opening tipoff and got a view of this rout from the bench in the second half. He flashed a few smiles in the waning moments, his time as a playoff name over.

The teams tangled again in the final two minutes, and the deep reserves had to be separated. Sixers mascot Franklin ran out wearing oversized gold boxing gloves to bring a dose of levity to the ruckus.

Philadelphia’s Jonah Bolden and Greg Monroe, and Brooklyn’s Dzanan Musa and Radians Kurucs were ejected.

“Our team was physical the whole time,” Simmons said. “I think we need to take that up to Toronto.”

Embiid got the last laugh in the second quarter with a baseline dunk over Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and pointed at the hapless defender. Embiid was hit with a technical but by then, who cared? Embiid buried a 3 from the top of the arc that made it 41-17 and about blew the roof off the arena. Sixers general manager Elton Brand, who sits in the first row of the press seating, had his eyes locked on the scoreboard for each replay of the big man’s 3.

Embiid had 23 points and 13 rebounds, Simmons had 13 points and no starter played more than 27 minutes in a game that could have been called off after the first quarter.

Hollis-Jefferson scored 21 points for the Nets, who head into the offseason after their first playoff series since 2015.

“We never made a push back,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I’m surprised we didn’t come out with more grit, more fight.”

Brand is as much to credit for the Sixers’ success as anyone, using his rookie season as GM to orchestrate trades for Butler and Tobias Harris that kept Philly humming along in a 51-win season. But even before the trades, the Sixers were expected to make it this far in the playoffs. They did last season and were knocked out by Boston in the East semis in five games. The midseason trades for Harris and Butler were expected to push the Sixers to at least the conference final. Brown has said the goal is to play in the NBA Finals.

“They’re going for big things. They can compete for a championship, quite honestly,” Atkinson said.

TIP-INS

Nets: Joe Harris, the NBA’s top 3-point shooter, hit his first one since Game 1 with the score well out of hand. Harris was just 3 of 16 through the first four games. … Nets general manager Sean Marks was suspended for the game for entering the referees’ locker room after Brooklyn’s loss to Philadelphia in Game 4. … Simmons smothered Russell and the Nets star was held to eight points on 3 of 16 shooting.

76ers: Their 29-point halftime lead was the largest in playoff franchise history. The 31 points allowed matched the lowest in the shot-clock era.

UP NEXT

The Raptors went 3-1 vs. the Sixers this season.

“You can credit it or you can discredit it,” Brown said. “I’m discrediting it. We have a new group. We have a new opportunity.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Kawhi Leonard has 27 as Raptors clinch series over Magic

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TORONTO (AP) Kawhi Leonard scored 27 points, Pascal Siakam added 24 and the Toronto Raptors used another stifling defensive effort to beat the Orlando Magic 115-96 on Tuesday night, winning their first-round playoff series in five games.

Kyle Lowry scored 14 points as the Raptors finished off the Magic with ease, bouncing back from a Game 1 defeat to win by double-digits in three of the next four. Toronto led by as many as 37 in the clincher, their biggest-ever margin in a playoff game.

It’s the fourth straight year the Raptors have reached the second round.

Leonard made 8 of 11 shots, including 5 of 5 from 3-point range, as the Raptors jumped on Orlando early and never trailed. Leonard also made all six of his free throws. He checked out to cheers of “MVP, MVP” with 8:05 to play and Toronto up 105-75.

D.J. Augustin scored 15 points, Terrence Ross had 12 and Aaron Gordon 11 for the Magic, who won 104-101 on Augustin’s late 3-pointer in Game 1 but never again topped 96 points against Toronto’s dominant defense, and twice finished with 85 or fewer.

Orlando made 32 of 83 shots, including 9 of 34 from 3-point range.

The Magic hadn’t reached the postseason since 2012. That year, Orlando won its opener on the road against Indiana, then lost four straight. The Magic haven’t advanced past the opening round since 2010, when they lost to Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Lowry scored Toronto’s first nine points and had 12 in the opening quarter. Orlando missed 10 of its first 11 shots and went 0 for 7 from 3-point range in the first. Toronto was up 35-19 after one.

The Magic missed 11 straight from long range before Fournier connected at 7:55 of the second. Toronto answered with a 6-0 spurt, opening a 50-29 lead with 6:48 to go until halftime. Leonard and Siakam each had seven points in the second and the Raptors held a 67-47 lead at the intermission.2

Lowry left at 2:41 of the second and headed to the locker room after appearing to jam a finger on his right hand. He returned to start the second half.

Toronto took a commanding 99-70 lead into the fourth.

TIP-INS

Magic: Vucevic missed his first four shots and had three fouls in a scoreless first quarter, playing only five minutes. Vucevic scored his first basket at 9:54 of the third, when Orlando trailed by 26. He shot 3 for 10 and scored six points. … Khem Birch led Orlando with 11 rebounds.

Raptors: Toronto had 10 assists on 13 made baskets in the first quarter, and 19 on 23 baskets in the first half. The 19 assists set a Raptors record for a single half of a postseason game. … G Fred VanVleet led Toronto with 10 assists while Lowry had nine. … Five games is the quickest Toronto has ever won a seven-game series. … F Chris Boucher (back) was not available.

UP NEXT

Toronto will host Philadelphia or Brooklyn in Game 1 of the second round.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Donovan Mitchell pulled over to assist at the scene of a car wreck (PHOTO)

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A car wreck can be a terrible thing. People get injured, property gets damaged, and it ruins your day. But perhaps folks were a little bit happier when they got out of their car and saw Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell coming over to help.

Mitchell witnessed a car wreck over the weekend and decided to get out of his vehicle and assist those on the scene.

According to a report from the Salt Lake Tribune, Mitchell saw a woman who needed help and pulled over to lend a hand.

Via Salt Lake Tribune:

“I was driving by, a lady was falling out of her car, the airbags went off, she was grabbing her chest and I was like, ‘Oh shoot.’ Like a natural instinct to found out what happened,” Mitchell explained. Mitchell ended up calling 911 to report the accident.

Apparently everybody in the car accident was okay, but imagine getting in a wreck and then an NBA star shows up. That might be a little odd.

Meanwhile Mitchell and the Jazz might be headed for a short postseason. They are struggling against the Houston Rockets, just as many predicted.

Mitchell has not played a great in the series against the Rockets. His per game numbers are similar to what he posted last season, but his advanced metrics tell a different story. The young Jazz point guard is playing near replacement-level, and some of his decision-making has been questionable.

Game 5 is on Wednesday at 5 p.m. PST and the Rockets lead, 3-1.

Blake Griffin shook the hands of every media member after exit interviews (VIDEO)

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The season is over for the Detroit Pistons. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks took care of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond in quick fashion, sweeping them out of the playoffs on Monday.

Griffin had an incredible regular season in Detroit after being traded by the Los Angeles Clippers back in January of 2018. He notched numbers of 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.4 assists. Griffin also shot 36 percent from 3-point land.

The former member of Lob City is apparently embracing his new role as the face of the Pistons, and that included shaking hands with every media member after his exit interview on Tuesday.

It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but this isn’t something that every NBA superstar would do.

Via Twitter:

On Tuesday Griffin also thanked all of the Pistons fans via Instagram for sticking with him and the rest of the squad through the postseason.

People have lambasted Griffin’s contract up until this point, but if he can stay relatively healthy and play similar to how he did this year, the power forward is at least be a building block for Detroit to improve upon moving forward.