PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Should it be a big-three with Memphis in mix now?

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For the past few weeks it has been Atlanta, Golden State then everyone else in the NBA. Should Memphis be included in that mix? They are playing like it, and it’s not like they need to switch styles to play playoff-style basketball come the postseason — they grit and grind for 82 games before that. The bottom of the rankings see the two biggest markets in the league.

 
source:  1. Hawks (42-10, Last Week No. 1). They dropped two games last week to quality teams — New Orleans and Memphis — but their body of work over the previous five weeks keeps them in the top spot for now. The Hawks remain 8-2 against the West’s playoff teams. Interesting little test for Jeff Teague this week against the suddenly hot Timberwolves and Ricky Rubio.

 
source:  2. Grizzlies (38-13, LW 2). They have won 13-of-15 and beat the Hawks. Why don’t they move up to the top spot? That loss to Minnesota hurt their cause in my book (plus the Hawks were just too hot for too long to drop with one average week). That said, right now I think there is a big three, with Memphis in the mix with Atlanta and Golden State. I’m not a huge fan of bringing Tony Allen off the bench, I get the need for offense but it’s not working yet. Allen was fantastic against Kyle Korver, however.

 
source:  3. Warriors (40-9, LW 3). They have the top ranked offense and the top ranked defense in the NBA in terms of points per possession (they moved past the Clippers in offense this week). There is a legitimate chance they finish the season that way (if they stay healthy). If that doesn’t make you a legit title contender, nothing will.

 
source:  4. Cavaliers (31-21 LW 7). They have won 13 of 14 and are the second best team in the East but here is why I’m hesitant to crown them as best of the East — they have a defensive rating of 101.3 (points allowed per 100 possessions)in their last five games, that’s 13th in the league in that stretch. In their last 15 games it’s 102.8, 15th in the league. The defense has improved and with that offense it wins regular season games, but the big tests remain ahead.

 
source:  5. Spurs (32-19, LW 5). The Spurs started their annual “rodeo road trip” on Sunday in Toronto with a loss they will be riding the rails (or, in this case, a cushy charter plane) for eight more games before returning to the Lone Star state. Some Spurs teams have come together on this trip, we’ll see if this one can start to return to its form of last season in this stretch.

 
source:  5. Rockets (35-16, LW 6). Give them credit, they are 5-2 without Howard in this most recent stretch including wins over Dallas and Chicago. James Harden has been MVP worthy, but it’s Donatas Motiejunas stepping up that really keeps them afloat.

 
source:  7. Mavericks (35-18, LW 8). They have won four of five since Rajon Rondo went down and their defense has still been pretty good. Portland had no defensive answer for Dirk Nowitzki down the stretch Saturday, but then who does?

 
source:  8. Trail Blazers (34-17. Last Week No. 10). They had lost seven in a row on the road to teams that would make the playoffs in the West before Sunday, when they picked up a quality road win in Houston. Better late than never to put Damian Lillard on the All-Star Team in the West, even if it took an injury to make it a reality.

 
source:  9. Raptors (35-17, LW 11). Back-to-back wins over the Clippers and Spurs make it eight wins out of 10 for our Canadian friends, who have found their stride again. Hopefully Kyle Lowry enjoys his All-Star turn in New York this week, he earned it.

 
source:  10. Clippers (33-19, LW 4). The Clippers have lost four in a row for the first time in the Doc Rivers era, and things are about to get worse. This team is really just six players deep and now are without Blake Griffin for likely at least a few weeks, although J.J. Redick may be back before All-Star Game. Their upcoming schedule is brutal. They will slip down the West (they are already sixth) and missing the playoffs is not likely but not impossible. They need Spencer Hawes to step up big now.

 
source:  11. Suns (29-24, LW 9). They have dropped four of their last five games, including a tough-bounce loss to Sacramento on Sunday. Oklahoma City and New Orleans haven’t taken full advantage yet, but the Suns look like a team that could lose their playoff grip. If they can get through February they have a very home-heavy March where they will pad that record.

 
source:  12. Bulls (31-21, LW 12). In sticking up for his team’s defense of late, nice to see Tom Thibodeau use points per possession stats. And he’s right in last five games they are sixth in the league on that end of the floor. They are also 2-3. The Bulls have played well in big games recently (beating San Antonio and Golden State), Cleveland on Thursday is a going to be another good test.

 
source:  13. Pelicans (27-24, LW 14). Anthony Davis is out for a handful of games with a sprained shoulder, but that fall looked like it could have been a lot worse. As you saw against the Bulls Saturday, no team is more reliant on their star to make it all work than the Pelicans are with Davis. Isn’t that the sign of an MVP?

 
source:  14. Thunder (26-25, LW 15). They split the home-and-home with the Pelicans but then crushed the Griffin-less Clippers on Sunday. Both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant will be in New York for the All-Star Game this week, and both deserve to be there. If I were Steve Kerr, I might even start Durant in Griffin’s place.

 
source:  15 Wizards (32-20, LW 13). They snapped a five-game losing streak on Saturday (thank you Nets). You can say this spot is too low for a team 12 games above .500, but who above them do you think they could beat in a seven-game playoff series? Right now, none of them. Against teams above .500 the Wizards are just 10-15. Might they be one-and-done in the playoffs?

 
source:  16. Bucks (28-23, LW 16). Giannis Antetokounmpo is shooting 61 percent over his last seven games and has four double-doubles in that stretch — that earned him NBA Player of the week honors. The first of many, I think.

 
source:  17. Hornets (22-29, LW 17). Tough losses to the Sixers and Pacers last week, those are the kinds of games they need to win if they plan to hold on to a playoff spot (even in the East). The Hornets are just half a game ahead of nine-seed Brooklyn, 2.5 up on 10 seed Detroit, which makes the game against the Pistons this week huge.

 
source:  18. Pistons (20-31, LW 20). If one team is going to sneak past Miami (and Brooklyn) into the eight seed out West, it is Detroit. The Pistons are 2 games back heading into this week. Their defense has fallen off in recent games, they need that back for a key showdown vs. Charlotte Tuesday.

 
source:  19. Nets (21-29, LW 21).

 
source:  20. Heat (21-29, LW 18). As good as Hassan Whiteside has been, the point guard play has been that bad. With a handful of decent ones potentially available at the trade deadline Pat Riley has to at least makes some calls and see.

 
source:  21. Celtics (19-31, LW 23). Their not winning a lot but Brad Stevens small-ball experiment is entertaining (they put up points). They had a little three-game winning streak and in the East that will keep a team’s playoffs hope alive, although they are slim for the Celtics (which is the way Danny Ainge wants it right now).

 
source:  22. Pacers (20-32, LW 24). They have won three in a row now thanks to George Hill’s game winner Sunday. Hill struggled to fit in working off the ball with Paul George and a healthy Pacers team, but he has looked good when asked to do more for the team of late.
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source:  23. Jazz (18-33, LW 19). The Dante Exum as starting point guard experiment has had mixed results so far, but when you’re lottery bound with a young team like the Jazz these are the kinds of experiments you try. Let him learn on the job, see how he develops. Then tell him to pass to Gordon Hayward more.

 
source:  24. Kings (18-29, LW 25). Thanks to DeMarcus Cousins’ game winner, Sacramento is now 7-19 since firing Mike Malone so they could go up tempo with Tyrone Corbin. If there is a candidate for “GM most likely to be fired this summer” it is Pete D’Alessandro. Whether or not George Karl is hired.

source:  25. Timberwolves (11-40, LW 30). Ricky Rubio is back and suddenly the ball is moving, players are running the break, and the Timberwolves have won three in a row. It’s going to be a pretty quiet trade deadline again this season, but don’t be shocked if Kevin Martin or Thaddeus Young are the biggest names on the move. Flip Saunders wants to deal.

 
source:  26. Nuggets (19-32, LW 22). Losers of five in a row and they are a team in disarray in terms of team building and direction. Either give Brian Shaw a team that fits his style or bring in a coach that likes to run, but pick a direction and stick with it.

 
source:  27. 76ers (12-40, LW 28). They have won four straight home games. This is the second year in a row they have been held up as the poster child for tanking teams, only to have another team in their own conference be worse (the Bucks last season, the Knicks this season).

 
source:  28. Magic (16-37, LW 27). They fired Jacque Vaughn but it begs the question: What kind of team are they trying to build in Orlando? Stan Van Gundy said this week there is no such thing as a long-time Magic coach, and that is a big part of the problem. Develop a plan then stick with it.

 
source:  29. Knicks (10-41, LW 26). What is the under/over on games Carmelo Anthony plays after the All-Star Game before shutting it down and getting surgery? I’d put the line at 2.5, and likely bet the under.

 
source:  30. Lakers (13-37, LW 29). As we spend the rest of the season watching and deciding if Jordan Clarkson can develop into an NBA rotation guard, here is my big question: What is the Lakers’ long-term plan? Swing for the fences every summer is not really a plan for building a full roster.

Watch Joel Embiid’s game-winning dunk lead 76ers past Cavaliers 98-97

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The shots weren’t falling for the Philadelphia 76ers, so they clamped down on defense.

Joel Embiid scored 27 points, including the go-ahead dunk with 13.2 seconds remaining, and Philadelphia held Cleveland without a point for the final 3 1/2 minutes in a 98-97 win over the Cavaliers on Tuesday night.

Josh Richardson added 17 points and Ben Simmons had 15 for Philadelphia, which won despite missing 30 of 38 3-point attempts. Tobias Harris missed all 11 of his 3-point tries.

“You better guard if you’re not going to make shots,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “We knew if we were going to do anything, we had to play defense – and defense we played.”

Jordan Clarkson and Kevin Love each had 20 points to pace Cleveland. Collin Sexton added 18 points and Tristan Thompson had 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers trailed for most of the contest, but took advantage of Philadelphia’s poor shooting in the fourth quarter, going up by as many as five points on three occasions.

“We gave them life and were in a fistfight,” Brown said. “You can just feel it. We had a chance to discourage them and we didn’t. Certainly a hard-fought game and we’re lucky to get away with it.”

Cleveland led 97-92 with 3:34 remaining after Sexton’s driving layup, but the Cavaliers wouldn’t score again. Harris pulled Philadelphia within 97-94 with a follow layup and then hit a 17-footer on the ensuing possession to make it a one-point game with 1:42 left.

Cleveland had chances to build the lead after that, but Love missed a close-range shot before a shot-clock violation on the Cavaliers’ next possession.

“I think our defense was pretty OK,” Embiid said. “We just didn’t make shots.”

The 76ers were having their own trouble scoring with Richardson and Embiid failing to convert on consecutive possessions.

After a timeout with 26.6 seconds left, Brown called a high-percentage play with Harris finding Embiid close to the basket. Embiid slammed it home to give the 76ers their first lead, 98-97, since early in the fourth quarter.

“It was a great play-call by coach and we did the rest,” Embiid said.

Cleveland had a chance to win it, but Love’s 3-point attempt from the top of the key rimmed out.

“Kevin is a great shooter, not a good shooter,” Cleveland coach John Beilein said. “He took his time but just didn’t nail it. It’s one of many looks I’ll take at that time.”

 

Warriors two-way guard Damion Lee breaks bone in right hand

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Yet another member of the Golden State Warriors is injured, with two-way guard Damion Lee now out because of a broken right hand.

The injury occurred during Golden State’s 122-108 home loss to the Jazz on Monday night. Lee underwent an MRI exam Tuesday morning that revealed a nondisplaced fracture of the fourth metacarpal. The team said he will be reevaluated in two weeks.

“Hopefully just a few weeks,” coach Steve Kerr said before the team flew to Los Angeles, where the Warriors play the Lakers on Wednesday night.

Lee joins a long list of injured players on the depleted Warriors, who are 2-9 following five straight trips to the NBA Finals.

Stephen Curry had surgery on his broken left hand, which he injured Oct. 30, and will need another procedure next month to have pins removed. He said Monday that he expects to be playing again come spring.

The two-time MVP joins Klay Thompson, who is recovering from a July 2 surgery on a torn ACL in his left knee suffered during Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Thompson could miss the entire season.

Kevon Looney, who is dealing with a nerve issue that has kept him out since a brief appearance in the season opener, is going through more extensive workouts but is still not ready to return, while guard Jacob Evans III is still dealing with a strained inner thigh muscle and also will miss Wednesday’s game. Kerr said he is likely still at least a couple of weeks from playing again.

Backup center Omari Spellman was listed as doubtful to face the Lakers because of a sprained left ankle and already sat out Monday’s loss to the Jazz.

Kerr, who took over coaching the Warriors in 2014-15 and immediately won an NBA championship, has never had this short a bench with so few healthy bodies to mix and match rotations.

“We’ll just see how it plays out,” Kerr said. “We’ll figure out who’s ready to go and we’ll go from there. It’s challenging. It’s been kind of the theme so far. It’s not exactly ideal but it’s the reality. You don’t spend a whole lot of time lamenting anything. You just keep going.”

Bulls big man Cristiano Felicio out 4-8 weeks with broken wrist

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This is not going to impact the Bulls’ rotations — Cristiano Felicio has yet to touch the court for the Bulls this season — but it’s a setback for a player trying to prove he belongs in the NBA.

Felicio fractured his wrist during the Bulls practice Monday and will be out at least a month, reports K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.

Cristiano Felicio, who has yet to land on the active roster this season, broke his right wrist after falling in Monday’s practice, according to coach Jim Boylen. The Bulls’ coach said Felicio will miss four to eight weeks with the injury.

“We had the X-ray. It did not show up on the X-ray. Then we had the CT scan and it showed up on the CT scan,” Boylen said. “We’re going to do an MRI (Wednesday) just to let them give us a little more certainty on maybe how much separation there is in there and how much time it will be.”

The Bulls gambled on Felicio a couple of years ago and signed him to a four-year, $32 million contract. That roll of the dice has come up snake eyes so far, with Felicio playing a limited role the first two seasons — and this season no role at all.

It is expected the Bulls will try to use Felicio’s salary in any trade packages they put together closer to the deadline, this injury would not impact that.

Asked about getting stabbed in back, Chris Paul says trade from Rockets

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Chris Paul has gotten traded three times in his career.

New Orleans sent him to the Clippers – but only after David Stern nixed a deal with the Lakers – in 2011. In 2017, Paul engineered a trade to the Rockets by opting in. Then, in an unprecedented star swap, Houston dealt Paul to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook last summer.

Paul recently discussed trades with comedian Kevin Hart.

Hart:

Why is it always such a crazy time when it comes to these trades and whether they’re happening. You’ve been part of some big conversations. Is it at a point where it’s just business, or is it becoming personal?

Paul:

Every situation is different. But the team is going to do whatever they want to do. They’ll tell you one thing and do a smooth nother thing.

Hart:

That’s the business side.

Paul:

Exactly.

Hart:

Do you feel like there’s been times where, “Damn, that’s a little eye-opening. I got stabbed in the back”?

Paul:

Absolutely. This last situation was one of them. The GM there in Houston, he don’t owe me nothing. You know what I mean? He may tell me one thing but do another thing. But you just understand that that’s what it is.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is an easy target right now. Many people around the NBA resent him tweeting support for Hong Kong protesters (who are trying to maintain and expand their freedoms) and costing the league significant revenue in China.

But, in this case, Morey brought it upon himself. He said in June he wouldn’t trade Paul then did so, anyway.

Maybe that was to protect Paul’s feelings if he stayed in Houston. In that case, Morey could tell Paul he believed in him all along. There’d be no way to know Morey was fibbing. Now that Paul is gone, Paul being upset is someone else’s problem. It’s a common tactic by executives.

Paul reportedly requested a trade from the Rockets, but he denied it. I don’t necessarily believe Paul. There was plenty of evidence of tension between him and Harden. It’d be pretty conniving to request a trade then throw Morey under the bus for making the trade.

But Paul’s denial of a trade request is on the record. So is Morey’s declaration that he wouldn’t trade Paul.

Morey must own that.