PBT’s weekly NBA Power Rankings: It’s Warriors, Cavs at the top, likely your Finals favorites

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Golden State remains the class of the NBA this regular season, but for some reason there are people who don’t buy into them as contenders. I guess you can’t win until you’ve already won. The Cavaliers have slid up to No. 2 as the Hawks stumble, and the Spurs start to look like their old selves.

 
source:  1. Warriors (56-13, Last Week No. 1). We’ve had an Andre Iguodala sighting, his scoring has gone up while Klay Thompson is out with his bad ankle. This team is deep with somewhat interchangeable parts, which helps them weather injuries. Good tests on the road at Portland and Memphis this week.

 
source:  2. Cavaliers (46-26 LW 3). In their last 15 games they have the best offense in the NBA, but the defense has surrendered 103 points per 100 possessions 20th in the NBA. That defense has been worse lately. Right now the offense is covering that up, but come the playoffs that defense is going to get them in trouble eventually.

 
source:  3. Spurs (44-25, LW 5). If you noticed one thing lately it’s that Tiago Splitter finally looks healthy, and with that the Spurs’ defense has been more physical and improved. The win over Atlanta Sunday showed just how well this team is playing when focused. The loss in New York shows what happens when they are not. Four games against West playoff teams this week, we’ll see if that keeps them focused.

 
source:  4. Hawks (53-17, LW 2). They have lost three straight to top teams in the West (Warriors, Thunder, Spurs). Part of that was Kyle Korver being out for the first two, he is crucial to their offensive spacing. Also the loss of role guys Thabo Sefolosha and Mike Scott, has dinged them. Still, those three teams shredded the Atlanta defense, a very troubling sign. Easier schedule this week should get them rolling again.

 
source:  5. Grizzlies (49-21, LW 6). Finally Tony Allen is starting and Jeff Green is coming off the bench. Green is just too inconsistent to be trusted nightly, even if his offense is called for some nights. Win over Portland Saturday doesn’t make Memphis a lock for the two seed, but they are pretty close now.

 
source:  6. Rockets (46-23, LW 7). It took a while but I have finally come around: If the vote were today I would put James Harden ahead of Stephen Curry on my MVP ballot. Just how much he matters to the Rockets every game — every possession — put him over the top. His is not an elegant game, but it’s effective. That said, the loss of Terrence Jones (partially collapsed lung) comes at a tough time with seven of next nine on the road.

 
source:  7. Clippers (46-25, LW 8). Coach Doc Rivers and the Clipper organization is promoting DeAndre Jordan for Defensive Player of the Year. He doesn’t deserve it, but that’s another discussion. Here is what Doc Rivers said about promoting players for awards: “It’s good to support players. I don’t know if I believe in it or not, if you want my real answer, but I think that’s what you should do. Because that’s what every other team does.”

 
source:  8. Thunder (40-30, LW 9). They have a 2.5 game cushion over the Suns for the eight seed (the Pelicans are three back). That is amazing considering Kevin Durant is done for the season and Serge Ibaka will be out until close to the playoffs (and Nick Collison is now injured). It’s all about Russell Westbrook and the offense, but that will be enough to get them into the postseason.

 
source:  9. Trail Blazers (44-24. LW 4). They have lost four in a row, all on the road but some of those were very winnable (Orlando, Miami) and Portland didn’t bring their best games. Their defense has been sloppy and now both LaMarcus Aldridge (re-injured hand) and Nicolas Batom could miss a little time with injuries.

 
source:  10. Mavericks (44-27, LW 10). This team remains up and down — they beat the Clippers and Thunder, then lose to the Grizzlies and Suns. Now there are reports Monta Ellis’ notorious up-and-down moods are impacting the team and it’s effort. If they land Memphis in the first round (the current matchup) and play like this they will be done quickly.

 
source:  11. Bulls (42-29, LW 14). The good news is Taj Gibson is back and Jimmy Butler is expected back Monday night. The team expects to have Derrick Rose back for the playoffs. Still, does all of that really strike fear into anyone? On paper Chicago is dangerous, but they have not played Tom Thibodeau level defense all season — they seem to have lost sight of their identity.

 
source:  12. Wizards (40-30, LW 16). They had won five in a row before running into the hot shooting Clippers last Friday. Then they were awful Sunday against Sacramento. Wizard’s coach Randy Whitman, what’s wrong? “We need to start games with solid defense. That’s the common theme: We need to defend. When we defend we’re pretty good.”

 
source:  13. Pelicans (37-33, LW 11). They had the chance to make up ground on the banged up Thunder this week and couldn’t because Anthony Davis was injured. This team is not close to the same without him (and minor injuries seem to follow him around). They are three games back of the Thunder now, they will need some help to make that ground up.

 
source:  14. Jazz (31-38, LW 13). They are 12-4 since the All-Star break with the best defense in the land, and they have a candidate for Most Improved Player in Rudy Gobert (although Jimmy Butler likely wins that one). Quin Snyder has done a fantastic job, the question becomes how the organization builds on this over the summer for next season.

 
<source:  15. Suns (38-33, LW 18). They have won four games in a row, they are playing improved defense, but remain 2.5 back of the Thunder and are unlikely to make that ground up and get into the postseason. If they are going to catch OKC they need to beat them Sunday in a showdown (which would give Phoenix the tiebreaker).

 
source:  16. Raptors (42-28, LW 19). If Toronto wants to advance past the first round of the playoffs for the second time in franchise history (last one was 2001) they need to hold of Chicago for the three seed. Which makes Wednesday’s showdown with Chicago huge. As does not having slip ups against teams like Detroit and the Lakers this week.

 
source:  17. Celtics (30-39, LW 15). They had moved into the eight seed in the East, then came the three-game losing streak. Two of those were understandable (Thunder and Spurs) but the loss to Detroit is a hard one. Also, Marcus Smart can’t afford to get suspended for punching guys in the groin or any other reason.

 
source:  18. Heat (32-36, LW 21). They had won three in a row before Sunday, mostly because Dwyane Wade has jumped in the hot tub time machine and had scored at least 28 in five straight games. They have seven of nine on the road and need to win away from home to hold on to that two-game cushion they have to make the postseason.

 
source:  19. Nets (29-39, LW 22). They have won three of four due to a resurgent Brook Lopez, and beat a couple teams ahead of them in the standings. That gets them within a game of the playoffs, with key games against Boston and Charlotte this week.

 
source:  20. Hornets (30-38, LW 20). They had lost five of six before getting healthy against the struggling Timberwolves Sunday. Their next five games are against potential playoff teams in the East and if they can keep winning they will hold on to the eight seed, but this will be a key stretch.

 
source:  21. Pacers (30-39, LW 12). Losers of five in a row, they have gone from seeming playoff lock to team on the outside looking in. Paul George may return this week and there will be pressure on him to change this, but it really will take them getting back to playing elite defense.

 
source:  22. Bucks (34-36, LW 17). They are 4-13 since the All-Star break and trading for Michael Carter-Williams, and suddenly they are just 3.5 games ahead of the nine-seed Celtics and missing the playoffs all together. The Bucks likely hold on to a spot because of a soft schedule, but they could use a win over Miami or Indiana this week.

 
source:  23. Nuggets (26-44, LW 23). Losers of three in a row, which should make management happy as they worked to cut off this team at the knees once Melvin Hunt got them winning. If Denver doesn’t pick up Hunt as their full time coach, another team should poach him.

 
source:  24. Pistons (26-44, LW 25). The up-and-down Pistons were up last week with wins over the Grizzlies, Bulls and Celtics. Then they lost to the Sixers. Reggie Jackson is looking more comfortable and is putting up numbers, but is he really blending with where Stan Van Gundy wants to evolve the team?

 
source:  25. Kings (24-45, LW 24). The DeMarcus Cousins/George Karl relationship seems to be a work in progress. The Kings are dangerous any given night — especially with Rudy Gay thriving in Karl’s system. But the defense does them in most nights.

 
source:  26. 76ers (17-53, LW 28). Nice loss by the Sixers to the Lakers Sunday, if they were trying to hurt the Lakers’ lottery odds so the Sixers get the pick (sixth or higher and it is Philly’s via trade). Also no, Nerlens Noel is not going to unseat Andrew Wiggins as the Rookie of the Year, but he could garner some votes farther down the ballot.

 
source:  27. Magic (22-50, LW 27). Elfrid Payton still has a long way to go with his shot, but he’s finding a groove in the NBA and had two straight triple-doubles last week. He’s going to get mentioned in the Rookie of the Year balloting as well (even if he can’t catch Wiggins at this point). He’s a piece they can have as part of their core going forward.

source:  28. Timberwolves (15-54, LW 26). Kevin Garnett has missed seven games in a row and with that their defensive numbers have plummeted. Minnesota has lost 11-of-13 and one of those wins was in overtime against the hapless Knicks.

 
source:  29. Knicks (14-56, LW 29). Their win over the Spurs last week was one of the shocking results of the NBA season. Can they pull that off again this week against Memphis or the Clippers? No, probably not.

 
source:  30. Lakers (17-50, LW 30). The Steve Nash signing just didn’t work out for the Lakers At the time it was a good gamble — he was relatively healthy and the Lakers thought they could contend with Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard — but that third year was a question mark from the start and came back to bite them.

LeBron James, Doc Rivers, others around NBA react to, participate in protests

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The NBA family spoke out loudly and quickly in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer.

Protests have erupted nationwide following Floyd’s death, and the NBA family is commenting on — and in the case of some players, participating in — those protests. That includes the biggest name in the sport today, LeBron James.

Pistons’ coach Dwane Casey made a powerful statement recently, and on Sunday Doc Rivers released this statement through the Clippers.

A number of players have been involved in the protest, including Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie of the Timberwolves, who were with former NBA player Stephen Jackson — a childhood friend of Floyd’s — during a protest in Minnesota.

The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to help lead a peaceful protest that started at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park. He was joined by the Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon.

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Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a brilliant op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times that talked about where the rage of the riots comes from in the black community.

“Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.

“So, maybe the black community’s main concern right now isn’t whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19.”

And all this is just the tip of the iceberg of involvement of the NBA family, just like the protests are the tip of the iceberg of the frustration felt in black communities around the nation.

Jonas Valanciunas on return: “It’s kind of like coming back from the summer”

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Memphis is in when the NBA returns, and in whatever form it returns. The Grizzlies had earned the eighth seed in the West behind the standout play of rookie Ja Morant, and if the NBA goes with a play-in format for the final playoff seeds (as expected), there will be teams gunning for that slot.

Memphis’ veteran big man Jonas Valanciunas will be ready, he told Michael Wallace at the team’s official website. Valanciunas spent time in Memphis and Miami during the lockdown, checking in with family back in Lithuania, but is back in the gym getting up shots. He described the return process this way.

“It’s kind of like coming back from the summer. We’ve had two-and-a-half months off. But then again, I play with the (Lithuania) National Team every summer, so it’s not like you always have so much time off every summer. So it’s sort of like coming back and getting ready for training camp again, to get back in shape and into game rhythm. It’s unusual, with guys wearing masks and stuff, but it is sort of like getting yourself ready for training camp right now.

A lot of players feel the same way, that this was sort of like an offseason (just one where they couldn’t get in the gym and work on a specific skill or weakness). Now things are ramping up again. This is why players want a handful of games before the playoffs (or play-in tournament) start, to get their legs under them.

Memphis will have strong teams, and more veteran units, coming for their playoff spot in the form of Portland and New Orleans. Valanciunas says the Grizzlies will be ready.

We’re really motivated. We don’t need to find extra motivation. We’re young. We want to establish our names and build as a unit.

It’s going to be a unique format when the NBA returns, in what has been a season turned upside down. That, however, can be a bonding experience for this young Grizzlies team, something that makes them better faster.

Some NBA players reportedly expect families can’t come to Orlando until September

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Nothing is set in stone until the owners vote on Thursday, but the NBA’s return likely will have teams reporting to the “bubble” (or campus, or whatever term of art the league ends up using) in Orlando in mid-July. Games would start July 31 and run into late September and maybe even October.

For players, that’s a long time to be stuck in a hotel without seeing family or loved ones, so families joining the players has long been part of the plan. Except, now comes a note from Tim Reynolds at the AP that some players think their families may not be able to join them until deep into the postseason.

The smaller the bubble, the easier it is to maintain with extensive testing, which is why not all 30 teams are expected to be invited and the size of team traveling parties will be smaller. It has been expected that families wouldn’t be invited to join players at least until after the first round of the playoffs (when a lot of players left).

However, if games start July 31 and the league plans to play a couple of weeks of regular-season games, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot, then it will be September by the time the NBA gets to a final eight teams. Which will have players separated from their families for a couple of months.

It’s easy to understand the players’ frustrations with that. No matter what direction Adam Silver goes with this restart, there are going to be some unhappy teams and players.

 

Sixers head into playoffs with healthy Ben Simmons but new, untested starting five

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Philadelphia heads into the NBA’s restart — in whatever format it takes — as a team that, on the surface, benefits some from the break.

Ben Simmons was expected to return from his back issues in time for the playoffs, but it was going to be close, and he wouldn’t be fully rested and ready. Now, the All-Star is healthy and not the only player trying to shake off the rust from a long break. That’s 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.2 assists a game, and some strong defense back in the lineup.

But that lineup has never really fit together this season in Philadelphia, which is why heading into the restart playoffs the Sixers will have a new one.

Philly is expected to roll out a starting five of Simmons, Shake Milton, Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson, and Tobias Harris, reports The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. That lineup has played zero minutes together this season (Milton hit his groove with the team late and by that point Embiid and Simmons were battling injuries). Learning chemistry on the fly in what will be, at best, a shortened and condensed regular season before the playoffs start, is a tough way to go.

It’s also the right move, Milton brings the shooting and floor spacing this roster needs. Philly had envisioned Al Horford as a floor-spacing four (who could spell Embiid at the five), but it hasn’t worked out. When Simmons, Embiid and Horford have been on the court this season, the team has scored less than a point per possession (defensively, they also gave up less than a point per possession, the Sixers basically played their opponents even in those minutes). It hasn’t meshed.

When Milton, Simmons, and Embiid have played together this season — in limited minutes and different situations than the one proposed — the offense has been only slightly better and the defense has been a mess. That’s likely not the case with Richardson and Harris on the court, but nobody knows exactly how this will work. It looks good on paper, but we’ve thought that all season about the 76ers.

Which makes Philadephia one of the most interesting teams to watch when games restart. All season long this team has not lived up to expectations (for which coach Brett Brown’s seat is very hot, even if blame for the roster issues should go higher up the ladder). Now comes a real test. If the 76ers suddenly get it together they become a real threat to the Bucks in the East (if the league keeps an East/West format). Or, this could be the latest Sixers lineup to fall short.

Either way, they become must-watch television.