PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Cream rising to top as playoffs near

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There are only a couple weeks left in the regular season (and only a few more power rankings to come, before the playoffs make them moot) and you can see the cream rising to the top — Warriors, Cavaliers, Spurs and so on. The Clippers are hot, but do you really buy into them as a contender?

 
source:  1. Warriors (60-13, Last Week No. 1). Looking for a team hitting their stride as the playoffs approach? The Warriors have won nine in a row and 14-of-15, getting them to 60 wins and locking down the top seed in the West. They are five games up on the Hawks for best record overall. Tough slate of games this week, expect Steve Kerr to rest some key players.

 
source:  2. Cavaliers (48-27 LW 2). It is looking more and more like they are going to land the two seed and face Miami in the first round — not that the Heat can beat the Cavaliers, but that’s going to draw a lot of attention and be a more challenging first round than the Cavs would prefer. The Cavs play the Heat Thursday in what will be a little preview.

 
source:  3. Spurs (47-26, LW 3). They have won three in a row and 7-of-10 — they finally got healthy, put their regular starting five out there and now look like title contenders again. They keys have bee Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter, and their returns to form gets the bench rotation back in order.

 
source:  4. Hawks (55-18, LW 4). Mike Budenholzer learned his craft next to Gregg Popovich — expect the Hawks to rest a lot of key players the next two weeks with the top spot secured (like they rested all five starters over the weekend). The good news for the ATL is whoever they get in the first round it’s basically a bye and they can use that to get their groove back.

 
source:  5. Clippers (49-25, LW 7). They have won seven in a row and they are doing it with offense — J.J. Redick is playing the best ball of his NBA career. The Clips are just 1.5 games back of the two seed and 1.5 games up on the six seed, no team’s playoff landing spot is harder to predict.

 
source:  6. Rockets (50-23, LW 6). They have won 7-of-8 and, with Dwight Howard back in the rotation, they seem a lock to be a top three seed (they are No. 2 right now). That said the loss of Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas will hurt the team’s depth as they face the Thunder and Mavericks later in the week.

 
source:  7. Grizzlies (50-24, LW 5). They have lost three straight, albeit to quality teams (Warriors, Cavaliers, Spurs). Now the schedule softens up for them as they try to hold on to the two (or at least three) seed in the West (although look for them to jockey for position to avoid the Spurs, who give them trouble).

 
source:  8. Trail Blazers (47-25. LW 9). The Blazers have won three in a row and have broken out of their slump, but those wins came against teams out of he playoffs and with Damian Lillard still looking to regain his shooting form. Key game Wednesday against the Clippers, a potential first-round matchup (and Portland will not have home court in that matchup without a win).

 
source:  9. Bulls (45-29, LW 11). Jimmy Butler is back, Nikola Mirotic is on fire, and the Bulls have won five of six — but have done it beating up on the cream puffs out East. Soon the Bulls will get Derrick Rose back and they seem clearly the third best team in the East heading into the playoffs. How far can that really take them?

 
source:  10. Mavericks (45-29, LW 10). They have lost four of five and the issue is far more than Monta Ellis not getting calls. The Mavs have a tough stretch coming up at Oklahoma City, then hosting Houston and Golden State. If they lose to the Thunder Wednesday, Dallas needs to be concerned about holding on to the seven seed.

 
source:  11. Thunder (42-32, LW 8). It’s official, no Kevin Durant for the playoffs, and Serge Ibaka will be on the bubble. The win over Phoenix Sunday all but secures them a first round playoff spot, but if they are the eight seed it’s nearly impossible to see them getting past Golden State. Beat Dallas on Wednesday and the seven seed is not out of the question. Is just getting this banged up Thunder team to the postseason enough to get Russell Westbrook the MVP?

 
source:  12. Pelicans (39-34, LW 13). The only way they make the playoffs is with a lot of help from OKC. The Thunder close out the season against facing a lot of the playoff teams in the West and it’s going to be hard to rack up wins and stay close at this point.

 
<source:  13. Suns (38-36, LW 15). That loss to Oklahoma City on Sunday was the stake through the heart to their playoff hopes. Well, that and the losses in the two games before Sunday as well. They seemed destined for a second strong season as the nine (maybe 10) seed in the West.

 
source:  14. Wizards (41-33, LW 12). Lots of people look at the Wizards stumbling to the playoffs, then the job Randy Whittman has done, and think the Wizards need a new coach. However, he has a guaranteed contract for next season and owner Ted Leonsis is not likely to throw that kind of money away. I’ve been told to expect Whittman back as the Wizards coach next season.

 
source:  15. Raptors (43-30, LW 16). For the second year in a row the Raptors have clinched the Atlantic Division crown, which is something to celebrate. They have a soft schedule the rest of the way in (after Houston on Monday) so they should be able to hold on to home court against Washington in the first round.

 
source:  16. Jazz (32-41, LW 14). They had lost four in a row and their mojo until Enes Kanter decided to go WWE smack talk and wake up the Jazz again. One thing that has seemed evident during this stretch is the Jazz need to draft or go after more shooters in free agency. Or both.

 
source:  17. Bucks (36-37, LW 22). Last weeks back-to-back wins over the Heat and Pacers all but assured Milwaukee will make the playoffs out East as the six seed. However, tough stretch this week with the Hawks, Bulls, and Celtics, fall in all those games and they slide down the standings.

 
source:  18. Heat (34-39, LW 18). In the volatile bottom of the East Miami is back up to the seven seed, all on the back of Dwyane Wade (who dropped 40 on Sunday). Tough games early in the week with the Spurs and Cavs, really key game late in the week vs. Indiana.

 
source:  19. Nets (32-40, LW 19). They hold the eight seed in the East now thanks to Brook Lopez carrying their offense averaging 28.2 point per game his last five (and in spite of a terrible defense). Like everyone at bottom of East, this is a flawed team likely to have a couple more bad losses.

 
source:  20. Celtics (32-41, LW 17). They have played great defense their last 10 games, but an anemic offense leads to some unexpected losses. They can make or break themselves this week facing the Hornets, Pacers, Bucks and Raptors. But I expect we get more up and down results.

 
source:  21. Pacers (32-41, LW 21). Sunday’s win over slumping Dallas was key for them heading into a week that will likely make or break their playoff dreams: at Brooklyn, at Boston, Charlotte, and Miami. Whatever happens, should they really bring Paul George back for any games this season? Hard to see why.

 
source:  22. Nuggets (28-46, LW 23). After a fast start the Nuggets have fallen back to 8-7 under Melvin Hunt as interim coach. That says less about him and more about how some minor injuries have exposed the limitations of this roster. He still deserves serious consideration for the big chair next season.

 
source:  23. Pistons (28-44, LW 24). The Pistons have played fairly well without the injured Greg Monroe (which could be a good sign for next season). Reggie Williams and Andre Drummond are starting to develop a real nice pick-and-roll chemistry.

 
source:  24. Kings (26-46, LW 25). The best thing about the Kings right now is the Sauce Castillo nickname. Check out Monday’s PBT Extra where I discuss if Willie Cauley-Stein is a good fit next to DeMarcus Cousins (short answer, not really).

 
source:  25. Hornets (31-41, LW 20). The Hornets beat the Hawks… only because Atlanta rested all five starters. If they want to get back in the mix for the eight seed in the East they need a big week of wins against Boston, Detroit, Indiana and Philadephia.

 
source:  26. 76ers (18-56, LW 26). They lost to the Cavaliers Sunday but the way their defense kept them in the game, the way they scrapped, is a sign of what this team could develop into down the line. There is reason for optimism in Philly.

 
source:  27. Magic (22-52, LW 27). They changed coaches mid-season (and will get a new one next summer) but rumor is GM Rob Hennigan is going to get a contract extension. That shows you ownership has bought into this rebuilding plan and thinks the problems are in execution down the line. Interesting.

 
source:  28. Lakers (19-53, LW 30). I wish the Lakers and Byron Scott would stop selling fans on the quick fix that is not coming. Rebuilding like they are doing takes years to do right, even if you nail your picks and get a quality free agent or two. Lakers fans will buy into a building process if you treat them intelligently, not like little children.

source:  29. Timberwolves (16-56, LW 28). When Ricky Rubio has been out, I have fully enjoyed the entertainment value of Zach LaVine running the Timberwolves offense. But that is not a long-term answer, they need another point guard in the mix.

 
source:  30. Knicks (14-60, LW 29). They have 60 losses on the season, a franchise record. This team needs a lot more than a “big butt to hold space.” Look at it this way, who leads the Knicks in total shot attempts this season? Carmelo Anthony, despite having played in just 40 games (‘Melo has 167 more than Tim Hardaway Jr.).

As was expected, Stephen Curry reportedly has second wrist surgery to remove pins

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This was both expected and right on schedule.

Stephen Curry said almost a month ago that he was going to need a second surgery to remove pins that were inserted during the first procedure back on Nov. 1. Curry suffered a fractured hand back on Oct. 30 when Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him, and in the first surgery pins were inserted to stabilize the bone through the healing process.

That second surgery has taken place, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Curry has said he fully expects to play this season, although it wouldn’t be until the end of what is a lost cause campaign for Golden State. For now, Curry is focused on recovery.

“[Managing the]swelling is something that’s going to be of the utmost priority early in the rehab process to get me a chance to come back and get my range of motion back pretty quickly,” Curry said last time he spoke to the media.

Without Curry or Klay Thompson yet this season (plus, of course, Kevin Durant on crutches in Brooklyn), and D'Angelo Russell missing a chunk of time as well due to injury, the Warriors have struggled to a 4-19 record with a bottom-five offense and defense.

The hope for the Warriors is to get Curry and Thompson back by next summer and working out, they get a high draft pick, make a couple other moves around the edges, get Draymond Green healthy, and this team is a threat again. This season it’s more like the Warriors are taking a season off to find themselves and travel the world.

Report: Knicks fire David Fizdale

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The Knicks started 2-8.

Then, it got worse.

Knicks owner James Dolan ordered president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry to address the media after a loss. Mills and Perry spoke before coach David Fizdale, a break in decorum that ignited speculation about Fizdale getting fired.

Then, it got worse.

New York lost six straight.

Then, it got worse.

After a 44-point loss to the Bucks, Fizdale said the Knicks entered the game not believing they even could win. They followed that with a 37-point home loss to the Nuggets yesterday that Fizdale called “sickening.”

Finally, with New York 4-18 and on an eight-game losing streak, the Knicks are making a major change.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This was inevitable. Mills wanted Fizdale gone and knows how to navigate Madison Square Garden politics.

The season was already a lost cause, and it’s likely to remain a mess. Keith Smart, who previously coached the Warriors and Kings, was the only other member of the staff with NBA non-interim head-coaching experience.

The big question: Will Mills and Perry survive?

They gave Fizdale a lacking roster and outsized expectations. Nearly any coach would have been doomed to fail in this situation.

To be fair, Fizdale provided no evidence he deserved to be an exception. The Knicks lacked identity under his guidance, and development of younger players was uneven.

But the problems go way above Fizdale, starting with Dolan.

At least we’ll always have this Fizdale quote comparing the Knicks to slipping in ice, dog poop and pee.

The best song you’ll hear about Jimmy Butler bullying Andrew Wiggins into being good (video)

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Jimmy Butler was hard on Andrew Wiggins. That appeared to be the way then-Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau wanted it. Wiggins had the talent. He just needed a more productive mindset.

Thibodeau got fired. Butler is with the Heat.

But Wiggins is still in Minnesota and playing better than ever – specifically citing wanting to shut up the critics.

Do Butler and Thibodeau deserve any credit?

Wordsplayed explored that in rap form on “Off The Dribble.” He also dropped bars on the 76ers’ ceiling, James Harden‘s scoring and Carmelo Anthony‘s resurgence with the Trail Blazers.

Report: Cavaliers rebelling against John Beilein treating them like college players

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Cavaliers coach John Beilein can help players develop, equipping them to win and secure bigger contracts. He also came to Cleveland after a lengthy career in college basketball, where he was always in charge and never had a player on a clear NBA track from the moment he enrolled.

The question was always: Which would happen first – Beilein convincing the Cavs players he’d help them or them pouncing amid his lack of experience with players who carried themselves as professionals?

Just 20 games into his Cavaliers tenure, Beilein appears to be losing the battle.

Joe Vardon and Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Cavaliers players are bristling at new coach John Beilein because he’s treating this season like they, and he, are still in college, numerous sources told The Athletic.

It’s already gotten to the point where players are looking past Beilein to his lead assistant, J.B. Bickerstaff, for guidance, those sources said.

Grievances include his nitpicking over basic fundamentals, too much harping in lengthy film sessions, not enough versatility on offense, and a broader lack of understanding of the NBA game and opposing players

The article quotes multiple unnamed players. The most damning: “Our assistants are definitely more prepared for the NBA.”

Cleveland has lost 10 of 11. Losing almost certainly contributes to the frustration. But it goes both ways. Issues with Beilein almost certainly contribute to the losing.

The problems aren’t disappearing soon. The Cavs have a bad roster and must figure this out while likely continuing to struggle in games.

Beilein is not good at quickly getting new teams up to speed. His worst seasons, by far, at Canisius, West Virginia and Michigan were his first seasons. All three programs blossomed from there, surely drawing on the lessons Beilein imparted those first years.

But Beilein never had to deal with NBA players who are more empowered to gripe. College seasons are also much shorter. Harping on the fundamentals over a long NBA season will be exhausting for everyone involved.

This was a complication of hiring Bickerstaff as lead assistant. He previously served as head coach of the Rockets and Grizzlies, bringing valuable understanding of the NBA. The problem: Players know that. They can turn to Bickerstaff, undermining Beilein’s authority.

We’ve seen this before in Cleveland. Cavs players scoffed at David Blatt, an NBA newcomer from Europe. Soon enough, lead assistant Tyronn Lue – who played in the NBA and had extensive experience as an NBA assistant – became head coach.

Without the pressure of trying to win immediately with LeBron James, Beilein has a better chance of weathering this storm. But for all his experience, this is a brand-new challenge.