PBT Weekly NBA Power Rankings: Warriors, Spurs, Cavs finish season in top slots

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This is the final PBT Power Rankings of the season, and the goal is to put them in the order they have a shot at winning the NBA title. San Antonio moves in front of Cleveland because I believe today the Spurs are the better team. As for the bottom, it’s the Timberwolves who get the “honor.”

 
source:  1. Warriors (65-15, Last Week No. 1). Steve Kerr has not given his young charges a game off down the stretch, although some have seen their minutes shrink a little. We’ll see if that changes. They have taken their foot off the gas a little of late but will still finish first in defensive rating and second in offensive rating for the season.

 
source:  2. Spurs (55-26, LW 3). They have won 11 games in a row, and may need to make it 12 on Wednesday against the Pelicans to ensure they get the No. 2 seed out West (and in theory they could still miss it). As noted by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, during this win streak the Spurs have outscored opponents by more than 20 points per 100 possessions. That’s insane.

 
source:  3. Cavaliers (51-29 LW 2). Cleveland resting all it’s stars Sunday made it far more likely they get the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Coincidence? I wouldn’t bet on it. Boston’s young team will be just happy to make it, a nice, soft first playoff experience for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

 
source:  4. Hawks (60-19, LW 4). There are a lot of questions about how it happened off the court, but the Thabo Sefolosha injury really hurts the Hawks in a potential matchup with the Cavaliers. He would have seen a fair amount of time on LeBron James, plus his defense was key to their stingy second unit.

 
source:  5. Clippers (54-26, LW 5). They come into the postseason the second hottest team in the league (behind San Antonio) but there is not a lot of faith in them coming out of the West. It all comes down to their lack of depth and the lack of versatility/flexibility that comes with a short rotation. That’s Doc Rivers the GM tying the hands of Doc Rivers the coach again.

 
source:  6. Rockets (54-26, LW 6). They lost both ends of the home and home with the Spurs and that saw them fall to the six seed in the West (although they still could finish as high as the two seed). Even with Dwight Howard playing better of late this seems to symbolize the limits of how far this roster can really go.

 
source:  7. Trail Blazers (51-29. LW 7). They will be the four seed in the West but will not have home court in the first round. The foot injury (sprain) LaMarcus Aldridge suffered could be big trouble if it lingers into the postseason and limits Portland’s best player.

 
source:  8. Grizzlies (54-26, LW 8). Injuries make this team very vulnerable in the first round — Mike Conley has a foot issue, Tony Allen is not yet back, and Saturday Marc Gasol rolled his ankle. Two tough games for seeding issues, at Golden State then Indiana. The good news is they have a lot of tiebreakers in their favor in the middle of a crowded West.

 
source:  9. Mavericks (48-31, LW 10). In his last 15 games, Rajon Rondo is shooting a respectable 47.5 percent. That doesn’t matter. All those teams battling for the 2-6 seeds in the West covet the two seed most of all, they see Dallas as the softest first-round matchup.

 
source:  10. Bulls (48-32, LW 9). Go ahead and make the case that when all of their starters are there — Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah — they are 17-5. Yes, they have played much better at the United Center of late. I still haven’t seen consistent enough defense from the Bulls this season to think they can flip the switch. They are the third best team in the East but well back of the Hawks and Cavs.

 
source:  11. Pelicans (43-36, LW 11). They control their own destiny, a win on the road against the struggling T-Wolves Monday night puts them in a strong position. But if OKC beats Portland Monday the Pelicans may have to beat the Spurs the final game of the season and that will be a tall order and the Spurs likely need that win, too.

 
source:  12. Thunder (43-36, LW 13). Russell Westbrook is trying, but the Thunder defense is the reason they need help to get in the postseason. Huge game Monday, they need to beat the Trail Blazers (because the Pelicans will beat the Timberwolves). Their final game against the Timberwolves should be a win, if they are still in the playoff mix.

 
source:  13. Raptors (48-32, LW 14). As division winners — while the Bulls are not — they have the tiebreaker over Chicago for the 3/4 seed race. They will be home for the first round of the playoffs and may win 50 games. That said, their Swiss cheese defense has them being pretty average since the All-Star break. The Raptors should beat the Bucks if if they are the three seed, but a matchup with the Wizards (who do defend) could be a challenge).

 
source:  14. Wizards (45-34, LW 12). Washington will be the five seed starting on the road in the playoffs, but they are the second best defensive team in the East (behind Milwaukee). That plus John Wall’s attacking style means they can get out of the first round, they will not be an easy out.

 
source:  15. Jazz (37-43, LW 15). The Jazz and their fans need to consider this season a success — they found a front line that might really work for them in Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. They need to find more offense, but if history is an indicator expect patience from the Utah front office this summer.

 
source:  16. Celtics (37-42, LW 19). Cleveland gave the Celtics a gift Sunday sitting LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and pretty much every other Cav you can name. Of course, that likely means they get the fully-loaded Cavaliers in the first round. Nonetheless, just making the playoffs is a big step for the Celtics and will be a good experience for their young team.

 
source:  17. Bucks (39-40, LW 17). The win over Brooklyn on Sunday secured the six seed for Milwaukee (meaning they face Toronto or Chicago). The last time the Bucks won a playoff series was 2001, and that streak likely continues, but just getting in will be a good experience for a young, growing Bucks team.

 
source:  18. Nets (37-42, LW 18). They should be able to get the eight seed, especially since they have the tie breaker over the Pacers. However, a win over Chicago Monday night would be a big boost to their chances.

 
source:  19. Pacers (36-43, LW 20). They likely need to beat Washington and Memphis — no small feat — and get some help to make the postseason. Paul George did his best to help and even dunked for the first time this season on Sunday, it just may be too much of a slow start to overcome.

 
source:  20. Heat (36-43, LW 21). Obviously there were major roster shifts followed by major injuries, still it is odd to see the four-time NBA Finalists missing the playoffs all together this season. The last team to lose in the Finals then miss the playoffs was the Lakers the year after Shaq was moved.

 
<source:  21. Suns (39-41, LW 16). Would they have won the eight seed if they had not made their deadline trades? It’s moot, they might have been the eight seed and got smacked down in the first round. Better to think and plan long term.

 
source:  22. Pistons (31-49, LW 22). It’s another losing season in Detroit, but at least one where we started to see Stan Van Gundy play a foundation for the future. A future without Josh Smith. Also likely one without Greg Monroe, who will bolt as a free agent this summer. But likely one with Reggie Jackson in the fold.

 
source:  23. Hornets (33-47, LW 23). Their defense went from top five to top 10, a slip that hurt their chances for a return to the playoffs. That and the Lance Stephenson acquisition not working out, look for the Hornets to try and move him this summer.

 
source:  24. Magic (25-55, LW 24). There are moments you see a potential future with Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, and Nikola Vucivic. Then there was the second quarter against the Knicks, when the teams combined to score 15 points, when you are reminded just how far they have to go.

 
source:  25. Nuggets (30-50, LW 25). If you’re looking for a positive, Danilo Gallinari looked much improved at the end of the season. Nuggets management needs to decide what kind of team it want to build then go get a coach to fulfill that — then stick with it for a few years.

 
source:  26. Kings (27-53, LW 26). They made their moves — George Karl is in and Vlade Divac is the big voice in the front office. Now let’s see if those guys can put a team that will take advantage of the force of nature that is DeMarcus Cousins.

 
source:  27. 76ers (18-62, LW 27). They developed a foundation on defense and will add Joel Embiid (plus their own lottery pick) to the mix next season. They could take a nice step forward. But they also may not get any of those conditional picks they have (Lakers, Heat and Thunder picks all have protections).

 
source:  28. Lakers (21-59, LW 28). Jordan Clarkson can play at the point. They get Julius Randle back. They will have whoever they draft Top 5 (they have an 82 percent chance of keeping the pick). That plus Kobe Bryant makes the Lakers more interesting next season — and we haven’t even talked about Rajon Rondo or other potential free agents.

 
source:  29. Knicks (16-64, LW 29). Let the Greg Monroe watch begin. He would be a good get, but what they really need is some lottery luck and a top pick who can be a foundational player to pair with Carmelo Anthony (and just take the best player, don’t worry about position).

source:  30. Timberwolves (16-64, LW 30). Andrew Wiggins will be the Rookie of the Year. Pair him with a healthy Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine next season — with Kevin Garnett mentoring — and they shouldn’t end the season this low on the list. Well, if Flip Saunders can get these guys to defend.

Missouri’s Jontay Porter announces he will enter NBA Draft

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Jontay Porter — the younger brother of Denver’s Michael Porter Jr., who did not play all season as he recovered from back issues — was impressive as a freshman, the one season he played at Missouri. He averaged 9.9 points and 6.8 rebounds a game (mostly off the bench), showed a shooting touch from three, he plays a high IQ game, and at 6’11” he has NBA size and a strong frame.

But since then Porter has been a story of injuries. A lot of them. He did not play this past season after tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee back in October. By his own admission he tried to rush back and tore the same ACL again in March.

Now, Porter is declaring he will enter the NBA Draft.

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Porter has legitimate potential as a stretch five in the NBA, but the knee injuries and questions about Porter’s athleticism (he’s not athletic by NBA standards) makes teams hesitant. That’s why Porter is projected as a second-round pick, a big man with potential but one who needs time to get healthy and develop.

A couple other draft notes:

• Charles Bassey, the 6’11” big man out of Western Kentucky, will test the draft. He is projected as a late second rounder, if drafted at all.

Mike Daum, who averaged 25.3 points and 11.7 rebounds a game this past season for South Dakota State, has entered the draft and signed with Octagon Sports. He needs to impress at combines and workouts to make sure he gets drafted.

• Two European big men, Louis Olinde (6’10” out of Germany) and Aleksander Balcerowski (7’1” center from Poland) both have put their names in the NBA Draft pool. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony announced both of the Euros looking to come to the NBA.

Draymond Green dropped 26 pounds to be ready for playoff basketball

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Draymond Green was not himself this season. He averaged 7.4 points per game, the first time he was below double digits during the Warriors run, Green shot just 28.5 percent from three, and he played in just 66 games due to toe and knee injuries. Green was not an All-Star. He had a PER of 12.9, a below average number (while it’s not a stat that takes into account what Green brings, he’s long been above average at least in it). When it came time to talk Defensive Player of the Year, he got mentioned more on reputation than his in-season performance.

Playoff Green has been different: 13 points and 8.7 assists per game, his true shooting percentage is back above average (57.2) as is his PER (the three-pointers are still not falling, however). He’s a force on defense and a playmaker on offense through the first three games of the postseason.

What changed? He dropped 26 pounds in the final couple months of the season to get in playoff shape. Marcus Thompson II has a fantastic story about this at The Athletic. It started with GM Bob Myer confronting Green about his conditioning after the All-Star break.

“If we’re going to win a championship,” Myers said, “you’ve got to get in shape….”

“Yeah, I start this strenuous regimen on March 6,” he told Myers. “It’ll take me like two weeks, maybe like 10 days, to really get to where I need to be.”

Myers replied with a puzzled glance: “Wait, you already knew this?”

Green explained his whole plan. He has a nutritionist guiding his diet, his chef making his meals. The strength and conditioning team had the strategy for him dropping weight while maintaining strength. It turns out, Green knew it was time, too.

Green is the lynchpin for the Warriors in the playoffs. Stephen Curry still provides the gravity on offense and is the guy the system is built around. Kevin Durant is their best all-around player, a guy who is a walking mismatch who can get one-on-one buckets whenever he wants, defends well, and is the two-time Finals MVP for a reason. Klay Thompson is an All-NBA level two-way player.

But it’s Green’s ability to switch on defense, to cover centers bigger than him but keep them in check, and to be an outlet on offense that sets him apart. As does his intensity and energy — he is the Warriors emotional leader.

With DeMarcus Cousins out, Green’s role got even bigger.

Maybe more than all that, Green is playing for his next contract. He is a free agent in the summer of 2020, but the Warriors could extend his rookie deal this summer. Rumors of him being traded bounce around the league (with not every team interested in bringing him in, his skill set is a specific fit), and teams guessing if Green will get a max contract or not. Green wants to get paid, just as the other big three in Golden State have, but he’s the one on the bubble (Thompson is a free agent this summer but the Warriors have said they will max him out, and sources around the league expect that to happen).

Green looks himself for these playoffs, ready to go and earn a three-peat and a place in history.

Then this summer things could get interesting.

Tyronn Lue, Monty Williams reportedly to get second interviews with Lakers

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The “let’s get to know each other” first meeting is out of the way.

Now things get serious. Multiple reports have the Lakers conducting second interviews with Tyronn Lue and Monty Williams next week — serious, detailed interviews that will include GM Rob Pelinka and owner Jeanie Buss.

Lue and Williams are considered the frontrunners for the job. ESPN’s Wojnarowski also reports that Juwan Howard will get a first interview next week, although he has a lot of catching up to do in the process.

Lue is the former Laker player and Cavaliers’ coach who led that franchise and LeBron James to a title in 2016. Wojnarowski reported Lue is pushing back on the perception he is LeBron’s coach, saying he will push everyone on the roster. In Cleveland, Lue had the trust of LeBron, and that allowed the coach to challenge his star at points.

Williams is a former Pelicans’ head coach who also has a strong relationship with Anthony Davis. Williams has spent time in the Spurs front office and on the coaching bench for the Sixers and Thunder.

All three candidates have a relationship with LeBron James and would get the star’s thumbs up. Lue was LeBron’s chosen coach in Cleveland, Williams coached LeBron as part of Team USA, and Howard was a former LeBron teammate.

Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Westbrook vs. Lillard is best show in playoffs

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The NBA playoffs are underway and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Russell Westbrook vs. Damian Lillard is the best show in playoffs; Round 3 goes to Westbrook and Thunder. Oklahoma City vs. Portland has become must-watch TV. This third-quarter sequence shows exactly why Russell Westbrook vs. Damian Lillard is the best drama going right now. Well, second after Game of Thrones, but best in the NBA playoffs and one you need to be watching.

Less than two minutes into the third quarter, Westbrook anticipated a Lillard layup attempt, got up, and swatted the shot back. When he landed, Westbrook looked at the crowd along the baseline and yelled something. Lillard, in turn, said something right back to Westbrook, and then the two started jawing. As they have at points throughout the series. Westbrook was making it personal, he demanded the ball on the next Thunder possession, posted up Lillard and knocked down a little turnaround jumper right over the Blazers’ guard. Westbrook then celebrated with his rock-the-baby move (the way he did this one was more shook-the-baby). After the game, Lillard said he didn’t even see it, although in the videos Lillard seems to smirk at it.

Lillard then went off scoring 23 of his 25 points in a historic, franchise-best third quarter to make it a game.

In the end, Oklahoma City got the needed win 120-108 behind 33 points ( on an efficient 11-of-22 shooting ) and 11 assists from Westbrook. Westbrook even hit the dagger three over Lillard.

The Thunder still trail in the series 2-1 and need another win on Sunday in Game 4 or they may fall too far behind to catch up.

Two keys in Game 3 led to the Thunder win.

First, Oklahoma City finally decided to be aggressive in trapping and pressuring Damian Lillard, taking the ball out of his hands early in the shot clock. At least OKC did in the first half. This has been the book on how to beat Portland in the playoffs for a couple of seasons now — make anyone other than Lillard or C.J. McCollum beat you — but OKC used it sparingly in the first couple of games. During the regular season Jusuf Nurkic became an excellent outlet for Lillard when those traps came, but he is out and now Enes Kanter has to be that man. He was not as good. Portland got away from it when Lillard got hot but the Thunder need to go back to it as often as they can.

Second, the Thunder hit their threes. Oklahoma City shot 10-of-61 from three (16.4 percent) from three in the first two games in Portland, but at home they felt comfortable and the shots fell — 15-of-29. This was the biggest difference in the game, Portland’s defense but the Thunder could not beat them from three and on Friday night OKC won that bet.

Can the Thunder sustain that at home?

Tune in for Game 4 Sunday to find out. Lillard vs. Westbrook is the best show going right now.

2) Pascal Siakam goes off for 30 points, 11 rebounds in leading Raptors to win on the road over Magic. During his pregame media availability, Raptors coach Nick Nurse was asked if Pascal Siakam was formally the Raptors third offensive option now.

“If he has he’s dropped down from being the 2nd option,” Nurse responded.

Siakam was option No. 1 on Friday night, scoring 30 points, pulling down 11 rebounds, and leading the way for Toronto to get a 98-93 win on the road. Siakam did it impressively, with everything from threes to postups, and plenty of attacking off the bounce, much of it against a good defender in Jonathan Isaac.

Toronto now leads the series 2-1 and if Orlando is going to have a real chance in this series it needs to win game 4 Sunday.

The Raptors needed the breakout game from Siakam because Kawhi Leonard looked human, scoring 16 points but needing 19 shots to get there (he also had 10 rebounds). Orlando geared its game to stop Leonard (who was under the weather), but the Raptors had other options in this one.

The Raptors also defended well — Evan Fournier was 1-of-12 shooting on a night the Magic as a team shot 36.2 percent and scored less than a point per possession (98.9 offensive net rating). Terrence Ross had 24 off the bench — and hit a halfcourt shot right before halftime — to keep Orlando close. The Magic better find their shooting touch before Sunday or this series will end quickly.

3) Boston has Kyrie Irving (and Jaylen Brown), Indiana can’t score consistently, and Boston is in command of series. We’ve seen this movie before. Boston went into Indiana Friday night and took control of the series going up 3-0 after a 104-96 win that followed the same formula that has worked for the first two games.

First, Kyrie Irving can get buckets whenever he wants. He had 19 points in this game, although it was Jaylen Brown’s 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting that was the dominant force. Jayson Tatum pitched in 18 points.

Second, Indiana just can’t score consistently The Pacers had 61 points in the first half, finding some offense in playing uptempo, even if that is not their style (the Pacers were 25th in the NBA in pace during the regular season, then this had been the second slowest paced playoff series so far this season). But the scoring would not last. Indiana started the third 1-of-8 from the floor and finished the quarter 5-of-21 shooting. Then down the stretch, Indiana was 1-of-7 from the floor. Without Victor Oladipo the Pacers are prone to these offensive droughts, especially against a good Celtics’ defense, and it is simply too much to overcome.

Game 4 is Sunday and maybe the Pacers extend the series to a fifth game, but we know how this movie is going to end.