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.

Watch LeBron’s big night: Moves into fourth in assists, triple-double, win over Knicks

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LeBron James always saves something special for Madison Square Garden.

LeBron had a triple-double of 28 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds — he became the first player in NBA history to have a triple-double in his 20th season.

That wasn’t the only bit of history, with those 11 dimes he moved past both Mark Jackson and Steve Nash into fourth on the NBA’s career assists list. And if that wasn’t enough, the 28 points moved him within 89 points of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA all-time scoring record: Abdul-Jabbar has 38,387, LeBron is now at 38,299.

For LeBron, however, what mattered most was the win — 129-123 in overtime, giving a Lakers team starved for wins its first on this road trip out East.

“I didn’t get to this point in my career by thinking about records or how many points I have, whatever the case might be,” LeBron said, via the Associated Press. “I just play the game the right way. I approach the game every night only trying to be a triple threat by scoring, rebounding, assisting, defending, and may the chips fall where they may.”

LeBron had help, with Anthony Davis adding 27 points and nine rebounds. The Knicks got 37 from Jalen Brunson, and Julius Randle had 23 points and 12 rebounds.

LeBron needed that help as he wasn’t the sharpest he had been this season, starting 2-of-8 from the floor, then missing a couple of long jumpers in the game’s final minutes when the Lakers had the chance to seal the win. But he was good enough and put on a show for the sold-out crowd in New York.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
89

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,299

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks
Feb. 11 at Warriors

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, although that would be by one point, so Feb. 9 against Milwaukee is certainly a possibility.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• LeBron had his first triple-double of the season — and became the first player ever with one in his 20th season — scoring 28 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists — to help lead the Lakers past the Knicks in overtime on Tuesday night. With those 11 assits LeBron moved past both Mark Jackson and Steve Nash to be fourth on the NBA’s all-time assists list.

• LeBron James did suit up to play Tuesday night against the Knicks (in Madison Square Garden on national television, that shouldn’t have been a surprise). Anthony Davis was cleared to play as well.

• After sitting out against the Nets on Monday, LeBron is officially questionable to play Tuesday in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and will be a game-time decision. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said LeBron has “really significant soreness” in his left foot (after playing 44 minutes against Boston). LeBron and the medical staff will speak after LeBron starts to warm up Tuesday to determine if LeBron can play in Madison Square Garden, a game he hates to miss because he loves playing in that venue.

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Paolo Banchero, Scoot Henderson highlight player pool for Rising Stars during All-Star weekend

Orlando Magic v Miami Heat
Megan Briggs/Getty Images
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The big winner in last year’s All-Star Friday night Rising Stars game was the new format (and Cade Cunningham). The new setup saw players onto four teams of seven, with those four teams going into a tournament bracket. The games were not timed, but players competed to a target score — something that actually had the young stars defending and playing hard. Things too often lacking All-Star weekend.

That format is back, and an impressive crop of players is involved: Rookie of the Year favorite Paolo Banchero, last year’s ROY Scottie Barnes, and expected No.2 pick in the upcoming draft Scoot Henderson of the G-League Ignite. Here is a complete list of the players competing (the rookies and sophomores will be drafted into three teams of seven players each, and the G-League players will make up their own team).

Rookies

Paolo Banchero (Orlando Magic)
Jalen Duren (Detroit Pistons)
AJ Griffin (Atlanta Hawks)
Jaden Ivey (Detroit Pistons)
Walker Kessler (Utah Jazz)
Bennedict Mathurin (Indiana Pacers)
Keegan Murray (Sacramento Kings)
Andrew Nembhard (Indiana Pacers)
Jabari Smith Jr. (Houston Rockets)
Jeremy Sochan (San Antonio Spurs)
Jalen Williams (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Sophomores

Jose Alvarado (New Orleans Pelicans)
Scottie Barnes (Toronto Raptors)
Josh Giddey (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Jalen Green (Houston Rockets)
Quentin Grimes (New York Knicks)
Bones Hyland (Denver Nuggets)
Evan Mobley (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Trey Murphy III (New Orleans Pelicans)
Alperen Sengun (Houston Rockets)
Franz Wagner (Orlando Magic)

The G-League team will consist of:

Sidy Cissoko (G League Ignite)
Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite)
Mojave King (G League Ignite)
Kenneth Lofton Jr. (Memphis Hustle)
Mac McClung (Deleware Blue Coats)
Leonard Miller (G League Ignite)
Scotty Pippen Jr. (South Bay Lakers)

There are former NBA stars to coach each of the teams: Former All-Stars Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Deron Williams will coach the three Rising Stars teams, while former Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry will coach the G League team.

There will be three games Friday night during the Rising Stars challenge, with each game played to a target score of 40. If it’s anything like last year, it’s worth tuning in.

Needing defense, Kings reportedly eyeing 76ers Thybulle for trade

Philadelphia 76ers v Sacramento Kings
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
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At 28-21, the Sacramento Kings sit as the No.3 seed in the West with the second-best offense in the league — they seemed destined to break their 16-year playoff drought and very well could even host a first-round playoff series.

However, their 23rd-ranked defense (using Cleaning the Glass’ numbers) will undo them come the playoffs.

That has the Kings looking for some defensive help and they are eyeing Sixers wing Matisse Thybullereports Marc Stein in his latest Substack newsletter.

Sacramento is said to be monitoring the availability of Philadelphia’s Matisse Thybulle as the Kings, unexpectedly holding the West’s No. 3 seed after a league-record 16 consecutive seasons out of the playoffs, ponder the pursuit of a more defensive-minded option on the perimeter.

Thybulle has lived in the rumor mill for a while, this is nothing new. However, those rumors carry more weight because Thybulle’s role in Philadelphia has shrunk considerably with the additions of De'Anthony Melton and P.J. Tucker as defensive-minded forwards who can provide more offense than Thybulle. Doc Rivers also leans into Georges Niang more off the bench because of his shooting.

Thybulle is in the final year of his contract and is headed for restricted free agency, the Kings might be interested in re-signing him (depending on the price and his fit with the roster). The Kings can match salaries easily enough with Davion Mitchell, Terence Davis or Alex Len, the question is who will the 76ers want back, and will the Kings need to throw in a second-round pick?

There’s some logic to this trade getting done in some form, it’s worth keeping an eye on.