PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Warriors, Thunder teams to chase early


It’s small sample size theater — the first few weeks of PBT’s NBA power rankings always see a lot of volatility as teams we over/under rated climb and fall. We try to see through it, but expect more shakeups in the coming weeks. That said, the top and the bottom of the list remain solid.

source:  1. Warriors (3-0, last week No. 1). Stephen Curry looks more explosive and is finishing better when he gets in the paint. Which is scary. This week he averaged 39.3 points per game on 58.8 percent shooting. Although he did that going against Nate Robinson, Toney Douglas and Ish Smith for two games (vs. Pelicans), he and the Warriors face better tests this week with the Grizzlies and Clippers.

source:  2. Thunder (3-0 LW 2). Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook look in mid-season form and with those two you know their offense is elite. The Thunder defense did not look tight for the first couple games, although it looked better against Denver Sunday. Dion Waiters has looked decent, didn’t see that coming.

source:  3. Clippers (3-0, LW 5). Blake Griffin has been a beast through three games, averaging 32 points per game on 64 percent shooting, although he was not matched up vs. the toughest competition. That changes when they travel to Golden State Wednesday. Personally, I’m not sold on Lance Stephenson as a starter.

source:  4. Cavaliers (2-1, LW 4). It’s just three games, but the Cavaliers have the third best defense in the NBA the first week, allowing just 90.3 points per 100 possessions. If that continues, watch out. They are beating teams by an average of 13.4 points per 100 possessions (despite the opening night loss in Chicago).

source:  5. Spurs (2-1, LW 3). Their defense has looked good (allowing just 90 points per 100 possessions) and LaMarcus Aldridge has been a big part of that. The offense is coming around with more Kawhi Leonard — who has looked like a beast — and Aldridge (24 points on Sunday).

source:  6. Raptors (3-0, LW 11). DeMarre Carroll has looked been worth the big contract so far, bringing the Raptors defense into the top 10 and shooting 8-of-19 from three. They beat up on middle of the pack teams in the East last week, this week Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Miami provide better tests.

source:  7. Pistons (3-0, LW 18). I picked them to make the playoffs, but their defense has been better than anyone expected (92.8 points per 100 possessions, sixth best in the young season). Andre Drummond looks like a franchise cornerstone in the paint. Losing Jodie Meeks for 3-4 months hurts, he is the kind of reliable veteran shooter they need on the roster.

source:  8. Grizzlies (2-1, LW 7). Their only loss was to the Cavaliers, you can forgive that.It’s worth noting their defense wasn’t that great the first week, but this is likely more sample size than anything else. Outside shooting still an issue in Memphis, same as it ever was.

source:  9. Bulls (2-1, LW 9). Through three games they are fifth in the NBA in defensive efficiency but 20th in offense. Sounds familiar. Fred Holberg is still playing with lineups and while some work — not playing Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah is good, more Mitotic is good — some of his defensive lineups can’t score enough.

source:  10. Wizards (2-1, LW 10). They are playing smaller and faster, John Wall and Bradley Beal have looked pretty good. However, the small ball has not translated to better defense — 99.5 points allowed per 100 possessions, 18th in the league.

source:  11. Hawks (3-1, LW 12). Kent Bazemore doesn’t do everything DeMarre Carroll did on defense, but he is scoring for them — 19.5 points a game in the last two and shooting 53.8 percent from three for the season — plus using his length on defense. Rebounding remains an issue in Atlanta.

source:  12. Heat (2-1, LW 8). That comeback against Houston had to feel good, as did seeing Hassan Whiteside put up big offensive numbers. Justise Winslow showed his potential guarding a (slumping) James Harden as well. Their offense is top five in the NBA already, and Goran Dragic has yet to look comfortable.

source:  13. Jazz (2-1, LW 14). Rudy Gobert is living up to the hype early on — through three games opponents are shooting 29.7 percent against him at the rim. The Jazz have the best defense in the NBA early are playing like a good traditional defensive team, keeping the pace at the slowest in the NBA.

<source:  14. Suns (2-1, LW 16). Phoenix has a couple wins but that has something to do with playing Portland twice in the first week, I’m hesitant to read much into it. The Clippers, Kings, Pistons and Thunder are up this week and that will provide us a better gauge for where this team is in the pecking order.

source:  15. Mavericks (2-1, LW 17). Wesley Matthews is back and moving fairly well, hitting threes, and now Chandler Parsons is back on the wing in a limited role. Coach Rick Carlisle said he was pleased with the first week (all the games were on the road) and he likes them if they can just stay healthy. If they do keep out of the training room they will be in contention for a playoff spot in the West.

source:  16. Timberwolves (2-0,LW 24). Great stat from Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders: Karl-Anthony Towns had 46 points and 26 rebounds total through two games, the only other players to do that in their first two games in the lat 40 years are Artis Gilmore, David Robinson, and Dikembe Mutombo. Nice company to keep.

source:  17. Knicks (2-1, LW 27). The triangle has some form this young season as the Knicks offense is averaging 107 points per 100 possessions (third best in the league). Carmelo Anthony had the Wizards’ circled on the schedule (remember Jared Dudley said he was overrated) but is shooing just 41 percent this season. Kristaps Porzingis has been decent.

source:  18. Kings (1-2, LW 20). The Kings have started big but have played a lot of smaller ball with Rudy Gay at the four — and Rajon Rondo has seemed comfortable with that. They looked pretty good — both their losses were to the Clippers and they hung around in those games.

source:  19. Rockets (0-3, LW 6). This ranking may be too high — that was a terrible week of basketball, all three losses by more than 20. They can’t continue like this, can they? James Harden isn’t going to continue to shoot 22 percent, is he? The defense isn’t going to just keep taking quarters off, is it? Not an easy week to turn things around with Oklahoma City and the Clippers both on the docket.

source:  20. Celtics (1-2, LW 21). You could see the limitations of their star-less offense against the Spurs Sunday — they kept it close late, but while LaMarcus Aldridge abused Jared Sullinger on the block, the Celtics had no way to get easy buckets of their own. Their defense is good but the offense is struggling (24th in the NBA the first week).

source:  21. Nuggets (1-2, LW 26). Watch a little Denver and the biggest issue becomes clear — they need more outside shooting. They have decent playmakers with Emmanuel Mudiay and Danilo Gallinari, but you don’t need to fear anyone else on this team from the outside and that messes with their spacing.

source:  22. Trail Blazers (1-2, LW 29). They got a win because C.J. McCollum went off against a struggling Pelicans team on the second night of a back-to-back, and that’s what it’s going to take for this team to get wins — someone has to have a monster offensive night. Damian Lillard may lead the league in usage rate this season.

source:  23. Magic (0-3, LW 22). They are the best 0-3 team in the league, all three losses were close and the team is showing promised. They played Oklahoma City tight in overtime and matched big shots with them for a while. Expect the wins to start coming this week.

source:  24. Pelicans (0-3, LW 13). Already Nate Robinson is gone and Toney Douglas is in as the Pelicans scramble to find any help at the point. So far it has not been near enough. More concerning than their defense looking scrambled (playing the Warriors twice already doesn’t help) is that Anthony Davis has looked lost at times on both ends and is not taking the superstar step forward we expected.

source:  25. Hornets (0-3, LW 23). To their credit they have battled back to make two of their three losses close, with Kemba Walker getting a shot to tie (and missing them). Going to be difficult to get their first win this week with the Bulls, Mavericks, and Spurs on the docket.

source:  26. Pacers (0-3, LW 19). Their offense has struggled as both Monta Ellis (PER of 4.4) and Paul George have not been efficient at all. Their defense hasn’t been good whether they played small or big. They have come apart in the second halves of games. There’s just a lot of reasons for concern for Pacers’ fans, who were dreaming playoffs.

source:  27. Bucks (0-2, LW 15). What happened to the Bucks’ defense? Last season they got to the playoffs on the back of their length and ball pressure, this season they are giving up a league-worst 117.1 points per 100 possessions. The defensive rotations seem slow out on the perimeter and opponents are shooting 46.4 percent from three against them. This team misses Jabari Parker.

source:  28. Lakers (0-3, LW 25). The headlines are Kobe Bryant’s harsh assessment of his own game, but having watched the Lakers in person now is the bigger problem is their defense is terrible — and it’s equally as bad with Roy Hibbert on or off the court. Their transition, and their pick-and-roll defense was terrible. If you want a bright spot, Dirk Nowitzki said this about Julius Randle, “He puts the ball on the floor like no other power forward in the league.”

source:  29. Nets (0-3, LW 28). The three-point revolution is not coming to Brooklyn. At least not yet. They are averaging a league-low 12.7 three point attempts per game, and they are shooting just 21.1 percent on those.

source:  30. 76ers (0-0, LW 30). Jahlil Okafor has been fine (he needs to attack more, take fewer jumpers), but as you would expect the rookie is struggling some with double-teams — and he’s going to see a lot of them because who else do you fear on this roster. The defense that was close to league average last year is off to a slow start this season as well.

Watch Isaac Okoro drain game-winning 3-pointer, Cavaliers top Nets


NEW YORK (AP) — Isaac Okoro hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 0.7 seconds remaining and finished with 11 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers beat Brooklyn 116-114 Thursday night and closed in on their first playoff berth since 2018 with a two-game sweep of the Nets.

“It was a lot of pressure put into the shot, of course,” Okoro said. “You always feel good with a game-winner. For me, it was my first one.”

Donovan Mitchell scored 31 points, Evan Mobley had 26 points and 16 rebounds and Jarrett Allen finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds against his former team. Cleveland, which beat Brooklyn 115-109 on Tuesday, won for the eighth time in 10 games and reduced its magic number to clinch one of the Eastern Conference’s top playoff spots to two.

“It was ugly at times,” Mitchell said. “There’s just so much going on (in the playoff race), and at the end of the day all we can do is control what we can control and winning these games instead of praying that other teams lose or win, we just gotta go out there and do what we do, and it’s great to have a win like this tonight.”

Mikal Bridges scored 32 points, Spencer Dinwiddie had 25 points and 12 assists and Joe Harris hit five 3-pointers and finished with 15 points as the Nets lost their fifth straight game.

“It’s frustrating,” Bridges said. “Obviously, we’ve got to keep the energy and morale high, but it’s devastating losing like that.”

Cleveland trailed 112-104 with 2:13 left before closing the game on a 12-2 run, with the help of three crucial Nets turnovers. Trailing by one, Mitchell missed a second free throw that would’ve tied the game, then he missed a put-back, and three different Nets had their hands on the ball for the potential rebound before it bounded to Cleveland guard Caris LeVert.

“I thought we did a great job of getting some stops to put ourselves in that position,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “You miss the free throw, we had multiple opportunities at it, but guys didn’t quit on the play, and we talk about winning 50-50 balls and winning the scrap.”

LeVert, who spent his first four seasons with Brooklyn, found Okoro in the corner, and he drained the 3-pointer to give Cleveland the lead.

“The ball goes out to Caris, and I’m just running to the corner and going to my spot, and Caris trusted me,” Okoro said. “Once it left my hand, I knew it was going in.”

Bickerstaff said Okoro had no fear of taking the big shot.

“But I think what was most important is Caris saw that he was open and got him the ball, and that speaks to this team,” Bickerstaff said.

A heave from half court by Bridges at the buzzer fell short.

Bridges secured his eighth 30-plus point game as a member of the Nets through three quarters with 14 points in the third quarter. Then Harris heated up with four fourth-quarter 3-pointers in a sub-five-minute span, helping Brooklyn build a 10-point advantage.

“I felt like we deserved to win that game because we did a lot of good things throughout the course of the night,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said. “This is an opportunity for us to learn who we are.”

The Cavaliers rank first in the NBA in points-against per game and defensive rating, but had no answer for the Nets offense, which shot 56% in the first half. Dinwiddie had 19 points, including 11 in the second quarter, and seven assists, helping Brooklyn take a 61-60 lead into the break.

Mitchell and Bridges each scored in double figures in the first quarter, seeming to trade baskets in the early going. Mitchell scored 12 in the first, including nine in the first 2:17. Bridges had 10, helping the Nets build a 33-31 lead after one.

Malone says Jokić turned off by ‘ugly, nasty turn in the MVP conversation’


There has always been some element of “if you don’t see things the way I do you’re an idiot” in the NBA MVP conversation. Between sports talking heads and fevered fans on social media, there have always been some pushing the edge in the MVP debate.

However, something about Nikola Jokić looking like he would win a third-straight MVP around the All-Star break — fueled by Tim Bontemps straw poll at ESPN — turned the conversation much more intense much earlier this season. And it got nasty — again driven by ESPN on-air personalities. Some past MVP votes were re-litigated through the lens of this season, while other fans and media equated backing their guy with tearing down someone else (often Jokić, but sometimes Joel Embiid or Giannis Antetokounmpo, the other frontrunners). That has turned Jokić off from the conversation, Nuggets coach Mike Malone said after his team beat the Wizards Wednesday.

Here’s the full quote:

“I think this year unfortunately has just taken a really ugly, nasty turn in the MVP conversation, and I think it’s really turned a lot of people off, including [Jokić]. And what’s happening now is there’s so many guys that could win the MVP this year. Great candidates. Joel Embiid is a great candidate, Luka Doncic is a great candidate, Jayson Tatum, whoever you want to put in that mix, those are all deserving. But what happens in today’s society is that everybody, it’s like when I was a college coach and all the negative recruiting. It’s not promoting my guy, it’s ripping down every other guy. And that’s just ridiculous.

“This game, as Adam Silver told us at the All-Star break, the game is in a great spot. The league’s in a great spot. We have great players. Celebrate them. Don’t criticize, don’t tear them down. Build them all up, and whoever wins it, good for them. And that’s one thing that’s been really disappointing this year with the whole MVP conversation and all the hot takes. It’s really just gotten ugly and nasty, and I really don’t care for it.”

Malone isn’t the only person saying this. Jeff Van Gundy talked about this on the Lowe Post Podcast.

“Can we stop trying to put people down?” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said recently. “We should be celebrating our guys in the league. Giannis, Jayson Tatum, Joker, all of them are great. We don’t need to push one down to elevate the other guy. They all are completely different players.”

The NBA may not always like the tone but it LOVES the debate — it does not want everyone hugging it out. They want drama and tension. They want an argument. And in an online world where tearing someone down gets more clicks/eyeballs than lifting someone up, the debate was always going to get ugly at times.

[Side note: What grates on voters (*raises hand*) is when people jump in our mentions or timelines saying that this stat or style of play – clutch points, defense, some advanced stat, head-to-head play — makes it clear and obvious that it has to be Player X. The NBA goes out of its way to get a very diverse group of voters in terms of background, and everybody brings their own criteria to the table. As it should be.]

There is no single NBA-sanctioned definition of MVP for a reason — the league wants the arguments.

Which this race is providing. You can make a legitimate argument for Jokić, Embiid and Antetokounmpo. It’s boring (and bad sports talk) to say there is no bad choice among them… but there is no bad choice among them.

That said, some passion and a little edge are welcomed in the conversation. Ideally, people just know where the line is.



PBT Podcast: Kings a playoff threat? Plus some summer free agent talk.


The last time the Sacramento Kings were in the playoffs, there was a Bush in the White House and Pixar released the first “Cars” movie.

They are back with a vengeance this season, going into the playoffs with a top-three seed and an elite offense, but how far can they go once in there? Maybe a long ways if things break right, and Corey Robinson and Kurt Helin of NBC Sports get into all of that.

They discuss the passing of Knicks legend Willis Reed, then Corey’s Jukebox compares Jayson Tatum to Eddie VanHalen’s “Eruption.”

Finally, they focus on some possible free agents this summer maybe making their final runs with teams — will Draymond Green be back with the Warriors? What about Kyrie Irving with the Mavericks? The Knicks want Josh Hart back but are not getting a discount, and don’t be surprised if the Heat and Trail Blazers try to make some big moves.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above (the Christmas games segment) or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron James begins on court work, shoots down report of return before season’s end


Lakers fans’ dreams of their retooled roster — one that was impressive for the three games everyone was together just after the trade deadline — getting healthy and making a surprise run through the Western Conference start with one simple premise:

LeBron James getting back on the court.

There was good news on that front Thursday following his evaluation. The Lakers announced that LeBron started “on-court activity” and a “gradual basketball movement program” to return from a foot tendon issue that has sidelined him for 12 games. However, no official timeline was given for LeBron to return to the court.

At almost the same time that news broke, it was leaked to multiple reporters that LeBron was targeting a return for the final week of the season. ESPN’s Dave McMenamin summed it up well on SportsCenter:

“A league source familiar with LeBron James’ thinking told me that he believes LeBron will push for sometime over the final three games the Lakers play in Los Angeles — April 5 against the Clippers, April 7 against the Suns, April 9 against the Jazz — to target that range so long as there are no setbacks in his rehab to make his comeback. Get back onto the court, get a little bit of a dress rehearsal before either the play-in tournament or a playoff berth for the Lakers.”

Within an hour after the reports of a LeBron return timeline broke, he shot them down on Twitter.

There is zero chance word of LeBron targeting the final week of the season was leaked to at least four well-sourced NBA and Lakers’ reporters randomly or by someone that all of these people did not trust. Choose to read between the lines what you will, or who you think is pressuring whom, but this did not get out on accident. There is unquestionably a desire to get LeBron back on the court in Los Angeles before the end of the season. The Lakers need LeBron for any kind of playoff run and they don’t want to just throw him in the mix for a play-in game.

The Lakers are currently tied for 9/10 in the West with Dallas, just half a game back of the Thunder and Timberwolves for the 7/8 seeds, and 1.5 games back of the Warriors as the No. 6 seed (although they will be difficult to catch, especially with Golden State having now won two in a row on the road — the Lakers would need a record two games better than the Warriors the rest of the way). Los Angeles is also half a game up on the Pelicans and Jazz for falling out of even the play-in. The Lakers need wins.

LeBron would help with that, but he says there still is no timeline for his return.