PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Hawks, Pistons impressing early


It’s Golden State then everyone else right now, but after that we have some good teams from the East making noise — Detroit, Atlanta, and, of course, Cleveland. We’re still just a couple weeks into the season so still a lot of volatility in the standings, things likely start to stabilize going forward.

source:  1. Warriors (7-0, last week No. 1). One sign of Golden State’s early dominance: It is beating teams by an average of 19.1 points per 100 possessions, which is 10.3 more than the second place team (Utah). If you’re searching for flaws, they did blow double-digit leads to the Clippers and Kings and had to hang on for wins. But they did.

source:  2. Cavaliers (6-1, LW 4). Slow starts have not kept this team from a six-game winning streak. Kevin Love has flown a little under the radar but is averaging 17 points and 12.6 boards a game, he looks far more comfortable in their offense (at least until Kyrie Irving returns), plus his defense looks improved and more focused.

source:  3. Hawks (7-1, LW 11). They have won seven in a row after their opening night loss, making those of us that predicted a step back look bad. Kent Bazemore has been great, and while this team is not beating the cream of the league so far, it’s beating the teams it needs to beat in the East (Charlotte twice, for example).

source:  4. Pistons (5-1, LW 7). Stan Van Gundy looks smart for his $80 million bet on Reggie Jackson to go next to Andre Drummond right now. When Jackson and Drummond are on the court together the Pistons have an offensive rating of 108 points per 100 possessions, and they are +18.8 points per 100. Drummond is averaging 20-20 through six games, which is ridiculous.

source:  5. Spurs (4-2, LW 5). The Spurs have a top 10 offense and defense (the sign of a true contender), but that offense is living in the midrange and you have to wonder if they can sustain it at this level. It’s fine if it’s LaMarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan taking those shots, right now Kawhi Leonard is taking a lot of midrange jumpers knocking down 50 percent of them. Can he keep that up?

source:  6. Clippers (4-2, LW 3). Blake Griffin is not getting enough credit for a ridiculously good start to the season. He’s averaging 29.3 points per game with a true shooting percentage of 64.1 percent, he’s grabbing 9.7 boards a game, dishing out 4.2 assists, and has a PER of 32.8. He was amazing in the playoffs last season and has carried that over.

source:  7. Jazz (4-2, LW 13). They have the second best net rating in the league, a sign that this power ranking may have them too low — and that they can sustain the fast early start. Remember that this team picked up Derrick Favors in the Deron Williams trade — Favors has been fantastic for them this season, that move looks brilliant now.

source:  8. Raptors (5-2, LW 6). They picked up a quality win against OKC but have lost two in a row, and that come-from-ahead loss to Miami Sunday showed how much they miss DeMarre Carroll (out with plantar fasciitis, that is going to take a while to get right). Soft schedule this week should help them get back in a groove.

source:  9. Rockets (4-3, LW 19). James Harden is back in his groove — back-to-back 40 point games — and the Rockets have won four in a row. Harden has taken over the offense again, there is less Ty Lawson. We’ll see if there is an effort to balance out the offensive load going forward (they can do it against lesser teams, the Rockets needed these wins and this Harden after the slow start).

source:  10. Heat (4-3, LW 12). This is a deep team getting great production out of their bench, which includes Justise Winslow stepping right in and looking good on defense (teams will regret passing on him in the draft). Miami is in in a seven-game homestand, which Dwyane Wade’s knees appreciates.

source:  11. Thunder (4-3 LW 2). They have a net rating (+7.2 per 100) that suggests OKC will climb these rankings and not have three-game losing streaks often. However, this is still a team with a bottom 10 defense and that is in large part about their bench. It has to improve to challenge the elite of the West.

source:  12. Trail Blazers (4-3, LW 22). It’s not hard to picture how Damian Lilliard and C.J. McCollum could power the Trail Blazers to the league’s fourth best offense because of their ability to shoot the three off the pick-and-roll, but their defense being 11th this young season is why they are above .500 (but will teams keep missing threes against them?).

source:  13. Bulls (4-3, LW 9). Both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler said one of the problems in their losses this season (such as the one to Minnesota) is just a lack of consistent effort, especially on defense. This isn’t Thibodeau’s world anymore, guys are going to have to be professional and motivate themselves. They are talking about starting Joakim Noah over Nikola Mitotic, who has struggled the last three games (but I still don’t like the move).

source:  14. Timberwolves (3-2,LW 16). This team could be in the mix for a playoff spot in the West if they keep playing this way. Karl Anthony-Towns is a better defender in the paint as a rookie than expected, Ricky Rubio is underrated at that end, and their starters lock teams down. Good tests this week with the Hawks, Warriors, Pacers, and Grizzlies on the docket.

source:  15. Wizards (3-3, LW 10). Reports are Bradley Beals injury is not serious, which is good as he’s played at a near All-Star level and losing him would be a massive blow. This team drops off badly when John Wall sits, which is an issue. By the way, some guy named Durant comes to town this week.

source:  16. Pacers (3-4, LW 26). Paul George has put up impressive numbers the past three games — when he started at the small forward spot rather than as a power forward. They have won three of four, including over Miami and Detroit. This team could go on a run of wins when you look at the schedule ahead.

<source:  17. Suns (3-3, LW 14). A tough schedule last week (losses to the Clippers, Pistons, and Thunder) showed this team has a pretty good defense but is struggling to find spacing and put points on the board at the other end. The bench has not lived up to expectations and Jeff Hornacek is searching for rotations he likes.

source:  18. Mavericks (3-3, LW 15). Dirk Nowitzki seems to have found the fountain of youth, scoring 17 points a game with a ridiculous 61.7 percent true shooting percentage, plus he’s shooting 50 percent from three. Dwight Powell has been a great find, averaging 11.3 points per game on 50.9 percent shooting off the bench.

source:  19. Bucks (4-3, LW 27). Jabari Parker is back, and while he looks rusty it’s just good to see him back out on the court. Almost as importantly, John Henson is back and that has helped the Bucks’ defense look closer to last year’s levels.

source:  20. Celtics (2-3, LW 20). Isaiah Thomas has looked good as a starter for Marcus Smart, and he showed some chemistry with Jared Sullinger. Their strong defense and good net rating (+3.1, 10th best in the league) suggests this team will climb the ladder (and I have them ranked too low).

source:  21. Magic (3-4, LW 23). Those four losses are by a combined 14 total points, and two games have gone to overtime. Elfrid Payton’s shooting woes are still an issue dragging down the Orlando offense when he plays.

source:  22. Grizzlies (3-4, LW 8). This team’s record is better than they have been playing — Memphis has a bottom 10 offense and defense. The bench units (with Jeff Green at the four) have been unimpressive (to put it kindly). The GM said coach Dave Joerger is not on the hot seat, but if this team keeps falling someone will pay the price. Their schedule the next couple weeks is brutal.

source:  23. Hornets (2-4, LW 25). Quality win over the Bulls and they are the fourth best offense in the NBA at 104.6 points per 100 possessions. They are shooting the ball very well, particularly Kemba Walker, and as a team they are shooting 36.3 percent as three. Impressive, but can they sustain this is the question.

source:  24. Knicks (3-4, LW 17). Kristaps Porzingis has provided more as a rookie than most scouts expected (even Lakers’ coach Byron Scott admitted as much). And Porzingis has mastered the putback dunk. But why is Sasha Vujacic getting so much run? I know Arron Afflalo is still out injured (he could return this week) but has Fisher actually watched Vujacic? Play Langston Galloway instead.

source:  25. Nuggets (2-4, LW 21). They are more fun to watch and more successful going small with Danilo Gallinari at the five and Kenneth Faried at the four, but they miss Wilson Chandler in that lineup. Joffrey Lauvergne has looked good in his limited minutes per night, but they miss Jusuf Nurkic as well up front.

source:  26. Kings (1-6, LW 18). DeMarcus Cousins missing time with injury isn’t the only issue, the Kings’ offense is 5.5 points per 100 possessions better when Rajon Rondo sits (and the defense is 11.9 per 100 better). Rondo isn’t going to lose time to Darren Collison in the short term because Collison is battling a hamstring injury.

source:  27. Lakers (1-5, LW 28). They picked up a win against Brooklyn, Byron Scott has tweaked the rotation to get better defense off the bench (meaning some Metta World Peace, who played okay on D), but the defense is still second worst in the NBA. The Lakers need to focus on player development ahead of wins, which should be obvious but their rotations suggest it’s not the case. They are on the road a lot for the next few weeks.

source:  28. Pelicans (0-6, LW 24). Anthony Davis is certainly playing better, but the injured Pelicans can’t get a win. Their defense is a disaster. The Pelicans will get it together at one point, but the concern remains the same — will it be too early to dig out of the hole and make the playoffs?

source:  29. Nets (0-7, LW 29). Two things are keeping the Nets from falling to last in these rankings: They get Brook Lopez back Wednesday, plus the woeful Sixers. But the Nets have played the softest schedule in the NBA this young season and their offense is just ugly. And dull.

source:  30. 76ers (0-6, LW 30). If you want points, Jahlil Okafor has looked good, scoring 19.7 points per game on 52.7 percent shooting. His jumper is legit, and he can put the ball on the floor. He and Nerlens Noel are showing some real potential this young season.

Bradley Beal reportedly under investigation after confrontation with fan who lost gambling

Washington Wizards v Orlando Magic
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

On March 21, Bradley Beal had an off game — 16 points on 4-of-15 shooting — as the Wizards fell to the Magic in Orlando.

Walking off the court, Beal got into a confrontation with a couple of fans, one of whom blamed him for a gambling loss. The next day that incident became a complaint filed with the Orlando Police Department by the fan. David Purdum of ESPN summarized the police report this way:

Beal and the Wizards were exiting the court and in the visitors’ tunnel, headed to the locker room, when, according to the police report, an unidentified man remarked to Beal, “You made me lose $1,300, you f***.”

Beal, according to the report, turned around and walked toward a friend of the man who made the comment and swatted his right hand toward him, knocking the man’s hat off and contacting the left side of his head.

Police reviewed video footage of the altercation and heard Beal say this is his job and he takes it seriously, and the man is heard apologizing, implying he did not intend to offend him, according to the report.

At this point, no charges have been filed against Beal. According to TMZ, Beal told the heckler, “Keep it a buck. I don’t give a f*** about none of your bets or your parlays, bro. That ain’t why I play the game.” The entire incident lasted less than a minute.

NBA spokesman Mike Bass said, “We are aware of the report and are in the process of gathering more information.”

Sports betting is not currently legal in the state of Florida.

While there is nothing official from the team, speculation abounds that the Wizards have shut down Beal and Kyle Kuzma for the season.


Trail Blazers shut down Lillard for season… and here comes the trade speculation


While it was unofficial but understood for some time, now it is official: Damian Lillard has been shut down for the season. Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report (who has close ties to the Lillard camp) Tweeted out the news.

The Blazers are five games out of the final play-in spot with seven games to play, they aren’t making up that ground. They are tied for the fifth-worst record in the league, which comes with a 10.5% chance at the top pick and Victor Wembanyama. This was the right play.

Before it became official, Shams Charania at The Athletic wrote in “The Bounce” newsletter Monday that Lillard is “essentially” shut down for the season – and then lit a fire under the topic that makes Trail Blazers’ fans’ eyes roll:

Damian Lillard trade talk.

On the other side of things, you now have to wonder if Lillard ever steps on the court again for Portland. There was a ton of optimism going into this season after the team landed Jerami Grant and got off to a good start to the campaign. Now, not making the playoffs for a second year in a row, a soon-to-be 33-year-old star of this league who has never gotten a chance to win it all will have tons of questions to ask the front office this offseason, and I expect there to be serious conversations about what’s next for both sides.

We all knew the Lillard trade speculation was coming. Same with Bradley Beal in Washington. The same core rule applies to both of them:

Lillard will not get traded unless he asks to be moved. He has never done so, in fact saying just weeks ago about playing the rest of his career in Portland, “To that point, I’m also willing to die on that hill.” Portland has been loyal to him and Lillard signed a massive contract extension last offseason and has four years, $216.2 million left on that deal, including about $63.2 million in the contract’s final season when he is 36. He’s happy where he is and has deep roots in the community.

The odds are better than not that Lillard will retire a Trail Blazer, even if that’s not the path other stars would walk. Lillard is wired differently.

Can you construct an argument that the Trail Blazers should trade Lillard while his value is sky-high — he will be an All-NBA player again this season — because the organization’s best path to a ring is with whoever and whatever’s next? Maybe. However, that ignores the financial reality of the Blazers — Lillard brings the fans in the door, brings in team sponsors who want to be associated with him, and he sells jerseys. Lillard is good business for Portland, there is no incentive for ownership to move on right now.

In fact, it may be the opposite. Portland can throw multiple picks and good young players such as Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons into a trade to bring in another star to play with Lillard. That is more how their front office pictures this summer — they want to go all in on building around Lillard. Not sending him away.

Other teams covet Lillard, and trade packages can be constructed (would Miami be willing to move on from Bam Adebayo for the chance to pair Lillard with Jimmy Butler?). But it’s all idle talk until Lillard sits down with franchise ownership/management and says it’s time for him to move on. That has yet to happen. It may well never happen.

Just expect the avalanche of Lillard speculation to begin. Warranted or not.

Three things to Know: Timberwolves in top six, are they a playoff sleeper?


Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Timberwolves beat Kings, move into in top six, could be playoff sleeper

When talk turns to dangerous teams in the bottom half of the West bracket, the conversation gravitates toward the established big names — Stephen Curry and the Warriors, LeBron James and the Lakers, Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers.

But for the past few weeks (maybe since the All-Star break), the Minnesota Timberwolves have been the best team in that group. It hasn’t always shown up in the win column — although after beating the Kings Monday night they have four in a row — but there has been maturity and chemistry to their game. Fitting Karl-Anthony Towns back in after he missed more than 50 games could have been tricky, but instead, it has inspired game-winning shots and improved play (although he sat out Monday night on a back-to-back).

Monday night’s win is nothing to overlook — going to Sacramento and picking up a victory that denied the Kings the chance to officially clinch their first playoff spot in 16 seasons in front of their home fans is no small thing. The Timberwolves were attacking the rim.

And attacking.

“We know we have the talent and the personnel to be able to beat anybody on any given night,” Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert said, via the Associated Press. “Really out of urgency and consistency … we play every game like it’s our last and we play every game like there’s no tomorrow. That’s the mindset that we need.”

Minnesota is showing a balance and maturity of game that was lacking much of the season. It starts with trading away D'Angelo Russell and bringing in Mike Conley at the point, adding a traditional point guard and floor general to the mix (rather than a player who creates more for themselves). Conley’s veteran presence can be felt across this team.

Jaden McDaniels has been locking guys down on defense. Anthony Edwards — back quickly from a sprained ankle that could have been much worse — has turned into a quality shot creator but adds another athletic defender. Gobert finally started to find his space and had 16 points and 16 rebounds against the Kings. Naz Ried has been a force of nature off the bench lately.

With the win, Minnesota tied Golden State for the No.6 seed in the West at 39-37, and moved ahead of the Warriors officially because the Timberwolves have the tiebreaker after beating them Sunday. This Minnesota team could avoid the play-in if they keep racking up wins — and if they are the No.6 seed they likely draw this Kings team in the first round.

The questions about how this team will handle a small-ball team that can space the floor over a seven-game series remain, but they showed Monday against the Kings they may have the answer to that question.

The most dangerous teams in the playoffs are often the ones that look the best over the season’s final weeks, and in this Western Conference that makes the Timberwolves a threat.

2) Luka Dončić with the assist of the season.

Are. You. Kidding. Me.

Luka Dončić made the pass of the season Monday night. Trapped in the corner by two defenders, Dončić lept in the air, spun and threw a bullet skip pass to Jaden Hardy for 3.

Even Dončić was impressed with that dime.

The Mavericks entered the night desperate for a win after losing four straight, they needed the win to try to climb back into the play-in. Dončić wasn’t even expected to be on the court earlier in the day, but was cleared to play earlier when the NBA rescinded his 16th technical of the season, which would have triggered an automatic one-game suspension. With 25 points from Dončić leading the way, the Mavericks beat a shorthanded Pacers team without Tyrese Haliburton or Myles Turner, 127-104.

3) Jalen Brunson was out so Immanuel Quickley dropped 40

Losers of three straight, and with the Heat lurking just a couple of games back in the loss column, the Knicks needed a win. Enter the Houston Rockets.

Jalen Brunson remained out but Immanuel Quickley stepped up with a career-high 40 points on 14-of-18 shooting, plus he had nine assists, and the Knicks picked up a needed 137-115 victory.

Julius Randle added 26 points, RJ Barrett had 19 and Obi Toppin finished with 15 for the Knicks. New York was moving the ball and finished with a season-high 35 assists.

It was exactly the kind of win the Knicks needed. It’s hard to see them falling out of the No. 5 seed.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Are you kidding me, Russell Westbrook?

The Clippers got the 124-112 win over the Bulls without that shot, but still.

Watch Luka Dončić throw the pass of the year to Hardy for 3



Luka Dončić was on the court for the Mavericks Monday — something that was not assured until earlier in the day — and once there made the pass of the season. Trapped in the corner by two defenders, Dončić lept in the air and threw a bullet skip pass to Jaden Hardy for 3.

That is your assist of the year. Even Dončić called it one of his best passes ever.

Dončić led the way with 25 points and six assists and the Mavericks — desperate for a win as they try to climb back into the play-in — beat a shorthanded Pacers team without Tyrese Haliburton or Myles Turner, 127-104. Dončić was cleared to play earlier in the day when the NBA rescinded his 16th technical of the season, which would have triggered an automatic one-game suspension.