PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Picking No. 1, No. 30 very easy, after that….

1 Comment

The top three in the rankings remain the same teams, although two and three switched spots, but after them there is still a lot of volatility in the rankings, and a lot of surprises. The Clippers fell fast after an ugly week, while Dallas is on the rise. And right now, the East is the stronger conference top to bottom.

 
source:  1. Warriors (15-0, last week No. 1). They have tied the record for fastest start ever by an NBA team. The Warriors’ small-ball lineup — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green — has played 56 minutes this season and is outscoring opponents by 70.8 points per 100 possessions. They are scoring 160.9 per 100.

 
source:  2. Spurs (10-3, LW 3). They have been the clear second best team in the NBA this young season (based on net point differential), and after a slow first handful of games to the season the Spurs’ starting five has found it’s groove of late (+33 per 100 last three games).

 
source:  3. Cavaliers (10-3, LW 2). LeBron James struggled from the outside to start the season, but in his last four games is shooting 47.5 percent on them. So that’s back. Kyrie Irving is doing more and more in practice, but there is still no timetable for his return (think Christmas present for Cavs fans).

 
source:  4. Heat (8-4, LW 6). They have strung together wins during a homestead (5-1), but games such as the need for a furious fourth quarter rally to beat the Sixers make me question how good this team really is. That said, the defense is still carrying the Heat and keeping them in games (the offense has been a bit flat).

 
source:  5. Thunder (8-6 LW 5). They have gone 3-3 without Kevin Durant, who is expected to return this week. Russell Westbrook is putting up crazy numbers, including 31 and 11 on Dallas Sunday in a big win for OKC. Reggie Jackson returns to OKC this week with the Pistons, for whom he is playing very well.

 
source:  6. Mavericks (9-5, LW 12). They were on a six-game winning streak until Sunday’s loss. Deron Williams is having a bounce-back season in Dallas, not all the way back to All-Star form but back to quality point guard form. His shooting has improved and the key reason is he’s finishing better inside 10 feet than a year ago.

 
source:  7. Raptors (8-6, LW 7). Losing center Jonas Valanciunas for the next six weeks is really going to hurt: while there is a lot of noise in the numbers, Toronto has outscored opponents by 7.2 points per 100 possessions when he plays, but gets outscored by 4.8 per 100 when he sits. Their offense and defense are worse without him, but especially the offense.

 
source:  8. Bulls (8-4, LW 9). Winners of four in a row, which included a dramatic win over the Pacers with Jimmy Butler blocking Paul George on the final shot. That was big in a crowded East. Fred Hoiberg still struggling to find lineups that can give him both offense and defense (for example, Tony Snell helps the defense and kills the offense).

 
source:  9. Pacers (8-5, LW 10). They have gone 8-2 in their last 10 and have been playing great defense, but that will be put to the test as they have five of their next eight on the road. Indiana faces Chicago and Washington this week, the kinds of teams they need to beat to climb up the conference standings.

 
source:  10. Hawks (9-6, LW 8). The Hawks were in a soft part of the schedule and still found a way to go 5-5 in their last 10, including a loss to Brooklyn. It’s about to get tougher with Boston then a swing through the West including Minnesota and San Antonio.

 
source:  11. Celtics (7-6, LW 11). Avery Bradley has been a defensive beast off the bench, with a personal defensive rating of 85.7 (points allowed per 100 possessions), which is good because he moves into the starting lineup the next few weeks with Marcus Smart out injured.

 
source:  12. Knicks (8-6, LW 20). Kristaps Porzingis mania in New York is not at Linsanity levels, but it’s climbing fast. With good reason. KP6 has become first player in NBA history with more than 180 points, 120 rebounds, 20 blocks and 10 hit threes through his first 14 games.

 
source:  13. Wizards (6-4, LW 15). There is a real clump in the middle of the East, but we may start to see where the Wizards fit in that group with this week’s schedule: Pacers, at Hornets, at Celtics, Raptors. The Wizards starters need to play better if Washington is going to climb that ladder, the small ball lineup has not impressed.

 
source:  14. Pistons (7-6, LW 14). Quality win over the Cavaliers last week helps their cause. Andre Drummond may be putting up ridiculous numbers, and Reggie Jackson may have a great pick-and-roll chemistry with him, but the Pistons are still 25th in the NBA in offense. Stan Van Gundy has them eighth in defense and that is what keeps this team afloat.

 
<source:  15. Suns (7-6, LW 16). They had a softer schedule last week and they could not bank enough wins, now things get tougher with the Spurs, Warriors and Raptors on the docket this week.

 
source:  16. Hornets (7-6, LW 18). They have been strong at home and have their next five games in the Hornets’ nest (although Washington, Cleveland, and Milwaukee will not be easy wins). Kemba Walker as the starter and Jeremy Lin off the bench have pushed the Hornets to the fourth best offense in the NBA this young season.

 
source:  17. Clippers (6-7, LW 4). Thursday’s loss to Golden State summed up the Clippers ability to showcase their talent and challenge anyone (that big early lead), and their struggles to maintain that level of play consistently (blowing that lead and losing). The Raptors’ is another example of that inconsistency, they were horrible in the first half, especially on defense. Lance Stephenson was benched for the entire Warriors game, started the next night in Portland, played just five minutes Sunday vs. Toronto. What’s going on there, Doc?

 
source:  18. Jazz (6-6, LW 13). Derrick Favors has come into his own for this team, becoming the fulcrum for their offense and averaging 16 points and nine rebounds per game. Still, it’s the Utah defense that keeps this team in every game. Fun test Monday against Oklahoma City, then they get the Clippers later in the week.

 
source:  19. Grizzlies (7-7, LW 21). Unleashed Mario Chalmers has been great for Memphis, getting them to play faster and knocking down threes (7-of-15 since the trade). If the Grizzlies have gotten things turned around we’ll see against Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta this week.

 
source:  20. Magic (6-7, LW 23). Scott Skiles is sending messages about effort and playing his way — Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic were benched for the second half of a game last week. The lack of shooting on the roster kills this team’s spacing and has it 28th in offensive ranking.

source:  21. Timberwolves (5-8,LW 22). Kevin Martin will start and Tayshaun Prince is moving to the bench, to which I say “about time.” However, Martin has struggled with his shot this season and if he isn’t back on track this will backfire quickly. Mine should get their first home win Monday against Philly.

 
source:  22. Bucks (5-8, LW 17). If you had asked me before the season which team would have the worst defense in the league almost a month into real games, the Bucks would have been about my last guess. But at 109 points allowed per 100, and after a rough week, they are behind the Pelicans and Lakers on that end of the floor. Jabari Parker missed some time with a sprained foot, and the Bucks have lost three in a row.

 
source:  23. Nuggets (6-8, LW 19). I think Mike Malone is establishing a culture in Denver they can build on, but it’s not without its challenges on the defensive end. On the bright side, Emmanuel Mudiay is looking improved and his turnovers are dropping.

 
source:  24. Trail Blazers (6-9, LW 25). They had lost seven in a row until they got some help from Los Angeles, beating both the slumping Clippers and the just bad Lakers. More interesting test against Chicago this week, but the Blazers may have found their footing again on defense, so it’s not just the Damian Lillard/C.J. McCollum show.

 
source:  25. Kings (5-9, LW 24). This pretty much sums up the Kings this season: They are 5-4 when DeMarcus Cousins plays, 0-5 when he sits. Rajon Rondo is putting up numbers, but the big key is he’s shooting 36.4 percent from three this season, some spacing the Kings need on offense.

 
source:  26. Rockets (5-9, LW 26). Since J.B. Bickerstaff took over the Rockets they have one overtime win and two losses — but they are losing by less, so that’s improvement, right? We knew the coaching wasn’t the problem, but the change has not part of the solution so far. Could they actually lose to Philly this week? Probably not.

 
source:  27. Pelicans (3-11, LW 28). Ryan Anderson has found his shooting groove and that has sparked some big offensive games for the Pelicans, who have looked improved the past week or so. Tough stretch though on the road this week at the Suns, Clippers, and Jazz.

 
source:  28. Nets (3-11, LW 29). Don’t look now, but the Nets have been playing better (that includes a win over the Hawks on Tuesday). So maybe they start racking up some wins? Probably not this week playing at Oklahoma City, at Cleveland, then hosting Detroit.

 
source:  29. Lakers (2-11, LW 27). Byron Scott said he wants to get the ball in Kobe Bryant’s hands more to help the team’s ball movement. That pretty much sums up the Lakers right now — take the ball out of the hands of the developing young point guard D’Angelo Russell so that Kobe can preach ball movement. And up is down.

 
source:  30. 76ers (0-14, LW 30). When Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel are on the court together, the Sixers have an offensive rating of just 80.7 points per 100 possessions, and they are getting outscored by 25.7 per 100. And that’s the Sixers’ two best players, it only goes downhill as you move into the backcourt.

Western Conference, NBA Finals predictions: Is another title coming to Los Angeles?

Leave a comment

The NBA season tips-off tonight night, which leaves us time for one last thing:

Our Western Conference and NBA Finals predictions.

We’ve run through some postseason awards — MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year — and yesterday we laid out who we thought would win the East. Today we stick our neck out and make our predictions on how the Western Conference will shake out.

As a disclaimer, we get it: making NBA preseason awards predictions is like nailing Jell-O to a tree. We’ll be wrong. But it’s fun, so the NBA staff here at NBC is making our picks.

THE WESTERN CONFERENCE

Kurt Helin
1. Denver
2. Utah
3. L.A. Clippers
4. Houston
5. L.A.Lakers
6. Portland
7. Golden State
8. San Antonio
Western Conference Finals: L.A. Clippers over L.A. Lakers.
NBA Finals: L.A. Clippers over Philadelphia

I’ve never gone into a season less confident in my predictions. For example, I think Dallas has a very good shot at the eight seed (maybe Sacramento, too), but I simply cannot pick against the Spurs. The order of these teams could easily shift, the West will be so close that just losing a star for a few weeks to a sprained ankle could dramatically change a team’s seeding. I’m comfortable that systems and continuity will keep Denver and Utah at the top of the regular season standings, but the playoffs will feel completely different. The Los Angeles teams are better built for the postseason than anyone else (although I think Utah has a chance to crash the party). I trust the depth and the wing defense of the Clippers more than the Lakers, so Doc Rivers will get back to playing in June. For the Finals, I’ll take the Clippers over the Sixers, but I don’t say that with a lot of confidence.

Dan Feldman:

1. Houston
2. Denver
3. L.A. Clippers
4. L.A. Lakers
5. Utah
6. Portland
7. Golden State
8. Dallas
Western Conference Finals: L.A. Clippers over L.A. Lakers.
NBA Finals: L.A. Clippers over Milwaukee

There’s a rare divergence between teams prepared for the regular season and teams prepared for the playoffs, which makes this prediction difficult enough. Adding to the complications: The West is so deep, leaving few postseason locks. For some teams, a few moderate breaks in either direction could make the difference between making the Western Conference finals and missing the playoffs entirely.

The last playoff spot was an extremely tough call between the Mavericks and Spurs. The Kings weren’t that far behind, either. Kawhi Leonard just showed an ability to get through the regular season and bring elite production to a deep postseason run. LeBron James has done it the previous several years. That’s why the Clippers and Lakers get so much benefit of the doubt. The Lakers’ Anthony Davis is a better second star than the Clippers’ Paul George, but I have more trust in the Clippers’ depth — from the front office to the coaching staff to other players.

Dane Delgado:
Western Conference Finals: L.A. Clippers over L.A. Lakers.

Everyone is picking the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference, and for good reason. This is not just a team that lumped together several superstars trying to make a playoff push. This time around, it’s a bit different. Los Angeles was already a solid team before both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George arrived and their most important players from last year — Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley — are all back. Doc Rivers, whose reputation as a coach was in question heading into last season, has solidified is legacy simply by what he could squeeze out of this the Clippers team last season. If L.A. can make it to the Western Conference Finals this year, it would not surprise anyone. The real question will be health. Leonard has shown he is willing to battle through various ailments to perform on the highest stage, but George’s shoulders are a real concern. Still, if you were placing bets on the best team in the west, it makes sense to go with the team that’s been able to stay intact while at the same time adding to generational superstars. It may be a bridge too far to pick the Clippers to win the NBA championship in 2020, but it’d be a safe move at this juncture to slot them in as the West champs.

Michael Jordan says Stephen Curry is not a Hall of Famer, yet

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
2 Comments

Three-time NBA Champion. Two-time MVP. Six-time All-NBA. Six-time All-Star. Scoring champion. And the best pure shooter the game has ever seen, a player whose style helped revolutionize the way the game is played. A player idolized and imitated by youth on blacktop courts around the globe.

Even if he quit the sport today and walked away, Stephen Curry is a lock first-ballot Hall of Famer…

Unless you ask Michael Jordan.

Jordan just did a few interviews around the opening of a medical clinic he paid for in Charlotte to help the underserved, and Hoops & Brews caught this gem in Jordan’s interview on NBC’s The Today Show (h/t Bleacher Report).

Yes, he is.

Technically Curry can’t be let into the club until five years after he retires, and at age 31 he’s got a few more good years in him — including this one, where he could have an MVP-level season. However, in practical terms, he is in. It’s not close. Done deal. Move along, nothing to see here.

It’s good the NBA games are starting because we need things to talk about other than this silliness.

 

Charlotte GM Mitch Kupchak: Hornets won’t build through free agency

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Mitch Kupchak doesn’t see the Charlotte Hornets being major players in free agency as they attempt to build a winning franchise in the post-Kemba Walker era – at least not right away.

Instead, the second-year general manager said Monday he anticipates the Hornets will construct the roster through draft picks and “savvy trades” during the season, while compiling as many assets as possible.

“We will not be an active player” in free agency, Kupchak said. “I think we can build a culture here and get enough assets and have a promising enough future and really attract the kind of free agent you want to spend that kind of money on – but I don’t think you can do it right now.”

So in the meantime, the Hornets will give young players like Dwayne Bacon, Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, Devonte Graham and even rookie PJ Washington extensive playing time this season as part of their No. 1 overall goal of player development after going 39-43 last season and losing Walker, a three-time All-Star, to the Boston Celtics.

Kupchak said that will take patience, but he and owner Michael Jordan and coach James Borrego are on the same page.

Kupchak said he won’t measure this season’s success in terms of wins and losses, but rather on how the team’s younger players continue to progress.

“Win or lose, I want our players to play with energy and our coaches to coach with energy,” Kupchak said. “As the season goes on I want to see improvement. That’s how I’m looking at the season.”

Kupchak said that concept may not be easy for Borrego.

“I am hoping he is better than he was last season,” Kupchak said with a grin. “At the beginning of the season last year he took each loss really, really hard. Hopefully this year he will be able to handle the losses a little bit better.”

Borrego has yet to name a starting lineup for Wednesday night’s home opener against the Chicago Bulls. Point guard Terry Rozier and center Cody Zeller are locks to start, but the combination of the other three remains a mystery.

That lineup could include Washington, who has impressed Kupchak with his 3-point shooting in the preseason since being selected No. 12 overall earlier this year.

Originally, the Hornets planned for the former Kentucky forward to split time between Charlotte’s G League team and the NBA to gain maximum playing experience. But Kupchak said Washington has been the team’s most impressive young player during the preseason and will likely remain in Charlotte, provided he’s seeing 15-plus minutes per game.

“He does have to play, and, based on his production of late, he will play,” Kupchak said. “… He has worked on his game and has turned himself into not only a big man that can be productive down in the paint, but in our game today he can also make 3s.”

Win or lose, Kupchak expects the Hornets to use a “fast-paced style of play.”

 

Doc Rivers says Los Angeles Lakers counting Minnesota titles “actually bugs me a little bit”

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
6 Comments

Los Angeles is a Lakers town.

The Dodgers can get close to energizing the city the same way, although Dodger fans are a little cautious after the past few playoffs. The Rams and Chargers are in a league that ignored Los Angeles for a couple of decades, lost a couple of generations of fans, and it’s going to take time to win them back. The Kings’ following is passionate but not massive (same with the two MLS teams in town).

The Lakers are the team that fathers take their sons to see, like their fathers did before them. The Lakers have won 16 NBA titles…

About that, it’s really 11 in Los Angeles. The first five carried over from Minnesota (where the name Lakers makes more sense). That kind of bothers’ Clippers coach Doc Rivers, something he told Marc Spears of The Undefeated in a story previewing the Clippers’ season.

“It is a Lakers town. I’m good with that. I have no issues with that,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers told The Undefeated from his Staples Center office recently. “They have how many titles that they’ve won here? You know, they claim them all, but they only won a certain amount here. I will say that. That actually bugs me a little bit. … Having said that, that’s generations of loyalty.

“I look at us as, we’re creating our own movement. … We’re not trying to take away shine from the other. We’ve got our own thing going. I never thought we could get our own thing going. That was what I was so frustrated with being here. And now we got our own thing going.”

Carrying titles over is common… and controversial. Should the Dodgers be able to count Brooklyn titles? It feels wrong to think Oklahoma City could count Seattle’s titles. Should Sacramento be able to count the 1951 Rochester title? Personally, the Lakers carrying Minnesota’s doesn’t seem a big issue, but you know Rivers is going to take a shot at the Lakers when he can.

That hallway rivalry at Staples Center is building.

Few things seem to irritate Lakers fans like the Clippers putting posters of players over the Lakers’ title banners at Staples Center for Clippers home games. Lakers fans think of Staples as their building — and it might not exist but for the draw of the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. However, Staples is owned by AEG (whose primary owner is Philip Anschutz, who owns the NHL’s Kings), not the Lakers. It’s a hockey building.

Doc is right about one thing: The Clippers have their own thing going.

The Clippers, on paper, are the better Los Angeles team and better built for the playoffs with versatile wings such as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers have more trusted depth with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. Tuesday night’s Clippers’ home opener will go how it goes — LeBron James and Anthony Davis will go for the Lakers, Paul George is out for weeks still for the Clippers — but a playoff battle between these teams this season could be epic.

And decide who gets to hang the next banner in Staples Center.