PBT NBA Power Rankings: Thunder, Pacers climb into Top five

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Sure the top three in the chart remained the same, while the Thunder and Pacers round out an interesting Top 5. However, the real drama is at the bottom — can the Sixers get their first win Tuesday when they face the Lakers?

source: 1. Warriors (18-0, last week No. 1). This week, Draymond Green became the first Warrior with back-to-back triple doubles since Wilt Chamberlain — Jerry West is right, in this system Draymond is a top 10 player. No Harrison Barnes for at least this week (sprained ankle) and the Warriors head out on a seven-game road trip Monday. Will that mean a loss?

source: 2. Spurs (14-3, LW 2). Tim Duncan is doing exactly what you hope an elite, aging player does — use fewer shots but use them efficiently. The Spurs don’t have great individual shot creators, but their commitment to ball movement and running action through Duncan or LaMarcus Aldridge at the elbow (both great passers and smart players) makes up for it, and they have the eighth best offense in the NBA.

source: 3. Cavaliers (13-4, LW 3). Cleveland is still the top team in the East, but LeBron James looks at those two teams above them in these power rankings and knows Cleveland isn’t near that level of execution. (Especially on defense in the first half of games, they coast.) So he called a team meeting after a loss to Toronto. He’s right, but getting Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert back in the next couple months will help.

source: 4. Thunder (11-6 LW 5). Winners of four in a row, plus Kevin Durant is back — and he is knocking down threes at a 47.1 percent rate last season. On the road at Atlanta and Miami will test that win streak this week.

source: 5. Pacers (11-5, LW 9). They are outscoring teams by 11.9 per 100 possessions their last 10 games. Frank Vogel on Indy’s play: “We’ve had a good, healthy belief in this plan all year. We didn’t know how long it was going to take before it got going, and we knew it had the potential to catch fire. We’ve gotten a little bit hot of late, but we haven’t really accomplished anything yet.”

source: 6. Heat (10-5, LW 4). They still have the second best defense in the NBA this season (just ask the Knicks after last week) but that will be seriously tested this week hosting the Thunder and Cavaliers back-to-back.

source: 7. Raptors (11-7, LW 7). They had won four in a row, including over the Clippers and Cavaliers, until the Suns got them on Sunday.That’s a testament to Kyle Lowry and the offense, because with Jonas Valanciunas out the defense has struggled, and that will cost them at some point.

source: 8. Mavericks (10-7, LW 6). The Mavericks have a team true shooting percentage of 55 percent in their past 10 games, eighth best in the NBA. That is a testament to coach Rick Carlisle, because outside Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams this team is struggling to space the floor with their shot.

source: 9. Bulls (9-5, LW 8). Before the season the thought was Fred Holberg would improve the Bulls’ offense but would they still defend enough for him. A month into the season Chicago has the sixth-ranked defense but the 26th ranked offense. Tom Thibodeau was an offensive genius?

source: 10. Hawks (11-8, LW 10). They went 2-2 last week but the wins were quality ones — against Boston and Memphis. They are doing it with a top 10 offense on the season and great play from Paul Millsap, but things have flattened out some the past few weeks.

source: 11. Hornets (10-7, LW 16). They have outscored their opponents by 6.3 points per 100 their last 10 games, going 7-3. In the past this team has struggled with Al Jefferson out, but they picked up wins last week thanks to Frank Kaminsky and Tyler Zeller stepping up. Big tests with Warriors and Bulls this week.

source: 12. Celtics (9-8, LW 11). Boston is forcing turnovers on 19.2 percent of opponent possessions, which is an insane rate. They will try to keep that going when they head to Mexico City for a game there this week against the Kings.

source: 13. Grizzlies (10-8, LW 19). Must follow NBA writer/podcaster Nate Duncan had an interesting idea: Is it time to consider Zach Randolph going to the bench and playing the five behind Marc Gasol, then Memphis goes smaller with a little more shooting at the four? Not a move they can make mid-season easily (they need the four who can shoot better), but something to watch going forward.

source: 14. Jazz (8-7, LW 18). They have five of their next six at home after a road-heavy start to the season (although the Warriors coming to town isn’t really comforting). The defense is still top 10 but the offense has shown signs of life in recent weeks, which is a welcome change.

source: 15. Clippers (9-8, LW 17). The last couple games this team has looked more like its old self, like it’s breaking out of its doldrums, like Sunday beating Minnesota. When Pacers coach Frank Vogel was asked about so many teams hanging around .500 in the NBA and who would break out, he quickly pointed to the Clippers.

source: 16. Magic (9-8, LW 20). Scott Skiles has finally thrown in the towel on the Elfrid Payton/Victor Oladipo pairing (Oladipo is coming off the bench), which he had to do – the team is -12.9 points per 100 possessions when they are on the court together. The Magic have won three straight.

<source: 17. Suns (8-9, LW 15). Their defense has struggled, especially with Tyson Chandler out, but they have the fourth best offense in the NBA in the last 10 games, scoring 106.5 points per 100 possessions. Chandler used to be an offensive boost (because of his solid picks and good hands on the roll) but he hasn’t been this season in Phoenix.

source: 18. Timberwolves (8-9,LW 21). I’ll admit that I’m an not the biggest Zach LaVine fan, particularly when he is at the point, but for all his flaws it’s better to give him minutes than Kevin Martin when he can’t shoot (and he is shooting 27.6 percent overall and 23.8 percent from three his last 10 games).

source: 19. Pistons (8-9, LW 14). Andre Drummond is still putting up beasty numbers, but Stan Van Gundy called out his defensive effort in the Pistons’ losses this past week. They have a four-game homestead coming up, with all the teams below .500.

source: 20. Knicks (8-10, LW 12). Losing four in a row hasn’t cooled Kristaps Porzingis fever much in NYC. As will happen in Phil Jackson’s version of the triangle, the Knicks are the slowest paced team in the NBA over the past 10 games, and this team could use a few easy transition buckets.

source: 21. Wizards (6-8, LW 13). They went 0-4 against other teams in the second tier of the East last week. Their biggest problem is a bottom 10 defense, but second is John Wall turning the ball over on more than one-in-five possessions he ends, the highest rate of his career. Marcin Gortat is not having fun anymore.

source: 22. Trail Blazers (7-10, LW 24). It remains the Damian Lillard show — the Blazers’ offense is 14.1 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. He can reliably create shots for himself and others, and he is the only one (C.J. McCollum helps but it’s not the same).

source: 23. Rockets (6-10, LW 26). The coaching change didn’t inspire them to play better transition defense, it’s still a mess. Their wins last week — the Sixers by two, the Knicks without Carmelo Anthony in OT — did not impress. Patrick Beverly back in the starting lineup does help.

source: 24. Bucks (6-11, LW 22). The good news is Jabari Parker looks better every day and has been throwing down some huge dunks (just ask Kevin Love). The bad news is John Henson seems to have taken a huge step back this season — the Bucks are -16 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court.

source: 25. Kings (6-12, LW 25). The kings got one win with DeMarcus Cousins out, but that just makes them 1-7. His absence is part of the reason George Karl continues to jerk the lineups around. At least Rajon Rondo is putting up numbers.

source: 26. Pelicans (4-13, LW 27). The Pelicans are playing better of late and Ish Smith’s play at the point guard spot gets a lot of credit for it. He’s not the long-term answer the Pelicans, he’s just less of a disaster than the guys who have been in that spot before this season.

source: 27. Nuggets (6-11, LW 23). Losers of six in a row and things don’t get easier as they head out on the road for their next five. This might be the part of the season where the Nuggets start to really fall back.

source: 28. Nets (4-13, LW 28). They have played hard and hung around in games, then picked up a win against Detroit. But can they get one “one the road” Friday in Manhattan against the Knicks (who have struggled of late)?

source: 29. Lakers (2-14, LW 29). Kobe Bryant didn’t want a Derek Jeter-style farewell tour, but he’s about to get one anyway starting in Philly Tuesday. One thing to keep in mind during the tour: the Lakers have the second-worst record in the NBA, they only get to keep their pick come June if it’s in the top three.

source: 30. 76ers (0-18, LW 30). While they have yet to get a win the effort has been there and teams have had to come from behind to beat them as Memphis did Sunday (Philly just doesn’t have the talent once other teams crank it up). Does the losing streak end Tuesday when they host he Lakers?

Masai Ujiri ‘confident’ Kawhi Leonard will return to Toronto Raptors

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TORONTO (AP) Still absorbing the magnitude of his team’s accomplishment, Raptors President Masai Ujiri is confident Kawhi Leonard and the rest of Toronto’s core will reunite next season in a bid for another title.

“We’re on to the next issue, which for us is coming back and being champions again,” Ujiri said Tuesday in his first news conference since Toronto won its first title nearly two weeks ago. “We want to experience this moment here again and again and again.”

Retaining Leonard is the most pressing issue. The two-time finals MVP is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent. Toronto can offer a five-year deal worth about $190 million – one year and some $50 million more than any other team.

“I know what we’ve built here,” Ujiri said. “I’m confident, and you see how these things go.”

Ujiri stressed the main selling points of his pitch to Leonard: health, trust, success.

“I said we have to be ourselves, and we were ourselves for the whole year,” Ujiri said. “I think he saw that. I think we built a trust there.

“I believe winning a championship, him seeing who we are, working with his medical staff combined with our medical staff and getting him to where he wanted to be,” Ujiri added.

Injured for all but nine games in his final season with San Antonio, Leonard played 60 games this season and another 24 in the playoffs. After averaging career bests of 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in the regular season, Leonard raised his averages to 30.5 and 9.1 in the playoffs.

Ujiri says he and Leonard have had multiple talks the past several days, discussions he called “positive.”

The Raptors will stay in touch and meet formally once free agency begins Sunday. After that, Ujiri is not worried about how long Leonard takes to decide.

“I texted Kawhi last night, I talked to his uncle this morning,” Ujiri said. “For us, there’s that trust regardless of wherever it goes, and there’ll be constant communication.”

Center Marc Gasol also has a player option for next season, and guard Danny Green is a free agent.

“I think they know what the effect of Kawhi’s decision is, but we’re really approaching it like we want to bring everybody back on this team,” Ujiri said. “That’s a priority for us.”

Less urgent is a potential extension for forward Pascal Siakam, a runaway winner of the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. The parties plan to meet during the summer league.

“Pascal has gotten to a place where he’s definitely a priority for us and it’s definitely going to be a conversation that we’ll have,” Ujiri said.

Ujiri said little about his confrontation with a deputy following the Game 6 clincher. The deputy’s lawyer, David Mastagni, says his client is on medical leave with a concussion and jaw injury and is considering a lawsuit.

Ujiri says his lawyers are updating him about the investigation.

“I am confident about who I am as a person, my character and as a human being,” Ujiri said. “For now, I’ll just respect their process there and wait for the next steps.”

Asked to address reports linking him to NBA job offers, Ujiri stresses that his family loves Toronto.

“My kids are Canadians,” he said. “For me, the blessing is being wanted here and finding a place that makes you happy and finding challenges that really make you grow as a person.”

As for celebrating the NBA title with political leaders, Ujiri says the team has yet to decide on a White House visit if invited. He adds that seeing Canada’s prime minister would be a “priority.”

Ujiri did have one regret Tuesday – not bringing the Larry O’Brien Trophy with him. But minutes before the news conference ended, the golden trophy arrived and was placed on the table next to him. Ujiri carried it out as he left.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

PJ Tucker says Chris Paul-James Harden rift is ‘fake news’

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There have been reports out of the Houston Rockets organization that both James Harden and Chris Paul are upset with each other. The situation has reportedly become untenable, with Harden as the franchise cornerstone apparently hoping that general manager Daryl Morey will be able to ship Paul off somewhere else.

It was already expected that Morey would be trying to move Paul’s contract this summer. Paul has fallen off, and the rift between the two players was noticable. Still, it’s a tall task to move CP3’s deal — it’s enormous, and his skills are clearly in decline.

But at least one player things that all of this talk is just… talk.

According to Rockets swingman PJ Tucker, there aren’t big issues between Paul and Harden. In fact, speaking to The Athletic Sam Amick this week, Tucker called the supposed conflict “fake news” and that the tension after the team’s Game 6 loss to the Golden State Warriors wasn’t anything out of the ordinary given the circumstances.

Via The Athletic:

“I’m sick of the fake news man. It’s fake. Everybody – I argue with Chris and James more than Chris and James argue.

“It was what it was. Everybody’s mad. Everybody’s pissed. You can’t – I’m sick of all the highlight of whoever this person is trying to come up with all this crap, like I argue with Chris and James more than Chris and James argue with each other. Like, I’m the center, focal (point) of the argument because I’m always yelling at somebody and they’re yelling at me. So for me, it’s like ‘If you’re not arguing…’ You don’t think Kobe and Shaq argued?”

The problem here is that reports have said that Harden is sick of Paul trying to coach the team. Meanwhile, Paul has found that Harden’s ability to generate offense for himself isn’t necessarily what he thinks is best for the squad. It’s an impasse.

And of course, Kobe and Shaq hated each other so much they broke up a dynasty. Paul and Harden don’t compare to that tandem in their prime right now, and Tucker’s example is ignoring the fact that Shaq got shipped off to the Miami Heat.

It’s possible that Tucker is giving out the information he knows to be true. It’s also possible that he’s simply being a good teammate for the Rockets. And, begrudgingly, I will admit it’s also possible that the discourse between Paul and Harden is par for the course for stars of their stature and competitive nature.

Still, I won’t hold my breath for things to get smoothed over in Houston.

Report: Klay Thompson could be interested in Clippers if Warriors don’t max him

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Most everyone has expected that Klay Thompson will return to the Golden State Warriors next season. That seemed even more of a lock after Thompson tore his ACL, which might scare off outside teams.

Thompson is certainly a max-level player, and the Warriors will need to decide whether they are going to offer him that contract this summer. It’s not clear whether Thompson would be willing to take a discount, or if he’s finally ready to cash out in a big way.

Golden State will have a hard time keeping their core intact as everyone continues to get more expensive. Finding some leeway with Thompson’s contract has been seen as one way for the Warriors to at least limit their luxury tax bill.

But according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, there are other teams interested in giving Thompson a hefty sum if the Warriors decline to offer him a max deal.

Via ESPN’s “Woj & Lowe” special:

“The one team that I think — my information is — he would be very open to going down to sit down with are the Clippers. And if they have a chance to sell Kawhi Leonard with Klay Thompson, certainly that’s an appealing sell for any free agent.”

It seems unreasonable that the Warriors would not try to max both Thompson and Kevin Durant. Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe said as much during their special.

But we have seen made promises to spend in the past, and often that decision has been reversed. Golden State might end up choosing a handful of their core players to keep, and either Durant or Thompson could be left looking elsewhere.

There will be plenty of suitors for either of these guys, and both are still max-level players despite their catastrophic injuries. Whether both, one, or neither will be in San Francisco next year is the question heading into July 1.

Danny Green on fans trying to delegitimize Raptors title in light of Warriors injuries: ‘We don’t care’

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The Toronto Raptors are your 2019 NBA champions. For some folks, this title comes with a caveat thanks to injuries suffered by Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Many fans feel as though there should be some kind of asterisk next to their championship in the record books.

This is, frankly, is sour grapes at best and patently insane at worst.

What-ifs are some of the more fun things to contemplate in a league like the NBA, but reality is inescapable. What has come to pass is the truth, and in front of our very eyes we saw the Golden State Warriors go down in six games to Toronto. And should have been five.

Raptors guard at Danny Green shares the same sentiment, saying is much too the New York Times Marc Stein in his newsletter this week. When asked about the prospect of adding an asterisk to the Raptors championship in light of Golden State’s injuries, Green disagreed.

Via NYT:

In a phone interview Monday night, Toronto’s Danny Green forcefully scoffed at the asterisk question before I could even finish the sentence. “We don’t care,” Green said. “Doesn’t matter to us.”

Should I be surprised that this is an actual conversation happening between NBA fans in 2019? Probably not. I’ve been around for too long. But here I am, and the incessant idiocy of excuses remains ever-present.

Now, if only we knew with this kind of certainty where Kawhi Leonard was going to sign this summer.