PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Warriors on top, Sixers on bottom, confusing middle

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The top four slots in our weekly rankings not only remain the same and that group has separated themselves from the pack. In reality, the top three separated themselves, then there is OKC on kind of its own tier, then we get to the great middle where teams five through 14 feel almost interchangeable week to week. Meanwhile, the Sixers are back on the bottom, proving the win over the Lakers was a fluke.

source: 1. Warriors (26-1, last week No. 1). Great stat via Tom Haberstroh of ESPN: In the last two seasons, the Warriors are 18-13 in games where they trailed by 15 points or more; the rest of NBA wins .210 percent of those games. Golden State keeps on rolling. Fun showdown with full-squad Cavaliers on Friday.

source: 2. Spurs (23-5, LW 2). We’ve talked about the Spurs having clear-and-away the best defense in the NBA, but they are fifth in offensive rating — and doing it in an anti-Warriors way. They play big, slow, methodical, and while you have to watch LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard plenty of other guys can beat you on a given night. They have won five in a row, nine of 10, and are heading into the soft part of their schedule.

source: 3. Cavaliers (18-7, LW 3). Kyrie Irving is back and played 17 minutes in his return, moving well but looking understandably rusty at times. With him the showdown against Golden State’s small ball is fascinating because Cleveland can counter with Irving, Iman Shumpert, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson. Thank you Santa for that Christmas Day matchup.

source: 4. Thunder (18-9 LW 4). They sit fourth because of the loss to Cleveland, which exposed their biggest flaw against the elite teams: After Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka there is nobody they can consistently trust. Real test Monday night against the Clippers.

source: 5. Heat (16-10, LW 11). Miami’s top-five defense on the season has been pedestrian the past 10 games, 14th best in the NBA. They have been saved by an improving offense. They are feasting against the West (8-1) but that may change with a home-heavy, relatively soft schedule the next couple weeks where Miami should rack up wins.

source: 6. Hornets (15-11, LW 5). They are up and down at times, but they have the fifth best net rating in the NBA over their last 10 games. Plus, watching Jeremy Lin drop 35 is fun. Nicolas Batum was only out for one game, he scored 14 in his return against the Wizards, showing how much their offense needs him.

source: 7. Pacers (16-10, LW 10). They had quality wins against the Raptors and Mavericks last week, but it will be tougher test in the Spurs to open this week. The Pacers have been very strong at home (10-3) but have struggled much more on the road.

source: 8. Clippers (16-12, LW 9). There are no must win games in December but the Clippers are looking at Monday against the Thunder as a real litmus test — Blake Griffin said the Clippers aren’t a team that is winning big games, Chris Paul says they are not a team others should fear. Five of their next six are road games, although one of those is against the Lakers Christmas night.

source: 9. Hawks (17-12, LW 12). Quality wins against Boston and Orlando last week. In his edition of the PBT Podcast, A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com (their Celtics insider) said he thought the Hawks were one of the teams most likely to break out of the crowded middle pack in the East and grab the two seed (and/or make it to the conference Finals).

source: 10. Pistons (16-12, LW 13). They should get bonus points for the 4-OT win over the Bulls, but that’s not the way the NBA works. Their struggling offense from earlier in the season is starting to find a groove, but will be tested this week against the Heat, Hawks, and Celtics.

source: 11. Bulls (15-10, LW 7). Derrick Rose may still be the Bull best at creating his own shot, but late in games it seems to me the Bulls are better off running actions (read: plays) through Jimmy Butler than the Rose iso we see too much. Tough road back-to-back this week with the Thunder on Christmas Day followed by Dallas on Saturday.

source: 12. Raptors (17-12, LW 6). They lost to the Pacers and Hornets, but found a win against the Heat in Miami last week. Their Top-10 offense has sputtered and is pedestrian of late (14th in NBA over last 10 games). Kyle Lowry struggled the last couple games and was ejected on Sunday, the Raptors need the MVP conversation Lowry of most of this season to stay up near the top of the East.

source: 13. Mavericks (15-12, LW 14). They went 2-1 last week with wins against West foes Phoenix and Memphis, and you know things are going well when you get a quality, productive game out of JaVale McGee. Dallas is at Toronto and Brooklyn this week, but they have a winning record on the road.

source: 14. Magic (15-12, LW 14). Monday’s game at Madison Square Garden the only road game for the Magic in a run of eight around the holidays. They are half a game out of a playoff spot in the East and it’s because of their sixth-ranked defense in the NBA over the last 10 games.

source: 15. Celtics (14-13, LW 8). Losers of three in a row and it’s because of an offense that has slipped (20th in the NBA in their past 10 games). During the Celtics-focused PBT Podcast last week, A. Sherrod Blakely says Danny Ainge is certainly going big game hunting for the No. 1 option kind of player they lack, the question is who is out there to get (and no, DeMarcus Cousins is not an option).

source: 16. Rockets (14-14, LW 16). They climbed up to .500 again thanks to a quality win over the Clippers Saturday, but can they sustain it this time (Hornets, Magic and Spurs on the docket this week). The Rockets need to go big with Clint Capela and Dwight Howard paired more often, as they did against the Clips.

source: 17. Grizzlies (15-14, LW 17). The Grizzlies are just 2-3 since moving Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to the bench, but the problem has not been the starters so much as the bench. Marc Gasol has played his way into shape/gotten fully healthy and the Memphis starters are thriving.

source: 18. Knicks (14-14, LW 21). The showdown last Monday with Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns was fascinating, with Towns winning the box score (25 points) but Kristaps Porzingis getting seven blocks and showing his potential. New York has won four in a row, in part behind the offense of Aaron Afflalo (21 points per game in those four). Can they keep it going on the road in Cleveland, Atlanta, and Boston this week?

source: 19. Jazz (11-14, LW 18). How much does Utah miss Rudy Gobert? They are 3-8 since his injury and their defense is 29th in the NBA in the last 10 games. The big man is reportedly making progress, but Utah will be cautious bringing him back so it could be January.

source: 20. Wizards (11-14, LW 19). They picked up a nice win over Charlotte, but Washington remains inconsistent and plagued by injuries (Otto Porter was the latest). The issue remains the defense, which is 26th in the NBA over their last 10 games.

source: 21. Kings (11-16, LW 23). Don’t look now, but at the ugly back end of the Western Conference Sacramento is just one game out of the playoffs, having won four-of-five. They are 10-9 when DeMarcus Cousins plays, he’s the face of the franchise and it’s most popular player as they move into a new building next season, so explain to me again why you think they want to trade him?

source: 22. Timberwolves (11-16,LW 24). Karl-Anthony Towns is the guy in front of the Rookie of the Year race as we come up on Christmas, he is putting up consistent numbers. Minnesota just isn’t putting up consistent wins and have some challenging games this week with Boston, San Antonio, and Indiana.

<source: 23. Suns (12-17, LW 20). They are up and down, with Markeiff Morris trade rumors continuing to swirl around the team and the league. Of course, if you’re going to trade him you need to show him off, so Morris has been playing quality rotation minutes and looked good against New Orleans (one of his rumored destinations).

source: 24. Nuggets (11-16, LW 28). They made a nice little run when the schedule got soft, but reality set in with losses to the Jazz and Pelicans last week. This week they are on the road against the Suns, Spurs and Thunder — so much for the easy part of the schedule.

source: 25. Trail Blazers (11-18, LW 22). They have started 0-3 on their five-game road trip, and now comes the news Damian Lillard is battling plantar fasciitis. Their offense is 12.5 points per 100 possessions worse without him and his shot creation, they can’t afford to be without him for any lengthy stretch. Not that they are tearing it up with him.

source: 26. Bucks (11-18, LW 25). Jason Kidd is out for six weeks (give or take) with hip surgery, leaving Joe Prunty in the big chair as they head into a difficult part of the schedule (well, after the Sixers). To the Bucks’ credit they played Golden State well again, although this time in a loss, if only they could sustain that level of play against everyone.

source: 27. Pelicans (8-19, LW 27). They picked up a couple or road wins last week, leading to the latest round of “have they finally turned the corner and gotten on track” questions. The offense has found a groove, but we’ll need to see more consistent defense before we buy in at PBT.

source: 28. Nets (7-20, LW 26). They have lost five in a row and the defense is a mess, signaling the end to the little run of nearly .500 ball in Brooklyn. The defense badly misses Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and his athleticism.

source: 29. Lakers (4-23, LW 30). Despite all the losing and bad basketball, the Lakers remain the biggest road draw in the NBA thanks to the Kobe Bryant farewell tour. Kobe knows this and doesn’t want to sit out like he did with a sore shoulder against OCK (who they face again on Wednesday). You can see Kobe on Christmas evening against the Clippers.

source: 30. 76ers (1-28, LW 29). As our Dan Feldman noted, the Sixers are in danger of the slowest 30-game start in NBA history — every NBA team has won at least twice in the first 30. The Sixers have a net rating of -18.9 points per 100 possessions in their last 10 games, which is worse than the numbers during their 0-18 start. We’ll see what Mike D’Antoni brings to the table, but nobody is winning with this roster.

LeBron James: ‘I feel like I’m the best basketball player that ever played the game’

Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Pelicans
Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images
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What did you expect him to say?

LeBron James is on the cusp of breaking the NBA’s all-time scoring record held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar since 1984. LeBron is just 36 points shy of the record and could set it Tuesday night against the Thunder in Los Angeles or Thursday against the Bucks. His taking over one of basketball’s most hallowed — and long-considered unbreakable — records only adds to his tally in the GOAT debate… except it’s not a debate for LeBron. He is confident where he stands, something he told Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register (and Southern California News Group).

“What I bring to the table as a basketball player … I feel like I’m the best basketball player that ever played the game,” he said. “That’s just my confidence, that’s just what I bring to the table, what I possess. But as far as if the scoring record gets me to another level, I don’t know.”

Again, what did you expect him to say? If LeBron didn’t have the confidence to make that statement, he wouldn’t be in a position to break the record or be in the GOAT conversation at all. Not everybody is going to see things the same way, but it’s at least a conversation.

“I think he’s gonna have the greatest career of all time,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said of LeBron. “I think he’s already had it, you know, and I think Michaels the greatest of all time. But that doesn’t take anything away from LeBron. LeBron has had the greatest career.”

The impressive part of LeBron’s run is that he has played at this insanely high level for 20 years — his commitment to conditioning, to investing in his body as far back as high school, is paying off now. For LeBron to have played 20 seasons without missing significant time due to injury is a combination of his intense preparation and a little luck. All that work, all those years are paying off now.

LeBron will have another pillar for his GOAT argument once he breaks the record. Not that he thinks he need it.

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?
36

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,352

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks
Feb. 11 at Warriors
Feb. 13 at Trail Blazers

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

LeBron is averaging 30 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 9 at home against the Milwaukee Bucks, although a hot game on Feb. 7 against the Thunder could make that game a possibility.

How long has Kareem held the scoring record?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar set the all-time scoring record — too less fanfare than is happening with LeBron (although Wilt Chamberlain was unhappy with all the attention KAJ was receiving) — on April 5, 1984, when he scored his 31,420th point, breaking the record which had been held by Chamberlain. This was the height of the Showtime Lakers era and the team made the Finals that season but lost in seven games to Larry Bird and the Celtics. The Lakers would win the NBA title three of the next four years and Kareem would keep adding to that point total and his legacy until he retired after the 1989 season.

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

• LeBron James wouldn’t be on the cusp of this record without a deep-seated belief in himself, something he expressed without reservation to Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register (and Southern California News Group).

“What I bring to the table as a basketball player … I feel like I’m the best basketball player that ever played the game,” he said. “That’s just my confidence, that’s just what I bring to the table, what I possess. But as far as if the scoring record gets me to another level, I don’t know.”

What else would you expect him to say?

• LeBron tuned out the Lakers’ Kyrie Irving trade speculationat least until after the game — and dropped 27 points on the New Orleans Pelicans Saturday night, shooting 10-of-22 overall but 1-of-7 beyond the arc. It wasn’t enough as the Pelicans snapped their 10-game losing streak, 131-126, behind 35 points from former Laker Brandon Ingram. This was a tough loss for a Lakers team trying to climb up in the West standings, but it puts LeBron within striking distance of the record next game.

• LeBron scored 26 points and added seven rebounds and seven assists on Thursday night. He also gave the Lakers their first lead of the game on a 3-pointer with 2:35 left, and the Lakers held on to beat the Pacers 112-111. LeBron shot 11-of-19 from the floor and 2-of-5 from 3 for the game.

• 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.”

NBA trade deadline tracker: latest news, rumors, deals

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Things are going to get insane in the run-up to the NBA trade deadline, at 3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday. There’s already been a blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to Dallas, which will spawn other deals, and every team is looking for upgrades large or small. Will the Lakers make upgrades? What contenders will deepen their bench, and what teams will pivot toward the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes? We will have all the latest NBA rumors, news, and any deals that get done in one place. It’s going to get wild, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Feb. 7, 4:10 P.M.: Don’t bet on a Durant trade at the deadline. This summer…

• We are very close to another trade, but it’s another cap space move primarily: The Nets will send second-year forward Kessler Edwards to the Kings in exchange for cash, reports both Shams Charnia at The Athletic and Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN. The Kings, looking for defense, get a young wing defender they can roll the dice on, while the Nets open up a roster spot for future moves and save $8 million against the tax. Edwards showed some potential as a rookie, but in his second year (on a deeper Brooklyn team) he has been outside the rotation, and not impressed when he has gotten into games. He has a team option for $1.9 million next season. Edwards can veto the trade because of Bird Rights issues but is expected to approve it.

• It’s now official, Mat Ishbia has taken control of the Phoenix Suns organization. We don’t know what kind of owner Ishbia will be, but there is a sense he will spend more willingly and be more aggressive than the Robert Sarver regime – he reportedly is pushing for the team to make a splash at the trade deadline — which is good for Suns fans and the league. Plus, he will clean up the troubles in the organization that pushed Sarver out.

Feb. 7, 3:05 P.M.: Don’t bet on a Durant trade at the deadline. This summer…

Kevin Durant and the Nets are talking about the long-term (and likely short-term) direction of the franchise, but Brooklyn is not making its other superstar available to teams, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This provides details and is in line with what sources from other teams have told NBC Sports (and I have reported previously): They are under the impression the Nets are going to try and build a contender around KD this season, maybe including another deal or two, and try to convince him to stay. If Durant ends up on the move, it will be over the summer.

• The backup big man market is one of the most crowded at the trade deadline, but you can add another name to it: JaVale McGee. Dallas is looking to move on, according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports.

• The Nuggets and Pistons are the teams talking to New York most recently about a Cam Reddish trade, according to Ian Begley of SNY.TV. Reddish remains one of the players most likely to be on the move by Thursday.

• Kyrie Irving practiced with the Mavericks today — he was the first player to the facilities — and is expected to make his debut with the team Wednesday night.

Feb. 7, 1:29 P.M.: Is potential of Durant on the move hurting Anunoby market?

• Interesting note from Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports: While there are a lot of teams still interested in a trade for Raptors wing O.G. Anunoby — the Pelicans, Grizzlies, Knicks, Pacers, Trail Blazers, Lakers, Suns, and Nets are interested — a number of those teams would prioritize Kevin Durant if he puts his trade demand back on the table this summer. With that, said teams don’t want to give up too much for Anunoby now. The market is getting soft, Anunoby is a favorite of GM Masai Ujiri in Toronto, so maybe he stays put at the deadline.

• It’s far more likely the Raptors trade Fred VanVleet or Gary Trent Jr. at the deadline. VanVleet has become one of the most talked about names in the last few days. That said, the Raptors are listening to offers, at least.

• What are the Celtics looking to do at the trade deadline? Use their $5.9 million trade exception, reports friend-of-the-site Keith Smith.

• Also from Fischer at Yahoo: Mason Plumlee appears to be the Hornet most likely to be traded.

TRADE: Heat send Dewayne Dedmond to the Spurs

San Antonio receives: Dewayne Dedmon, 2028 Heat second-round pick
Heat receive: Cash

Analysis: This is a salary dump by the Heat, and it cost them a second-round pick. Maimi now has some room under the salary cap and two open roster spots, allowing them to bring in a player — via trade or the buyout market — and convert Orlando Johnson’s two-way contract to full-time, he has played well for them. The Spurs get a second-round pick and are expected to waive Dedmon, making him a free agent.

Feb. 7, 11:55 A.M.: Lakers interested in Conley and Beasley from Jazz

• After striking out on Irving, the Lakers are reportedly engaged in talks to send Russell Westbrook and both of the first-round picks they can trade (2027 and 2029) to Utah for Mike Conley and Malik Beasley, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN. While the sides undoubtedly talked, that sounds like a rumor from the Jazz camp. The Lakers have hoarded those picks to swing for a home run, and with Conley declining this season at age 35 — and with a guaranteed $24 million on the books for next season eating up the Lakers’ cap space over the summer — this doesn’t sound like a move the Lakers would suddenly pivot and accept. The Jazz have rebuffed all offers for Conley so far, keeping the asking price high and banking on the desperation of buyers.

• The Chicago Bulls are at least listening to offers for defensive guard Alex Caruso, but they are reportedly keeping the price sky-high — two first-round picks. Don’t expect a deal, while Caruso brings value that’s a star-level asking price.

• This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has watched a minute of Brooklyn Nets basketball this season, but ESPN’s Bobby Marks says Ben Simmons has zero trade value right now. Also, the note on Durant being a summer move was something sources told NBC Sports and we wrote about previously.

• If the Miami Heat can’t find a new home for the disappointing Kyle Lowry at the trade deadline, this summer they will return their focus to using his salary in a deal for a disgruntled superstar such as Kevin Durant or Bradley Beal, reports Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. That sounds on brand for the Heat.

• Along those lines, the Washington Wizards plan to keep Beal and re-sign Kyle Kuzma.

• Veteran Furkan Korkmaz has been bumped from his regular spot in the 76ers rotation this season and wants to be traded to a place he can get some run. Philly is looking for a new home for him as well as Matisse Thybulle.

• No, LeBron James is not happy the Lakers missed out on Kyrie Irving, but he’s pivoting to what’s going on today.

“I can’t sit here and say I’m not disappointed on not being able to land such a talent, but someone I had great chemistry with and know I got great chemistry with on the floor that can help you win championships. In my mind, in my eyes. But my focus has shifted now my focus has shifted back to where it should be, and that’s with this this club now and what we have in the locker room.”

Owners approve sale of Suns to Mat Ishbia, deal reportedly expected to close Tuesday

Phoenix Suns v Detroit Pistons
Nic Antaya/Getty Images
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The Phoenix Suns should have a new owner by the end of the day.

The NBA’s Board of Governors (the other owners) voted 29-0 Monday to approve the Phoenix Suns and Mercury sale to an ownership group led by Mat Ishbia.

What that will mean for the Suns’ organization — in terms of spending on basketball operations and the roster, as well as the business structure of the franchise — remains to be seen. But the change should be welcomed by Suns fans who dealt with decades of the penny-pinching of Sarver.

Ishbia — a walk-on reserve guard for the Michigan State Spartans that won the national championship in 2000 under Tom Izzo — will own 57% of the team, valued at a league-record $4 billion for the sale. That sale price blows away the previous record for an NBA team of $3.3 billion (what Joe Tsai paid for the Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center).

Ishbia made his billions as the chairman and CEO of the nation’s largest mortgage lender, United Wholesale Mortgage, formally called UWM Holdings. Mat’s father Jeff founded the business and it has grown to be one of the largest mortgage lenders in the United States, and Ishbia is worth a reported $5.1 billion. Mat is joined by his brother Justin — also a billionaire and part-owner of UWM — as co-owner and alternate governor for the team.

With the sale going through and changes coming, Suns president and CEO Jason Rowley chose to step down and leave the team. Rowley had been linked to the toxic work environment that led to former owner Robert Sarver agreeing to sell the team. A league-sponsored investigation into Sarver and how he ran the Suns found a hostile work environment with sexual harassment rampant. NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Sarver $10 million (the max he could do) and suspended Sarver for a yeara slap on the wrist — but pressure from sponsors and other NBA owners pushed Sarver to sell the team and step away. Don’t shed a tear for Sarver, who purchased the Suns in 2004 for a then-record $401 million, but now sold his share for an estimated $1.48 billion.