PBT Power Rankings: Hawks, Raptors making moves up the ladder

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Traditionally when you get to Christmas and look at the standings, at least six and maybe seven of the teams in playoff position will be there when the season ends. This season — with crazy parity through the middle of the league — it could be different, a lot of teams and slots are in play. Here’s where we rank teams for the final time in 2015.

source: 1. Warriors (28-1, last week No. 1). They got the win on Christmas Day over Cleveland in a game where it didn’t feel like they played their best. It starts with Stephen Curry, who is shooting just 28.1 percent from three in his last five games. The Warriors have had a lot of time off the last couple weeks, that’s about to change, but the schedule isn’t filled with the toughest teams.

source: 2. Spurs (26-6, LW 2). They struggled and fell to a frisky-for-a-day Rockets team on Christmas, but when most people weren’t watching they comfortably won their other three games last week. They are outscoring their opponents by 17.3 points per 100 possessions their last 10 games.

source: 3. Thunder (21-10 LW 4). Another team that lost on Christmas Day when a struggling team (Chicago) played their best game of the season. OKC seems to be looking past the teams in the East, they are 6-8 against them and 15-2 against the West.

source: 4. Cavaliers (19-9, LW 3). The loss to Golden State on Christmas is understandable, that’s an elite team at home. The blowout loss the next night to Trail Blazers without Damian Lillard is harder to explain. Cleveland is still struggling to find its rotations with Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert back in the lineup, but look for coach David Blatt to settle on something sooner rather than later.

source: 5. Hawks (20-12, LW 9). Winners of six in a row, and it’s come because of their depth and ability to match up with different teams and lineups. Their starters have been just okay. Tough tests this week on the road: Indiana, Houston, and New York.

source: 6. Raptors (19-12, LW 12). They got DeMarre Carroll back last week and Jonas Valanciunas returns to take on the Bulls’ Monday — the Raptors outscore opponents by 4.4 points per 48 minutes when Carroll and Valanciunas are on the court together. Kyle Lowry was third in Eastern Conference guards in All-Star voting, look for Raptors fans to make a push to get him to start as Toronto hosts the event this February.

source: 7. Celtics (18-13, LW 15). Winners of four in a row as they enter the soft part of the schedule (Lakers and Nets this week). They are doing it mostly with a defense that is second only to San Antonio this season, plus enough offense (hello Kelly Olynyk) to get the job done.

source: 8. Clippers (18-13, LW 8). Blake Griffin is out for 2-3 weeks with a quad injury, and the Clippers lack the depth to replace him with anyone other teams fear. Doc Rivers tried Josh Smith on Saturday, but that didn’t last long. Look for Paul Pierce as the small ball four to get more run, but when the Clippers don’t have all their starters they are vulnerable.

source: 9. Heat (18-11, LW 5). On Christmas the Heat showed why it’s good to have stars to lean on — Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade dominated the overtime (13 of the Heat’s 16 points). We’re still waiting for Goran Tragic to join that group and play like the third start that puts Miami over the top and helps them break out of the pack in the East.

source: 10. Hornets (16-13, LW 6). Al Jefferson is back — the Hornets were 5-6 while he was out injured and suspended — but he showed his rust shooting 1-of-8 in his return (if he’s not scoring he hurts this team). If Steve Clifford is not near the top on your early Coach of the Year ballot, you’re doing it wrong.

source: 11. Mavericks (17-13, LW 13). Deron Williams is out injured and in his place J.J. Barea is putting on a show — 32 points against Brooklyn, 26 against Chicago (both games Mavs’ wins). Dirk Nowitzki passed Shaq on the All-Time scoring list, just a reminder that he will go down as the greatest shooting big man in NBA history.

source: 12. Pacers (17-12, LW 7). Their defense keeps them in games, but the loss to the Kings this week showed that if a team can bottle up Paul George the Pacers struggle to score. Myles Turner is nearing a return, they are better when that rookie is playing and developing.

source: 13. Bulls (16-12, LW 11). They played their best game of the season on Christmas Day against Oklahoma City, but that is the only win in five games for arguably the league’s most consistent team. With the Raptors twice, the Knicks and the Pacers on the schedule this week, it feels like the Bulls could go 0-4 or 4-0 and it wouldn’t be a shock.

source: 14. Pistons (17-14, LW 10). Brandon Jennings could be back at the end of this week (or the following week) and then things get interesting. Jennings will get showcased, Stan Van Gundy will see if he can play with Reggie Jackson, and the Pistons will listen to trade offers for him.

source: 15. Magic (15-12, LW 14). This week marks the anniversary of an NBA record game: The most assists dished by one player in a game, 30. The record holder? Scott Skiles. The Magic are the current eight seed in the East and seem to be finding their footing, which is a credit to Skiles the coach getting the most out of this roster.

source: 16. Rockets (16-16, LW 16). Still the most Jekyll and Hyde team in the NBA, beating the Spurs on Christmas Day then having their coach lash out at them as “disrespecting the game” after a sloppy loss to the Pelicans. They are outscoring opponents by 5.1 points per 100 possession their last 10 games, fifth best in the NBA during that stretch.

source: 17. Grizzlies (17-16, LW 17). Look for Memphis to start climbing up these rankings and the Western Conference standings — over the next month they have a fairly soft schedule. The team still seems to be adjusting to the new rotations, well except for Zach Randolph who has put up big numbers the past few games.

source: 18. Wizards (14-14, LW 20). Winners of four in a row thanks to an offense scoring 107.4 points per 100 possessions their last 10 games (fourth best in the NBA). Marcin Gortat is your Eastern Conference Player of the Week averaging 21.3 points and 11.7 rebounds a game the past seven days.

source: 19. Jazz (12-16, LW 19). Another injury, this one to Alec Burks, is a body blow to a team trying to hang onto a playoff spot without Dante Exum or Rudy Gobert (and Derrick Favors of late). That this team is still the eight seed in the West with this record (which would have them tied for 12th in the East) speaks to how some things have flipped in the West this season.

source: 20. Kings (12-18, LW 21). With all the injuries to the Suns and to the Jazz, the door has swung open for the Kings to jump into one of the final playoff spots in the West. How did they respond to that challenge. With terrible defense, 3-of-22 shooting in the fourth, and a loss to the Trail Blazers (despite 36 from DeMarcus Cousins). If this team doesn’t score in transition it can’t score.

source: 21. Knicks (14-18, LW 18). Losers of four in a row, on the heels of a four-game win streak, which was on the heels of another four-game losing streak. Consistency is not a word in the Knicks’ vocabulary this season. Their next six games are against teams above. 500, we’ll see if they can grab a couple wins in that group.

source: 22. Trail Blazers (13-20, LW 25). They beat the Cavaliers and Kings without Damian Lillard (they are 2-2 since he went down) and C.J. McCollum might be the early leader for most improved player. Despite everything with this team they are just 1.5 games out of the playoffs, keeping those dreams alive.

source: 23. Nuggets (12-19, LW 24). If you blow a 21-point lead to the Lakers and lose, you have issues. Danilo Gallinari and Emmanuel Mudiay remain out, which makes watching this team a little dull (save for the occasional Will Barton show).

source: 24. Bucks (12-19, LW 26). Their defense remains a mess and things could get ugly this week on the road at Dallas, Oklahoma City, Indiana and Minnesota. The Bucks have 11-of-15 on the road starting this week, and they are 3-of-13 on the road this season.

source: 25. Pelicans (10-20, LW 27). There are flashes of improvement, like the good Christmas Day showing against the Heat to force overtime, but the Pelicans are not getting wins, and now come reports Mickey Loomis — the Saints GM — is going to have more say over the Pelicans. That doesn’t sound like recipe for success.

source: 26. Timberwolves (11-19,LW 22). Losers of three in a row, but that’s to be expected as they lean on and try to develop their young stars (they very well may have back-to-back Rookies of the Year with Andrew Wiggins last season and Karl-Anthony Towns this one). The most talked about thing around this team as we head into the new year will be Kevin Martin trade rumors.

<source: 27. Suns (12-20, LW 23). Phoenix handed Philadelphia just its second win of the season and that seemed to set off alarm bells in the front office — ones that almost cost Jeff Honacek his job. Instead, just his assistants got the ax. The bigger problem is Eric Bledsoe’s injury, without him this team’s playoff chances drop off like a Clayton Kershaw curve ball.

source: 28. Nets (8-22, LW 28). Not a lot of reasons for short-term hope with their next eight opponents being .500 or better. Expect a lot of trade rumors to swirl around Brooklyn as the February deadline approaches, but I’d be surprised if the struggling Joe Johnson is one of the guys who gets moved (he’s struggling with his shot AND he’s expensive).

source: 29. Lakers (5-26, LW 29). Kobe Bryant is going to be a starter in his final All-Star Game — it’s an exhibition, so give the people what they want. We’ve seen flashes of vintage Kobe, while liking more the flashes we’ve seen from D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle (and Larry Nance, who is an underrated young player on this roster).

source: 30. 76ers (2-30, LW 30). They are 1-0 with Ish Smith running the offense and Mike D’Antoni being on the bench. Smith clearly is their best point guard and gives them a chance to win more games. A few more. While the Sixers want to be more respectable they don’t want to start winning too many games — despite all the talk of speeding up the process this is a huge couple drafts coming up (they likely have three or four first rounders this June) and they don’t want to hurt their odds of getting top picks.

Kings forward Harrison Barnes tests positive for coronavirus

Kings forward Harrison Barnes
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The Kings have been hit especially hard by coronavirus.

Buddy Hield, Jabari Parker and Alex Len all tested positive. Richaun Holmes is quarantined after violating the NBA’s bubble protocols at Disney World.

And now Harrison Barnes reveals he was diagnosed with coronavirus.

Harrison Barnes:

Presumably, Barnes was among the 19 players the NBA announced tested positive for coronavirus in July in home markets.

“Primarily asymptomatic” is a strange assessment. Does Barnes mean he’s mildly symptomatic?

The Kings already faced an uphill climb for making the playoffs. At best, several of their players are falling behind in training. At worst, Sacramento will have its rotation depleted when games begin.

Hopefully, Barnes recovers and joins the team as he hopes. He has a personal stake in it. Even during the lengthy hiatus, Barnes stuck with his pledge not to shave or cut his hair until the Kings reach .500 (or, as he amended it, make the playoffs) or the season ends.

Report: Pacers star Victor Oladipo’s remaining salary in dispute

Pacers star Victor Oladipo
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Among the continuing 22 NBA teams, players not playing in the resumption at Disney World essentially fall into two categories:

Pacers star Victor Oladipo lands in the gray area.

Oladipo, who returned from a year-long absence shortly before the season got suspended in March, said he was sitting out due to elevated risk of injury during a quick buildup. But he also traveled with the team to Orlando and is even practicing so well, Indiana is reportedly becoming increasingly optimistic he’ll play.

Is Oladipo healthy enough to play?

At stake for Oladipo:

  • $2,763,158 if the Pacers get swept in the first round
  • $2,993,421 if they play exactly five playoff games
  • $3,223,684 if they play six or more playoff games

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The union believes Oladipo, who went to Orlando with the Pacers and then cleared quarantine so he could practice, should be paid his remaining salary, sources said.

The league, largely in an effort to set a precedent in case other players who are deemed healthy want to leave Orlando and no longer play, believes Oladipo has opted out and should not be paid, sources said. His public comments about feeling healthy has only solidified the league’s position on the matter, sources said.

The Pacers support Oladipo’s decision and are willing to pay him the salary whether he plays or not, sources said.

Presumably, if Oladipo plays, he’ll get paid like anyone else playing in the resumption. This controversy lingers only if Oladipo doesn’t play.

It’s unsurprising the Pacers don’t want to pick this fight with their star player, especially as he approaches 2021 free agency. Trying to avoid alienating their own players but not necessarily eager to pay for services not rendered, teams collectively want the league to handle these issues.

If teams had ample discretion, the Wizards might have said Davis Bertans – who chose to sit out – had some lingering injury. NBA players are rarely perfectly healthy. There’s always some physical issue to point to. Bertans will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and they want to re-sign him. What an easy way to build goodwill – and maybe even get a discount on Bertans’ next contract.

Obviously, the league doesn’t want those type of shenanigans. That’s why on outside rulings on players’ health can be important.

Oladipo might not be the only borderline case:

Oladipo’s situation might take care of itself if he decides to play. But the league might inquire more deeply into other situations.

Report: Rockets star James Harden ‘feeling fine,’ might travel with Russell Westbrook

Rockets stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook
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When Russell Westbrook revealed he had coronavirus, speculation immediately turned to the Rockets’ other star who also didn’t travel with the team to Disney World.

James Harden is “feeling fine,” working out and might travel with Westbrook to Orlando, according to Shams Charania of Stadium:

Was Harden also diagnosed with coronavirus? Is he just waiting for his friend before entering the restrictive bubble? Is there another issue?

These questions beget even more questions.

If both players have coronavirus, they won’t necessarily recover on the same day. Would the first to get cleared wait for the other? Or is traveling together just an idea in case it works out?

If Harden is fully healthy and just waiting for Westbrook, how do their teammates inside the bubble feel about that? Those already at Disney World are spending more time away from friends and family in less-than-ideal conditions.

If there’s another issue… who knows?

The lack of transparency around the situation only invites rumors and guesses.

At least it’s good news that Harden feels fine.

Bucks GM not worried about other players recruiting Giannis Antetokounmpo inside bubble

Giannis Antetokounmpo
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Already reports are leaking out of the NBA restart bubble of players from different teams mingling, talking, hanging out together some. There will inevitably be some tampering (which goes on between players whether they are in the quarantine bubble or not).

All eyes are on Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is eligible for a supermax extension this summer, one the Bucks are going to offer him the minute they can (how much that is worth will depend on where the salary cap lands). Most people around the league expect he signs the deal, but if not rumors will fly. In the bubble, some players may try to plant the “come play with us” seed in his head.

Buck GM Jon Horst said he can’t worry about that. Via Eric Woodyard of ESPN:

“Zero [worries]. We can only control what we can control. If it’s considered tampering or recruiting or whatever it is, in our league people talk, people are connected, people have relationships,” said Bucks GM Jon Horst. “At the end of the day, I have full confidence in my personal relationship, our league’s relationship, our coach’s relationship, his teammate’s relationship with Giannis in what we’re doing and what we’re about.

“I think that separated us and we’re going to continue to be above that and not worry about that. We can only worry about what we can control, to be the best that we can, to have the best organization of support and success as possible, and that’s really where our energy and our focus is. Also, just as a funny kind of side note, I think that technically violates the social distancing rules and I think everyone is getting tracked for that, so I think we’ll be OK that way as well.”

I’m not sure how much players are sticking to the social distancing rules — they don’t have to wear the proximity alarms that team staff, media, and others do — but it doesn’t matter.

What happens in the playoffs could impact Antetokounmpo’s decision, but in the end he is expected to stay with the Bucks — they can offer the most money, they are a contending team, and Milwaukee is the only home he has known in the United States. It’s where his family is, where his child lives. That said, Antetokounmpo has played this close to the vest, not talking about his intentions.

That said, he knows what he wants. Nobody is going to say anything in the bubble to sway Antetokounmpo’s mind.