PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Clippers, Bulls climbing ladder

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I was very tempted to move the Spurs into the top spot in these rankings, they have played better the last several weeks and if they faced the Warriors in a seven game series starting tomorrow I might pick them. On the other end, the Suns are setting fast.

source: 1. Warriors (31-2, last week No. 1). Stephen Curry came back from his bruised calf (the Warriors were 1-1 without him) to get kicked in the same place again and he could miss more time. The Warriors are -6.4 per 100 when he sits, but that is just part of the reason they have looked vulnerable of late. The good news for Golden State is it’s entering the soft part of their schedule — Hornets, Lakers, Blazers and Kings this week.

source: 2. Spurs (29-6, LW 2). You can make a case they should have the top spot in the rankings — they are 11.8 points per 100 better than the Warriors over the last 10 games. Tim Duncan had his first scoreless game as an NBA player Saturday, but the Spurs won comfortably over the Rockets, so do you think he cared?

source: 3. Thunder (24-10 LW 3). Oklahoma City has the second best net rating over their last 10 games, trailing only the Spurs and besting the Warriors by 6.1 per 100 possessions. The Thunder have a relatively soft schedule through January, which should help them rack up some wins and still get Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant some rest.

source: 4. Cavaliers (22-9, LW 4). Through the small sample size of five games, the Cavaliers are +11.7 per 100 possessions when Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love share the floor (but they are better with LeBron and Irving, no Love). LeBron seems to have found his jumper the pat couple games, which should scare everyone.

source: 5. Clippers (22-13, LW 8). Winners of six in a row, and they are 5-0 with Blake Griffin out. The Clipper offense has driven the winning streak, without Griffin the Clips use Paul Pierce at the four more and run some Van Gundyesque spread pick-and-roll. It works.

source: 6. Bulls (20-12, LW 13). Winners of five-of-six dating back to Christmas, including a huge comeback against Toronto Sunday — if Jimmy Butler keeps scoring 40 points in a half he can talk all he wants. The Bulls seem to be finding their elusive offensive identity, with different guys (including Derrick Rose) stepping up each night.

source: 7. Heat (20-13, LW 9). Miami spends most of January on the road, which begs the question did they do enough with the softer schedule to start the season. The Heat are 14-7 at home (6-6 on the road). Miami could sink a little in these ratings (and in the standings) the next few weeks.

source: 8. Hawks (20-13, LW 5). Kyle Korver missed 20 consecutive threes before breaking out of his slump this week — that may be one of the seven signs of the apocalypse. That or his elbow is bothering him more than he lets on. Interesting matchup with Chicago Saturday.

source: 9. Raptors (21-14, LW 6). After blowing a lead against the Bulls, the Raptors head out on the road for their next five (starting in Cleveland Monday night). The Raptors need to tighten up their pick-and-roll coverage if they want a winning road trip (let along thinking ahead to advancing in the playoffs).

source: 10. Pacers (19-14, LW 12). Paul George scoring the final 21 points against Detroit Saturday was as impressive a quarter as we have seen from a player this season. Heavy road schedule the next few weeks, and the Pacers are 7-9 away from the Fieldhouse this season.

source: 11. Mavericks (19-15, LW 11). They beat Golden State this week, that’s a good win (and I don’t care who did or didn’t suit up for GSW). But consistency is lacking as evidenced by the loss to the Pelicans over the weekend. Winnable stretch of games (Kings, Pelicans, Bucks, Timberwolves) if the Mavs bring the same focus every night.

source: 12. Celtics (18-15, LW 7). They lost to the Lakers and Nets, that makes this ranking feel too high for this week. Boston fans want those wins over the Nets (they face off again Monday) as the Celtics own the Nets’ first-round pick this coming draft.

source: 13. Magic (19-15, LW 15). We’ve seen more of Mario Hezonja recently, and he’s looked inconsistent. Which is what you expect of a rookie, but Scott Skiles needs to get him some run so he can learn on the job. Tough losses last week (Washington and Cleveland) as the Magic offense went on vacation.

source: 14. Hornets (17-16, LW 10). No Al Jefferson and the Charlotte offense is struggling to find a groove without him. They are 3-7 in their last 10 and have dropped out of the playoff picture in the East for now, they need more consistent scoring to get back in it.

source: 15. Grizzlies (18-17, LW 17). Coach Dave Joerger is searching — moving Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to the bench gave them a short boost, but that has worn off. They Griz have a six-game homestead coming up (starts this weekend) and they are 11-6 at home, maybe that will jumpstart things again.

source: 16. Pistons (18-16, LW 14). For most of the season the Detroit starters were their strength, their bench was the drag. However, the past couple weeks that role has been reversed, and Brandon Jennings is starting to find a groove with the reserves. The offense remains the issue, maybe it’s time to play Jennings and Reggie Jackson together.

source: 17. Wizards (15-16, LW 18). If John Wall’s jumper isn’t falling this team struggles to score, see Sunday’s Miami game for an example. It feels like all the injuries and lineup changes this team has had to play through are catching up with it, and the Cavaliers and Raptors on the schedule this week make bouncing back tough.

source: 18. Jazz (15-17, LW 19). That this team won three of four without Rudy Gobert or Derrick Favors is impressive. You know things are going well when Jeff Withey is posting double-doubles. Favors could return later in the week.

source: 19. Rockets (16-19, LW 16). Losses to Spurs and Warriors last week, but they fought hard in those games if you are into moral victories. The Rockets defense remains inconsistent (to put it kindly) and with that you see them drop 5-of-6, the only win being a Christmas Day miracle.

source: 20. Knicks (16-19, LW 21). Derek Fisher called out his team’s commitment this week, doing everything but using the word “soft.” The Knicks played better Sunday beating Atlanta, but can they sustain it? Probably not on the road at Atlanta, Miami and San Antonio.

source: 21. Trail Blazers (15-21, LW 22). C.J. McCollum has played brilliantly to keep the Portland offense afloat and the Blazers have won four-of-five despite Damian Lillard being in street clothes. Keep that up, and with a lot of home games in January, an we could see the Blazers making a push up the standings.

source: 22. Kings (13-20, LW 20). Willie Cauley-Stein is back, which isn’t necessarily great for the Kings trying to rack up wins — he’s a flawed rookie — but it is good for trying to develop him. That loss to the Sixers was ugly last week and a reminder of how bad this team can be when not focused.

source: 23. Pelicans (11-22, LW 25). Completely different team at home and on the road — they are 7-7 at home, 4-15 on the road. Via John Schuhmann of NBA.com, the Pelicans faced the toughest schedule in the league so far, but things lighten up considerably in January. Norris Cole is starting to look better after missing time with a high ankle sprain, he put up 15 points in the second half against the Clippers.

source: 24. Bucks (14-21, LW 24). Khris Middleton is starting to find his groove offensively, which has helped the Bucks look better of late (but their defense still isn’t where it needs to be). Tough slate this week with the Spurs, Bulls, Mavericks and Knicks.

source: 25. Timberwolves (12-22,LW 26). Still an entertaining team to watch thanks to Karl-Anthony Towns (PER of 22) and Andrew Wiggins. You can see the bones of a very good team in there trying to figure things out, but their defense isn’t good enough to win many games yet.

source: 26. Nets (10-23, LW 28). Quality win over Boston this weekend, but Brooklyn has had flashes of good play throughout the season. However, consistency — even within games, where they blow leads faster than any team in the league — remains the issue.

source: 27. Nuggets (12-22, LW 23). Good news that Kenneth Faried did not miss time after that scary neck injury. Also good news that the Nuggets got big man Jusuf Nurkic back, they need him to play with Emmanuel Mudiay to see if they can develop some pick-and-roll chemistry. Bad news: 12 of Denver’s next 15 are against teams above .500.

source: 28. Lakers (8-27, LW 29). Los Angeles has won three in a row, and the first one on the road in Boston was impressive. Lou Williams is racking up points and playing well, which you can be sure will spark a lot of trade rumors as we move closer to the deadline in February.

<source: 29. Suns (12-24, LW 27). Jeff Hornacek’s lineups seem to be put together using a random number generator. Note to Robert “you millennials get off my lawn” Sarver: Trying to paint an entire generation with one brush is always foolish. Gen X turned out not be be all slackers, and not everyone of Sarver’s generation makes poor decisions in running a professional sports franchise.

source: 30. 76ers (3-33, LW 30). They start a six-game homestead, where maybe they can pick up some more wins. Elton Brand isn’t going to help much on the court, but he brings a veteran presence to the locker room and is a true professional who can lead by example. Him and guys like Ish Smith are the kinds of moves that don’t make the Sixers good but make them respectable.

Report: NBA executives expect busy in-season trade market

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For the first time in years, the NBA feels wide open — more than 10 NBA front offices think they have a shot at an NBA title next season (a few of them are delusional about that, but they believe). It’s one of the reasons we saw such an aggressive trade market last summer, teams thought they had an opening so the Clippers (Kawhi Leonard and Paul George), Lakers (Anthony Davis), Nets (Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant), Houston Rockets (Russell Westbrook), and others were aggressive on the free agent and trade markets to land stars.

Expect that aggressive mindset to carry over to the in-season trade market.

That’s what executives have been telling Sean Deveney of Heavy.com.

“We’ve been getting calls all summer,” one general manager told Heavy.com. “There are a lot of things we are considering. The dust settles a little, you’re aware of your weaknesses and your holes and so you find ways to address that. I think we’re going to see more of that than usual. I think if you look at the market, there is going to be a very brisk trade market this winter for a few reasons.”…

Chief among those reasons is a sense that next spring’s Larry O’Brien trophy is up for grabs, a feeling that took hold during last year’s Finals when Kevin Durant of the Warriors ruptured his Achilles tendon and crystallized when Golden State lost to Toronto, then saw Durant sign with the Nets as a free agent…

The other big driver of the trade market this season figures to be the open, empty crater that the 2020 free-agent class has become. Teams hoping to make significant changes in their direction won’t have free agency to lean on. Trades will be the way to go.

The lack of a decent free agent class in 2020 is why teams are still eyeing and calling Washington about Bradley Beal (and those calls continue to be rejected, Washington is not interested as of now and Beal himself wants to stay because he wants to qualify for the $250 million supermax contract and only the Wizards can give it to him). The only big 2020 free agent is Anthony Davis and nobody around the league thinks he’s leaving the Lakers and LeBron James after all he did to get there. After that, the biggest unrestricted names are Kyle Lowry, Andre Drummond (player option), DeMar DeRozan (player option), Danilo Gallinari, and Goran Dragic. There are restricted free agents such as Brandon Ingram and Jaylen Brown, but they will be expensive to steal away.

With high expectations in a lot of front offices after last summer, when the reality of the season hits and holes in the roster are exposed — or injuries create new ones — teams are going to make moves to fill them. Trade rumors are going to fly around the league and the rumor mill will continue to be on full tilt, something fans love but the league is wary about. Owners and NBA league execs don’t like the focus on player movement being bigger than the games themselves, in part because the games are where the money is made, the teams don’t cash in from trade rumors. Put simply, winning Twitter doesn’t put money in an owner’s pocket.

That’s not going to stop the rumors, expect them to be flying again all season long.

Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball reportedly working out with no restrictions in NOLA

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a bright future ahead of them. This season will be the first for No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson, and the team is expected to be a playoff contender thanks to a solid young core and proven veterans like Jrue Holiday.

But one of the things that could hold the Pelicans back? Health.

Both Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball — two of the cornerstone pieces sent over in the Anthony Davis trade with the Los Angeles Lakers — have battled various ailments. Ingram had a blood clot that knocked him out in March. Ball had been dealing with an ankle injury for most of 2019.

A team with this many fresh faces will need as much time together as they can get, and so it’s good news that both Ingram and Ball are reportedly getting some run in recent practices.

Via ESPN:

New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram and guard Lonzo Ball have been full participants in the team’s voluntary offseason workouts in New Orleans, a source told ESPN on Tuesday.

Neither player has been restricted by the injuries that shut them down last season while members of the Los Angeles Lakers, representing a significant step with training camp around the corner on Oct. 1.

New Orleans is expected to be a challenger in the Western Conference, which has been weakened by the departure of Kevin Durant (and the injury to Klay Thompson) in the Bay Area. Yes, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George represent a formidable force for the Los Angeles Clippers, but the parity in the Western Conference should allow a team like the Pelicans to make some noise.

If his team can get healthy and find some rhythm, it might be a quick turnaround for David Griffin after losing Davis via trade not so long ago.

Joel Embiid says he’s lost 25 pounds this summer (VIDEO)

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The big knock against Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid was that he just wasn’t in shape enough to play NBA basketball. Several times down the stretch last year, and Embiid couldn’t be relied upon to play from a conditioning standpoint.

But all that might be about to change.

In a recent video posted to social media, Embiid could be seen eating extremely hot chip as part of a marketing campaign. As Embiid gulped down the fiery junk food, he mentioned that he had actually lost 25 pounds over this summer.

“This summer I lost about 25 pounds,” said Embiid as he struggled to deal with the heat from the Carolina Reaper-laced chip by gulping down glasses of milk. “I’m about to put it back on with this milk.”

That’s a huge bit of news for Sixers fans who have derided Embiid’s lack of willpower when it has come to his diet. The Cameroonian center famously loved Shirley Temple’s, and there have been stories of him eating huge amounts of Chik-fil-A and up to four milkshakes in one sitting.

A thinner, slimmer Embiid should not only take some weight off of his knees and ankles, but it might also allow Brett Brown to keep his best player in the game for longer stretches in important situations.

Summer in the NBA is rife with news of #musclewatch, but for now here’s hoping that Embiid can keep the weight off. Keep counting those calories, my dude.

Rudy Gobert says lack of Team USA stars in World Cup will continue

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The 2019 FIBA World Cup is over, and the United States did not medal. It was a disappointing showing for Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, and Jayson Tatum, who led the U.S. national team in a year in which several stars did not want to participate.

Instead it looks as though players like Stephen Curry and Draymond Green will play next year in the 2020 Olympics in Japan. Meanwhile, what can FIBA do to entice stars to play in their tournament?

There are lots of issues with how the World Cup works, including the wonky qualifying windows and the fact that the Olympics come in short succession. That’s not to say that folks back in the States don’t want the World Cup to be a big deal — USA basketball head Jerry Colangelo has said that he wants the FIBA contest to be a premier event.

But some, like Utah Jazz and French national team big man Rudy Gobert, don’t ever see that happening. Speaking to the New York Times’ Marc Stein, Gobert said that he doesn’t believe players will join in on the FIBA games thanks to how the modern NBA works.

Via NY Times:

“I wish all the best players would come, but it’s never going to happen,” Gobert said of the modern N.B.A. player’s approach in the Load Management Era. “They think about themselves more than anything — and it’s understandable. It’s a business. We all have families to take care of.”

Although FIBA has been around since 1932, it’s not a part of American culture yet and thus the Olympics seem to be what both players and fans care about in comparison. That the U.S. men’s team didn’t come away with the gold doesn’t even seem to be that big of a deal, culturally.

Gobert has the right idea in terms of the reality of the situation. Until respective national team organizations can entice their own players to join in, it’s not clear what the World Cup will mean for basketball fans in North America moving forward. As such, we are unlikely to see a star-studded World Cup Team USA in the near future.