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: 76ers happy with GM Elton Brand, who’s drawing Knicks interest

76ers owner Josh Harris and general manager Elton Brand
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The Knicks are reportedly interested in hiring 76ers general manager Elton Brand.

In New York, Brand would work under new Knicks president Leon Rose. Brand holds the top position in Philadelphia’s front office. So, Brand would likely go to New York only if fired by the 76ers.

Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

A team source on Wednesday confirmed Brand is under contract beyond this season and said the organization is very happy with his work since being named GM in 2018. The source cited Brand’s leadership and strong working relationships with players, agents, and executives around the league.

The 76ers are so pleased with Brand… someone said so without under the cloak of anonymity. If he wants to back Brand, 76ers owner Josh Harris can do so publicly. Otherwise, this is so weak.

Teams generally express support toward employees while the employees are still working for the team – whether or not the employees actually hold approval. A key way to tell whether the support is genuine? Check the source. Harris doesn’t want to look like a hypocrite. If he endorses Brand now then fires him soon, Harris would look silly. With this sourcing, nobody would get egg on his or her face if Brand gets ousted, because we don’t know the source.

I bet Brand does have good relationships with everyone. He has long connected well with others.

But his roster-building has fallen flat.

Inertia will probably keep him in his job. Philadelphia overachieving in the playoffs (whatever form they take) – certainly possible – would make that an easier call. It’s just difficult to build an affirmative case for Brand as a team’s lead executive.

Report: No chance of traditional NBA playoffs this season

NBA playoffs
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The NBA playoffs have a familiar format – four rounds, best-of-seven series, games in front of fans at home arenas.

But the coronavirus, which has forced the NBA into an indefinite stoppage and disrupted life around the world, makes that untenable. Don’t expect the league to wait until that’s workable, either.

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

At this point, several team and league officials told SI.com, any chance of a traditional postseason is out.

A shortened playoffs in Las Vegas is gaining momentum. It’d allow the NBA, hemorrhaging money, to draw revenue sooner. A reduced postseason would also minimize disruption to future seasons.

But even that comes with major complications, especially containing coronavirus from undermining the entire operation. It could be a long time until its safe to hold games, even in a centralized location without fans.

It could be so long… a traditional playoffs could be back on the table. Though I find that unlikely, I’m still not convince people have a proper understanding of how lengthy this hiatus could be.

Everyone wants to finish the season. The playoffs are the NBA’s most lucrative time, and it feels right to crown a champion.

So, it’s good the focus is on alternative formats. It’d be naïve to expect business as usual when the NBA resumes.

Who should be drafted No. 1? Podcast talking NBC Sports mock NBA Draft.

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Should Anthony Edwards be the No. 1 pick?

Or James Wiseman? How would Obi Toppin fit with the Warriors?

More importantly, how is anyone preparing for a draft when nobody knows when it will take place?

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports — who just completed his mock draft — joins me to discuss what they know and don’t know about the 2020 NBA Draft, starting with having no idea when it will take place. We discuss Obi Toppin, Lonzo Ball, sleepers to watch, and everything in between in a draft preview podcast.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Bucks hoping to complete title pursuit after coronavirus stoppage

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — The NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks remain confident the coronavirus pandemic won’t put a permanent halt to the season and that they’ll get to resume chasing their first league title in nearly half a century.

The Bucks had a league-best 53-12 record when play was suspended three weeks ago. With Giannis Antetokounmpo having a potential second straight MVP season, the Bucks seemed poised to make a run at the title that has eluded this franchise since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led them to an NBA championship in 1971.

Bucks general manager Jon Horst thinks they will get that opportunity.

“We believe that we’re going to play,” Horst said Wednesday in a conference call. “Everything that we’re doing every day in our communications, in our preparations, everything we talk about is being prepared to play at some point, finish out the season and have a resumption.”

That’s why Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer has spent part of this hiatus making sure the Bucks don’t lose their edge whenever they do get back on the floor.

He’s been studying the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets — the Bucks’ two most likely first-round playoff foes — as well as other Eastern Conference teams Milwaukee could see later in the postseason. He’s tried to learn from his experiences as a San Antonio Spurs assistant coach during the NBA’s most recent work stoppages.

“One of my reference points with the coaching staff has been lockouts,” Budenholzer said. “Sometimes when you come out of a lockout, things have been kind of slow, you haven’t been able to maybe do your normal routines and preparation, and things happen really fast. Whether it’s three games in three nights, or playoff series are shorter or the time between the end of the regular season to the first playoff game, everything can be shorter or can happen quicker.”

His instructions to his players have focused on conditioning while understanding they might not have as much time to spend working on their basketball skills.

“I think that we feel that there are things they can continue to do as far as continuing to stay strong, continuing to maintain a conditioning level and really just put a lot of time and effort and energy into their bodies,” Budenholzer said.

After blowing a 2-0 lead to the eventual league champion Toronto Raptors in last season’s Eastern Conference finals, Milwaukee appeared to have all the elements in place to make a serious championship run this year before the pandemic struck.

The Bucks had just returned from a winless three-game trip west when the hiatus occurred, but that was the first time they had lost as many as two straight contests all season.

Despite their optimism and their confidence that league officials will do what’s best for the safety of everyone, the Bucks realize that play might not resume. However, Budenholzer said they aren’t thinking about what impact canceling the season might have.

“If for some reason this season is not played or there’s nothing to look forward to or to complete, I’ll process it then,” Budenholzer said. “I would add that I don’t think it’s being totally head-in-the-sand. I think hopefully watching news, listening to the commissioner, listening to whether it be Tony Fauci or Dr. (Deborah) Birx or whoever it is, it does feel like there is I think some realistic hope and belief that we will get through this.

“I know that there are some negatives, some less optimistic modeling, but literally all we think about is we are going to play and we want to be the best team when we do play so how do we prepare for that, how do we get better? It’s a great way to get through this.”