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.

Charlotte GM Mitch Kupchak: Hornets won’t build through free agency

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Mitch Kupchak doesn’t see the Charlotte Hornets being major players in free agency as they attempt to build a winning franchise in the post-Kemba Walker era – at least not right away.

Instead, the second-year general manager said Monday he anticipates the Hornets will construct the roster through draft picks and “savvy trades” during the season, while compiling as many assets as possible.

“We will not be an active player” in free agency, Kupchak said. “I think we can build a culture here and get enough assets and have a promising enough future and really attract the kind of free agent you want to spend that kind of money on – but I don’t think you can do it right now.”

So in the meantime, the Hornets will give young players like Dwayne Bacon, Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, Devonte Graham and even rookie PJ Washington extensive playing time this season as part of their No. 1 overall goal of player development after going 39-43 last season and losing Walker, a three-time All-Star, to the Boston Celtics.

Kupchak said that will take patience, but he and owner Michael Jordan and coach James Borrego are on the same page.

Kupchak said he won’t measure this season’s success in terms of wins and losses, but rather on how the team’s younger players continue to progress.

“Win or lose, I want our players to play with energy and our coaches to coach with energy,” Kupchak said. “As the season goes on I want to see improvement. That’s how I’m looking at the season.”

Kupchak said that concept may not be easy for Borrego.

“I am hoping he is better than he was last season,” Kupchak said with a grin. “At the beginning of the season last year he took each loss really, really hard. Hopefully this year he will be able to handle the losses a little bit better.”

Borrego has yet to name a starting lineup for Wednesday night’s home opener against the Chicago Bulls. Point guard Terry Rozier and center Cody Zeller are locks to start, but the combination of the other three remains a mystery.

That lineup could include Washington, who has impressed Kupchak with his 3-point shooting in the preseason since being selected No. 12 overall earlier this year.

Originally, the Hornets planned for the former Kentucky forward to split time between Charlotte’s G League team and the NBA to gain maximum playing experience. But Kupchak said Washington has been the team’s most impressive young player during the preseason and will likely remain in Charlotte, provided he’s seeing 15-plus minutes per game.

“He does have to play, and, based on his production of late, he will play,” Kupchak said. “… He has worked on his game and has turned himself into not only a big man that can be productive down in the paint, but in our game today he can also make 3s.”

Win or lose, Kupchak expects the Hornets to use a “fast-paced style of play.”

 

Doc Rivers says Los Angeles Lakers counting Minnesota titles “actually bugs me a little bit”

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Los Angeles is a Lakers town.

The Dodgers can get close to energizing the city the same way, although Dodger fans are a little cautious after the past few playoffs. The Rams and Chargers are in a league that ignored Los Angeles for a couple of decades, lost a couple of generations of fans, and it’s going to take time to win them back. The Kings’ following is passionate but not massive (same with the two MLS teams in town).

The Lakers are the team that fathers take their sons to see, like their fathers did before them. The Lakers have won 16 NBA titles…

About that, it’s really 11 in Los Angeles. The first five carried over from Minnesota (where the name Lakers makes more sense). That kind of bothers’ Clippers coach Doc Rivers, something he told Marc Spears of The Undefeated in a story previewing the Clippers’ season.

“It is a Lakers town. I’m good with that. I have no issues with that,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers told The Undefeated from his Staples Center office recently. “They have how many titles that they’ve won here? You know, they claim them all, but they only won a certain amount here. I will say that. That actually bugs me a little bit. … Having said that, that’s generations of loyalty.

“I look at us as, we’re creating our own movement. … We’re not trying to take away shine from the other. We’ve got our own thing going. I never thought we could get our own thing going. That was what I was so frustrated with being here. And now we got our own thing going.”

Carrying titles over is common… and controversial. Should the Dodgers be able to count Brooklyn titles? It feels wrong to think Oklahoma City could count Seattle’s titles. Should Sacramento be able to count the 1951 Rochester title? Personally, the Lakers carrying Minnesota’s doesn’t seem a big issue, but you know Rivers is going to take a shot at the Lakers when he can.

That hallway rivalry at Staples Center is building.

Few things seem to irritate Lakers fans like the Clippers putting posters of players over the Lakers’ title banners at Staples Center for Clippers home games. Lakers fans think of Staples as their building — and it might not exist but for the draw of the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. However, Staples is owned by AEG (whose primary owner is Philip Anschutz, who owns the NHL’s Kings), not the Lakers. It’s a hockey building.

Doc is right about one thing: The Clippers have their own thing going.

The Clippers, on paper, are the better Los Angeles team and better built for the playoffs with versatile wings such as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers have more trusted depth with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. Tuesday night’s Clippers’ home opener will go how it goes — LeBron James and Anthony Davis will go for the Lakers, Paul George is out for weeks still for the Clippers — but a playoff battle between these teams this season could be epic.

And decide who gets to hang the next banner in Staples Center.

Utah Jazz extend Joe Ingles for one additional season at $14 million

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Joe Ingles is part of the Utah Jazz core. He’s a key forward in their system who serves mostly as a stretch four — more than 60 percent of his shot attempts last season were from three and he hit 39.1 percent of them — but also can put the ball on the floor and is a smart passer. While the past couple of seasons Donovan Michell has been Utah’s primary shot creator, when teams focused on him and bottled up the offense it fell to Ingles to be the man.

The Jazz like him enough to lock him up for one more season. He had two years, $22.7 million left on his contract but now the Jazz have added a third year, the team has announced. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that additional year will be for $14 million.

“As one of our longest tenured players, Joe’s shooting acumen, playmaking ability and unselfishness have been integral to our team’s identity,” Jazz General Manager Justin Zanik said in a statement. “We are excited to keep a player like Joe, as his character and leadership are critical for the foundation of our team.”

Ingles is now locked up until the summer of 2022. The only other key player whose contract currently extends out that far is Bojan Bogdanovic, who Utah signed this summer for four years, $73 million.

The Jazz are going to have some big money to pay out in the coming years, and with that some ownership decisions about the luxury tax. Donovan Mitchell is eligible for his rookie contract extension next summer and that certainly will be a max deal. Rudy Gobert has two years remaining on his contract ($51.5 million total), then will have to be extended, again likely for the max. Mike Conley has a $34.5 million player option for the 2020-21 season (he likely picks that up), after that the Jazz need to decide what to do at the point guard spot.

A lot of those decisions will come down to how the Jazz perform the next two seasons. Some pundits (*raises hand*) see them as a top-three team in the West that, if they come together, can challenge the Clippers and Lakers for a trip to the Finals. If that happens, how ownership wants to proceed will be different from if the team falls short of those goals.

Cavaliers reportedly snap up Alfonzo McKinnie off waivers

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Going into training camp, Alfonzo McKinnie was expected to be the starting small forward for the Warriors this season.

However, injuries along the front line — Willie Cauley-Stein is out for weeks still, plus Kevon Looney and rookie Alen Smailagic are banged up — and some strong play from Marquise Chriss meant he was going to make the Warriors roster. With the team being hard capped after signing D'Angelo Russell this summer, the Warriors had no choice but to cut McKinnie.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have snapped him up off waivers.

This is a good move by the Cavaliers, a low-risk pickup — McKinnie is on a minimum contract — that could get them a 3&D wing on a young team. He played in 72 games for the Warriors last regular season plus got playoff minutes, and shot 35.6 percent from three. He’s long and athletic and a player both the Raptors and Warriors liked but had to move on from because of other roster situations.

For the Warriors, they will have Glenn Robinson III starting at the three with Alec Burks behind him. They could have really used McKennie.