PBT Power Rankings: Spurs take top spot away from Warriors

Associated Press
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For the first time this season, the Golden State Warriors are not in the top spot in our power rankings, that spot belongs to the San Antonio Spurs. The top five teams have separated themselves from the pack. There also is a new team at the bottom of the rankings — your Phoenix Suns.

 
source: 1. Spurs (36-6, LW 2). They have an 11 game winning streak — that makes six seasons in a row with at least a 10-game winning streak, an NBA record. The Spurs have a better point differential than the Warriors for the season, and in the last 10 games the Spurs are beating opponents by 18.1 points per 100 possessions, which is 8.6 more than Golden State.

 
source: 2. Warriors (37-4, last week No. 1). Andrew Bogut said the Warriors have had some slippage in recent weeks and that has caught up to them with a couple losses in the last seven days. That’s been true on the defensive end, where they have been pedestrian for a couple weeks. But also this is just the NBA balancing out — the Warriors have the point differential of a 33-8 team (according to Basketball-Reference.com), they had some losses coming.

 
source: 3. Cavaliers (28-10, LW 3). They went 2-1 on s swing through Texas, the only loss being to San Antonio (where their bench was exposed as an issue). Monday they host Golden State in another good benchmark game for where the Cavs stand in relation to the top contenders. Heavy stretch of home games ahead for the Cavs.

 
source: 4. Clippers (26-14, LW 4). The Clippers could get Blake Griffin back at the end of this week or early next week (if you go by his timetable). Their win streak ended at 10, not coincidentally when DeAndre Jordan was out and their defense slipped vs. Sacramento. On Thursday the Clippers head out on a tough five-game road trip, which starts against the Cavaliers in Cleveland.

 
source: 5. Thunder (30-12 LW 5). Note to Kevin Durant: Oklahoma City is not mentioned in the same breath with Golden State or San Antonio because you haven’t played as well as them this season. For the full season the Thunder are third in net rating behind those West powers, and in the last 10 games the Cavaliers and Clippers have been better. However, on a recent PBT Podcast Spurs writer Jabari Young said he thought the Thunder were a bigger threat to the Spurs than the Warriors.

 
source: 6. Raptors (25-15, LW 7). They won their one game last week, beating the Magic in London, but their starting lineup continues to be an issue with DeMarre Carroll out (their offensive spacing and efficiency is just not the same). They need to find an offensive groove with the Celtics, Heat and Clippers coming up this week.

 
source: 7. Hawks (24-17, LW 9).With the trade deadline approaching and teams looking for a point guard, expect to hear rumors about teams calling the Hawks to discuss Dennis Schröder. But it’s going to take some quality assets to get Atlanta to move him. Rough loss to the Bucks last week as Atlanta got pushed around on the front line for a night.

 
source: 8. Bulls (23-16, LW 6). I don’t believe Chicago is going to miss Joakim Noah as much as much as some pundits think — they are 8-2 without him this season, and the Bulls are 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he sits (the defense is worse without him but the offense improves). With the emergence of Bobby Portis the Bulls have the depth up front, although in certain matchups they could have used Noah’s rim protection. Lots of road games ahead for Chicago.

 
source: 9. Grizzlies (23-19, LW 12). Coach Dave Joerger said Marc Gasol is tired and will likely get some rest coming up, although that is difficult with Mike Conley still out with a sore Achilles. Memphis has gone 4-2 in the six games Conley has missed, but their not really impressing in that stretch.

 
source: 10. Pistons (22-18, LW 13). Quality win against the Warriors, showing off an impressive defense against that high-powered attack. But this team is still up-and-down, losing to the Grizzlies last week, and a lot of that has to do with a lack of depth that bites them many nights.

 
source: 11. Mavericks (23-19, LW 8). They went 1-3 last week but the losses were to the Cavaliers, Thunder, and Spurs, not going to ding them too much for that. Still, the offense has struggled of late. Long Live Zaza Pachouli for the All-Star Team!

 
source: 12. Celtics (22-19, LW 14). After a slow start to the new year the Celtics have won three in a row, including an impressive comeback against the Pacers (aided by Indiana’s carelessness with the rock). This winning streak has them back as the eighth seed in the East and they will be in a fight the rest of the way to maintain that playoff position.

 
source: 13. Rockets (22-20, LW 15). They have won six of seven, using a more efficient but slower paced offense. They also have done it against teams they should beat (although the OT win against the Pacers and beating Memphis were good wins). Good measuring stick on Martin Luther King day against the Clippers on the road.

 
source: 14. Pacers (22-19, LW 10). Three losses in a row, including a tough one to Boston, but it was fun to see Myles Turner back and putting up numbers Sunday — 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting. On the road against the West this week, not expecting a win in Golden State but they need games like in Phoenix and Sacramento.

 
source: 15. Heat (23-18, LW 11). Three losses last week, but all in the road to the Warriors, Clippers, and Thunder. That happens. They got a win against Chicago and have the Wizards and Raptors on the road this week, those are the kinds of games the Heat need to win to solidify their playoff standing (they are just two games up on nine-seed Orlando).

 
source: 16. Magic (20-19, LW 16). Lost their only game of last week, to Toronto in London, but on the bright side they came from 16 down to force overtime in that one. They are just 1-6 since the ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

source: 17. Wizards (19-20, LW 17). With Bradley Beal back and the offense clicking, the Wizards have started to move into striking distance of a playoff spot in the East (just two games out), which is why the last-second loss to Boston hurt.

 
source: 18. Knicks (20-22, LW 18). Carmelo Anthony had to sit out two games and the Knicks lost both (including to Brooklyn), so it’s good news he is back on Monday against Philadelphia. Heavy stretch of home games and the Knicks are 11-8 on the season at Madison Square Garden, this is a chance to climb back into the playoff chase in the East.

 
source: 19. Kings (17-23, LW 20). They are 5-3 since Jan. 1, which is enough to push them to within one game of Utah for the final playoff spot in the West — wins against the Jazz and Clippers last week helped that cause. As I said on the PBT Podcast that dropped Monday talking All-Stars, I would have DeMarcus Cousins in for sure as a West reserve. He’s earned it.

 
source: 20. Jazz (18-22, LW 19). Utah has held onto its playoff spot but things are getting tight — Sacramento is just one game back, and Portland 1.5. They could use Derrick Favors back in the lineup, he was playing at an All-Star level but this recent injury and time off likely ends the hope the coaches would vote him onto the roster as a reserve.

 
source: 21. Bucks (18-25, LW 25). Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo have played better in recent weeks, but that hasn’t saved a Bucks defense that has been surprisingly bad this season. On the road all week in Miami, Houston and New Orleans.

 
source: 22. Trail Blazers (18-25, LW 21). Damian Lillard has played well but in a deep West guard rotation he could be on the outside looking in once the fans and coaches have voted. I’m not sure he can make the roster over Klay Thompson or James Harden, and that’s what it may take (unless the coaches leave Blake Griffin off and add another guard).

 
source: 23. Nuggets (16-25, LW 24). They are in the middle of an eight-game homestead and are 3-1 so far, although the arrivals of the Thunder, Grizzlies, and Pistons will make this a challenging week no matter where the games are played.

 
source: 24. Hornets (18-22, LW 22). They are 1-9 in their last 10 games, they are playing terrible defense and Al Jefferson is still out hurting on the offensive end. After such a promising start to the season Charlotte has slid 3.5 games out of the playoffs in the East and I’m not sure they can make up that ground.

 
source: 25. Pelicans (13-26, LW 23). Despite the team struggles, Anthony Davis should be a lock to be voted in an All-Star by the coaches (he’s averaging 22.8 points and 10.6 boards a game. The Pelicans picked up an exciting win with the Jrue Holiday alley-ooo game winner to Davis, and they now have won two in a row. For this team this season, that’s something to build on.

 
source: 26. Timberwolves (12-29,LW 26). The nine-game losing streak ended thanks to the soft landing that is the Phoenix Suns right now. If you haven’t read coach Sam Mitchel’s two-part Q&A with the Minnesota Post, go do it right now.

 
source: 27. Nets (11-30, LW 27). Owner Mikhail Prokhorov sounds like a guy thinking short term fixes can turn this franchise around sooner rather than doing it via a slower rebuild. If so, if the new GM can’t convince him otherwise, I will pity Nets fans. On the court, their new starting five of Donald Sloan, Wayne Ellington, Joe Johnson, Thaddeus Young, and Brook Lopez has played fairly well together.

 
source: 28. 76ers (5-37, LW 30). How did it take so long for the Sixers to retire Dolph Schayes’ No. 4? He’s a top 50 NBA player all time. Better late than never, I guess. On the court, the Sixers are a respectable 4-7 since Ish Smith joined the team and became their point guard and have a better net rating in their last 10 than even teams like Porland and Orlando.

 
source: 29. Lakers (9-34, LW 29). All we want is Kobe Bryant to be healthy enough to play and walk off the court under his own power in his final game this April, so seeing him come out of games at the half then come back the next night is concerning. Good on Kobe for bowing out of Olympic consideration, even without him on the roster it’s going to be tough to fit all the good young players in that 12 (guys like Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and Draymond Green are already on the bubble).

 
source: 30. Suns (13-29, LW 28). They are 1-9 in their last 10 and have been outscored by 16.5 points per 100 possessions in those games. This is ugly. The Suns have two first-round picks this June, but remember they traded the Lakers’ top-three protected pick to Philly in a move that had heads scratching around the league at the time.

Scoot Henderson says he has skills to be No.1 pick but not hung up on it

Metropolitans 92 v G League Ignite
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Scoot Henderson came out like a man on a mission Tuesday night against the Metropolitans 92 and Victor Wembanyama — he was in attack mode. He used his explosive athleticism to get to the rim, his impressive body control to get off good shots, and his strength to finish with authority. And if the defender played back, he would drain the jumper over him.

A year ago, Jaylen Brown called him the best 17-year-old he’d ever seen. Scoot is better than that now.

Many years, Henderson would be a clear No.1 overall pick. But, not this year, Wembanyama has that crown because he breaks the mold with his size and skill set (in the NBA, height still wins out).

Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer asked Henderson why he should be the top prospect and got a confident answer.

There will be a lot of people making the Henderson case this season — and with good reason. He could be a franchise cornerstone player for the next decade.

Henderson, however, is trying not to get hung up on No.1 vs. No.2.

There’s a long list of legendary players selected No.2: Bill Russell, Kevin Durant, Jerry West, Jason Kidd, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Henderson can be one of them.

Unless Wembanyama’s medicals come back with red flags, he is destined to be the No.1 pick next June. That, however, will not be the end of Henderson’s story. Instead, it will be just the beginning.

Doc Rivers says he wants Harden to be ‘a scoring Magic Johnson’

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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We’re not in Houston anymore.

James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.

“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”

Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.

Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.

Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.

A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.

As he chases record, LeBron says he has ‘no relationship’ with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers
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Later this season, health permitting, LeBron James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Kareem has said LeBron has earned it, but also has called out LeBron on COVID issues (something Abdul-Jabbar apologized for). Have the two legends started to build a relationship as LeBron marches toward the record? Not so much.

“No thoughts, no relationship.”

This question was asked of LeBron days after Abdul-Jabbar slammed former LeBron teammate Kyrie Irving in a Substack newsletter, calling him a “comical buffoon” and saying he is a poor role model. Abdul-Jabbar has been a vocal proponent of getting the vaccine, Irving remains unvaccinated, and LeBron has posted on social media questioning the severity of the virus and the response. Plus, LeBron and Irving are friends, which could have sparked LeBron’s terse response (as could the fact he was ready to get out of the arena after a dull preseason game).

A week earlier at media day, LeBron had been kinder when discussing Abdul-Jabbar and chasing his record.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well,” LeBron said. “I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Abdul-Jabbar has been more of a public persona in recent years, both around the game of basketball and discussing social justice issues through his writings. The NBA named its new social justice award after him. With that has come new relationships around the league.

One of those is not with LeBron. Will Abdul-Jabbar be in the building when LeBron does break the record?

We’ve got months for this relationship to evolve — if it does — before that big day.

 

Watch Zion Williamson score 13 in return to court for Pelicans

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Zion Williamson is back.

He certainly looked in better shape and flashed his insane explosiveness on his way to 13 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes Tuesday night against the Bulls, his first game after missing all of last season following foot surgery.

There was some rust, and the Pelicans are wisely bringing him along slowly and not breaking out the entire playbook for a preseason game, but in the moments we saw Zion looked like he was all the way back.

The questions now are can he sustain it, and how to the Pelicans mesh him with other scoring options in CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram.

And maybe we shouldn’t leave rookie Dyson Daniels off that list, he looked good in his first NBA preseason game.

The Pelicans are one of the most intriguing teams this season, a team that made the playoffs last season with a push after McCollum arrived, and now they add the elite interior scoring and athleticism of Zion to Ingram’s outside shot and slashing, not to mention and a solid core of role players. This team has top six potential if it can get stops. But in a deep West, nothing will be easy.