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PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Warriors remain on top, Cavaliers climb to third

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After a one-week hiatus due to the All-Star Game festivities in Toronto, the NBC/PBT NBA Power Rankings return. During that week off, the trade deadline came and went, but not much has changed at the top of the rankings (save for minor shifts) — the power structure of the NBA was not altered by the trade deadline.

source: 1. Warriors (49-5, last week No. 1). They need to go 24-4 the rest of the way to break the Bulls’ single-season win record. That’s very doable, but not simple — their schedule is tough the rest of the way (including against Oklahoma City Saturday), plus Steve Kerr is going to want to rest guys thinking ahead to the playoffs. The Warriors are on the road all week.

source: 2. Spurs (47-9, LW 2). They have gone 2-1 without Kawhi Leonard since the All-Star break, but those wins came against the Lakers and Suns (you need to scroll to the bottom of these rankings to find them). This is not the same defensive team without Leonard, they are vulnerable. This week the Spurs stay on the road as part of the annual rodeo tour, with games against the Kings, Jazz, and Rockets.

source: 3. Cavaliers (40-14, LW 4). When I asked Tyronn Lue at All-Star Weekend if the long All-Star break would give him a chance to put install more offense and make other changes, his answer was a quick “no.” The Cavaliers did make one change adding Channing Frye, who will give them small ball versatility and lineup options. That was a quality win Sunday, running away from the Thunder in the second half, and with Kyrie Irving out (sick) Kevin Lobe stepped up again.

source: 4. Thunder (40-16 LW 3). At the trade deadline the Thunder added Randy Foye, who everyone will love in the locker room but will not add much on the court. Although, considering the way Dion Waiters has shot since the All-Star break (3-of-20) Foye may get some run fairly quickly. That two guard spot could come back to bite a team that would have to beat the Spurs then the Warriors to reach the NBA Finals.

source: 5. Clippers (36-19, LW 6). The Clipper defense in their last 10 games has allowed just 98.8 points per 100 possessions, second best in the NBA during that stretch. The addition of Jeff Green is an upgrade over Lance Stephenson, and Green fits needs (small ball four, can play the three when Blake Griffin returns) but his inconsistent play will wear on Doc Rivers again (not to mention Clipper fans).

source: 6. Raptors (36-18, LW 5). No move at the deadline to get some help at the four seems a lost opportunity. No, we don’t know what was offered and at what price (we do know the Raptors offered some combination of a first-round pick and Patrick Patterson to teams), still how often do the Raptors get this close. The Raptors defense has been slipping of late.

source: 7. Celtics (32-24, LW 7). Danny Ainge looked around at the deadline and didn’t overpay for talent, which was the right move. Even if it’s hard to sell patience to a fan base. If the playoffs started today, Boston would host Atlanta in the first round — could they win that seven-game series? If this team reaches the second round of the playoffs they should already be thinking about a statue for Brad Stevens.

source: 8. Heat (31-24, LW 10). Chris Bosh will be out for a while (hope he makes it back for the playoffs), and Dwyane Wade has missed games with a sore knee, yet the Heat pick up a couple of impressive wins over the Hawks and Wizards. The Heat saved themselves from the luxury tax at the deadline, which considering where they team is headed this season is the smart play. Tough schedule this week with Indiana, Golden State, Boston, then New York.

source: 9. Grizzlies (32-22, LW 8). We’ll see if they can maintain this standing (and their playoff position) without Marc Gasol (broken foot), and now without Courtney Lee (traded to Charlotte). After the deadline this team now has Lance Stephenson, Matt Barnes, Chris Andersen, Tony Allen, and P.J. Hairston in the same locker room. That could get interesting, to put it kindly.

source: 10. Trail Blazers (29-27, LW 16). Winners of five in a row, the Blazers have the best net differential of any team in the NBA over the last 10 games (numbers aided by a 32-point spanking of the Warriors). They are getting it done on both ends. Neil Olshey used the Blazers’ cap space brilliantly at the deadline to acquire picks.

source: 11. Pacers (30-25, LW 11). Rookie Myles Turner continues to impress (12 points, 8 rebounds against Orlando Sunday) in part because he plays fearlessly. Monta Ellis has hit an offensive grove recently as well. The Pacers starting five with Turner, Ian Mahinmi, Paul George, Ellis, and George Hill are playing fantastic defense.

source: 12. Hawks (31-26, LW 9). They kept the core together at the trade deadline, and even brought back an old favorite in Kirk Hinrich. Atlanta thinks in an Eastern Conference with a lot of parity (after Cleveland) they can make another deep playoff run — but not if they play the way they have dropping four-of-five they won’t.

source: 13. Hornets (29-26, LW 18). Getting Courtney Lee at the deadline will help fill the Michael Kidd-Gilchrist role — it was a good gamble, one that could keep them in the playoff mix (the Hornets are the current seven seed). What will also help with that is getting Al Jefferson back, he returned to play Sunday (he had 18 points). Charlotte has won five in a row but has a gauntlet this week on the road with Cleveland, Indiana, and Atlanta.

source: 14. Jazz (27-28, LW 12). It was a quiet move near the trade deadline, but it could end up being huge for Utah — they picked up point guard Shelvin Mack from Atlanta. In his debut Sunday (a loss to Portland) Mack had 16 points and six assists. Give the Jazz better point guard play and this team will make the playoffs again (they are currently the nine seed, just half a game back of Houston).

source: 15. Mavericks (30-27, LW 15). They added David Lee off waivers, and he should get a little run as a backup five for Rick Carlisle. Deron Williams has looked good in Dallas’ couple games since the All-Star break, but he gets a real test with Russell Westbrook and the Thunder this week.

source: 16. Bulls (29-26, LW 14). No Jimmy Butler due to injury, but Derrick Rose has stepped up in his absence and even Doug McDermott came out of virtually nowhere to drop 30 on Toronto in a win. The Bulls offense has looked good but Kobe Bryant nailed the analysis of them — if they get stops they can be a threat in the playoffs, but the Bulls haven’t done that in recent weeks.

source: 17. Rockets (28-28, LW 17). I feel for J.B. Bickerstaff trying to coach this roster the rest of the way after all the noise about them trying to trade key guys at the deadline — including the now-dead Donatas Motiejunas trade to Detroit. Houston is the current eight seed in the West, so the games this week at Utah (nine seed, half-a-game back) and Portland (seven seed, one game ahead) are about as important as late February games get.

source: 18. Pistons (27-28, LW 13). I love their deadline moves long term (Tobias Harris is a great fit), but will it get them into the playoffs this year? The Donatas Motiejunas trade falling apart isnt all bad, the Pistons get their pick back. They have lost five in a row, with a road game at Cleveland on deck. They are 2.5 games out of the playoffs right now and need to get on a little winning streak to make the postseason.

source: 19. Wizards (25-29, LW 19). They went a respectable 2-1 in the back-to-back-to-back they had coming out of the All-Star break (they were forced into that because a storm cancelled a previous game). I like the gamble on Markieff Morris, but is that going to be enough for them to make up 3.5 games and get into the playoffs? I’m not sold.

source: 20. Nuggets (22-34, LW 20). The good news their offense is starting to come together and put up numbers on a nightly basis. The bad news is their defense is struggling. Which makes Denver entertaining to watch if you like shootouts, but shows the developmental process still needed in the Rockies.

source: 21. Pelicans (22-33, LW 21). Not sure it makes up for a disappointing season, but what a performance by Anthony Davis with 59 points and 20 rebounds — he joins Shaquille O’Neal and Wilt Chamberlain as the only guys with 50-20 games in NBA history. They have won four of five games, but will not make up the 5.5 games they are out of the playoffs.

source: 22. Bucks (23-33, LW 22). The Bucks are starting Miles Plumlee at center, have taken the ball out of Michael Carter-Williams hands and given it to Giannis Antetokounmpo, and are seeing Jabari Parker start to find his groove — and so far the results are good, including a double-overtime win over Atlanta Sunday.

source: 23. Magic (24-30, LW 23). The additions of Brandon Jennings and Ersan İlyasova at the deadline should help stabilize the bench for the team to make a little playoff run, but what it really does is give Orlando $40 million in cap space (or more, depending on other moves) to chase free agents this summer. They want Al Horford.

source: 24. Kings (23-31, LW 25). The good news for Kings fans is that Vlade Divac (or whoever) talked Vivek Ranadive out out of making a future-killing trade in an effort to make the playoffs this season. But it’s hard to see how even great play from DeMarcus Cousins (this season isn’t on him) will not get the Kings to the playoffs, and that extends the drought to 10 years, the second longest streak without a postseason appearance in the NBA (Minnesota, to answer your question).

source: 25. Knicks (24-33, LW 24). The equation is pretty simple: no point guard upgrade at the deadline = no playoff chance. The Knicks are 2-9 since they were a .500 team and looked like they could make the playoffs back in January — and the reason is poor defense. Bringing in Jimmer Fredette is not going to solve the problems on that end.

source: 26. Timberwolves (17-39,LW 26). Karl-Anthony Towns completely outplayed Kristaps Porzingis over the weekend, so if there was any doubt about the Rookie of the Year — and there wasn’t before — it’s erased now. More interesting matchup this week against the Pelicans and Anthony Davis — can KAT ultimately be a better player than Davis?

source: 27. Nets (15-41, LW 28). They made a fantastic move hiring Sean Marks to be their GM, and hopefully that second Brinks truck they had to back up to his door to get him to take the deal will buy him some autonomy to rebuild this franchise the right way. Without interference from non-basketball people. This rebuild is going to take years.

source: 27. 76ers (8-47, LW 27). Jahlil Okafor put up 31 on Dallas over the weekend and it begs the question: How good can he be? Get him the ball in the block one-on-one and he can put up points, but his defense is a mess and his offensive game needs more diversity. Is he a Zach Randolph/Al Jefferson level player, or can he be more than that?

source: 29. Lakers (11-46, LW 29). Byron Scott finally put D’Angelo Russell back in the starting lineup and played his three young players — Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle — together for long stretches. Hopefully we see a lot of that the rest of the season, and that the Kobe Bryant farewell tour doesn’t get in the way of player development.

source: 30. Suns (14-41, LW 30). Losers of 11 in a row. They made a good deadline trade getting a first-round pick and a player for Markieff Morris, who they wanted to ship out anyway. That means the Suns could have three first round picks this summer, and theirs will be high (currently they have the third worst record in the NBA).

Russell Westbrook on Patrick Beverley: ‘He don’t guard nobody, man. He just running around doing nothing’

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Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley have a history.

After his Rockets beat Beverley’s Clippers last night, Westbrook fanned the flames.

Mark Berman of FOX 26:

Westbrook ripping someone else for phony defensive effort? That’s rich. Westbrook is the king of that style.

Beverley is one of the NBA’s best defensive guards. Sure, he has antics. But there’s an underlying effectiveness behind all his bark.

James Harden scoring 47 points hardly disproves Beverley’s defensive ability. Harden’s output by defender:

  • Beverley: 4 points on 1-of-9 shooting
  • Other: 43 points on 11-of-17 shooting

Three Things to Know: Trash-talking Rockets get 47 from James Harden, beat Clippers

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Trash-talking Rockets get 47 from James Harden, beat Clippers. Dear basketball gods: Can you please arrange a Clippers vs. Rockets playoff series? We’d all appreciate that down here. Thanks.

There are no statement games in November, but after the Rockets 102-93 win against the Clippers Wednesday a lot of statements were being made. An intense, emotional game led to a lot of trash talk on the court that spilled over into the locker rooms afterward. These teams do not like each other — and that makes it fun. The basketball gods need to give us more of this.

Everyone was getting in on the act.

Russell Westbrook trash-talked Patrick Beverley’s defense.

Let’s put aside the irony of Westbrook calling out another players’ defensive effort for a second, he’s just wrong. It’s just not factually accurate. Beverley is a good defender and ESPN’s stats guys have the proof

The best trash-talking of the night came from Austin Rivers.

The younger Rivers should forever be grateful to his Dad for that oversized three-year, $35 million contract, but when Doc Rivers got into it with the officials, the younger Rivers urged quick-trigger Tony Brothers to go over and toss his dad out. And Brothers did. That’s when Austin waved off his dad and made the call-me gesture

(Just for the record, Doc had a point. After a failed attempt to call a challenge — Rivers took longer than 30 seconds to do so — he said two referees told him the Clippers had two timeouts. After he used one, Rivers was told that was his last one. If the officials indeed screwed up his timeouts, he should have been pissed.)

There was basketball, too — and James Harden was better at it than anybody.

Harden’s 47 pushed his per-game average over his last five to 41.6 per game. More importantly, he got his buckets when his teams needed them — he scored 17 points in the final six minutes (and did it against Kawhi Leonard and Beverley). Even with elite defenders to match up the Clippers started throwing double-teams at Harden, it just didn’t matter.

Thanks to Harden, the Rockets executed down the stretch. The Clippers did not. Los Angeles’ first half was sloppy and listless, their worst half of the season. They missed bunnies and open threes all night. Los Angeles climbed back with a good third and led at 83-80, but the Clippers offensive execution and shot selection down the stretch was poor.

Leonard finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists, but P.J. Tucker did an excellent job keeping him in check — Leonard 4-of-10 for 10 points with Tucker as the primary defender, according to the NBA.com matchup data.

If these teams meet in the playoffs next spring, this November meeting will be ancient history. Both teams will have evolved and be different by then (the Clippers will be different on Thursday night in New Orleans when they get Paul George back). However, the tone was set. And we want more of it.

2) Ja Morant does not play like a rookie, hits game-winner against Hornets. Sure, Ja Morant brings some freakish athleticism to the point guard position in Memphis. But what is really impressive is the poise he brings — he does not look like a rookie coming out of a small college.

He looks like a beast who can hit game-winners – which he did against Charlotte.

Morant finished with 23 points and 11 assists.

He did all that in 30 minutes — the Grizzlies wisely continue to manage his workload this season, limiting him to 30 minutes a game (with some nights off). This is absolutely the right thing to do. When we talk about the science of “load management” what we’re talking about is the cumulative impacts of numerous seasons of running up and down a hardwood floor — starting in AAU/High School and running up to the NBA — and how that wears a body down and leads to injury.

Ja Morant is getting plenty of minutes, plenty of chances to learn and make mistakes, and he is closing out games (obviously). But he’s still thin and his body’s still adapting to the grind of the NBA. If you have a franchise cornerstone player — and the Grizzlies believe they have one in Morant — why wouldn’t you take steps early to lengthen his career and effectiveness? Why would you ramp up the miles on his odometer during a 24-win season? The Grizzlies are making the right long-term play (especially after watching their prized rookie from a season ago, Jaren Jackson Jr., have to miss the end of the season with an injury).

3) Is Orlando interested in DeMar DeRozan? Makes sense. Are the Spurs going to trade him is another question. An interesting early-season trade rumor popped up via our friend Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer:

The Orlando Magic have interest in trading for the Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan.

For Orlando, this makes a lot of sense. The Magic’s offense has been dreadful this season, scoring less than a point per possession so far. They need a guy who can get buckets, and DeRozan can do that. From the midrange, sure, but the guy scores efficiently and raises the floor of your team —get DeRozan the rock and your team will have a respectable offense. Orlando needs that.

The question becomes, what do the Spurs want to do? Good luck with that one. DeRozan can opt out of the $27.7 million he is owed next season and become a free agent next July, and the Spurs talks with DeRozan about an extension went nowhere. Conventional wisdom in that kind of situation is to trade the player and at least get something for him before he walks. The Spurs, however, do not follow conventional wisdom. The Spurs are going to be a fringe playoff team in the West and may want to keep the band together and make a push for the postseason. Maybe they want to start rebuilding around a young backcourt of Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, and Derrick White, but would they really trade DeRozan to jump start that? Maybe. Maybe not.

Just consider this the start of what will be a lot of trade rumors this season — with a very down free agent class next summer, teams will be turning to trades to upgrade their rosters.

Adrian Wojnarowski: Knicks firing David Fizdale ‘inevitable’

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Knicks president Steve Mills is reportedly laying the groundwork to fire coach David Fizdale.

One step: Mills and general manager Scott Perry addressing the media after Sunday’s loss to the Cavaliers while Fizdale was still in the locker room. Mills and Perry stressed that the team wasn’t meeting expectations, seemingly a veiled shot at the coach.

Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN:

The dismissal of David Fizdale is inevitable, and there was, I think, a bond broken between management and their head coach with how they handled things after that loss Sunday night.

Coaches are hired to be fired, but this sounds far more urgent than that.

As long as Fizdale has his job, he has a chance to save it. If the Knicks start playing better, they could keep him.

But that seems unlikely with this underwhelming roster.

Which is why New York is reportedly also considering a front-office change.

Austin Rivers calls for Doc Rivers to get technical foul (video)

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When Doc Rivers coached Austin Rivers on the Clippers, accusations of favoritism ran rampant. Playing with the Rockets against the Clippers tonight, Austin showed where his loyalties lie.

Not with his father.

The Clippers were letting the game (an eventual 102-93 Houston win) get away from them when Doc argued a call. Austin stood nearby and urged the referee to call a technical foul. The official eventually obliged and ejected Doc.

That’s when Austin really hammed it up – waving off Doc then making the call-me gesture. The disrespect!