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).

Lakers reportedly ‘seriously considered’ Westbrook trade for Hield, Turner

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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it. So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That was Lakers GM Rob Pelinka on media day talking about the possibility of the Lakers trading the only two first-round picks they control this decade — 2027 and 2029 — to upgrade this roster around LeBron. Pelinka was clear the Lakers were committed to building a winner around LeBron, “We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game, and he committed to us on a long-term contract, a three-year contract… He committed to our organization. That’s gotta be a bilateral commitment, and it’s there.”

But should that include a Russell Westbrook trade to Indiana for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner? Shams Charania of The Athletic updated and added to the extensive previous reporting on this trade, saying the Lakers kept the door open right up to the start of training camp but didn’t pull the trigger.

Vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, owner Jeanie Buss and senior basketball adviser Kurt Rambis seriously considered sending Westbrook and unprotected first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 to the Pacers for center Myles Turner and guard Buddy Hield, sources said. They held a series of meetings in the days leading up to camp to analyze the possible Pacers deal from every angle, with the views of Ham and Lakers executives Joey and Jesse Buss also being strongly considered in the process. The organization even delayed the midweek news conference for Pelinka and Ham as the debate continued…

If they were going to gamble on a make-or-break move of this magnitude, the thinking went, then everyone had to have confidence in the same vision. But when that wasn’t the case, sources say, the choice was made by Pelinka to remain patient and see, yet again, if Westbrook might find a way to make this imperfect fit with the Lakers work.

Hield and Turner would absolutely improve the Lakers. Turner can play the five, is an elite shot blocker who could provide a strong defensive back line next to Anthony Davis, and is a respectable 3-point shooter who can space the floor. He’s a natural fit. Hield brings shooting that the Lakers have coveted for years and need more of now.

That trade would have moved the Lakers up the ladder to a solid playoff team in the West. Would that trade make the Lakers contenders? Probably not. It still would have come back to the bubble version of Davis and LeBron being ready for the final 16-game sprint to have a puncher’s chance (that may be the case regardless of other moves). Also, it would have messed with future free agency plans in Los Angeles — the Lakers can have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase Kyrie Irving (although Shams reports that’s not in their plans) or other name players, Hield is owed $19.3 million next season and Turner will be a free agent the Lakers would need to re-sign. This deal would end the dream of a free agent taking a little less than the max to come to the Lakers (a dream not likely to come to reality anyway).

As Pelinka said, the Lakers have one shot with trading their two picks to upgrade the roster — they have to hit a home run, this can’t be a solid single. The Lakers were not convinced Hield and Turner could be that home run tandem.

So Los Angeles will go into the season with a starting five of Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn, LeBron, Davis, and Damian Jones, with a bench of Patrick Beverley, Thomas Bryant, Austin Reaves, and Dennis Schroder. The Lakers will see if it fits, how far it looks like this group can take them under new coach Darvin Ham, and watch the market to see what other stars could become available.

The Lakers aren’t done dealing, but it looks like a deal with Indiana is now in the rearview mirror.

PBT Podcast: Philadelphia 76ers 2022-23 season preview

2022-23 Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Philadelphia 76ers are title contenders — if James Harden and Joel Embiid can play up to their potential on the biggest of NBA stages. That hasn’t always happened before, particularly with Harden.

Those two are now set up well. Philadelphia learned its lessons from the playoff loss to Miami last season. GM Daryl Morey rounded out the roster with more toughness and two-way players in the form of P.J. Tucker, Danuel House and DeAnthony Melton. Add in the development of Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle and you have a deep roster of quality players — down to BBall Paul.

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia joins me to discuss if Doc Rivers is ready to take this team to the next level, and if all the additions can come together when it matters. Can Harden shake his history of playoff reputation and lead a team to the Finals?

You can always listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

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

When will LeBron James break Kareem’s all-time scoring record?

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LeBron James is trying not to think about it too much.

“The only time I’ve kind of like thought about it is when someone, you know, been posting on social and it went through my scroll, through my feed, and I’ve seen it,” LeBron said at Lakers’ media day. “And every single time I’m kind of in awe of it, like, wow.”

The wow is breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring record.

It was a record thought almost untouchable at 38,387 points, but now LeBron sits just 1,326 points shy of breaking it — health willing, he should pass Kareem this season.

When? Well, that takes a little math and speculation.

LeBron scored 30.3 points a game last season, but the two seasons prior to that it was closer to 25 points a game. If we split the difference and land at 27.5 points per game, it would take 48-49 games. We have to assume that 37-year-old LeBron (turning 38 just before the New Year) will sit out at least a couple of those first games, pushing this back a few games.

Considering LeBron could slide back in scoring to close to 25 a game again, the smart bet is he breaks Kareem’s record in late January or early February. The Lakers have a five-game East Coast road trip that includes Boston and New York starting Jan. 28 and running through Feb. 4, and that’s about the window.

“To sit here and to know that I’m on the verge of breaking probably the most sought-after record in the NBA, something that people say will probably never be done, I think it’s just super like humbling, for myself,” LeBron said. “I think it’s super cool.

“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. I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Having been in the spotlight for as long as LeBron has — remember he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high schooler — he can be very practiced, very polished with the media. His brand is smooth, as are his dealings with the press in general.

However, when talking about passing Abdul-Jabbar, it felt like LeBron’s guard was down. He was raw, more reflective and genuinely moved.

“You guys always see me use my hashtag #thekidfromakron and that those are the moments where I really think about that kid from Akron. Walking those streets and, you know, playing basketball when I had actually had a basketball and the hoop, or actually just walking around and air dribbling and shooting into it and invisible hoop you know, and counting 5…4…3…2…1 and, you know, making game-winning shots.

“I’m not going to put too much pressure on it throughout the season. But I think it’s a pretty historical moment when it gets here and you know, as long as my family and friends are all there that’s that’s the most important for me.”

LeBron’s family will undoubtedly be there, and the whole world will be watching. Longevity and LeBron’s ability to be great into age 38 (and beyond) is part of his GOAT argument — and there is no better cornerstone of that argument than being the game’s all-time leading scorer.

Suns fall to hot shooting Adelaide 36ers from Australia, 134-124

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The Adelaide 36ers may be from Australia’s National Basketball League, but they are professional players — leave them wide open and they will hit shots.

Phoenix treated Sunday like their first preseason game (it was) and the 36ers hit 24 3-pointers on their way to an upset of the Suns, 134-124. The 36ers were the aggressors all night long, playing team basketball and putting Phoenix on its heels.

It’s just preseason. One preseason game is not a bellwether for the season, there should be little more than raised eyebrows in Phoenix. However, with their last game being a crushing 33-point loss to Dallas which eliminated them from the playoffs a season ago, this was not the palate cleanser that Phoenix fans were hoping for.

Craig Randall — you may remember him from the University of Memphis and Tennessee-Martin — scored 35 points while Robert Franks added 32. The 3-point shot is the great equalizer in basketball and the 36ers were on fire.

 

The last NBA team to lose to an International squad before Sunday was the Thunder in 2016 to Real Madrid. The year before, Turkish power Fenerbahce beat Brooklyn in the preseason. It does happen.

Reserve point guard Cameron Payne led the Suns with 23 points, while Deandre Ayton looked solid and dropped 22, as did Mikal Bridges, who also had 22. Devin Booker had 13 points and Chris Paul dished out 12 dimes.

With the size of Ayton and the athletic slashing of Bridges, the Suns scored 64 points in the paint, more than doubling the 36ers. But math was not on the Suns’ side, as they traded twos for threes and kept falling behind.

This is great for the NBL and its efforts to grow the brand — the 36ers will now take on the Thunder later this week.

It’s a shrug and move on game for the Suns. Expect a more focused effort from the team next game.