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PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Who is the third best team in the NBA?

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The top two teams in the NBA are clear and aren’t really going to change through the end of the season barring some unforeseen disaster. But who is the third best team? I thought it was Cleveland, but they have dropped four of five. The Thunder have dropped three of four. Toronto, a team that starts Luis Scola? I have the Clippers there this week, but I’m not a big believer in them either. At the bottom of the rankings the Sixers are in a familiar spot.

 
source: 1. Warriors (53-5, last week No. 1). They have already clinched a playoff spot and now need to go 20-4 the rest of the way to beat the Bulls’ 72 win record (and they have 17 games at home, where they are undefeated this season). Sorry Chicago, but the Warriors are going to break the record. Stephen Curry could miss a game or more after his ankle got rolled against the Thunder.

 
source: 2. Spurs (50-9, LW 2). Kawhi Leoard is back, and with him in the starting lineup the Spurs’ defense is back as well. Which should scare teams. I thought Ray McCallum was going to work out in San Antonio (they picked him up this summer), but he was cut loose over the weekend to make way for veteran Andre Miller.

 
source: 3. Clippers (38-20, LW 5). They are playing .500 ball over their last six games, but that’s better than the couple teams just below them in these rankings. The Clipper defense continues to impress. Jeff Green has been exactly what was expected: inconsistent, but still an upgrade over Lance Stephenson. Tough showdown against OKC on Wednesday at Staples.

 
source: 4. Cavaliers (41-17, LW 3). They have dropped three of four, and look like a team still searching for answers. Particularly on defense, where they have struggled since Tyronn Lue took over. They are just two games up on Toronto for the top seed in the East (after a loss to Toronto this week) but them finding their defense will matter a lot more than home court.

 
source: 5. Thunder (41-18 LW 4). They have lost four of five, but the punch in the gut by Stephen Curry and Golden State Saturday night was the most painful of those. The Thunder don’t want to hear it, but they earned a moral victory in that game — do they stand a better chance to beat the Warriors than the Spurs? Brutal back-to-back Wednesday at Clippers then Thursday at Warriors.

 
source: 6. Raptors (39-19, LW 6). They picked up a huge win over Cleveland on Friday behind Kyle Lowry and they are now within two games of Cleveland for the top seed (and the Raptors have the tiebreaker). But with Lowry resting Sunday the rest of the Raptors took a mental vacation in Detroit, a win they could have used. They remain the biggest threat to the Cavaliers in the East.

 
source: 7. Celtics (35-25, LW 7). They have won 10 in a row at home, which when you consider it looks more and more likely they will have a first-round playoff series starting at the Garden means the Celtics in the second round seems more and more likely. Heavy home schedule coming up (except a tough showdown with the Cavs this week on the road).

 
source: 8. Hawks (33-27, LW 12). Big wins over the weekend, knocking off the Bulls and Hornets at home, and they are doing it thanks to a lock-down defense that is the best in the NBA over the last 10 games (three points per 100 possessions better than the second-place Clippers).

 
source: 9. Trail Blazers (32-28, LW 10). They finished 9-2 in February. With good reason we’ve talked a lot about Damian Lillard’s strong play since not making the All-Star team, but the Blazers have had a Top 10 defense in their last 10 games as well.

 
source: 10. Heat (33-26, LW 8). Joe Johnson jumped right into the starting lineup for the Heat on Sunday, and he should give them improved three-point shooting that they need. Miami may go on a little run, they are entering a soft part of the schedule (including a home-and-home against the Sixers this week).

 
source: 11. Grizzlies (34-24, LW 9). They are 10-games above .500 and have a six-game cushion from falling out of the playoffs, that should be enough to keep them in the postseason without Marc Gasol. Should. But their schedule starts to really get difficult the last month of the season.

 
source: 12. Hornets (30-28, LW 13). They are in a virtual tie with Chicago and Detroit for the final two playoff slots in the East (charging Washington is just two games back). Which is why the 10-of-12 at home stretch starting this week for Charlotte is key — this is when they need separation from that pack. Keep playing defense like they have and they will get it.

 
source: 13. Mavericks (32-28, LW 15). . They are entertaining to watch because this team puts up a lot of points and gives up a lot of points — Mavs games are old-fashioned shootouts. David Lee is getting what he wanted, he’s part of the rotation and playing minutes, and he fits with the rest of the Dallas team — he’s shown he can still score but not defend.

 
source: 14. Pacers (31-28, LW 11). They have lost three out of four, are just half a game ahead of the nine seed (and falling out of the playoffs), and they have a tough four-game road trip this week that includes Cleveland, Charlotte, and Washington. The Pacers need to find some consistent offense, Rodney Stuckey return should provide some of that (but hasn’t).

 
source: 15. Pistons (31-29, LW 18). They have won four in a row and remain right in the middle of the mix for one of the last playoff spots in the East. Tobias Harris in the starting lineup with Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, and Andre Drummond has been a strong lineup, but the Pistons need more out of the bench.

 
source: 16. Rockets (29-30, LW 17). They remain the eight seed in the East as we enter the week, thanks in large part to a come-from-behind win against a hot Portland team over the weekend. James Harden is carrying this team on offense, and that’s the way it will have to be the rest of the season if they are going to hold on to that playoff slot.

source: 17. Wizards (28-30, LW 19). They are a couple games out of the playoffs and can’t string together many wins, but if you want a ray of hope for their playoff chances here you go: The Wizards have the easiest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way. This week they have the Cavaliers (likely with LeBron this time) and Indiana, and they need to win at least one of those.

 
source: 18. Jazz (28-30, LW 14). The loss to the Nets this week makes you wonder if this team can climb back into the eight seed and hold it. Heavy road schedule the next three weeks will determine their fate, and this week is tough at Boston, Toronto, Memphis, and New Orleans.

 
source: 19. Bulls (30-28, LW 16).No Derrick Rose, no Jimmy Butler, no consistent offense. But that’s not the real problem — 13 straight opponents have scored more than 100 points against Chicago. Even if they make that playoffs that defense gets them swept aside quickly.

 
source: 20. Magic (26-32, LW 23). It’s hard to imagine them making up he four games needed to get back into the playoffs in the East, particularly when the Magic can’t get consistent stops. Which you know eats at Scott Skiles.

 
source: 21. Bucks (24-35, LW 22). Unlike a lot of teams at the bottom of these rankings, there is a good reason to watch the Bucks right now — Giannis Antetokounmpo playing point guard. It’s working. He is good playmaker setting up teammates, and their offense is more than three points per 100 possessions better when he is the playmaker.

 
source: 22. Pelicans (23-35, LW 21). Anthony Davis showed what he can do in a win over the Thunder, and Eric Gordon returned scoring 31 in his first game back after five weeks. But that is all moot because this team cannot get consistent stops, the defense just undercuts them every time you think they can make a run up the standings.

 
source: 23. Kings (24-33, LW 24). Watch for more frustrated DeMarcus Cousins as the Kings water a tough stretch of the schedule (Thunder, Grizzlies, Mavericks, and Spurs this week) and likely will struggle. It feels like this team is just treading water until the summer, when coaching and roster changes will shake things up. Again.

 
source: 24. Timberwolves (19-41,LW 26). As they should, the Timberwolves are upping the minutes for their young core down the stretch. They bought out Andre Miller (now with the Spurs) and Kevin Martin may join him. Their offense is clicking with all that youth, it’s the other end of the court where they struggle.

 
source: 25. Nuggets (23-36, LW 20). They are the team that fans of playoff teams see on the schedule and think “easy win” but will learn the hard way have been playing much better lately. However, no Danilo Gallinari for some time with an ankle injury is a setback.

 
source: 26. Knicks (25-36, LW 25). Kurt Rambis is coaching to win — more specifically, to save his job – and that has meant heavy minutes for Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks are 6.5 games out of the playoffs, that’s not happening, no reason to run Carmelo into the ground now.

 
source: 27. Nets (17-42, LW 27). Break up the Nets, they have won two games in a row. Bojan Bodganovic is starting in place of Joe Johnson and is trying to show other teams he can knock down threes (which has been a good thing for the lowly Nets offense).

 
source: 28. Suns (15-44, LW 30). Earl Watson got his first coaching victory thanks to the Suns beating the stumbling Grizzlies last week. That could be it for a while, the schedule isn’t kind, including four on the road this week with stops in Miami and Charlotte.

 
source: 29. Lakers (11-49, LW 29). They have lost eight in a row, and the team with the worst defense in the NBA is playing its worst defense of the season during this stretch. But the Kobe Bryant show rolls on, and that’s what Laker management prioritized.

 
source: 30. 76ers (8-51, LW 28). Losers of eight in a row and it’s not pretty. Brett Brown is in experimentation mode and Jerry Colangelo is spinning that it’s “inappropriate” to draw conclusions about the Sixers right now. Time for Sixers fans to start planning their lottery parties.

New California law prompted by crash that killed Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant crash site
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday approved legislation prompted by the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight other peopls that makes it a crime for first responders to take unauthorized photos of deceased people at the scene of an accident or crime.

Reports surfaced after the Jan. 26 crash that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna and the others that graphic photos of the victims were being shared.

Eight deputies were accused of taking or sharing graphic photos of the scene, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said then, adding that he had ordered the images deleted. He said the department has a policy against taking and sharing crime scene photos, but it did not apply to accident scenes.

The measure that will take effect Jan. 1 makes it a misdemeanor with fines up to $1,000 per offense to take such photos for anything other than an official law enforcement purpose.

Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, has sued the department over the photos.

LeBron James calls bubble “the most challenging thing I’ve ever done” in NBA

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The NBA bubble has worn on players.

Paul George talked about the depression it brought on, saying he went to a “dark place.” Other teams just seemed to crumble under the weight of it when things got tight.

The strong-willed survival of all things bubble is why the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat start play in the NBA Finals on Wednesday. Just don’t think it’s been easy.

“It’s probably been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done as far as a professional, as far as committing to something and actually making it through,” LeBron said on Media Day Tuesday. “But I knew when I was coming what we were coming here for. I would be lying if I sat up here and knew that everything inside the bubble, the toll that it would take on your mind and your body and everything else, because it’s been extremely tough.

“But I’m here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to compete for a championship. That was my mindset once I entered the bubble, once I entered the quarantine process the first two days. Then right from my first practice, my mindset was to — if I’m going to be here, make the most of it and see what you can do and lock in on what the main thing is. The main thing was for us to finish the season and compete for a championship.

“So that’s just been my mindset throughout these — I don’t even know how many days it is. However many days it is, it feels like five years. So it really doesn’t matter. I’ve been as locked in as I’ve ever been in my career.”

LeBron James has been a leader in every sense throughout the bubble. On the court, he took charge when it was needed to lift the Lakers organization back to the NBA Finals for the first time in a decade.

Off the court, he has been a consistent and loud voice for social justice — and he has put his money where his mouth is. That has made him a target of conservative talking heads, to which LeBron has largely shrugged. He’s thinking bigger picture, not their short-term distractions.

Right now, however, he’s thinking about winning NBA Finals.

 

NBA Finals Preview: Five key things to watch when Lakers face Heat

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—This is not the NBA Finals preview we expected to write heading into the season because this had never happened in NBA history: Two teams that were 10 seeds a season ago, two teams completely out of the playoffs, are competing in the NBA Finals one year later.

The Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat both have the advantages of market and management, and both used that leverage last offseason to land big stars — Anthony Davis and Jimmy Butler — who could lead them back to this point.

The Lakers and Heat meet in an interesting chess match of a Finals — the Lakers have the two best players in the series, but the Heat have the better ensemble and have thrived in the bubble. Miami also creates some matchup challenges the Lakers have yet to see this postseason.

Here are the five things to watch, five things that will help decide the 2020 NBA Finals (with my prediction at the end).

1) Bam Adebayo vs. Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis has been the best offensive player so far in the playoffs — he is averaging 28.8 points per game and is scoring with ease from all three levels. He’s a devastating finisher at the rim, he is hitting 36.6% from three (on 2.7 attempts a game), and when he gets the ball and faces up he’s been unstoppable, including from the midrange. Portland and Denver went big but slower against him, Houston has no center, and none of those teams had an answer for Davis.

Miami has Bam Adebayo.

No one player will stop Davis, but Adebayo is an All-Defensive Team player with the length, instincts, and athleticism to make Davis work. Adebayo is a fantastic isolation defender, by far the best Davis has faced this postseason. Davis will get the ball and drive, but the buckets will not come as easily — ask Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“Bam is a great player, Davis said of Adebayo. “Bam is a lot like [Nikola] Jokic. He handles the ball a lot, pushes them on the breaks for them, he makes great passes, scores. He’s like their energy guy as well. So, it’ll be fun. Two Kentucky guys. Coach Cal [John Calipari] probably texted and called me enough about that.

But it’s going to be a fun matchup… That team leans on him a lot. I think it was Game 4 where he took that pressure, and took the blame for not playing well, and ended up losing. And he comes out in Game 5 and almost had a triple-double.”

When the Heat have the ball, Adebayo is at the heart of Miami’s attack — he was the difference in the fourth quarter of Game 6 against Boston — and like Davis, he attacks the rim. Davis can defend him but it’s going to require a lot of energy on the defensive end.

Miami likely will use Jae Crowder to guard Davis at times as well, they will go under every pick and play back in the paint, daring Davis and the Lakers to be jump shooters. It’s the right strategy, but the way Davis is playing he will make Miami pay anyway.

2) Miami’s shooters get red hot

The Lakers have been a fantastic defensive team through the playoffs in part because they are quick on their rotations, scramble well when things break down, and they don’t give up a lot of threes (32.9 attempts per game, second-lowest in the playoffs).

If Miami is going to win this series, Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, and the rest of the Miami shooters are going to have to change that dynamic. The Heat have to keep moving to get open then shoot over the top of the Lakers’ defense all series, stretching their defense across the court.

“The way they move off the ball, they share the ball,” LeBron said of things that have impressed him about the Heat. “Everyone is live on the floor. There’s not one guy that you can disrespect or be off throughout the course of an offensive possession. And they do a hell of a job of moving without the ball, sharing the ball, cutting, passing.”

The Lakers have length, but do they have a defender who can stay in front of this Goran Dragic — the guy in the bubble playing like the All-NBA version of himself from six years ago? If he gets into the paint and hits a few shots, the Lakers’ defense will collapse down and suddenly, two quick passes and Heat shooters will have an open three. That’s bad news for L.A.

Miami was streaky from deep against Boston — Herro had a great game but Miami shot under 30% from deep in games two, three, and four — and they can’t be against the Lakers. Miami’s chances in this series hinge on its ability to shoot lights out.

3) Lakers dominating the offensive glass

The Los Angeles Lakers have grabbed the offensive rebound on 29.7% of their missed shots these playoffs, and those second-chance points have helped fuel their run to the Finals. With Davis and JaVale McGee/Dwight Howard up front, the Lakers’ size inside has been a problem for teams. Even big teams. It’s been all season long.

Pat Riley used to tell his Showtime Lakers “no rebounds, no rings,” and that will apply to his Heat now — if Miami doesn’t keep the Lakers off the offensive glass they will lose. Miami plays with incredible energy (which has helped them on the offensive glass at critical points), and they will need to focus that energy on the boards this series.

4) Jimmy Butler and Heat try to make LeBron a jump shooter

The most telling action to watch in this series is how Miami defends the LeBron/Davis pick-and-roll.

The Heat got to the Finals playing zone defense (more on that is a few paragraphs) and being a switching team in man-to-man. However, they may look like more of a basic drop defense against the Lakers — go under the pick, pack the paint and protect it, and dare the Lakers to become jump shooters.

Especially LeBron. The problem is, back off LeBron and he sees a runway. That is where Butler comes in — he has to have a fantastic defensive series keeping LeBron from taking over (and it’s fair to question if he still has the athleticism to do it, even against an age 35 Lebron). Guys have been trying to find a way to slow LeBron for 17 seasons, and with limited success. For Miami to have a chance, Butler (and to a lesser degree Andre Iguodala) will have to make him work hard for his points.

“He’s seen everything,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of LeBron. “At this point in his career, it’s just about winning. And his ability to do what he does at his age is incredibly uncommon. But there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to be able to maintain that.”

LeBron will hunt for switches and try to get Herro or Robinson on him — he is relentless at forcing the matchup he wants (even if Miami is fairly good at avoiding the switch). The Heat rookies could be in for a long series.

Then there is the Miami zone.

Miami will use it to protect the paint — pack it in a little, take away lanes for LeBron to drive, remove passing lanes to cutters, and try to take LeBron out of his comfort zone. The challenge is Miami likes to put its bigger wings out top in the zone to overwhelm smaller ball handlers (think Boston’s Kemba Walker), but that’s not going to work against LeBron. Still, the Lakers have not done as well against a zone in the playoffs (less than a point per possession, but just 30 possessions according to Second Spectrum tracking data, so it’s small sample size theater). The Lakers will need to figure it out, as Boston eventually did, because the Heat will run it until the Lakers beat it.

5) Which team stays out of foul trouble

Nobody ever pities the referees, but they are in for a brutal series.

Both the Lakers and Heat attack the paint and put pressure on the officials to make calls — and the Lakers have fouled a lot these playoffs. Both teams will target getting key opponents in early foul trouble — watch the Davis/Adebayo matchup in particular and LeBron/Butler. Both teams will be physical.

“You got to be smart about ticky-tacky fouls,” Adebayo said.

How games are officiated — is it called tight, or do they let them play a little? — will mean a lot in this series.

Expect a lot of complaining — from players, from coaches, and from fans — about the officiating. Expect letters and video to be sent to the league by both teams. Expect fines for complaining.

Despite what fans think, the referees will work to be impartial in the NBA Finals, but it’s going to be hard for the referees to stay out of the middle of this series.

Prediction: Lakers in six. As many problems as Miami poses for the Lakers, LeBron will figure out the puzzle.

Report: Delonte West enters rehab with help of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban with Delonte West
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Every so often, a video or picture goes viral of Delonte West – who played primarily for the Celtics and Cavaliers and whose NBA career ended with the Mavericks in 2012 – on the street appearing to be in rough shape.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban did something about it.

TMZ:

Mark Cuban is personally helping Delonte West get back on his feet … with the Dallas Mavericks owner picking up the ex-NBA star at a gas station in Texas.

We’re even told Cuban has offered to help cover Delonte’s cost for treatment.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Good for Cuban for stepping up. And hopefully West gets the help he needs.