NBC’s NBA Power Rankings: Where should Thunder, Clippers fall in pecking order?

Associated Press
1 Comment

The top three teams in this week’s edition of the NBC NBA power rankings are pretty clear, but the next few spots get tricky. Just how good are the Thunder and Clippers? OKC played San Antonio close but got out-executed at the end. Without Blake Griffin the Clippers got crushed by the Cavaliers. How big is the gap from the top three to everyone else, and can those next three (or another team) bridge that gap in the playoffs?

 
source: 1. Warriors (59-6, last week No. 1). They need to go 14-3 the rest of the way to break the Bulls’ 72-win record, it’s doable but not easy. Remember they play the Spurs three times, twice in the AT&T Center where San Antonio has yet to lose this season (including a meeting this Saturday). The bigger issue may be the loss of Andre Iguodala for a couple weeks, he is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate who settles down and is the best defender on Golden State’s second unit. He will be missed in the big games the next couple of weeks.

 
source: 2. Spurs (56-10, LW 2). They beat the Thunder Saturday night when neither Tony Parker nor Manu Ginobili hit a shot from the field, which speaks to the evolution and depth of this team. Challenging week ahead with games against the Clippers, Trail Blazers, and Warriors.

 
source: 3. Cavaliers (47-18, LW 3). Winners of three in a row on their “business trip,” the Cavaliers look like they are coming together. “We’re kind of getting in form right now,” LeBron James said Sunday. “I think coach (Tyronn) Lue has done a great job of finding out his rhythm, of finding out what he wants from us, and we are responding.”

 
source: 4. Raptors (44-20, LW 5). Despite defensive struggles in recent weeks, the Raptors have won three in a row and remain just 2.5 games back of Cleveland for the top seed in the East. Toronto has a slightly tougher schedule and will not catch Cleveland, and expect Dwane Casey to start resting key players (we’re looking at you, Kyle Lowry) down the stretch).

 
source: 5. Clippers (42-23, LW 4). Clippers loss to Cavaliers Sunday should destroy any remaining “they are better without Blake Griffin” foolishness. Jeff Green and Luc Mbah a Moute are not going to get it done as your starting forward against elite teams. The Clips head out on a tough five-game road trip that includes stops in San Antonio and Golden State, they may be just 1.5 games back of Oklahoma City for the three seed but they’re going to need help to catch them.

 
source: 6. Thunder (44-22 LW 6). Interesting stat from Marc Stein of ESPN via twitter: Since the All-Star break, Russell Westbrook is shooting 28.1 percent in the fourth quarter and overtime of games. Which speaks to the knock on OKC in the fourth: If you run a lot of Westbrook and Kevin Durant isolations (or simple pick-and-rolls), as good as those guys are that’s predictable, especially in a playoff series. And predictable is defendable.

 
source: 7. Hornets (37-28, LW 10). The hottest team in the NBA, winners of seven in a row, and it’s being driven by Kemba Walker and their offense. The other guy really finding a groove is Nicolas Batum — doing that in a contract year is going to make him a very rich man this summer.

 
source: 8. Celtics (39-27, LW 7). The loss of Jae Crowder for at least two weeks with a high ankle sprain could see Boston tumble a few slots down in playoff seeding, and down in these rankings. His “3&D” game is the glue that holds key lineups together and he is going to be missed with a heavy road schedule the next few weeks.

 
source: 9. Heat (38-28, LW 8). Joe Johnson and Goran Dragic are developing a real chemistry, which is help driving the offense, wins, and them up the East standings. Interesting tests ahead this week against Charlotte and Cleveland.

 
source: 10. Hawks (38-29, LW 9). They may have had a little defensive slippage but it remains that side of the ball that not only has this team in the playoffs but also makes them dangers in it. After a slump, Kyle Korver has found his three point stroke again (which is bad news for opponents).

 
source: 11. Pacers (35-31, LW 14). They had a three-game winning streak, including one over the Spurs, until a loss on Sunday. Paul George has driven the offense, and he’s going to need to this week with a tough schedule of Boston, Toronto, and Oklahoma City.

 
source: 12. Grizzlies (39-27, LW 11). I’m afraid I’m going to roll an ankle just writing about the Grizzlies. No Mike Conley or Mario Chalmers at the point for a few weeks, but Dave Joerger got his start in the D-League throwing together lineups and that experience seems to be paying off with some great coaching from him in recent weeks. Despite the injuries they are locked in as the five seed.

 
source: 13. Pistons (34-32, LW 16). They are finding offensive balance and that has covered up an unimpressive defense and has them as the eight seed in the East as of this writing. Getting Stanley Johnson back healthy and into the rotation should help as they try to hold off a banged up Bulls team to make the postseason.

 
source: 14. Trail Blazers (35-32, LW 12). Last week the Trail Blazers got their heads handed to them by the Warriors, but mostly they just keep beating the teams they are supposed to beat (Washington, Orlando) and are sticking in the playoffs. Tough week ahead with the Spurs and Thunder, both part of a week-long road trip.

 
source: 15. Rockets (33-33, LW 17). They are tied with Dallas for the seven/eight seed in the West, but with a softer schedule than the Mavericks going forward Houston is expected to make the playoffs. Despite slow starts and shaky three-point shooting this team has enough talent to make it to the postseason.

 
source: 16. Mavericks (33-33, LW 13). . They have lost five in a row due to a terrible defense, and now look at their next six games” At Charlotte, at Cleveland, Golden State, Portland, at Portland, at Golden State. Utah is two games back and if Dallas is going to hold them off they need to win a couple of those.

 
source: 17. Bulls (32-32, LW 15). Now Pau Gasol is out at least a couple games with swelling on the knee, just as the Bulls get Jimmy Butler back. The Bulls are entering a soft part of the schedule (after Toronto Monday), if they are going to climb back into the playoffs and make it they need to go on a run in the next couple weeks.

 
source: 18. Jazz (31-35, LW 19). While they are two games back of Dallas for the final playoff spot in the West, most prediction models have them making it because of a much easier schedule the rest of the way. But they need to pick up wins in places like Chicago and Milwaukee this week if they are going to play into late April.

source: 19. Wizards (30-34, LW 18). They have lost five in a row and it’s becoming hard to imagine them climbing into the playoffs, especially watching that loss to Denver Sunday. They play the teams they are chasing in Detroit and Chicago this week, and if Washington is going to get back in the mix these are must-win games.

 
source: 20. Bucks (28-38, LW 20). Bad news about O.J. Mayo breaking an ankle (at home, walking down stairs), but Giannis Antetokounmpo playing point-forward with Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker continues to show a lot of promise. And win games. Expect more this week with a comfortable homestand.

 
source: 21. Magic (28-37, LW 21). They continue to show flashes — like the comeback against Golden State — and the experiment with Aaron Gordon at the five is very interesting. But it’s not translating to wins, and that likely doesn’t change this week with Charlotte, Cleveland, and Toronto on the schedule.

 
source: 22. Nuggets (28-38, LW 24). Emmanuel Mudiay dropped 30 during the Nuggets win Sunday, and they went 5-2 on their recent homestand. This team isn’t making the playoffs, but Mike Malone has established a culture in Denver that will pay off next season.

 
source: 23. Knicks (28-40, LW 23). The Knicks have won three of five — the last thanks to Jose Calderon’s game winner against the Lakers — but all that really does is hurt where Toronto picks in June. Phil Jackson may have wanted his man to succeed, but there is no way Kurt Rambis should coach this team next season.

 
source: 24. Timberwolves (21-45,LW 22). Oklahoma City let Ricky Rubio take a three to beat them — and he did. The Timberwolves seem to be shooting the long ball a little better of late (including Zach LaVine) and if that is something they could sustain it would be huge for their offense going forward.

 
source: 25. Pelicans (24-41, LW 26). Jrue Holiday deserves serious consideration for Sixth Man of the Year: He is averaging 16.3 points and six assists a game coming off the bench in New Orleans. He only comes off the bench to help limit his minutes after injuries, they have him out there to close games. I just don’t know if voters will recognize a player on a team struggling this much.

 
source: 26. Kings (25-40, LW 25). The DeMarcus Cousins/George Karl feud continues to go Hatfields vs. McCoys and is something the front office has to address this summer. And not in a “we can patch this relationship up” kind of way. The Kings have dropped 9-of-10.

 
source: 27. Lakers (14-52, LW 29). There is now officially less than one month left in Kobe Bryant’s career, still he pulled out a pretty impressive game with 27 points against Cleveland Thursday. Much to the chagrin of Lakers fans their team could pick up a couple more wins this week with just Sacramento and Phoenix on the board.

 
source: 28. Nets (18-48, LW 27). If you��re looking for bright spots, Sean Kilpatrick has played well since Sean Marks picked him up. That’s about it. This team is still bottom four in both offense and defense, and is just hard to watch.

 
source: 29. Suns (17-49, LW 28). They made it entertaining this week when Golden State played down to their level and Brandon Knight stepped it up for a night. Still, this feels like a team that could fall behind the Lakers in the standings due to their inept offense.

 
source: 30. 76ers (9-57, LW 30). And now Jahlil Okafor is out for the season, hopefully this knee issue is as minor as the Sixers went out of their way to make it sound. This is a chance to run more stuff for Nerlens Noel the final weeks, plus the Sixers defense got them a win over Brooklyn last week and these “powers” face off again this week.

Heat, Tyler Herro agree to four-year, $120 million extension (with $10 million in incentives)

Miami Heat Media Day
Eric Espada/Getty Images
0 Comments

Tyler Herro was frustrated — he saw players he felt he was better than getting paid.

Now he has a contract he will have to live up to.

The Heat have signed Herro to a four-year, $120 million extension of his rookie contract, with up to $10 million in incentives) a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and now confirmed by the team.

Herro went to Twitter to confirm the deal himself.

“Tyler is an impact multi-faceted player and we are excited to have him signed for the next five years,” Heat President Pat Riley said in the statement announcing the signing. “His improvement every year since we drafted him has led to this day. We believe he will continue to get better.”

This is a straight four years, no options for either side.

Signing an extension takes Herro off the table for any trades to upgrade the Heat roster this season. Herro had been at the heart of the rumors about the Heat and Kevin Durant, as well as other teams.

Herro’s new contract extension is a big bet on the wing taking another step forward this season and beyond. The deal is a little larger than expected (the conventional wisdom had Herro coming in close to the $107 million RJ Barrett got with the Knicks). Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel and I have discussed Herro’s price before and didn’t quite picture it this high, but with the rising cap over the next few years this deal may not look out of line.

Miami stepped up and paid the reigning Sixth Man of the Year high-level starter money — now he has to earn that job and that paycheck.

Mostly, he has to improve on defense so Eric Spoelstra can trust him at the end of games and deep into the playoffs (while Herro has had big playoff games, his role shrunk deeper in last postseason because of his defense).

Herro puts up numbers — 20.7 points a game on 39.9% from 3 last season — and is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, but does this new deal move him up in the Heat offensive pecking order with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler? Probably not in crunch time (and if Kyle Lowry bounces back this season, there could be games where Herro is option No.4).

This locks up part of Miami’s roster going into the season, but they are still on the look for depth at the four. Don’t consider this roster settled.

 

Watch Celtics shooters look sharp in easy preseason win over Hornets

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

It’s just one meanless preseason game, but for a franchise that could use some good news the Boston Celtics will take it.

The Celtics’ shooting looked in mid-season form in their preseason opener against the Hornets on Sunday — 57.1% overall and 22-of-47 from 3 (46.8%). Boston just couldn’t seem to miss, especially early.

Jayson Tatum had 16 points in 22 minutes, while Jaylen Brown was the leading scorer with 24 points in 24 minutes.

The one unexpected bright spot was a strong game from Mfiondu Kabengele, who is currently on a two-way contract with the team. He ended up with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting and showed some hustle.

Kelly Oubre led the Hornets with 17 points, while LaMelo Ball had 14 points, seven rebounds and four dimes.

It’s just one preseason game, don’t read much of anything into it. But the Celtics will take the good news where they can find it.

T.J. Warren still out for Nets; team to reassess status in November

0 Comments

The Brooklyn Nets bet that the T.J. Warren from the bubble in Orlando — the one who averaged 26.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Pacers — would re-emerge and give them a quality forward they could mix into a deep rotation.

Instead, so far it has looked more like the Warren who has played just four games since the bubble due to stress fractures in his foot.

Warren is improving and the Nets are bringing him along slowly, keeping him off the court until November at least, reports Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

Small forward T.J. Warren, who has missed nearly two full seasons following multiple foot surgeries, is “doing some shooting” and “a little bit more movement the last two weeks than he was prior,” Nash said. He added that Warren will be reassessed in about a month.

The Nets can afford to be patient. They have plenty of other questions to answer as a team before worrying about what Warren can or cannot contribute. But in the dream scenario where everything comes together for the Nets this season, Warren gets healthy and becomes a valuable contributor off the bench giving the Nets more versatility, scoring, and shooting along the front line.

For now, the Nets and Warren wait.

NBA returning to Seattle for exhibition game; when will it be more?

Getty Images
0 Comments

SEATTLE — An NBA preseason game may not seem like a benchmark moment, even in a basketball-hungry city like Seattle, but Jamal Crawford believes there’s value even in an exhibition.

“It reignites a whole new generation of kids who need to see this,” said Crawford, a Seattle native who has been a basketball ambassador for the city through a 20-year NBA career and now with a pro-am that brings in NBA players every summer. “They need to be able to dream and know that it’s real.”

The NBA is making its latest brief return to the Emerald City. The Los Angeles Clippers will play the Portland Trail Blazers there on Monday night, the first time two NBA teams will meet in Seattle since 2018, when the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings played a preseason game. That was the last sporting event inside KeyArena before it was gutted and rebuilt into the gleaming Climate Pledge Arena.

There was a warm-up act of sorts Friday when the Clippers played Israeli team Maccabi Ra’anana in an exhibition, one where the most of the Clippers’ big names – Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, John Wall and Reggie Jackson – weren’t participating.

A sell-out crowd turned out for that Warriors-Kings game four years ago, the first one in Seattle since the beloved SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008 after 41 years in the Pacific Northwest. Another big crowd is expected Monday.

“The Sonics haven’t been a team since I’ve been in the NBA. So just to go play in Seattle is cool,” Blazers star Damian Lillard said. “We played in Vancouver a few years back. I think like two or three years ago, we had a preseason game at the (Memorial) Coliseum. So every time we get to do something like that, I always enjoy it because I wondered what was it like when it was a real thing, when the games were played in these different arenas. So I am excited to play in Seattle.”

Someday, possibly soon, the expectations are that Seattle will reclaim its place as an NBA town.

“It’s always been a great city to me,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said Friday. “It’s unfortunate that they lost their team and the team went to OKC. This city definitely deserves a team.”

Speculation is nonstop about when the NBA will choose to expand. Thanks to the resolution of its arena situation, Seattle seems likely to be at the forefront of those expansion talks, with Las Vegas likely right behind it.

But NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been noncommittal about a possible expansion timeline, and it seems likely those talks won’t pick up steam until the league deals with the new collective bargaining agreement and television deals that are on the horizon.

The community’s commitment has never been in question. The appetite of Seattle fans hasn’t waned in the years since the Sonics left and as the region became a hotbed for NBA talent, whether it was Crawford continuing to carry the banner for the city, to Zach LaVine of Renton, Washington, to this year’s No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero, another Seattle native.

As if any reinforcement was needed, the summer provided a perfect example as fans camped overnight outside Crawford’s summer league venue for the chance to get inside and watch LeBron James make his first basketball visit to the city in more than a decade.

“Anyone that knows Seattle knows what a great basketball city we are,” Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said this summer when the preseason game was announced.

The idea for having the Blazers and Clippers meet in Seattle was the result of a brainstorm between Lue and Blazers coach Chauncey Billups. The two close friends wanted their teams to meet in the preseason and Lue noted the owners for both teams are Seattle based: Steve Ballmer of the Clippers and Jody Allen for the Blazers.

“I haven’t been back since I played there in 2008, I think it was. So just to be able to go back there and you know, Mr. Ballmer and kind of see his offices and how he lives, and (Chauncey) to get a chance to see his owner, and then to be with my best friend, I thought it would be a great common ground,” Lue said.