NBC/PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Thunder climb to third, Mavericks and Bulls fade

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Only two more power rankings to go after this one — then the playoffs start (you know, the things that make these rankings moot). Oklahoma City is getting hot at the right time, Dallas and Chicago are the polar opposites of that.

 
source: 1. Warriors (66-7, last week No. 2). They have to go just 7-2 the rest of the way to beat the Bulls’ single season win record, and Steve Kerr will chase it rather than rest players wholesale (like the next team on this list). They have a challenging back-to-back with Washington and Utah Monday/Tuesday but Kerr said expect everyone to play. Best playoff sign: They are 13-1 against teams with the next five best records.

 
source: 2. Spurs (61-12, LW 1). Gregg Popovich knows the Spurs are not catching the Warriors for the top seed so he has begun resting guys wholesale — five guys were out vs. Oklahoma City Saturday (it’s not a coincidence that’s the likely second-round matchup, why potentially tip your hand/give them confidence). Biggest playoff concern: San Antonio is 5-6 against others in league’s top six (by record).

 
source: 3. Thunder (51-22 LW 5). Winners of seven in a row and most against playoff teams — they peaking at the right time behind Russell Westbrook’s triple-doubles and Kevin Durant’s improved all-around game. Tough schedule down the stretch including Toronto, Detroit, LA Clippers and Houston this week.

 
source: 4. Cavaliers (52-21, LW 3). Big picture, things look pretty good in Cleveland. Sure, LeBron James is frustrated with the lack of consistent focus, and Tyronn Lue has had to dial back what he wanted to do on defense, but this is still an elite team that almost certainly will get the chance to throw its punches in the NBA Finals. That said, to me they often look like first-year Miami with LeBron — talented players playing next to each other, not with each other.

 
source: 5. Hawks (44-30, LW 6). Atlanta has won eight of nine. The Hawks have had an elite defense for a while (second best in the NBA this season) but after the All-Star break their offense has improved with starter Kyle Korver regaining his form from three, while bench leader Dennis Schroder is shooting much better from just about everywhere compared to the first half of the season.

 
source: 6. Raptors (49-23, LW 4). These Raptors will set the franchise record for wins in a season, but the question is how will they fare in the playoffs (where they haven’t gotten out of the first round since the Vince Carter era)? The return of DeMarre Carroll would help with that, but he did not take to the road with the team recently and there is no official timetable yet.

 
source: 7. Hornets (42-31, LW 7). Jeremy Lin has been red-hot off the bench and sparked a 23-point comeback against the Spurs to give Charlotte it’s best win of the season. Still a dangerous team on paper come the playoffs, but if they started today they would struggle with a hot Atlanta team in the first round. They are just a game back of getting home court in the first round, but they need to rack up wins — a home-and-home with the Sixers this week should help.

 
source: 8. Heat (42-30, LW 8). They are currently the five seed in the East but are just a game back of the three-seed Hawks and Miami has a soft schedule down the stretch. Just like the Hawks, Miami thinks if it can get the three seed (and avoid the Cleveland side of the bracket) they can make a deep playoff run.

 
source: 9. Clippers (45-27, LW 9). Blake Griffin has been cleared to play and following his suspension will return to the Clippers lineup Sunday and with that he will have seven games to get back in the flow with teammates (he also will have the four or five games Los Angeles will have in the first round against a depleted Memphis team). The Clipper ball movement has been better overall (although not the last week) with Griffin out, can can certainly pass but can he keep the ball from sticking on one side of the court too much?

 
source: 10. Celtics (43-30, LW 10). They stopped their slide with a four-game winning streak, it doesn’t matter who that was against. However, now comes a brutal West Coast road trip — at the Clippers, Trail Blazers, Warriors, and Lakers (the last time Kobe faces the Celtics).

 
source: 11. Pacers (39-34, LW 11). They seem comfortably in the playoffs, up 2.5 games on the nine-seed Bulls with nine to play, but that makes Monday’s matchup against Chicago key. Indiana continually seems to beat the teams it should beat but doesn’t stack up well with the teams in the top five in either conference.

 
source: 12. Pistons (39-35, LW 15). Detroit is 5-2 on their nine-game homestead, with both losses coming at the hands (or wings) of the Atlanta Hawks. Next up are tough ones with Oklahoma City and Dallas, but the real test is Saturday night on the road in Chicago — that’s the team trying to catch them in the playoff chase. If Detroit win just one game this week, it needs to be that one to secure their playoff spot.

 
source: 13. Jazz (36-37, LW 16). Utah would be in the playoffs if they started today and you have to like their chances of staying there. While they have just a one-game cushion over the nine seed, that is Dallas which is fading fast. Also, the Jazz have a heavy home schedule the rest of the way with some very winnable games this week (Golden State excepted). After the injury-riddled season they had, making the playoffs would be quite an accomplishment. And that defense would make some top team work for their first-round wins.

 
source: 14. Rockets (36-38, LW 12). They have been dropping a lot of close games of late (they have lost four of five), but that’s not on James Harden who has carried the offense (including a triple double in Toronto). Houston is just half a game ahead of Dallas for the last playoff spot in the West and their schedule this week — Cavaliers, Bulls, Thunder — isn’t doing them any favors.

 
source: 15. Grizzlies (41-32, LW 13). With makeshift lineups due to injury, you have to expect runs like this where the Grizzlies beat the Clippers but then lose to the Lakers. As one would expect with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol out, the Grizzlies defense isn’t very good (which doesn’t bode well for that first round series against the Clippers).

 
source: 16. Trail Blazers (38-36, LW 19). Portland remains a team with a quality offense led by an elite backcourt, but they need to outscore teams to win because their defense is unimpressive. Particularly the past few weeks. Portland is 2.5 games clear of Dallas to remain in the playoffs, hard to see them dropping out of the postseason, but their schedule this week isn’t easy (Boston, Miami, Golden State).

source: 17. Wizards (36-37, LW 14). They continue to win enough games to keep their playoff hopes alive, but making up 2.5 games on Detroit or three on Indiana in just a couple weeks seems like a longshot without a few upset wins. They are out on a five game West Coast swing that includes Golden State and the LA Clippers this week.

 
source: 18. Bulls (36-36, LW 17). They have lost three in a row and from the outside there seems to be a lot of consternation as to the cause — especially getting swept in a home-and-home by the Knicks. I’d start by looking at the defensive end, where the once-stout Bulls are a mess. If they are going to climb back into the playoffs they need wins against the teams they are chasing this week, Indiana and Detroit.

 
source: 19. Mavericks (35-38, LW 18). . Their playoff dreams took a serious blow losing Chandler Parsons for the season (don’t buy the rumors he could return this season/playoffs). Dirk Nowitzki is carrying as big a load as he can (and he will be back next year), but the defense is the problem for Dallas. Winnable games this week — Denver, New York, Minnesota — but the Mavs need to get some stops. Do it and maybe their playoff dreams don’t fade away.

 
source: 20. Nuggets (31-43, LW 21). Let’s just bask in that moment one more time — Emmanuel Mudiay hit the best game winner of the season last week against Philadelphia. While you can’t play them together (unless you hate defense), I love the 1-2 center punch of Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic.

 
source: 21. Bucks (30-44, LW 20). When Jason Kidd and his staff sit down after the season to look ahead to the next one, the first question they need to ask is “how do we get our defense back to its 2015 level?” Last season they made the playoffs on the strength of that defense, this season they found an offensive groove with Giannis Antetokounmpo as the point forward, now how do you combine them?

 
source: 22. Knicks (30-44, LW 24). Kristaps Porzingis is scoring more than 20 points a game most nights again — is he through the rookie wall, or did Kurt Rambis figure out how to use him better? Carmelo Anthony feasted on the Bulls defense last week.

 
source: 23. Kings (29-44, LW 23). The drama never seems to go away with this team, with DeMarcus Cousins taking a not-so-veiled swipe at George Karl by backing Seth Curry. Time to move on to something positive: There’s still a lot of development to do with him, but Willie Cauley-Stein has had some solid offensive games lately, which is a good sign for the future.

 
source: 24. Magic (30-43, LW 22). Good to see Dewyane Dedmon look good in the win over the Bulls, one man’s injury is another’s opportunity. By the way, Dwight Howard is open to a return? Ignoring the numerous burned bridges there, does an aging big man at a big price fit with with the model in Orlando? They can do better.

 
source: 25. Timberwolves (24-49,LW 26). As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann pointed out on twitter, Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine have dramatically improved their shooting the second half of this season. If those two can become guys you have to respect on the perimeter because of their jumpers, Karl-Anthony Towns job just got easier — and he’s already making it look pretty easy of late.

 
source: 26. Pelicans (26-46, LW 25). With Anthony Davis out the Pelicans have to play the other two other bigs they thought might work next to him, Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca. That’s worked about as well as you thought it would. That’s one area whoever is the GM of this team this summer needs to work on.

 
source: 27. Nets (21-51, LW 27). They beat the Cavaliers and Pacers last week, Bojan Bogdanovic is shooting well, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is back on the court. That’s about as much positive news about the Nets as we have had in a while.

 
source: 28. Suns (20-53, LW 28). Devin Booker continues to be a bright spot, and he may have found a better groove with Brandon Knight. The players want management to bring back Earl Watson as coach next season, but he’s gone 6-18 and is that going to inspire management to keep him.

 
source: 29. Lakers (15-58, LW 29). We continue to see signs of development from D’Angelo Russell (fortunately his ankle sprain wasn’t serious), Julius Randle (he’s seeing the court and passing much better), and the vastly underrated Larry Nance. This Sunday is Kobe’s final game vs. Boston.

 
source: 30. 76ers (9-65, LW 30). They need just one more win to avoid tying the worst all-time record for an 82-game season, which doesn’t seem like much but they have already lost nine in a row and have just one win since Feb. 8. This week they face Charlotte (home and home) and Indiana, hard to see a win in there.

Thunder rookie Holmgren trying to focus on learning NBA during rehab

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren is experiencing the rehab process for the first time.

The No. 2 pick in the 2022 NBA draft suffered a right foot injury during a pro-am game in August while defending as LeBron James drove to the basket on a fast break. He had surgery, and the Thunder declared him out for the season.

“I’ve never had a serious injury in my life, so I didn’t really know, I had nothing to base it off of and compare to,” Holmgren said Thursday. “So when it happened, I had to get it looked at and see how serious it was. I didn’t imagine anything like this.”

Holmgren, a versatile 7-footer who had great moments during summer league, is dealing with being sidelined as the Thunder start training camp this week.

“Definitely something that I really had to put my mind to and spend some time to think on,” he said. “And kind of come to some conclusions on things and really settle my mind so I could kind of stop focusing on what happened and focus in on what’s going to happen, what I’ve got to do to get where I need to be.”

Even without practicing, he has already left an impression on his teammates.

“He’s a great guy,” guard Lu Dort said. “I can already feel a connection with me and the rest of the team. He’s a pretty vocal guy, too. He talks a lot, and that’s good for the team.”

Holmgren said his only workout limitation is that he can’t put weight on the injured foot. So, that forces him to focus on other aspects of the game. Coach Mark Daigneault said Holmgren has been working hard on film study.

“It just comes down to putting my mental energy towards it, learning how to really be a professional in areas off the court,” Holmgren said. “I’ve dedicated so much time to really hustling at my craft on the court. Now, this event is making me step back and kind of rework how how I do things. And one of those ways is to become professional with watching film and speaking with coaches, trying to learn, watching what’s happening and really being engaged, in trying to get better with different avenues.”

Holmgren has spoken with Joel Embiid about his injury. Embiid, the reigning NBA scoring champion, was the No. 3 pick in 2014 before missing his first two seasons with foot issues.

Holmgren hopes he can recover as well as Embiid.

“What I’m trying to do right now is just kind of soak up all the knowledge of how things are done around here, how they’re going to be done going forward,” Holmgren said. “So when I’m ready to get get back in there, I can just kind of seamlessly plug myself in.”

Holmgren is expected to be ready for the start of next season. He said he’s trying to keep his thoughts positive.

“It all comes down to keeping a level head because there’s so many ups and downs,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is a down. But I’ve got to keep my head level and focus on getting better. And no matter what the circumstances are, that’s the goal.”

Daigneault believes Holmgren’s mindset will net positive results.

“We’d like him to be out here,” Daigneault said. “But since he’s not, we’re certainly going to make a lot of investments, and the thing that makes me the most optimistic about that is the approach that he takes.”

Houston acquires 2025 2nd-round pick in eight-player trade with Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder v Sacramento Kings
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ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski described this as a “cap-centric deal” since it helped the Thunder get around $10 million below the luxury tax, while Houston added a 2nd-round pick by taking on $1 million in cap space.

The Rockets acquired Derrick Favors, Ty Jerome, Moe Harkless, Theo Maledon and a protected 2025 2nd-round pick from the Hawks and sent David Nwaba, Sterling Brown, Trey Burke and Marquese Chriss to Oklahoma City.

The 2nd-rounder from Atlanta is protected 31-40, and it will become the second best 2026 2nd-round pick between the Mavericks, Thunder, and 76ers if it doesn’t convey in 2025.

A tweet from Jackson Gatlin of Locked On Rockets indicates that Houston will also receive $6.3 million in cash from the Thunder.

Previous reports indicated that Derrick Favors was unlikely to remain with the Thunder this season, while Ty Jerome wasn’t participating in training camp as his representatives worked with the team to find an exit strategy for him. Kelly Iko of The Athletic reported that Houston plans to waive Jerome. Harkless was traded for the third time this summer. He was dealt from Sacramento to Atlanta in July as part of the Kevin Huerter deal, and then was shipped to OKC for Vit Krejci earlier this week. Hopefully he’ll be able to settle in with Houston this season.

As he enters his seventh season, this will be the sixth team that Nwaba has suited up for. The journeyman has had a few solid seasons, including averaging 9.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.0 steals for Houston during the 2020-21 season. Among the players in the deal, he’s the most likely candidate to carve out a role on his new team next season.

Brown, Burke, and Chriss were already traded once this summer as part of the deal that said Christian Wood to Dallas. Now, they’ll be depth pieces in Oklahoma City if the team decides to keep them around.

Daily Thunder’s beat writer Brandon Rahbar pointed out that the trade wouldn’t have been possible without the Disabled Player Exception that the Thunder received because of Chet Holmgren’s injury.

Spurs’ Josh Primo out for preseason with left knee MCL sprain

Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs
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Josh Primo is going to get his chance this season. The Spurs are rebuilding — even Gregg Popovich says not to bet on them to win the title — and Primo, entering his second season (and still 19), is one of the most promising young players on their roster, someone with the chance to be part of whatever will be built in San Antonio the future. He just needs more experience.

Unfortunately, he’s going to start this season half a step behind after missing most of training camp due to a sprained left MCL, the team announced Thursday. He is expected to return in time for the season opener, according to the team.

Promo, the No. 12 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, got into 50 games for the Spurs last season and averaged 5.8 points a game but wasn’t very efficient with his shot yet. He also spent a lot of time in the G-League (but then had to miss this past Summer League due to COVID).

With Dejounte Murray now in Atlanta, there is not only a starting spot open but also opportunities to run the offense — Primo is going to get a chance to show what he can do with that. It’s just not going to be for a little while due to his knee sprain.

Anthony Davis ‘excited’ to be Lakers’ No.1 offensive option, LeBron pushing him to do it

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Is Anthony Davis a No.1 offensive option on a championship team?

The Lakers made a massive bet in trading for Davis — both in good young players and picks — that he could help them win a title now and be the bridge to the future post-LeBron James. Davis was everything the Lakers hoped in the bubble and did win them banner No. 17. However, he has not stayed healthy or consistently played up to that standard.

New Lakers coach Darvin Ham is betting on Davis again and is going to run more of the offense through him this season. LeBron James reportedly backs Ham up. Can Davis stay healthy, find that form again and look like that bridge to the future? If he can’t, the Lakers have to reconsider their post-LeBron plans. That’s why there is pressure on Davis this season.

Davis is excited to prove he is ready for the role, he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. He added LeBron is pushing him to do it.

“I’m so excited that I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about this year,” Davis told Yahoo Sports this week. “I’m looking forward to a healthy year and doing what I know we can do.”…

Davis said James, 37, has been in his ear about taking over the reins of the team, while the rest of the roster would follow his lead.

The first step in Davis being that No.1 option: Staying healthy. He played 40 games last season and 36 the season before that. While some of that was due to fluke injuries, the history of Davis missing time is long.

When healthy, Davis is an unquestionably elite player — to use the bubble example, Davis was a defensive force in Orlando who knocked down midrange jumpers after facing up, averaging 27.7 points on a 66.5 true shooting percentage, plus grabbed 9.7 rebounds a game. That is the AD the Lakers need this season.

Which can be a lot of pressure, but Davis said he doesn’t feel that.

“But for me, I’m not putting any pressure on myself at all,” Davis said at media day. “I’m gonna go out there and play basketball, work hard, defend and do what the team needs to win basketball games. I’m not going to overthink and, you know, listen to what everybody else is saying and try to be this ‘whatever’ player they want me to be.”

“Whatever” the Lakers want Davis to be is the Top 10 player in the world he has shown for stretches in Los Angeles. If he can be consistent, that Davis helps the Lakers be more of a threat in the West. If Davis can’t be that guy, it could be another long season for Lakers nation.