NBA Power Rankings Week 3: Clippers climb to second behind Cavaliers

Associated Press
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This early in the season it is all still small sample-size stuff, so one good game or one bad one can skew the numbers — and send teams farther up and down these rankings than likely is where they finish. That said, the top of the board looks about right, or at least what we expected heading into the season.

 
Cavaliers small icon 1. Cavaliers (6-0, Last Week No. 1). The NBA’s last undefeated team had more trouble with the Sixers than the short-handed Celtics. Cleveland’s offense is carrying them — best in the NBA so far — and the defense is good enough when needed but wasn’t impressive against Houston or others. So far not having a decent backup point hasn’t hurt Cleveland, but you have to wonder if at some point that depth is an issue.

 
Clippers small icon 2. Clippers (5-1, LW 3). Los Angeles has the best defense in the NBA so far this young season, they are doing a great job of forcing opponents into midrange jumpers. The win on the road at San Antonio might be the most impressive win of the season (and it has us overlooking the home loss to OKC). If the Clippers can stay healthy and can get a playoff showdown with San Antonio, L.A.’s athleticism could be real problem for the San Antonio.

 
Spurs small icon 3. Spurs (5-2, LW 2). An impressive 4-0 start on the road this season is probably the best indication of how good they really are (they have already lost more home games this season than they did all of last season, two). The Spurs will be without Tony Parker for a week due to a knee injury — but that’s not all bad, the starters are more than 50 points per 100 possessions better this young season with Patty Mills playing instead of Parker.

 
Warriors small icon 4. Warriors (4-2, LW 4). This team simply doesn’t have the margin for error it did last season. When focused and defending, like they did vs. OKC, this team can blow out anyone — and Stephen Curry can still put up 23 points in a quarter. But they lost that focus and drive the next night and found themselves upset by the Lakers (and Curry goes 0-of-10 from three). While the ball is still moving, they have shown a few areas of weakness so far and defensive rebounding is the biggest Achilles heel (29th in the NBA).

 
Thunder small icon 5. Thunder (5-1, LW 6). While the loss to a motivated Golden State got the national attention, this is a team playing harder than everyone right now (including the Clippers, who they beat the night before the GSW game). They still are relying on a stout defense and getting buckets on the break — 20 percent of their plays this season are in transition, the highest percentage in the league (and they are scoring a decent point per possession doing it).

 
Raptors small icon 6. Raptors (4-2, LW 9). DeMar DeRozan remained red hot, scoring at least 30 in his five games this season, until Sacramento on Sunday (an ugly Toronto home loss). Toronto bucks the NBA trend by relying on DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and others to create their own shots — only 44.9 percent of their buckets are assisted, lowest in the league — but it works for them. Big tests this week at Oklahoma City and Charlotte.

 
Hawks small icon 7. Hawks (4-2 LW 5). This is a team not taking full advantage of the soft part of the schedule (and it gets tougher this week with the Cavaliers and Bulls). However, the defense is second best in the NBA at 94 points allowed per 100 possessions and that is getting them wins. Mike Budenholzer is using Dwight Howard well, not just giving him the ball on the block but also in the high post and places where he’s asked to facilitate, not just score. It’s got Howard involved beyond just defendable post ups.

 
Hornets small icon 8. Hornets (4-1, LW 11). The soft schedule this week — Philadelphia and Brooklyn — helped them look good and pad the record. That’s about to change and we’ll see just how good this team is this week when they face Indiana, Utah, Toronto, and Cleveland. I suspect the Hornets are quite good (they are moving the ball well on offense), but that’s a brutal stretch.

 
Pistons small icon 9. Pistons (4-2, LW 13). Tobias Harris has been one of the more efficient scorers in the NBA this season with a true shooting percentage of 64.8 percent. Soft schedule helps them keep picking up wins despite being without Reggie Jackson. Detroit’s 0-2 on the road and they have a tough stretch of 6-of-7 away from the Palace, and this week is particularly tough with games against the Clippers, Spurs, and Nuggets.

Jazz small icon 10. Jazz (4-3, LW 17). Gordon Hayward returned Sunday, scored 28 points (good warm-up game against a soft defense in the Knicks), and the Utah offense just looks better with him on the floor. They closed the game with George Hill, Rodney Hood, Hayward, Joe Johnson, and Rudy Gobert (until he fouled out, then Derrick Favors came in) and that group could do some real damage.

 
Blazers small icon 11. Trail Blazers (4-3, LW 10). The loss to Phoenix on the road was not pretty, but they bounced back in Dallas and then got a quality win in Memphis. Their defense, particularly in the paint, has been inconsistent and with that they lose some games they probably should win. Still, when Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are on this team can beat anybody and is a lot of fun to watch.

 
Lakers small icon 12. Lakers (4-3, LW 24). Luke Walton has them playing at the fastest pace in the NBA so far this season, and the team is loving it — they love basketball. The biggest surprise of this season to me is the play of Nick Young — he had 24 in Sunday’s win against Phoenix, but more than that he’s moving the ball, playing a mature game, and not just showboating. If I were cynical, I’d say that’s upping his trade value, but right now he’s at the heart of this team playing entertaining basketball.

 
Bucks small icon 13. Bucks (4-3, LW 21). They had one of the best offenses in the NBA before a dismal Sunday night in Los Angeles (which was more about them then the Mavericks). Jabari Parker has been fantastic this season, scoring 17.6 points per game and doing it inside and out (38.5 percent from three), and he’s got a PER of 18.8. He and Giannis Antetokounmpo are carrying Milwaukee’s offense.

 
Celtics small icon 14. Celtics (3-3, LW 8). Second best offense in the NBA so far this young season, but the second worst defense in the league has been holding them back. Injuries hit Boston early: Al Horford was out with a concussion against the Bulls and Cavaliers, and the team had been +23 per 100 possessions better with him on the court through the first three games. Then Jae Crowder rolled and ankle and will miss some time. Yet they got a win over the Bulls and keep finding a way; I expect them to find a groove with a softer schedule this week.

 
Bulls small icon 15. Bulls (3-3, LW 7). Dwyane Wade already more threes this season than all of last season, and he has sparked a Bulls’ offense that is third in the NBA this young season. The problem is their defense has been inconsistent at best, and they are getting killed on the pick-and-roll. Maybe those Bulls numbers will improve as they head into a soft part of the schedule for a few weeks — they should help them rack up wins.

 
Rockets small icon 16. Rockets (3-3, LW 14). The third worst defense in the NBA so far this season, on the other side the fifth best offense with James Harden putting up fantastic numbers. So, about what we expected out of Houston. Sam Decker looks very comfortable and is playing well in the D’Antoni system. A home-and-home against the Spurs this week will be a real test.

 
Nuggets small icon 17. Nuggets (3-3, LW 16). Emanuel Mudiay was off to an ugly start this season (shooting less than 30 percent) when everything came together and he went off for 24 points in the first quarter against Boston. That kind of quarter is not sustainable, but he should be better than the first few games. With Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic it shouldn’t be a surprise Denver gets 12 percent of its offense from post ups, the highest percentage in the league.

 
Pacers small icon 18. Pacers (3-3, LW 18). Larry Bird wanted to play faster and have a better offense — and they are playing 2.5 possessions faster a game and scoring nearly four more points per 100 possessions — but that has come at the expense of the defense, which is giving up 7.7 more per 100. Jeff Teague has been one of the bigger disappointments in this young season. Maybe run more dribble handoff plays, where they’ve had success (1.26 points per possession). Heavy home stretch of games coming up, plus a home-and-home against Philly, should help Teague and the Pacers get right.

 
Grizzlies small icon 19. Grizzlies (3-4, LW 12). The good news is that Chandler Parsons is back in the lineup as of Sunday and that should help both the ability to spread the floor and shot creation. And they need those things, because the Grizzlies offense was unimpressive last week when the three balls were not falling. Hopefully Parsons’ return helps the lack of depth on this team as well.

 
Heat small icon 20. Heat (2-3, LW 23). They have the eighth-best defense in the NBA this young season thanks to Hassan Whiteside patrolling the paint and some decent perimeter defenders. But the 24th ranked offense has this team below .500. Justise Winslow and Dion Waiters have really struggled on offense, as evidenced by their PERs — 8.5 for Winslow and 6.5 for Waiters. Those are “get sent to the D-League” kind of numbers.

 
Magic small icon 21. Magic (3-3 LW 29). They had a softer schedule last week and they took advantage of it beating the Sixers, Wizards, and Kings. They got those in spite of a defense that continues to rank in the bottom 10 in the league despite the talent on paper to be much better. Tougher tests this week with Chicago, Minnesota, Utah, and Oklahoma City on the docket.

 
Kings small icon 22. Kings (3-5, LW 15). The Kings played terrible defense and started 0-4 on a tough East Coast road trip (the kind of trip where playoff teams still get some wins). Then they got to Toronto Sunday, slowed the NBA’s leading scorer in DeRozan, and picked up an unexpected win. Best news for Kings fans is that Darren Collison returns from his suspension this week, which strengthens the starting lineup and pushes Ty Lawson to the bench to lead the second unit.

 
timberwolves small icon 23. Timberwolves (1-4, LW 20). The record doesn’t reflect how well this team is playing — they keep losing close games, which feels a lot like last season. Then again, Minnesota’s numbers are skewed by a blowout win over Memphis the night the Grizzlies rested nearly anyone you can name. No Ricky Rubio for a while with a sprained elbow, which is not good for an already below-expectations defense.

 
Nets small icon 24. Nets (2-4, LW 22). Jeremy Lin is out for a couple weeks with a hamstring, and with Greivis Vasquez already out injured the Nets offense is going to struggle. Brook Lopez has played well when he gets help, Trevor Booker hustles, but without those guards to create Brooklyn is in for a rough stretch. Cross-town showdown at Madison Square Garden this week.

 
Knicks small icon 25. Knicks (2-4 LW 19). Kristaps Porzingis needs more touches — and the Knicks finally did that in Chicago (and got the win). I get that they added Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee and others who will take up some shots, but Porzingis is the future and his touches and shots per minute are down this season. He’s the future, get the man the rock. A quality win in Chicago in an emotional game for Rose and Joakim Noah — Rose was dishing in that game better than he has all season. But they then turned around and fell at home to Utah.

 
Suns small icon 26. Suns (2-5, LW 27). Devon Booker is tearing it up, with 38 and 39 points in his last two games respectively — the last Sun player to break 35 on consecutive nights was A’Mare Stoudemire nine seasons ago. That’s your bright spot. The Phoenix offense doesn’t share the ball and the defense has been pedestrian.

 
Mavericks small icon 27. Mavericks (1-5, LW 26). Harrison Barnes has been as good as Dallas could have hoped for, but with Dirk Nowitzki out (Achilles) and Deron Williams battling nagging injuries, this team has struggled. And dug themselves a hole. They have the suddenly-hot Lakers then the Warriors this week, Dallas needs a split or that hole will start to get too deep. Also an aside to Mark Cuban, you’re better than banning media members.

 
Wizards small icon 28. Wizards (1-4, LW 25). Challenging schedule to start the season, but they beat the Hawks at home — then lost to Orlando. Bradley Beal has struggled (29.6 percent from three) after getting a max contract this summer, which has him leading the disappointment train. Washington had double digit leads in all their losses last week but faded in the second half, a troubling sign for a team where the schedule gets tougher this week (Boston, Cleveland, Chicago).

 
Pelicans small icon 29. Pelicans (0-6, LW 28). Injuries have ravaged this team — they only had 11 healthy players after Lance Stephenson needed groin surgery. (That’s what led to Stephenson being waived, his contract was not fully guaranteed, and they needed to create a roster spot for Archie Goodwin). However, the guys still healthy and getting run not-named Anthony DavisSolomon Hill in particular — have been the bigger disappointment. I liked moving Omer Asik to the bench, but this roster’s problems are deeper.

 
Sixers small icon 30. 76ers (0-5, LW 30). Despite how much fun it is to watch Joel Embiid play and think of the potential, and despite the clever passing of Sergio Rodriguez, Philadelphia has the worst offense in the NBA by a mile — 4.2 points per 100 possessions worse than New Orleans. That’s why they blew leads in the fourth quarter last week. They have a home-and-home against inconsistent Indiana this week, that could be a place to grab a “W.”

Watch Victor Wembanyama drop 30-point double-double in France

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Maybe you spent your Saturday afternoon watching Lionel Messi doing Lionel Messi things. Or intense college football rivalries.

In France, they spent part of the day watching Kylian Mbappe be brilliant but then flipped over and watched future No.1 pick Victor Wembanyama drop a 30-point double-double.

That’s two straight 30-point double-doubles for Wembanyama.

He will be the No.1 pick next June (barring something catastrophic), and teams are already thinking about the lottery next June.

Expect some other teams to jump in that mix at the bottom because the depth of this class goes well beyond just Wembanyama with Scoot Henderson, Amen Thompson and others. The tanking is coming people.

 

Boogie Cousins called Warriors GM Myers and got reality check on why he’s not in NBA

2022 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors
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DeMarcus Cousins didn’t understand why he didn’t have an NBA contract this season.

He thought he had proven he could help teams in need of front-line depth last season, first in Milwaukee when Brook Lopez was out following back surgery and gave them 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds a game of solid play. The Bucks ultimately let Cousins go for financial reasons, so the Nuggets picked him up to backup Nikola Jokic. He was again solid, averaging 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game (and he had a 31-point night against the Rockets).

Confused, he called one of the former GMs who brought him in, Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors. Myers relayed their conversation on the All That Smoke podcast (via NBC Sports Bay Area).

“DeMarcus called me a month ago and he said, ‘Why am I not in the NBA?’ ” Myers told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the “All The Smoke” podcast earlier this week. “And I said, ‘You want that answer? … Because people are afraid of how you’re going to act.’ And he’s like ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Well whatever the reason is, it’s here now.’

“And I like DeMarcus. You guys may know him. He’s just, I can’t blame him for him because of all he’s been through.”

Not long after that conversation, Cousins spoke with Chris Haynes and said he learned from his past mistakes.

“Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. Have I done things the wrong way? Absolutely. For that, I’m very apologetic. But I’ve done even more things the correct way and I’ve done even more positive things compared to my negatives. I just don’t want those positives to be overlooked. And obviously, whenever it gets to the point where the negatives outweigh the positives, you should probably move away from him. That’s just how life goes. But I don’t believe I’m in that boat. I’m just asking for a chance to show my growth as a man and a player.”

Cousins also had physical issues, including a torn ACL that cost him a season with the Lakers in 2019-20. He also had domestic abuse allegations at the time (those charges were dropped a few months later).

Cousins just wants the chance to prove he is past all that and can help a team like he did last season. There have been rumors out of Taiwan that Cousins could join Dwight Howard in that league, but Cousins has not confirmed that. He still wants his shot in the NBA. So he waits, and hopes he can change the narrative around him.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says of Evan Mobley, ‘He can be better than me’

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Evan Mobley hasn’t taken the leap forward in his second season many expected, partly because he has to adjust to playing with a new, dominant backcourt in Cleveland of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Mobley is getting nearly five fewer touches a game and is not getting the same chances to use his off-the-bounce skills (73% of his shots this season come off zero or one-dribble) as he did when he was a rookie.

That doesn’t mean his superstar potential has gone away. Just ask Giannis Antetokounmpo, as Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer did.

“He can be better than me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com in an exclusive interview while walking out of Fiserv Forum… “I don’t see why he can’t. It’s up to him. I will always try to improve. Every day. But he has the skill set to be a very, very good player. He’s 7-feet tall. He can move really well. He can shoot. He is very smart. As you said, he watches tapes of other players, which is very, very good for a young player. If he takes this seriously, he is going to be great.”

Better than Giannis? What could possibly make him say that?

“I didn’t average what he is in my second season, so he’s already ahead of me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com. “It’s in his hands. If he stays humble, continues to work hard, focuses on the game and shows love to the game of basketball, he is going to be really good.”

One of the players Mobley is known to study on tape is Antetokounmpo. Of course, mirroring the force and athleticism Antetokounmpo plays with is next to impossible, but Mobley has the skill set that could see him become a shot-creator and scorer on the wing with the ball.

The Cavaliers don’t need him to be that with Garland improving and Michell being better than advertised. Cleveland has a top-five offense and hasn’t had to turn to Mobley for more scoring and shot creation. But that can change, especially come the playoffs against the strong defenses of teams such as the Bucks and Celtics. Ultimately, how far these Cavaliers can go in the postseason over the next few years could come down to the growth of Mobley on the offensive end.

Antetokounmpo believes Mobley could be special in that role, which should give fans in Cleveland even more hope.

 

Watch Giannis throw down career-high nine dunks, score 38 in comeback win over Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks taught the Cleveland Cavaliers a lesson in playoff-type intensity well before the start of December.

Antetokounmpo scored 38 points and the Bucks capitalized on a 23-2 run in the first eight-plus minutes of the third quarter to rally past Cleveland 117-102 on Friday night to snap the Cavaliers’ four-game winning streak.

Milwaukee came back from a 16-point deficit by outscoring the Cavaliers 35-10 in the third period. The Bucks hadn’t outscored a team by such a wide margin in a single quarter since Jan. 4, 2019, when they outscored the Atlanta Hawks 43-14 in the opening period of a 144-112 victory.

“We had a little bit of luck on our side and were able to knock down some shots and get downhill and were able to get that momentum and keep it going,” said Antetokounmpo, who also had nine rebounds and six assists. “I think it started from our guards defending the pick-and-roll and Brook (Lopez) just contesting every shot on the defensive end.”

The Cavaliers hadn’t scored less than 15 points in any quarter this season before Friday.

“They turned it up to a level that we haven’t seen, that we haven’t experienced,” said Donovan Mitchell, who led he Cavaliers with 29 points. “That’s playoff basketball, and understanding that they’re going to turn up the physicality (and) everything has to be sharper, everything has to be more precise.”

Darius Garland added 20 for Cleveland. After combining to shoot 14 of 26 and score 38 points in the first half, Mitchell and Garland went 4 of 16 for 11 points over the final two periods.

Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen played only 12 minutes and scored one point before leaving with a hip injury.

The Cavaliers lost for the first time since their last visit to Milwaukee, a 113-98 Bucks victory on Nov. 16.

“We were trying so hard, and we were like running in quicksand,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of the second-half struggles.

Jevon Carter scored 18 points and Bobby Portis had 14 for the Bucks.

After trailing 63-52 at halftime, the Bucks turned the game around in the third quarter.

“It felt like us again,” Portis said. “I feel like for the last couple of games, we haven’t felt like ourselves, for real, missing a lot of shots and just not playing how we play.”

Jrue Holiday, who committed three fouls in the first 1 1/2 quarters, scored his first points of the game in the opening minute of the third. He followed that up with a 3-pointer.

Carter then found Antetokounmpo for a dunk, though Antetokounmpo missed a free throw that would have given him a three-point play. Mitchell scored to extend Cleveland’s lead to 65-59, but a Brook Lopez 3-pointer and an Antetokounmpo dunk cut the lead to one.

Lopez then recorded one of his six blocks to set up an Antetokounmpo 3-pointer that gave the Bucks their first lead of the night with 7:19 left in the third. The Bucks eventually led by as many as 22.

“This is a great lesson for us,” Bickerstaff said. “We played against an established team who knows where they need to go when they need to take it to another level. That’s what we’re learning. They took the game to playoff-level physicality, and those are things we have to learn how to compete against.”