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

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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.”

Boston focused on Miami three-point shooters heading into Game 6

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — There have been two undeniable truths about the Miami Heat this season.

They must make 3’s to win.

They aren’t invincible with sizable leads.

The Boston Celtics have scouting and analytics teams that undoubtedly know these trends. But, really, so would anyone who simply can read a boxscore.

Take away Miami’s 3’s, and the Heat are easier to beat. The Celtics proved that again in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals when they extended their season with a victory — and will aim to take the same tact Sunday night when they meet the Heat again in another must-win for Boston.

“They’re going to hit some shots, they’re going to make some plays,” Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said. “They’ve got some good players. We’re just trying to make it as tough as we could.”

The Heat have played 87 games this season and shot below 20% from 3-point range in just three of them — one of them being Friday night, when the Celtics prevailed 121-108 to cut Miami’s lead in the series to 3-2.

Miami was 7 for 36 from deep, just 19%.

For whatever reason, 31.1% is the magic number for Heat 3-pointers this season. When the Heat shoot 31.1% or worse from beyond the arc, they’re 2-17 (.105). When they shoot better than that, they’re 53-15 (.779).

“Regardless of whether it’s going in or not, that can’t affect your commitment on the other side of the floor,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And it felt like it did.”

The Celtics confined most of their Saturday plans to a film session; the Heat were doing the same along with some optional workouts. Heat center Bam Adebayo, who blamed himself for the Game 5 loss despite teammates saying otherwise, said he would spend some of Saturday on the floor looking for answers.

“This team has good resolve,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Saturday. “I thought we showed that last night. We’ll have to continue to show the ability to be able to handle good and bad throughout a game.”

Even though the disappointment was clear Friday night, the Heat still understand where they are: a No. 5 seed, one that didn’t even make the playoffs last season, one win from the NBA Finals. Miami needed two tries before ousting Milwaukee in the second round, saying then it learned at what level a team needs to be to win a closeout game.

The Celtics provided them another reminder of that Friday night, when they outscored Miami 70-50 after halftime and erased a 12-point second-quarter deficit.

“As you go on, the wins get harder and harder,” Heat guard Duncan Robinson said. “And doing what we want to do and advancing from this round is going to be the hardest thing we’ve done all season and our in our athletic careers for many of us. Fortunately, we have coaches and guys that have been there and know what it takes.

“But this is certainly a reminder — to think that we were just going to have a good first half and just kind of coast to a victory in this stage of the playoffs, we’re misguided for thinking that.”

Miami is 55-32 this season, and 18 of those losses have come in games where the Heat held a double-digit lead. Boston has beaten Miami four times this season, rallying from at least 11 points down in three of those games — including a pair of 12-point comebacks in this series.

Miami has lost games this year where it led by 10 points once, 11 (four times), 12 (five times), 13 (once), 14 (twice), 15 (once), 20 (once), 22 (twice) and 23 (once).

 

Jamal Murray: Had bone bruise on foot, “didn’t have the energy I needed”

Jamal Murray
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It ultimately may not have changed anything, not the way LeBron James was playing, but the Jamal Murray in Game 5 did not look like the Jamal Murray who had helped lift the Denver Nuggets to that point. He was clearly bothered and not moving with the speed and fluidity he had throughout the playoffs.

“I have a big bruise on my foot. Just hurt me all game,” Murray said after the loss that eliminated Denver from the playoffs. “I changed shoes and that didn’t help. Yeah, I have a bone bruise. I don’t like to tell everybody what I got. I just like to play through it. Yeah, I was in pain, but it’s cool.

“I was out there. I was struggling a little bit today. Eighty-something days in the bubble and a lot of minutes, I didn’t have the energy I needed to have for my teammates today. Without me moving as hard or cutting as hard or scoring as much… I could have played a lot better this game.”

Murray finished the game with 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting and dished out eight assists, and part of what slowed him down was the Lakers’ assigned LeBron to guard him for stretches. That said, Murray was not moving like the guy who carved up Utah or who dropped 40 on the Clippers in Game 7. Still, he was out there still trying.

“He was our leader,” Nikola Jokic said of Murray. “His energy through the whole playoffs. He was banged up. He was injured before, even when I came here [to the bubble], he was a little bit banged up… But he’s a dog. He’s a fighter. He’s a competitor. He’s an amazing shooter. He played amazing.”

Like his coach and teammates, Murray was frustrated to be going home but looked back with pride at the leap the Nuggets made this postseason.

“We proved we can challenge the Clippers, who were the favorites. We proved we can challenge the Lakers,” Murray said. “And it’s only our second year in the playoffs. I wish things went differently, but I’m just proud of our guys, proud of everything we have done, everything we have accomplished. It’s not the end goal, but to make it this far and surprise as many people as we did, it’s a good feeling.

“So just try to come back next year and try to come back stronger.”

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Date, time, matchup for every game

NBA playoff schedule 2020
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And there were four.

The NBA is down to the conference finals — and the bubble has provided us with upsets galore. There are some unexpected teams in the NBA’s Final Four, but of course LeBron James is still there. The Lakers are the heavy favorites at this point.

Here are a few notes on the NBA playoffs schedule 2020:

• The NBA is continuing to push the pace with games every other day — except in the East, when ESPN wants a break not to clash with the NFL, and to let the West catch up. The fast pace of games will return with the NBA Finals.
Families for the players, and with the final four now the coaches, are in the bubble.
• The NBA Finals will begin on Wednesday, Sept. 30, if Miami closes the Easter Conference Finals out in six games. If the series goes seven games the Finals will start on Friday, Oct. 2.

Here is the NBA playoffs schedule 2020 (all times are Eastern):

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Miami Heat

Game 1: Heat 117, Celtics 114, OT
Game 2: Heat 106, Celtics 101
Game 3: Celtics 117, Heat 106
Game 4: Heat 112, Celtics 109
Game 5: Celtics 121, Heat 108 (Miami leads series 3-2)
Game 6: Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 7: Sept. 30, 8:30 p.n. (ESPN)*
*If necessary

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets

Game 1: Lakers 126, Nuggets 114
Game 2: Lakers 105, Nuggets 103
Game 3: Nuggets 114, Lakers 106
Game 4: Lakers 114, Nuggets 108
Game 5: Lakers 117, Nuggets 107 (Lakers win series 4-1)

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Second Round results

Eastern Conference

No. 3 Boston beat No. 2 Toronto 4-3

No. 5 Miami beat No. 1 Milwaukee 4-1

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat Houston 4-1

No. 3 Denver beat No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers 4-3

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: First Round results

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat No. 8 Portland 4-1

No. 2 L.A. Clippers beat No. 7 Dallas 4-2

No. 3 Denver beat No. 6 Utah 4-3

No. 4 Houston beat No. 5 Oklahoma City 4-3

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee beat No. 8 Orlando 4-1

No. 2 Toronto beat No. 7 Brooklyn 4-0

No. 3 Boston beat No. 6 Philadelphia 4-0

No. 5 Miami beat No. 4 Indiana 4-0

LeBron James takes over, leads Lakers back to NBA Finals with win

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The Denver Nuggets had come back from 3-1 down twice in these playoffs.

The Denver Nuggets had never run into LeBron James.

LeBron dominated this close-out game. He scored 16 points in the fourth quarter. He put up a triple-double of 38 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists. Defensively he shut down Jamal Murray (who was slowed due to a bone bruise on his foot) and made smart plays.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever witnessed a guy take over a game the way he did in the fourth quarter tonight, in person,” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said of LeBron.

LeBron did what the Jazz and Clippers had failed to do — he and the Los Angeles Lakers closed out the Nuggets in five games with a 117-107 win.

“He’s had a chip on his shoulder all year long,” Vogel said about LeBron. “Everybody has doubters. To be in the Eastern Conference and get there as much as he had and to come over to the Western Conference, it’s an enormous accomplishment to [reach the Finals] with a third team.”

The Lakers advance to the NBA Finals, which will begin Wednesday (if Miami closes the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday) or Friday (if there is a Game 7 in the East).

LeBron James made history with the win, becoming the third player in NBA history to make it to 10 NBA Finals, joining Sam Jones (11) and Bill Russell (12) of the 1950s-60s Boston Celtics.

The Lakers pulled ahead in the first half of Game 5 because of Nikola Jokic‘s foul trouble — he played just eight minutes in the first half after picking up three quick ones. The Nuggets were +3 in those eight minutes and -13 in the other minutes of the first half, which had Dever down 10 at the break.

The Nuggets fought back in the third quarter, in part thanks to a monster game from Jeremi Grant who had 20 points on the night (tied with Jokic for a team high). Despite a hobbling Murray, the Nuggets did what they had done all playoffs long and refused to fold.

“What more could you ask from a group?” Denver coach Michael Malone said after the loss. “What more commitment, sacrifice, just everything in the last 82 days that our team has gone through. The history that we’ve made. The adversity that we faced and never ran from, embraced it… I couldn’t be more proud.”

Anthony Davis had 27 points for L.A. The Lakers also had role players stepping up. Alex Caruso had 11 points and was 5-of-7 from the floor. Danny Green also scored 11.

However, in the end, it was LeBron James looking like the best player on the planet.

Now he is headed to the Finals with the chance to make history and win a title with three different teams.