NBA Power Rankings Week 6: So it turns out the Warriors are very, very good

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The Warriors are off to a 15-2 start that has them on pace for 72 wins… I thought we weren’t going to go through this again. But their point differential suggests we will. While the top of the board remained fairly stable, Brooklyn earned its new ranking at the bottom.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (15-2, Last Week No. 1). That terrible Warriors’ defense? Seems to be a thing of the past, they are up to eighth in the NBA in defensive rating. Dean Oliver (an NBA stats pioneer now working for ESPN) noted online that the Warriors defense was good for a while, except in garbage time, and that’s what dragged down the overall rating. Not that it matters much when Stephen Curry can’t miss in the third and the team is moving the ball and scoring like it is — the Warriors have had 30 or more assists as a team in 10 straight games until Saturday.

 
Cavaliers small icon 2. Cavaliers (13-2, LW 3). Cleveland has the second best offense in the NBA this season, which makes sense considering they start a fair amount of possessions with a 1-3 pick-and-roll involving LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Their starters are +16.5 per 100 possessions when on the floor (better than Golden State buy a point). Good test this week when the Cavs host the Clippers on Thursday, followed by traveling to take on the Bulls on Friday.

 
Spurs small icon 3. Spurs (14-3, LW 4). Winners of nine in a row, which has more do to their offense than defense so far this season. The Spurs make more catch-and-shoot two-point jumpers (13.1) and shoot a higher percentage on those (45.6 percent), than any team in the league, plus they hit a league best 43.4 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, for an eFG% of 58.4% on catch-and-shoots (second only to the Warriors). Winnable games this week with Orlando, Dallas, and Washington on the schedule, but San Antonio has played down to its competition at times this season.

 
Clippers small icon 4. Clippers (14-4, LW 2). They were winning their road games by an average of 12.1 per contest, until they dropped sloppy games in Detroit and Indiana by a combined 32 points. Their defense has slipped in the last couple games, and they turned the ball over on 19.6 percent of their possessions vs. Indiana. The Clippers have three more games on the road this week, maybe they can get right against Brooklyn Tuesday because then they are at Cleveland Thursday, followed by a brutal back-to-back in New Orleans Friday.

 
Bulls small icon 5. Bulls (10-6, LW 6). One statistical sign of a contender is a top 10 offense and defense (per possession). Only three teams have that right now, and the Bulls are one of them (Warriors, Clippers are the others). The Bulls just went 4-2 on their final Circus road trip, with the two losses being by a total of 10 points. Good tests against the surprising Lakers and the as-expected Cavaliers this week, the schedule will get tougher as the Bulls have played the third easiest one this season in the league.

 
Grizzlies small icon 6. Grizzlies (11-6, LW 10). Great note from Zach Lowe: The Grizzlies are +91 (total points) this season when Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are on the court together, they are -79 when they are not. The Grizzlies have won seven of eight overall and six in a row on the road, however they are mostly home the next few weeks… although there is a tough trip to Toronto this week (better now than February).

 
Rockets small icon 7. Rockets (11-6, LW 9). The Rockets starting five are +16.8 points per 100 possessions together, which is a better number than the Cavaliers or Warriors starters. It all starts with James Harden, who is as good a D’Antoni system point guard as you can find. Houston won its first two games of a five-game road trip (Sacramento and Portland) but things are about to get much tougher with the rest of the trip being at Utah, Golden State, then to a back-to-back at altitude in Denver.

 
Raptors small icon 8. Raptors (10-6, LW 8). They continue to play well, but in large part thanks to their bench as the usual starting five are actually outscored by almost a point per possession when on the court this season. DeMar DeRozan saves them some, and Kyle Lowry still thrives with the bench unit. The Raptors are home for six in a row now, and they have played the second toughest schedule in the league so things will get easier.

 
Celtics small icon 9. Celtics (9-7, LW 12). Here’s the stats that stands out to me: Boston is 5-2 when Al Horford plays, and they are 17.9 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court rather than off. By the end of the season, if healthy, I still think Boston could be better than Chicago or Toronto as the second best team in the East. Soft schedule this week gives the Celtics a chance to fatten up.

 
Hawks small icon 10. Hawks (10-7 LW 5). The loss to the Lakers Sunday has them dropping five of six, mostly due to struggles with the starters and the offense (the Hawks remains a good defensive team). There has been a players-only meeting, Kris Humphries shattered a backboard, and still the slump has continued. They face the Warriors and Raptors on the road this week, but the better tests are how they do on a back-to-back Monday in Phoenix, then back home against the Pistons.

Jazz small icon 11. Jazz (9-8, LW 15). In its last 10 games, Utah has the third best net rating of any team in the NBA, including being better than the Spurs. They are fifth overall this season, all of which suggests their record is going to improve dramatically, especially now that George Hill has returned. Injuries continue to mess with this team (Derrick Favors has missed a couple of games), but things will get sorted out. A fun test of offense vs. defense against Houston this week (the Rockets won this matchup on their home court recently).

 
Hornets small icon 12. Hornets (9-7, LW 7). They split a home-and-home with New York, which has them at 3-6 after a hot start to the season. The biggest problems have been on the defensive end, which has to drive Steve Clifford crazy, and it’s not likely to get better with Marvin Williams missing time with a knee injury so Frank Kaminsky will get more run. They are home this week against Detroit, Dallas, and Minnesota, we’ll see if they can turn the ship around.

 
Thunder small icon 13. Thunder (10-8, LW 11). Russell Westbrook is one rebound short of averaging a triple-double for the season, if he can get 11 against the Knicks Monday he reaches the Oscar Robertson benchmark (albeit with 3/4 of the season to go). Westbrook has seven triple-doubles this season, but the team is “just” 5-2 in those games. By the way, at his current pace Westbrook ends up with 32 triple-doubles this season, and that number suddenly seems low (he is hunting them).

 
Lakers small icon 14. Lakers (9-9, LW 14). Lou Williams has become the Lakers’ go-to guy in the fourth, he had 13 in the win against Atlanta Sunday and the only players with more fourth-quarter points are Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard. He and Nick Young helped hit key shots (even if Young was stealing them from Williams) to get the wins. The Lakers are about to head out on the road for a brutal four games in five nights stretch in New Orleans, Toronto, Chicago, and Memphis. It gets easier; the Lakers already have the third toughest schedule in the league so far.

 
Knicks small icon 15. Knicks (8-8 LW 17). The Knicks won both games Joakim Noah recently sat out ill, then beat the Hornets in the game where he barely played in the second half. It’s not a coincidence. The other place the Knicks are tough to beat is Madison Square Garden, where they have won six in a row — which is good as they are home for three of four this week (there is a home-and-home with the Timberwolves).

 
Pacers small icon 16. Pacers (9-9, LW 16). Paul George has been out with a sore ankle (and will be to start this week as well) yet the Pacers have won three of their last four. They are doing it with strong defense and offense from unexpected sources (Glen Robinson III). The Pacers are 1-5 on the road this season and are heading out on a five-game West Coast road trip.

 
Blazers small icon 17. Trail Blazers (9-10, LW 13). Portland has scored 100 points or more in 17 of their 19 games, yet they are below .500 thanks to a terrible defense. They are getting destroyed on the pick-and-roll, with small guards and non-mobile bigs. It’s the reason they have dropped seven of their last nine. The schedule softens up for a while, which might help them pick up some wins.

 
Pistons small icon 18. Pistons (8-10, LW 18). They handed the Clippers their first road loss of the season, which is something to build on. The challenge for Stan Van Gundy’s crew is obvious: Take that same energy on the road. The Pistons are 1-8 away from The Palace and will spend most of the next three weeks on planes and in hotels.

 
Bucks small icon 19. Bucks (7-8, LW 22). Here’s what would worry me most if I were a Bucks’ fan: They have played the third easiest schedule in the NBA so far. And the home-and-home with Brooklyn this week off doesn’t make it much tougher. Have the Bucks banked enough wins for the tough months ahead? They are getting surprising strong play out of Michael Beasley.

 
timberwolves small icon 20. Timberwolves (5-11, LW 19). I tend not to buy the rumor that a frustrated Tom Thibodeau is going to trade a piece of his young core for a veteran because the Timberwolves are not on a playoff track — it’s far, far too early to make a panic move like that. But Thibs has a right to be frustrated with his team’s bottom-10 defense, and the way it just falls apart in the second half game after game. Home-and-home with the Knicks this week, sandwiched by games against the Jazz and Hornets.

 
Pelicans small icon 21. Pelicans (6-12, LW 25). They enter a brutal stretch of the schedule the next few weeks, and they will have to go through it without Dante Cunningham, who fractured his fibula last week. Anthony Davis continues to lead the NBA in scoring (31.6 per game) and is blocking three shots a night, getting Jrue Holiday back sparked a four-game winning streak, but the depth questions continue.

 
Heat small icon 22. Heat (5-11, LW 21). Monday night Justise Winslow will miss his eighth consecutive game, and Goran Dragic’s elbow has sidelined him for a bit, which has Eric Spoelstra scrambling for rotations and players (help Rodney McGruder). Credit their defense from keeping this from being worse, but as they fade from playoff contention will Pat Riley be a seller at the trade deadline?

 
Nuggets small icon 23. Nuggets (7-10, LW 23). Jamal Murray is the real deal, and he’s starting to get comfortable in the NBA — just ask the Bulls, he dropped 24 on them last week, one of three games with 20 or more last week. Wilson Chandler had 25+ in two games, yet through that the Nuggets still lost to the Jazz and Thunder. Starting Saturday the Nuggets head out on a six-game road trip.

 
Kings small icon 24. Kings (6-10, LW 24). Forget all the talk of offensive fit, the real problem on the court in Sacramento is on the other end — they have the forth worst defense in the NBA. As for the DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors, until owner Vivek Ranadive changes his mind all the talk is moot. However, Omri Casspi and Rudy Gay could well get moved. Kings opened a six-game road trip with a win in Brooklyn Sunday.

 
Wizards small icon 25. Wizards (5-10, LW 27). The Wizards are +3.2 points per 100 possessions when John Wall and Bradley Beal share the court, and the pair have had some strong games of late (Beal had 42 in Phoenix), but it’s not enough to make up for what happens when they both sit. Westbrook vs. Wall on Wednesday night should be entertaining.

 
Magic small icon 26. Magic (6-11 LW 20). Winnable games last week (Suns, Wizards, Bucks) and the Magic did not pick up one “W.” Sunday Frank Vogel tried to shake things up by moving Nikola Vucevic and Elfrid Payton out of the starting lineup (the new starters were +1 for the game), but didn’t help because the bench was still outplayed. Now things get hard as they head out on the road this week with stops in San Antonio and Memphis.

 
Sixers small icon 27. 76ers (4-13, LW 30). While it didn’t come in a win, you have to love the fight the Sixers showed Sunday vs. the Cavaliers. So far this season, the Sixers defense is 9.9 points per 100 possessions better when Joel Embiid is on the court (the offense basically remains the same). The defense is 3.1 per 100 worse when Jahlil Okafor is on the court (and the offense drops, although that is in part the players around him).

 
Suns small icon 28. Suns (5-12, LW 27). Phoenix’s biggest problem in a nutshell: They got 35 points from Eric Bledsoe and 30 from Devin Booker on Sunday, yet still lost to Denver. The problem on offense is a lack of ball movement, they have the lowest percentage of assists on buckets in the NBA. This week they face two teams that do whip the ball around the floor in Atlanta (although it has struggled lately) and Golden State.

 
Mavericks small icon 29. Mavericks (3-13, LW 23). They had lost eight in a row until a come-from-behind win over the Pelicans on Sunday, thanks to big fourth quarters from Wesley Matthews and Harrison Barnes. That’s the good news. The bad news is Dallas has played the toughest schedule in the NBA so far and that’s not changing this week with San Antonio, Charlotte, and Chicago on the rocket.

 
Nets small icon 30. Nets (4-12, LW 26). Losers of seven in a row, and it’s not just the losses but how bad they are — by an average of more than 19 points a game. The combination of an absolutely terrible defense and no Jeremy Lin to create some unlikely offense has this team both losing and being almost unwatchable.

Former Pelicans GM Dell Demps shifts to become Jazz assistant coach

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While teams have moved away from anyone in a dual coach/GM role, some people bounce between coach and the front office around the NBA: Steve Kerr was once the Suns’ GM before being the Warriors coach; Sean Marks was on the bench in San Antonio before moving to their front office and eventually the head guy in Brooklyn.

Now Dell Demps is making that move. The former general manager for the New Orleans Pelicans, who was let go a year ago, will be an assistant coach on Quin Synder’s staff in Utah. Demps was the GM of the Spurs G-League team years back and hired Snyder to coach it.

“I was fortunate to work with Dell to begin my career as a head coach in professional basketball and I know he will delve into his role on the bench,” Snyder said in a statement. “He has an incredible work ethic and commitment to his craft. His vast experience both as a player and in front office roles brings a unique perspective that will be invaluable to our team. We’re excited to welcome him to the Jazz.”

“I am absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with Coach Snyder again,” Demps said. “I have always had tremendous respect for Quin and the Jazz organization. I look forward to joining this talented coaching staff and working with our players. My wife Anita and I couldn’t be more excited to make the move to Utah and become a part of a tremendous community.”

Demps was not the only hire by Snyder, who is also bringing former NBA player Keyon Dooling. He played for 13 years in the league and then has worked with the National Basketball Players Association in various roles — most recently as a wellness counselor and mental health advocate — in recent years. Dooling played for two years at Missouri in college, a team coached by Snyder.

“Keyon is a fantastic addition for us on multiple levels and someone I’ve always had tremendous respect for since our time at Missouri where we formed a close bond that has continued throughout the years,” said Snyder. “He’s a natural leader who was a captain on multiple teams in the league and I have no doubt that the way he approached the game as a player will translate to the work he puts in with our roster on the court.”

New Kings’ GM doesn’t change fact De’Aaron Fox expects max contract extension

De'Aaron Fox sprained ankle
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New Sacramento Kings general manager Monte McNair is just getting the photos of his family framed and settling into his office, but he’s made one critical decision already: Luke Walton will be back as Sacramento’s coach. McNair also decided he wants to see the Kings return to more of the up-tempo style of a couple of seasons ago (before Walton arrived). Looming after that is the 2020 NBA Draft, where the Kings have the No. 12 pick.

When free agency comes, the question becomes: Will the Sacramento Kings offer De'Aaron Fox a max contract extension?

The young point guard expects one, reports James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area.

League sources have confirmed to NBC Sports California that the Kings, under previous management, already had a discussion with Fox’s representation on an extension.

Depending on where the NBA’s final salary cap numbers come in, Fox is eligible for a five-year max money contract worth between $150-180 million. Don’t expect a discounted rate. He will ask for and likely get whatever the maximum is allowed under the collective bargaining agreement.

If the salary cap were to remain flat for two years (possible, but not probable), a five-year max extension to Fox’s rookie contract is $158 million. The number will likely be higher than that, and if Fox makes a huge leap and becomes an All-NBA player, it jumps up to nearly $190 million (not likely to happen, but not impossible).

Fox averaged 21.1 points and 6.8 assists per game last season, but fully healthy he stepped up his play in the bubble averaging 26.2 points a game on 50.4% shooting and dishing out 7.3 assists a game. He was by far the Kings’ best player.

In the bubble, the Kings seemed to lack an identity. What kind of team did they want to be? McNair has come in and decided that — this is going to be an uptempo, transition team. Fox would be at the heart of that plan.

McNair said at his introductory press conference he sees Fox as a cornerstone piece.

“De’Aaron is an incredible young talent,” McNair said. “I’ve loved to see what he’s done and what he’s improved on over the years and he’s got a very bright future ahead of him.”

If this team is going to get back to running more, Fox is as good a ball-handler and decision-maker in transition as the league has. The Kings need to pay to keep him happy, then get players to go around him that fit that style. Expect McNair to spend the next season evaluating and shifting the roster around to fit that style. The problem is the pressure of the playoffs — the Kings haven’t been in 14 years, one short of tying the Donald Sterling Clippers for the longest drought in league history. There is pressure from ownership to make the playoffs and start winning sooner rather than later. It will be a tough balancing act for McNair. Welcome to sitting in the big chair.

Deciding to pay Fox may be the easiest of his decisions.

 

LeBron James one win away from history: 10th NBA Finals apperance

Lakers star LeBron James
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LeBron James can reach a 10th NBA Finals, done by only three greats of the game.

Anthony Davis is on the verge of his first.

The final step for the Los Angeles Lakers shapes up as the toughest.

They have to knock out the Denver Nuggets, who have been on the brink of dismissal from the bubble six times and every time refused to go.

“You can never be comfortable around this team,” Davis said. “They have been in this situation twice. We’ve been in the situation twice. But both teams are familiar with these situations, but this team is not going to go away.”

Game 5 is Saturday. The Lakers have ended both their series thus far in five games.

But the Nuggets were also down 3-1 against both Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers, fell far behind in Game 5, and then battled back to not only win the game but eventually the series.

No team had ever erased two 3-1 deficits in one postseason and now the Nuggets need to do it a third time. It’s a predicament they could have avoided, if they’d gotten one more defensive stop in Game 2 or given up a few less second-chance points in Game 4.

“These are all close games we’re playing,” guard Jamal Murray said. “Going to keep battling it out.”

Murray was sensational again in Game 4, though James slowed him enough down the stretch after taking on the defensive assignment to help the Lakers pull out a 114-108 victory.

One more win, and James ties NBA career scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for third on the career list with 10 NBA Finals appearances. Only Hall of Famers Bill Russell (12) and Sam Jones (11) of the Boston Celtics have gone to more.

It would be James’ first with the Lakers after five appearances in Cleveland and four in Miami, and the Lakers’ first trip to the finals since winning the last of their 16 championships in 2010.

James and Davis have been the unquestioned catalysts of this run, and they’re good strong support from some playoff-tested veterans. Dwight Howard had 12 points and 11 rebounds Thursday in his first start of this postseason, helping send Los Angeles to its overwhelming 25-6 advantage in second-chance points.

Rajon Rondo contributed 11 points and moved into eighth place on the career list with seven more assists.

“In the postseason, every possession is so important,” James said. “When you can have guys that have been in the moments and can understand and also be able to make adjustments on the fly, and know that you can count on them down the stretch, it just makes the team and you individually feel so much more confident in the outcome.”

The younger Nuggets don’t have those type of veterans, but they have the experience of this historic postseason run that could have ended on Aug. 25, the night of Game 5 against Utah. A month later, they are still at Disney World, still trying to prove that hope is not lost until four games are.

“I think people out there probably think this is exactly where we want them. It’s not. We would much rather be up 3-1, but it is what it is. We put ourselves in this position,” Denver coach Michael Malone said.

“Our team has shown tremendous resiliency and grit in getting out of these before. I have no doubt that tomorrow night we’ll bring that same fight to the game and hopefully we can keep this series alive.”

If they do, Game 6 would be Monday night. If not, the Lakers will be preparing to face Miami, in its first appearance since James left in 2014, or the Celtics, their greatest rival they could tie with a 17th NBA title.

The Lakers won’t think about any of that until the Nuggets are finally gone.

“Like I said last game, we’ve got to put them away,” Davis said. “They are going to continue to fight, no matter what the score is, no matter what the situation is. We just have to make sure we counter everything they do.”

Report: Mutual interest in Cavaliers keeping Tristan Thompson

Tristan Thompson
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Tristan Thompson has played every one of his nine NBA seasons in a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform.

There have been questions about where the free-agent big man will play his 10th season. The Cavaliers traded for Andre Drummond to become their starting five, limiting both Thompson’s role and the money Cleveland would spend for the backup center role.

There is still “mutual interest” in a return, Cavs GM Koby Altman told Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“I think it’s fair to say there’s mutual interest for sure,” general manager Koby Altman said about the possibility of re-signing Thompson. “He’s been with this franchise his entire career since we drafted him. He’s won a championship here. Obviously, he means a lot to the players on the team right now, but it has to make sense. There are some events coming up — the draft, free agency — where we have to see if it makes sense for him. He’s earned the right to be an unrestricted free agent and explore opportunities at this point in his career. So, we’ll see.”

Tristan Thompson, 30, has battled nagging injuries in recent seasons but started most of the Cavaliers’ games before the shut down of the league last season, stayed healthy, and averaged 12 points and 10.1 rebounds a game playing 30 minutes a night.

How much of a market there will be for Thompson remains to be seen, especially in uncertain financial times around the league, but it will not be anywhere near the $18.5 million he made this season. He brings rebounding, defense, and a veteran presence to a team, but in general teams are not spending on the center spot right now, seeing that as a mercenary position where they can get a solid player at a cheap price. Thompson may have other suitors offering a larger role than Cleveland can, but the money is not likely to be much different.

Thompson’s camp asked for a trade at the deadline this past season (Cleveland couldn’t find a deal it liked), but when it comes time to decide this offseason he may want to stay with the organization he knows not a new one, if the money is the same. It’s going to be an interesting offseason for Thompson and the Cavaliers.