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Week 7 NBA Power Rankings: A team in the East ahead of Cleveland? For now.

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For the first time this season, a team in the East has climbed above the Cleveland Cavaliers in the rankings — but it may be short-lived with Toronto taking on Cleveland on Monday night. The top of the West still dominates the top of the rankings.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (17-3, Last Week No. 1). The Warriors are running. They are third in the league in pace (103 possessions a game, per NBA.com) and 16.7 percent of their possessions are in transition, where they score at a 123.1 points per 100 possessions pace (best in the NBA). Bottom line, they get 23 points a possession from transition, and if you give that team easy buckets on the break it’s almost impossible to beat them. Golden State heads out on a five-game road trip Wednesday that includes the Clippers, Jazz, and Grizzlies.

Spurs small icon 2. Spurs (16-4, LW 3). Does it shock anyone the Spurs are the best catch-and-shoot team in the NBA? They don’t shoot the most (that’s Brooklyn, actually), but about one-third of their shots come this way and they get a league-best 118 points per 100 possessions off them. They move the ball, and they have shooters, it’s a system that works. Winners of 11 of their last 12, the Spurs start the week with three games on the road (including in Milwaukee and Chicago) before coming home to take on the Nets.

Clippers small icon 3. Clippers (16-6, LW 4). Thursday’s win in Cleveland was the kind of game Los Angeles lost in recent years — three losses in a row coming in, they didn’t point fingers but regrouped and blew out the defending champs. It looked like the Clippers had matured and taken a step forward, then they came home and had a sloppy loss with lots of complaining to the officials in a loss to Indiana. Which Clipper team do we get when the Warriors come to town Wednesday?

Raptors small icon 4. Raptors (14-6, LW 8). The Raptors are the hottest team in basketball. In their last six games, they have outscored their opponents by 138 points, playing well on both ends. Toronto’s defense the last couple weeks has been elite. But, they have beaten depleted teams, which still counts in the win column but has us hesitant to put them ahead of Cleveland. We did it anyway, but Monday is the real test when the Raptors take on the Cavs.

Cavaliers small icon 5. Cavaliers (13-5, LW 2). Losers of three in a row, and they still are playing with a championship hangover, as evidenced by their 20th-ranked defense. However, the offense is still humming. We’ll see if they bounce back Monday vs. Toronto. Great note via Brian Windhorst of ESPN: This season LeBron James is averaging the fewest shots (17.2) and most assists (9.3) per game of his NBA career. That speaks to the talent around him having learned how to play with him, and Kyrie Irving coming into his own.

Rockets small icon 6. Rockets (13-7, LW 7). The win over Golden State on the road Thursday in the best game of the season was impressive, but so was going to Denver the next night and getting a victory at altitude when tired. The Rockets are now 7-2 since the return of Patrick Beverley, but that has mostly been about the second unit as their defense has remained bottom five in that time. Celtics and Thunder on the schedule this week, providing good tests.

Celtics small icon 7. Celtics (12-8, LW 9). Good teams pad their record against the soft parts of their schedule and that’s what the Celtics have done the past couple of weeks. Al Horford’s return certainly helped, but Boston’s last six wins are against teams below .500. Better tests this week vs. the Rockets, suddenly-hot Magic, Raptors, and Thunder, as the Celtics head into a road-heavy part of their schedule.

Jazz small icon 8. Jazz (12-9, LW 11). This team just cannot stay healthy — George Hill is missing time with a sprained toe — but they keep on finding a way to win, and of late that’s been as much about a good offense as a lock-down defense. They head into a home-heavy stretch of the schedule where Utah should be able to pick up some wins and solidify its spot in the standings.

Thunder small icon 9. Thunder (13-8, LW 13). Russell Westbrook has 10 triple-doubles this season and the Thunder are 8-2 when he has one, they are 5-6 when he does not. OKC has a Top 10 defense, but they need him to carry the offense if they are going to win. Set the DVRs for Friday night when the Thunder takes on Houston: Westbrook vs. Harden is going to be entertaining.

Bulls small icon 10. Bulls (11-8, LW 5). They have suspended Rajon Rondo for one game due to “conduct detrimental to the team” — he got into an argument with an assistant coach during the loss to Dallas last week — and he will sit out Monday against Portland.They picked up a quality win against the Cavaliers last week, but surrounded it with bad losses to the Mavericks and Lakers. Blazers, Pistons, and Spurs will not make it easy this week.

Grizzlies small icon 11. Grizzlies (13-8, LW 6). The Grizzlies were -30 in total points for the week but managed to go 2-2, which is kind of what they need to do for the next month or so to keep their heads above water until Mike Conley’s return. The games this week against Portland, Philly, and New Orleans are also the kinds of games where they might be able to steal wins.

Bucks small icon 12. Bucks (10-8, LW 19). They have won four in a row (who cares if half of that was a home-and-home with Brooklyn). Giannis Antetokounmpo outdueled LeBron James last week and just has the ability to get the the rim and finish — he leads the NBA averaging 14 points in the paint a game — is breathtaking. It almost makes up for the lack of a jumper that should limit him more than it does. Going to be tough to keep the win streak going opening the week against the Spurs and Trail Blazers.

Knicks small icon 13. Knicks (11-9 LW 17). While I am loath to use the term “vintage” with Derrick Rose there is this: He is getting to the rim for 38.4% of his shots, his highest percentage since his rookie season. Combine that with the exciting change of pace and dynamic energy that Brandon Jennings brings off the bench and the Knicks have found a working point guard combo. Now they just have to figure out what to do with Joakim Noah. Good measuring stick game against the Cavaliers this week.

Pistons small icon 14. Pistons (11-11, LW 18). Reggie Jackson is back in the lineup and while that didn’t get them a win Sunday it will help them down the line. They won three-of-four on a recent road trip, a good sign with four of their next six still away from The Palace. They face Chicago, Charlotte, and Minnesota this week, the kinds of week where playoff teams find a way to get a couple of wins.

Hornets small icon 15. Hornets (11-9, LW 12). With Frank Kaminsky starting in place of the injured Marvin Williams the Charlotte offense has stumbled, and because of that they lost two-of-three last week in what were winnable games. That needs to change with games against Dallas, Detroit, and Orlando to start the week before the Hornets head out on a five-game road trip that starts in Cleveland.

Blazers small icon 16. Trail Blazers (11-10, LW 17). They get Al-Farouq Aminu back Monday after a 13-game absence, which will be a boost to their defense. They are going to need it — they head out on the road for eight of their next nine (they are 4-6 on the road so far this season). That road trip starts in Chicago, then heads to Milwaukee, followed by a back-to-back in Memphis.

Pacers small icon 17. Pacers (10-10, LW 16). Paul George and Cj.J. Miles are back healthy and in the rotation for the Pacers, which couldn’t have come at a better time. The Pacers also have gotten better bench play of late as Rodney Stuckey has started to thrive in that role. The Pacers just seem to have the Clippers’ number, and a quality win Sunday has them splitting the first two games of a five-game swing through the West.

Lakers small icon 18. Lakers (10-12, LW 14). Julius Randle has been a revelation on a lot of levels this season, but he has work to do. Like defending at the rim — he has a defensive field goal percentage of 60%, which is worst in the NBA for players with at least 70 attempts. The Knicks come to Los Angeles Sunday, hopefully this doesn’t lead to another stupid round of “Phil Jackson to the Lakers” talk — even if Jackson does opt-out in New York the Lakers are on the right track and better off without him.

Hawks small icon 19. Hawks (10-11 LW 10). Losers of six in a row and 9-of-10, I’m not sure I dropped them far enough in these rankings. They are banged up (no Paul Millsap the last three games), but this is more than that, it’s an entire offense coming undone. Early in the season the Hawks looked like a Mike Budenholzer/Spursian team the way they moved the ball, but that has fallen off and we see more isolation and far more contested looks. The players say they recognize the problem, but will they fix it?

Magic small icon 20. Magic (9-12 LW 26). Before the season we said the Magic should be a defensive powerhouse — they have finally figured that out and over the last 10 games have the best defense in the NBA. The offense is still a work in progress, but it’s improving, and the Magic picked up some quality wins against the Spurs and Pistons recently. Is Orlando going to be a playoff team? We get some measuring stick games against Boston and Charlotte this week.

Heat small icon 21. Heat (7-13, LW 22). Goran Dragic leads the NBA in drives per game at 15.5, but he only ends up with about 7 points per game on them as he passes out of nearly half those drives (he gets an assist on 15 percent of the drives). Overall, it’s just not very efficient. Still tough to judge how good this team would be healthy, but they should get Derrick Williams back in the rotation this week.

Pelicans small icon 22. Pelicans (7-14, LW 21). If you’re looking for the best player on a bad team this season, may I submit Anthony Davis, who leads the NBA in scoring (31.8 per game), blocks per game (2.8), and PER (31.9). The Pelicans dropped four-of-five against a tough stretch of the schedule, but there are winnable games this week with Memphis, Philadelphia, and Phoenix — if they want to get back in the playoff hunt in the West they need to rack up some wins.

Kings small icon 23. Kings (7-13, LW 24). I’m not sure what happened in the nightclub in New York over the weekend with Matt Barnes, but I do know it’s not the kind of distraction the Kings need if they have playoff dreams. As James Ham told us in our Kings-centric podcast last week, Sacramento remains convinced they can make a run into the postseason this year — and no, they are not thinking about trading DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings need wins, they are 1-3 on a current road trip that ends in Dallas, but four of their next five are on the road (where the Kings are 3-8 this season).

Wizards small icon 24. Wizards (6-12, LW 25). Bradley Beal is finding his shooting groove — in his last five games he is averaging 24.8 points per game, hitting 48.8 percent from three, and the Wizards are +4.8 points per 48 minutes when he is on the court. That’s not been enough, as a poor Washington defense tends to get them in trouble, particularly late in games when they cannot get a stop. The Wizards need wins this week against the Nets, Magic, Nuggets, and Bucks.

timberwolves small icon 25. Timberwolves (6-14, LW 20). The Timberwolves early-season struggles (particularly on defense) have been exacerbated by the schedule — 11 straight games against teams over .500. They are 1-4 so far in this stretch and this week get the Spurs, the red-hot Raptors, Pistons, and Warriors. Maybe the comeback win against Charlotte was the kind of win this team needs, but it’s going to be hard to build confidence in this stretch.

Nuggets small icon 26. Nuggets (7-13, LW 23). Jamal Murray is looking special, and Wilson Chandler is playing in a way that should boost his trade value as the deadline nears, but the Nuggets are just not finding an offensive groove. They lost the first game of a six-game road trip in Utah, but have some winnable ones coming up in Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Washington.

Suns small icon 27. Suns (6-14, LW 28). With the Suns’ guard-driven lineup, it shouldn’t be a surprise no team has the pick-and-roll ball handler use more possessions a game than the Suns (28.2 a contest, via Synergy sports). They have an eFG% of 43.5 percent on those, which isn’t great but is more middle of the pac in the league. The Suns tried starting a three-guard lineup of Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker and Brandon Knight but have abandoned that plan and Knight is coming off the bench again.

Mavericks small icon 28. Mavericks (4-15, LW 29). Dirk Nowitzki is going to be out “a while” as the Mavs are rightfully cautious with the 38-year-old’s Achilles. Dallas has dug too deep a hole to get back in the playoff chase, but with six of their next eight at home and plenty of winnable games in there, they hope to make their record look more respectable.

Nets small icon 29. Nets (5-14, LW 30). It’s a strange thing to say, but as Sean Kilpatrick goes so go the Nets. When he is on the Nets can pick up wins, he dropped 38 on the Clippers and Brooklyn picked up an OT victory. Can he replicate that against Washington or Denver this week? They’ll need it as the Nets still have a bottom 5 defense to overcome nightly.

Sixers small icon 30. 76ers (4-16, LW 27). When Joel Embiid is on the court the 76ers allow just 98.8 points per 100 possessions on defense (which would be best in the NBA this season) and are only outscored by 1.4 points per 100 possessions. However, when he sits the Sixers give up 110.6 per 100 (worst in the NBA) and are outscored by 14.6 per 100. Boosting his minutes limit to 28 a night will help a little, but the Sixers need to find who else on that roster is a keeper. And get Ben Simmons back this season, hopefully.

Nets reportedly to hire former Turner executive David Levy as CEO

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In the coming weeks, Joe Tsai will get the official thumbs up from the Board of Governors and become the owner of the Brooklyn Nets.

His first move will be to bring in David Levy as CEO, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Levy worked closely with the NBA in his capacity overseeing Turner Sports’ television coverage and has a strong relationship with commissioner Adam Silver.

Tsai just paid $2.3 billion for the Nets and he wants his guy overseeing it all. Levy is that guy.

What will this mean for most fans? Very little, at least at first. The Nets basketball operations side — with GM Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson — is already on a solid foundation and there are not going to be changes on that end.

Levy and the Nets face a challenge few sports franchises do — they have an older, more established team playing the same sport in the same city. The Knicks have a large and established fan base that goes back generations, and just better play on the court — and the Nets were better on the court last season — is not going to change that loyalty. (The Clippers may be the only other team in a similar situation.) The Nets need to appeal to a new set of fans, ones not tied to Madison Square Garden and that legacy, and while they may never have the same power of brand in the city, New York is big enough to have a couple of fan bases.

It’s a lot of work from the business side, but Levy knew the job when he took it.

Popularity of NBA in China seems to create endless options

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BEIJING (AP) Kobe Bryant went to China for the first time in 1998, making the trip to Beijing to help operate an instructional basketball clinic for about a dozen kids. The local coaches working with him didn’t know a lot about the game. Barely anyone noticed that an NBA player was in town.

Basketball wasn’t a big deal in China.

And then everything changed very quickly.

The footprint of the NBA has grown at an extremely rapid pace over the last two decades in China, where more than 500 million people watched games last season and where one new streaming deal alone will pump $1.5 billion into the league’s coffers over the next five years.

“When I first came here, I never thought the game in China would get to be this big,” Bryant said. “But it has. And it’s not going to stop.”

The possibilities seem endless.

Could there be an NBA team in China despite the travel that would be involved? Might there be two-way player contracts between the NBA and the Chinese Basketball Association? What about the NBA constructing a team to play in China or the Chinese sending a team for a full season in the U.S.?

Farfetched as all that may sound, keep in mind that 20 years ago no one envisioned the NBA-China relationship to be this big – or that it would keep growing after Yao Ming’s run with the Houston Rockets ended eight years ago. The NBA has academies in China now, and the Chinese national team returned to the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas this year.

“It’s a good question,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “I think the next step will probably come when the next Yao Ming comes. That would take it to a new level, more Chinese players to reach the NBA and make an impact.”

The marriage between the NBA and the world’s most populous country is stronger than ever. NBA officials say more than 300 million Chinese people play the game and 40 million are registered to play the 2K video game. Thousands showed up this summer just to watch the sons of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James play exhibitions with the rest of their high school teammates.

A trade war is happening between the U.S. and China, political tensions are escalating between the countries and it could impact the products of the league’s business partners . But the game itself continues to thrive.

“I think sports transcends politics and I hope the NBA can continue to connect fans globally,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said. “I don’t have any reason to think our relationship won’t continue to be positive.”

Nothing seems to be able to derail the NBA’s popularity.

The team that the U.S. sent to the World Cup in China didn’t feature the NBA’s biggest stars, yet drew sellout crowds for each of its first six games. U.S. coach Gregg Popovich was begged for autographs and selfies everywhere he went.

“We’ve known for a long time how big basketball has become in China, of course, but all over the world,” Popovich said. “It’s an international deal now. There are so many great players in so many countries. It’s not a secret.”

Stars like James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden have a trip to China on their annual schedules – and when Wade, the recently retired guard who has a lifetime contract with Chinese shoe company Li-Ning, visited this summer one of his events had to be halted after about 10 minutes because the mall where it was happening was overflowing with people.

Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz has been to China twice this summer, once to promote his brand, the second time for the World Cup with USA Basketball. He sees it becoming an annual stop for him, too – and believes there is no ceiling for the game globally.

“Man, I couldn’t tell you,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s going to be even bigger and it’s not going to be just China. It’s going to be many more countries. The (relationship) between the NBA and China has been huge since I was a kid and it can only take off from there … because the passion and love is so strong.”

It’s not a one-sided relationship; China sees reason to invest in the NBA.

Joe Tsai, the co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, agreed this summer to buy the remaining 51% that he didn’t already own of the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center from Mikhail Prokhorov in deals worth about $3.4 billion. In 2016, Lizhang Jiang, a businessman from Shanghai, bought 5% of the Minnesota Timberwolves, a stake he sold earlier this year.

China also takes immense pride in players like Klay Thompson wearing Chinese brands on the court. (Thompson has a 10-year deal with Chinese shoe company Anta for a reported $80 million.) And China sent its national team to NBA Summer League this past July primarily to get ready for the World Cup, but also for exposure on the NBA stage.

“I think it’s good for our players and good for the team,” China coach Li Nan said of playing in Las Vegas. “I think it’s good for everyone.”

The NBA has opened three basketball academies in China and has seen very quick success with academies in Asia and Africa. The international influence on the league was more present this past season than ever.

The NBA MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, is from Greece. The rookie of the year, Luka Doncic, is from Slovenia. The most improved player, Pascal Siakam, is from Cameroon. The defensive player of the year, Rudy Gobert, is from France. The All-NBA center, Nikola Jokic, is from Serbia.

“This past summer, an NBA Academy prospect from China signed a contract with a National Basketball League team in Australia, becoming the first male NBA Academy prospect from China to sign a contract with a professional team,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “And on the women’s side, Han Xu from the New York Liberty, who trained at the NBA Academy in Shandong, China, became the first NBA Academy prospect to be drafted into the NBA or WNBA.”

It hasn’t happened overnight.

Former Commissioner David Stern struck a deal with Chinese television to show games on tape-delay three decades ago, and once toyed with the idea of some sort of NBA-sponsored or branded league in China. Teams embrace the chance to play the annual preseason games in China because he exposure is worth the jet lag.

“When I have 76ers gear on and I walk through Shanghai, walk through Shenzhen, if I had a nickel for every time somebody said `Trust the process’ in perfect English I wouldn’t be standing here working,” Philadelphia 76ers CEO Scott O’Neil said, referencing the team’s motto during its rebuilding phase of recent years. “We’re very much a part of the fabric of China.”

None of this seemed possible 20 years ago or so, when Bryant made that first trip. Now fans can’t get enough.

“When you come here, you feel it from the fans, their energy, people at the hotel, people just walking around,” Kerr said in China during the World Cup. “Everybody just seems very excited about basketball.”

Same goes for the game’s future in China.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Michael Jordan takes another shot, enters high-end tequila business with Jeanie Buss, other owners

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Michael Jordan’s drink of choice? Tequila. And not the cheap stuff poured into a weak house margarita at a tacky chain Mexican restaurant, we’re talking the good, sipping tequila. The stuff the rest of us think we can afford about three drinks into the night already.

Now Jordan is getting into the tequila business with several other NBA owners — the Lakers’ Jeanie Buss, the Bucks’ Wes Edens, and the Celtics Wyc Grousbeck plus his then-fiancée-now-wife Emilia Fazzalari — and the brand has just launched.

Chloe Sorvino at Forbes Magazine had a more detailed breakdown about how this idea came together over a dinner they all shared at an owners’ meeting in New York in 2016.

By the time they were seated, this multibillion-dollar table was discussing the specific characteristics they wished they could find on the shelf—a tequila with a smooth, long finish like a fine cognac or whiskey.

“That was when we realized there was an opportunity in the market to create a new tequila, a better tequila,” says Fazzalari, who spent 29 years in financial services, in part developing information platforms for the energy sector, and has been heading up the project as CEO. “We let our hair down and became true friends that night.”

Tequila-fueled gamesmanship aside, the idea for Cincoro came at the right time. The United States consumes more tequila than any other nation–about 18.3 million cases last year, or 56% of global consumption, according to consultancy IWSR Drinks Market Analysis… The ultra-premium side of the American tequila market (where the starting price is $45 a bottle) is also growing fast—a 19% increase each year since 2013.

Having Jordan’s name and brand attached to the product also can help sales, as Nike will happily attest.

Maybe this works, maybe it doesn’t — much like the restaurant business, the liquor business is a fickle one that tends to defy expectations. These people have the money to afford a little loss, but they didn’t get rich taking losses very often.

Just expect if you’re sitting in the high-end seats near the court this season to watch LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kemba Walker, there will be certain, somewhat pricy tequila available on the menu.

NBA lowers 2020-21 salary-cap projection to $116M

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The Knicks, Raptors, Hawks and Grizzlies project to have major cap room next summer.

Just a little less now.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The salary cap won’t be set until the summer it takes effect. So, there’s plenty of time for the exact number to fluctuate. But this projection was updated after evaluating how teams spent this summer – a key factor.

For perspective, the salary cap is currently $109,140,000. So, going to $116 million next offseason would still be a significant increase – just not as large as previously expected.

Next year’s free agent class is weak. It’s Anthony Davis then… maybe not a single other star. So, small shifts in the cap projection will create only minor ripples.

Everyone has their eyes on the 2021-22 cap. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Bradley Beal, Rudy Gobert, Victor Oladipo, Jrue Holiday, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan could all be unrestricted free agents that summer. That amount of talent availability requires careful planning.