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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.

LeBron James dunks on Astros, Rob Manfred in Tweet

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Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has had a rough couple of weeks.

And now he’s been dunked on by LeBron James.

Bet he didn’t see that coming. LeBron took to Twitter to stand in solidarity with MLB players (well, not the players on the Astros, but the rest of them) in the wake of the Houston Astros cheating scandal.

First things first: Tighten up your hashtags, LeBron. That’s too long.

LeBron’s frustration follows a long list of MLB players who have spoken out with a similar sentiment:  Mike TroutCody Bellinger, and Aaron Judge, to name a few.

Manfred came down hard on the Astros, but was it hard enough? He suspended GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for a year without pay, and the team subsequently fired both of them. Manfred fined the Astros $5 million, and took away their first- and second-round draft picks for the next two drafts.

The Astros apologized, but without seeming terribly apologetic. Manford could strip the Astros of their titles, but the NCAA did that to Louisville and did anyone actually notice?

I appreciate LeBron’s outrage, and I don’t doubt his sincerity. However, if you think the NBA is on some moral high ground and some organizations wouldn’t cheat to win, I have this Nigerian prince who has a business proposition I want you to meet.

 

Kyrie Irving reportedly re-aggravates right shoulder, to see specialist

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Kyrie Irving missed 26 games this season with shoulder bursitis, but rather than have surgery he got a cortisone shot eight weeks ago and was able to return to the court for nine games. Eventually, a knee issue sidelined him.

Now he has re-aggravated that shoulder and, once again, will see a specialist, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson told the media on Tuesday.

There are no details on if there is a specific moment the re-aggravation happened. Irving had been trying to avoid surgery, but that could be back on the table. Irving and the Nets may take a few weeks to make their decision on a next step.

Atkinson may not go there but the rest of us can — it would be a surprise to see Irving back this season. At this point, the smart play is to let Spencer Dinwiddie run the offense the rest of the way, play hard and see what happens in the playoffs, then return next season with a healthy Irving and Kevin Durant.

Irving has played in just 20 games this season, but without him the Nets are still the seven seed in the East at 25-28.

 

Coach John Beilein reportedly to leave Cavaliers, walk away from remaining contract

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The Cavaliers brought in Michigan coach John Beilein to install his motion offense, to develop young players, and to build a culture that could win big in Cleveland.

None of that happened. The Cavaliers are 14-40, they have the worst net rating in the league and are bottom seven in both offense and defense, their young talent — players such as Collin Sexton and Darius Garland — are not developing, and the Cavs’ players have clashed with Beilein and each other, and the team abandoned Beilein’s motion offense less than a month into the season. It’s been rough.

Now he’s going to walk away, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Cavaliers return to practice Wednesday and it is likely J.B. Bickerstaff — a former NBA head coach in Houston and Memphis, and the lead assistant on Beilein’s staff — will take over as head coach. Whether that is for just the remainder of this season, or beyond, remains to be seen.

Bickerstaff would be the fourth Cavaliers coach in less than two seasons since LeBron James left the organization.

Beilein struggled to adapt to the NBA coaching style — the lack of practices, the losing, the fact that good NBA players have more organizational power than the coach, and that he couldn’t treat those players the way he did his college players. He was unable to relate to players, and his relationship with them became an issue when he reportedly said they were “no longer playing like thugs” during a film session. Those NBA players were not giving a college coach the benefit of the doubt, he had to prove himself to them. He didn’t. At age 67, Beilein wasn’t able to adapt to the NBA game.

He was in the first year of a five-year contract worth more than $4 million a season (the last year of that was a team option). Beilein is unhappy enough to leave that money on the table to walk away. He could return to college coaching as soon as next season if he wanted, there would be a long line of universities interested.

Hiring Beilein is a big miss for GM Koby Altman (the first GM owner Dan Gilbert gave a second contract to; Gilbert pushed good GMs like David Griffen out the door). The revolving door of coaches is not the sign of a strong and stable organization. The Cavaliers need to develop a culture and they need a new coach who can deliver that.

 

Pistons reach buyout with Reggie Jackson, he’s headed to Clippers

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Reggie Jackson came to Detroit to be the outside to Andre Drummond‘s inside. That never panned out, in part due to a rash of injuries to Jackson that kept a lot over a couple of those seasons.

Drummond has been traded to Cleveland, and with that it was time for the Pistons to move on from Jackson as well. That has happened, the Pistons and Jackson have agreed to a buyout.

Once Jackson clears waivers, he is headed to the Clippers reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Jackson has only played in 14 games this season due to injury but has averaged 14.9 points and 5.1 assists a game when he has played, plus is shooting 37.8 percent from three. Jackson is making $18 million this season, the final year of a five-year, $80 million contract he inked back in 2015. He is a free agent this summer.

Why the Clippers? They are contenders, and Jackson is friends with Paul George.

The Clippers get two things out of this. First, they get a third point guard who can spell Patrick Beverley 10-12 minutes a night down the stretch (and fill in if Beverley suffers an injury). Second, the Clippers keep a playmaking guard away from the Lakers.

Detroit saves a little money and takes another step to clear the roster for a rebuild. They have Derrick Rose and Brandon Knight at the point guard spot, don’t be surprised if they call up a few guys from the G-League to see if they can find a longer-term option.