Week 8 NBA Power Rankings: Clippers slide, Rockets climb, Warriors still reign

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The Clippers have slipped all the way to sixth as hot teams in Toronto and Houston leapfrog the stumbling team in Los Angeles (well, I guess they both are stumbling in that city). Brooklyn slid to the bottom of the rankings, but they get Jeremy Lin back this week, that should help them move back up.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (21-4, Last Week No. 1). The Warriors starting five — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Zaza Pachulia — outscore opponents by 14.6 points per 100 possessions, and assist each other on 81.3 percent of their made shots. The “death lineup” (I prefer “death star lineup” now, but whatever) is averaging just over 5 minutes a game on the court, but is outscoring opponents by 26.4 points per 100 possessions.

Cavaliers small icon 2. Cavaliers (17-5, LW 5). We know the Cavaliers starting five is good, and Tyrone Lue has leaned on them for 281 minutes this season (16.5 minutes a game, when they’ve all played). The next most used lineup has just 46 minutes — Lue is still searching for other combinations and rotations he likes. Despite that the Cavs have won four in a row, beating the Raptors and other teams from the East. Interesting home-and-home with the suddenly hot Grizzlies this week.

Spurs small icon 3. Spurs (19-5, LW 2). After a slow start to the season on the defensive end, the Spurs have started to look like the Spurs on that and and now have a top-10 defense, although the numbers are odd — for example, they still struggle some with a pick-and-roll ball handler who can score. It helps to have Kawhi Leonard on that end… and on offense. The Spurs won 3-of-4 on the road and 5-of-6 overall recently, with a soft schedule this week.

Raptors small icon 4. Raptors (16-7, LW 4). Which team is in a virtual tie for best offense in the NBA with that star-laden team in the Bay Area? Yes, the Raptors, who are scoring at 114.2 points per 100 possessions. They do it an old-school way, with a lot of midrange jumpers and more isolation, but it has worked for them. Toronto settled into it’s place in the Eastern pecking order last week: They still can’t beat Cleveland, but they can beat the third best team in the East, Boston, and everyone else.

Rockets small icon 5. Rockets (17-7, LW 6). Winners of six in a row, including some quality wins over Boston and Westbrook’s OKC. In their last 10 games, the Houston defense is 18th in the NBA — middle of the pack on that end will get this team a lot of wins because their offense is so good. The defense and bench play improved dramatically since the return of Patrick Beverley. Soft schedule this week could see the win streak extend into double digits, but it likely will not see the return of Donatas Motiejunas to the court.

Clippers small icon 6. Clippers (16-7, LW 3). They are 5-5 in their last 10, and the issue (as it always seems to be) is depth. No lineup in the league has played more minutes this season than the Clippers starters — Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have loved 411 minutes together (almost 20 a game) and are +18.6 points per 100 possessions. The second most used lineup by Doc Rivers is the all bench lineup at 143 minutes (and it’s +6.6 per 100).

Grizzlies small icon 7. Grizzlies (17-8, LW 11). Winners of six in a row, that started out with four sub .500 teams but the last two were over Portland and Golden State. The Grizzlies are surviving without Mike Conley thanks to their defense, now the best in the NBA. Statistically, this season the Grizzlies should be a .500 team (+0.2 points per 100 possessions) but they are 12-0 in games within three points in the final minutes. That will start to even out at some point, but maybe not enough to keep them out of the playoffs. Marc Gasol had his first triple-double of the season, and he continues to dish out assists at a record pace.

Thunder small icon 8. Thunder (15-9, LW 9). Russell Westbrook’s triple-double streak may have ended at seven, but he still dropped 37 points and lifted the Thunder to a win Sunday. OKC is 9-3 when Westbrook has a triple-double, 6-6 when he doesn’t, so it matters, but so does the improved defense the Thunder are playing the past few weeks. The defense keeps them close, Westbrook puts them over the top. More interesting tests on the road in defenseless Portland and against the elite defense of Utah this week.

Jazz small icon 9. Jazz (15-10, LW 8). The best statistical sign of a contender? A top-10 offense and defense. That’s Utah, which is ranked seventh in offense and fifth in defense in the league. The Jazz are doing what good teams do: Racking up wins when the schedule is favorable. Utah could really use George Hill back in the lineup, he has missed six in a row due to a left toe injury (he has missed 14 games total this season). The Jazz could especially use him against the Thunder and Grizzlies this week.

Hornets small icon 10. Hornets (14-10, LW 15). Kemba Walker deserves to be an All-Star this season. He is averaging 23.3 points per game, shooting 41.8 percent from three (and a career-high true shooting percentage of 58.8), plus a career-high PER of 23.8 — all while taking on a heavier load on offense (29.7 percent usage rate). Guys who take on more don’t get more efficient, but Walker has. The Hornets are 8.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court, and that’s because their offense drops off a cliff when Walker sits. Charlotte will get tested with all their games on the road this week.

Celtics small icon 11. Celtics (13-11, LW 7). Avery Bradley is having a career best year in points (17.9 per game), rebounds (7.5), assists (2.5), three-point shooting percentage (42.7 percent), and PER (16.1). No, that does not mean he’s an All-Star this season Celtics fans, but he’s been a key part of the team’s success. The Celtics have lost 3-of-4 against a tough stretch of the Eastern Conference, and things don’t lighten up now — four of their next five are on the road, and they face the Spurs and Hornets this week.

Bulls small icon 12. Bulls (13-10, LW 10). Tuesday night, Tom Thibodeau brings his Minnesota Timberwolves team in, and the fans are going to give him a rousing reception (which should eat at the stomaches of the Chicago front office). The Bulls gave the Spurs their first road loss of the season last week — Chicago seems to play to the level of it’s competition most nights — and this week have an interesting home-and-home with Milwaukee.

Knicks small icon 13. Knicks (14-10 LW 13). The Knicks have won 6-of-7, and four in a row on the road, despite Phil Jackson finding a way to create unnecessary drama around the team with his comments about Carmelo Anthony. Why? “Trusting, just trusting one another, believing in what we are doing. Believing in our schemes, defensively and offensively,” Anthony said after beating the Lakers Sunday night. The Knicks remain on their West Coast swing this week.

Pistons small icon 14. Pistons (13-13, LW 14). Reggie Jackson is still finding his groove since his return from knee and thumb issues, and is shooting just 35.4 percent. That will start to turn at some point. The good news is Ish Smith moving to the bench has been huge for the second unit. Detroit is up-and-down — and that was a huge down Sunday losing to a Sixers team without Joel Embiid — but they have winnable games against some of the league’s most disappointing teams this week: Dallas, Washington, and Indiana. And KCP should be back in the lineup.

Bucks small icon 15. Bucks (11-11, LW 12). When you see how much this team misses Khris Middleton is when it is time to close-out games — the Bucks blew a 20-point lead to Atlanta and had an ugly loss to the Wizards last week. All their games lately seem to be close, but they can’t get the stops and efficient offense at the same time. It’s not easier this week with Toronto then a home-and-home with Chicago on the schedule.

Pacers small icon 16. Pacers (12-12, LW 17). No team seems more up and down in the league than Indiana, which beat the Clippers and came from 20 down to knock off the Trail Blazers recently, but then lost to Dallas. The team turns to Paul George in the clutch, and that has worked well enough (he led the comeback against Portland). Still, it’s still surprising how much the team’s defense has fallen off since last season. Indiana is fighting for a playoff spot and games this week like Charlotte and Detroit (both on the road) are the kinds of wins they need.

Hawks small icon 17. Hawks (12-12 LW 19). Their seven-game losing streak came to an end with wins against Miami and Milwaukee, thanks to big games from Dwight Howard against the Heat and Dennis Schroder against the Bucks. They did that without Kent Bazemore, but that will be tough this week going against Orlando, Toronto, and Charlotte. That will test if the Hawks are really right again.

Blazers small icon 18. Trail Blazers (12-13, LW 16). Memphis did Thursday what was the playoff book on Portland: Blitz Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and force someone else to beat you. This is precisely why the Blazers spent money on Evan Turner this summer, to be the third playmaker, but against the Grizzlies the rest of the team shot 24 percent in the loss. Portland has dropped three straight on the road and face the Clippers, Thunder, and Warriors this week.

Magic small icon 19. Magic (10-15 LW 20). Another of the league’s up-and-down teams, they win three straight on the road only to drop their next three. Frank Vogel has Elfrid Payton and Nikola Vucevic coming off the bench now, something Scott Skiles would like to have done last season but wasn’t allowed (the Magic didn’t have Bismarck Biyombo to plug in up front last season, to be fair). Not an easy week with the Hawks, Clippers, and Raptors all on the schedule.

Wizards small icon 20. Wizards (9-13, LW 24). Washington’ starting five — John Wall, Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris, Otto Porter, and Marcin Gortat — are +7.7 points per 100 possessions, but once you mix in the bench things fall apart quickly. John Wall dropped 52 on Orlando last week, but the Wizards lost — they work better with some balance in the offense. Like against the Bucks later in the week. Washington has won four of five, but it’s a tough week ahead with the Hornets, Pistons and Clippers scheduled.

Nuggets small icon 21. Nuggets (9-15, LW 26). The Nuggets are 2-3 on a six-game road trip that wraps up Monday night in Dallas. Mike Malone has to keep working to develop Emmanuel Mudiay, but he has struggled of late at the point (leading to more Jameer Nelson minutes, he’s a stabilizing influence on the court right now). Jamal Murray continues to show promise, but in games like the ones against Utah, Washington, and Orlando he’s also looked like a rookie (3-of-15 shooting in those games). A couple interesting tests for the Nuggets this week, the high-flying offense of Portland, then Saturday watch the young and talented Nuggets front line deal with Kristaps Porzingis up front when the Knicks visit (oh, they have that Carmelo Anthony guy, too, he played in Denver a little, if you remember).

Kings small icon 22. Kings (8-15, LW 23). The playoff dreams are fading in Sacramento as the team has dropped 5-of-6 games (and the team has played poorly down the stretch in the close games in that group). The worse they do the more the DeMarcus Cousins trade speculation will ramp up, but the Kings still seem to show no interest in making a move before the February trade deadline (well, not for Cousins, Omri Casspi is another story). Ben McLemore is starting again, but he’s just not panned out in Sacramento. Kings spend most of the week on the road in Houston, Memphis, and Dallas.

Pelicans small icon 23. Pelicans (8-16, LW 22). They had lost 7-of-8 before going to overtime to beat the Suns on Sunday night (where at the end Alvin Gentry went very small, Davis and four guards basically). Anthony Davis remains a guy on the fringes of the MVP discussion with his play, but this team is still him against the world — they need scoring depth badly. Tough week ahead with the Warriors, Rockets, and Spurs all on the schedule.

Lakers small icon 24. Lakers (10-16, LW 18). The Lakers defense isn’t intimidating anyone — Derrick Rose went right at the heart of it Sunday night then postgame talked about all the space he found in the paint. Luke Walton said this: “We have to get off to better starts as far as our physicality on the defensive end, and then throughout the game we have to cut down on the mistakes.” The Lakers head out on a six-game road trip starting Monday.

Heat small icon 25. Heat (7-17, LW 21). Losers of five in a row, but at least they come home for six games after a tough stretch of the schedule. If this team can find a way to start defending — something that has fallen off a cliff since Justise Winslow’s injury — they can win some games on this homestand and maybe make a push back up toward the playoffs in the East. But the hole they dug may well be too deep (and the Heat may just not be that good).

timberwolves small icon 26. Timberwolves (6-18, LW 25). They played the Warriors tough Sunday for three quarters, but then Golden State — playing their fourth game in five nights — showed far more energy in the fourth quarter and pulled away for the win. Minnesota’s defense remains a disaster, and Tom Thibodeau can’t seem to get through to these young players. Thibodeau takes his new team to his old stoping grounds in Chicago this week (where the fans still love him, but won’t recognize this defense).

Suns small icon 27. Suns (7-17, LW 27). They lost a 15-point lead to the Pelicans on Sunday, but that will happens with a team playing at the fastest pace in the league but with the 25th ranked defense. The opposition gets a lot of opportunities. This week the Knicks, Thunder, and Spurs will get those chances.

Sixers small icon 28. 76ers (6-18, LW 30). The Sixers have won two in a row, both on the road in New Orleans and Detroit. Nerlens Noel is back, he got 10 minutes off the bench in Detroit and scored eight points (but got no rebounds). Expect the Sixers to give him more and more run going forward as they showcase him for a potential trade. Winnable games at home this week for Philly against the Lakers and Nets.

Mavericks small icon 29. Mavericks (5-18, LW 28). Dallas’ defense was already a bottom-10 mess, and then Andrew Bogut went down injured on Monday. In the next three games, the Dallas defense got 12 points per 100 possessions worse. At least Rick Carlisle is still being creative, selling the idea that calling timeouts he didn’t have was a strategic move (just with a price). Still no timetable on the return of Dirk Nowitzki.

Nets small icon 30. Nets (6-16, LW 29). Jeremy Lin is expected to make his return this week, after missing 17 games with an injured ankle. The Nets have gone 4-13 without their offensive spark plug and they desperately need his return. Smart gamble by GM Sean Marks trying to land Donatas Motiejunas, who knows if it would have worked out (Houston matched the offer) but with the Nets limited resources to rebuild that’s the kind of roll of the dice he needs to take.

Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart will be Team USA captains in World Cup

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Team USA is just about ready to get underway for the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China. The United States beat Australia on Wednesday night in a tune-up game, 102-86.

Several big-name NBA players have dropped out of participating with the Team USA roster this summer, but it appears that things have solidified as we enter late August. To that end, we now have confirmation about who Team USA’s captains will be moving forward.

According to Kemba Walker, he and fellow Boston Celtics teammate Marcus Smart will be the captains for the international squad in this year’s World Cup.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“We have a bunch of guys who don’t mind being the underdogs,” Walker told reporters. “We are hungry, and we are going to go out there to try and win a gold medal…I take pride in being a leader and guys looking to me and I’m here to set the tempo and bring my experience and energy.”

This is a point of pride for Celtics fans, and Walker and Smart appear to be two excellent choices as captains of this young Team USA roster.

It’s not going to be easy for Team USA to win the World Cup. Leadership and camaraderie has often been the deciding factor in the USA’s performance in international play. The team rallied around a strong locker room after their poor performance in the 2004 Olympics, coming together to win the gold in the 2008 Beijing games.

Walker and Smart should provide leadership and calmness for a team that will have many challengers who view them as vulnerable.

Minnesota’s Gersson Rosas says Andrew Wiggins must be “main contributor” to T-wolves

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Last season in Minnesota — with Jimmy Butler torpedoing the team and ending the Tom Thibodeau era — was pretty much the figurative definition of a train wreck.

Out of that wreckage, the Timberwolves think they found some positives. Ryan Sunders was thrown into the fire as a young coach but bonded with Karl-Anthony Towns. Robert Covington sparked the defense before his injury. Josh Okogie emerged as a player. This summer the team drafted a player with a lot of potential in Jarrett Culver.

Minnesota also brought in the aggressive Gersson Rosas out of Houston to take over as team president and start reshaping the franchise into one that can live up to the promise of Towns’ potential. For that to start to happen, meaning a return to the playoffs, Rosas pointed to a couple of things needing to go right this season. First and foremost, they need more — and more consistency — out of Andrew Wiggins. Via Timberwolves writer/podcaster Dane Moore.

Most Timberwolves fans, and the rest of the league, have moved on from Wiggins, who has four years, $122 million left on his max contract. While he averaged 18.1 points per game last season, he doesn’t get those buckets efficiently nor consistently, and the result is an average/slightly below-average wing whose contract is an anchor on the franchise. We’ve learned no contract is untradable in the NBA, but this is as close to that line as it gets — the sweeteners Minnesota would have to throw in right now make a deal are prohibitive.

The only thing Minnesota can hope for is that in year six Wiggins takes some steps forward he did not take in the last five. Maybe continuity helps, but we’re all going to need to see it before we believe it.

The other thing Rosas said Minnesota needs: More consistent defense from Towns.

Saunders seemed to connect with Towns and got him to defend, and Covington played MIC linebacker calling out coverages and getting guys in position before his injury. Rosas said Covington would be good to go at the start of the season, if so that gives the Timberwolves real hope that the defense will improve.

Whether all of that will be enough to get them into the playoffs in a deep West is another question, but at least Minnesota seems to be moving in the right direction now.

President Donald Trump awarding Medal of Freedom to NBA star Bob Cousy

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WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump is set to present basketball legend Bob Cousy (KOO’-zee) with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The award is being handed out Thursday. It celebrates individuals with a wide range of achievements and is the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The 91-year-old Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame member played for the Boston Celtics from 1950 to 1963. He won six league championships and the 1957 MVP title.

Cousy is also known for speaking out against racism. He was an ardent supporter of black teammates who faced discrimination during the civil rights movement.

Cousy will be the second person to receive the award this year from Trump. Golfer Tiger Woods received the honor in May.

Report: Shelly Sterling, members of Clippers organization heard Donald Sterling audio in advance and didn’t act

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In 2014, published audio of a racist rant by then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling rocked the country.

It shouldn’t have. Sterling’s racism and sexism were well-established by then. But few cared. The audio poured gasoline on the fire and moved people to act. I wish it didn’t require that. But it did.

What if the audio didn’t become public through TMZ? Apparently, there might have been opportunity for another outcome.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The fact is Shelly and several people in the Clippers organization heard the recording and decided not to act on it or weren’t appalled enough to act on it. Maybe they didn’t understand how big a splash this tape could make.

It’s unclear when Shelly Sterling (Donald’s wife) and other members of the Clippers organization heard the audio. Maybe it was while TMZ was doing due diligence. If so, it was probably too late to change the course of history.

But perhaps it was when V. Stiviano – Donald’s girlfriend who made the original recording and was being sued by Shelly – was still the only one in possession of it. Stiviano was clearly upset with how things were going financially between her and the Sterlings. For the right price, maybe the audio would have gone away before becoming public.

I’m glad it didn’t happen that way. The world is better off knowing exactly who Donald Sterling is.

Yet, this leads to an incredible “what if?” What if the people who heard the audio in advance understood the magnitude, acted in Sterling’s best interest and paid to have the audio kept secret? Would Sterling still own the Clippers today?