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NBA Power Rankings Week 16: Does anyone want the eight seed in either conference?

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Dallas was miserable to start the season, playing without Dirk Nowitzki or a defense to speak of. Things were not any better in Miami. However, both teams have been on a run lately, and that has gotten those two teams in the conversation for the eight seed in their conferences. Both are climbing up the rankings here as well.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (43-8, Last Week No. 1). Stephen Curry is back to playing at an MVP level. After the Christmas Day loss to Cleveland, the Warriors put the ball in his hands for more pick-and-rolls, he worked to be more aggressive, and while his shots went up by three per game his three point percentage went from 39.7% before Santa to 46.2% after Santa. Big game this week is Kevin Durant returning to Oklahoma City on Saturday night.

 
Spurs small icon 2. Spurs (39-11, LW 2). Gregg Popovich is now the winningest coach with one team in NBA history, and his team just keeps racking up wins after win. By the way, he had to pass Utah’s Jerry Sloan to get that title. Monday night in Memphis the Spurs kick off their annual rodeo road trip, with nine of their next 10 games away from home.

 
Cavaliers small icon 3. Cavaliers (34-15, LW 4). It’s become trendy to say the Wizards are the hottest team in the East since Dec. 1 (they have the best record in that stretch), and Boston is climbing fast, however the Cavaliers remain the class of the East. The Cavs have righted their ship, won four-of-five (despite Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving missing some time), and remain the team to beat in that conference. Great test against the Wizards Monday night, however. They are still looking for a playmaker to add to the roster, but don’t expect something until right at the deadline.

 
Wizards small icon 4. Wizards (30-20, LW 5). What has helped turn the Wizards around this season? As we discussed in the latest PBT Podcast, featuring Wizards’ Insider J. Michael of CSNMidAtlantic, credit Scott Brooks. The coach simplified the defensive game plan and has not changed it when things got rough for a stretch (former coach Randy Wittman changed things all the time). Second, Brooks has lightened up the practice schedule, giving guys time to recover more, and with that John Wall, Bradley Beal and others are staying healthy.

 
Celtics small icon 5. Celtics (33-18, LW 6). Winners of seven in row and 11-of-12, and that includes knocking off the Raptors and taking control of the No. 2 seed in the East. All of that was enough to make Brad Stevens the Eastern Conference All-Star Coach. Isaiah Thomas is on a roll, but the Celtics have the sixth best defense in the NBA during the win streak, they have been strong on the boards, and that’s been the biggest difference.

 
Rockets small icon 6. Rockets (37-17, LW 3). Houston is 5-5 in its last 10 and the reason is the three ball is not falling for them anymore — they shot 33 percent from beyond the arc in January, and 31 percent through the first week of February. Trevor Ariza is a big part of this slump, but it’s bigger than just him. Houston has a soft schedule coming up which should allow them to turn this streak around.

 
Jazz small icon 7. Jazz (32-19, LW 7). Gordon Hayward had some big games last week, and he and Rudy Gobert both put up 25 in a game (which makes this team very difficult to beat). Plus, the Jazz are 17–4 when George Hill and Hayward both play. But the thing I liked best last week was the strong games from Joe Johnson playing a little small ball four, which gives this team even more versatility.

 
Hawks small icon 8. Hawks (30-21 LW 8). Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 23-point fourth quarter on the second night of a back-to-back — sparking a comeback win — was one of the more impressive performances of the season. (Just wanted to remind Atlanta sports fans of a good comeback win for them, it’s going to be a rough few days.) Interesting tests ahead for them this week against the Jazz, Nuggets, and at the Kings.

 
Pacers small icon 9. Pacers (28-22, LW 12).. The have won six in a row and have put themselves in the mix for home court in the first round of the playoffs (they are just a game back of four seed Toronto). The key to this run has been defense, where the Pacers have given up less than a point per possession over their last six. The real test comes this week, can they keep this up against the Thunder, Cavaliers, and Wizards?

 
Thunder small icon 10. Thunder (30-22, LW 9). They dropped three in a row after the Enes Kanter injury, but they got a good wins over Memphis and Portland, and look like they may be finding ways to score without their reserve big man. The good news for OKC is after a brutal January the team is home for most of the month and will get the chance to stay afloat without Kanter (and figure out how to win without him).

 
Grizzlies small icon 11. Grizzlies (31-22, LW 11). This ranking seems too low for a team getting monster nights from guys like JaMychal Green — he is knocking down threes, defending, and his matured game will get him paid this summer. Their offense has looked great against lesser squads, but this week the Spurs and the Warriors are on the schedule to provide real tests.

 
Raptors small icon 12. Raptors (31-21, LW 10). Fell to Celtics last Wednesday, and while they can rightly point out DeMar DeRozan missed that game, it still stung. This team has gone 3-7 in their last 10 and have a bottom 10 net rating in that time, and this recent run of play has them all the way down to fourth in the East (and it would be worse if Kyle Lowry didn’t hit a ridiculous game winner last week against New Orleans.

 
Heat small icon 13. Heat (21-30, LW 20). This team has won 10 in a row and is now just two games out of a playoff spot in the East. All after Justise Winslow went down injured. Erik Spoelstra could/should end up on some Coach of the Year ballots for getting this roster — which has talent but not great fitting talent — to come around and perform at any reasonable level, especially playing lock-down defense during their streak.

 
Clippers small icon 14. Clippers (31-20, LW 13). Los Angeles is 2-5 on a rough stretch of games that has them mostly on the road (to make way for the Grammys at Staples Center). Los Angeles’ offense has been good since Blake Griffin’s return — he’s an underrated playmaker and their shooters are knocking down shots — but the defense has been terrible. Four more games on the road coming up, including at Toronto and Utah.

 
Bulls small icon 15. Bulls (25-26, LW 15). Nothing seems to go smoothly for this team. Chicago had arguably its two best offensive performances of the season in wins over Philadelphia and Oklahoma City, only to lose Jimmy Butler for a stretch with a bruised heel. The Bulls are trying to hang on to a playoff spot as they go through a six-game road stretch, they split the first two but Butler’s return could have a lot to do with how the next four games go.

Pistons small icon 16. Pistons (23-28, LW 19). Andre Drummond continues to put up numbers in the middle (he remains a beast on the boards, but his growth seems to have plateaued this season. When Detroit gets wins it’s because Drummond gets help like he did last week from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jon Leuer and Marcus Morris. Detroit needs more of that help if they are going to hang on to a playoff slot out East.

 
Nuggets small icon 17. Nuggets (22-28, LW 14). In the falling-up battle to get the final playoff slot in the West, the Nuggets are in the playoffs as of today, but are going to need more consistent play — starting with star Nikola Jokic — if they plan to hold off Portland or suddenly-hot Dallas. Also, how will the Nuggets handle swirling trade rumors the next couple of weeks around Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler?

 
Mavericks small icon 18. Mavericks (20-30, LW 23). Yogimania has swept through Dallas — rookie Yogi Ferrell came in on a 10-day contract out of the D-League to provide point guard depth, and since then he has averaged 17.8 points a game and shot 52 percent from three. He dropped 32 on Portland. So Farrell is getting a two-year deal this week. The Mavericks have games against the Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and Jazz this week — if they are going to make the playoffs they need to get wins in games like those.

 
Blazers small icon 19. Trail Blazers (22-30, LW 16).. The search for something that works defensively in Portland may have found a relative solution with the team starting Evan Turner and Noah Vonleh (although Al Farouq-Aminu gets the late-game run, not Vonleh). They lost to Dallas last week, but they get another shot this week and that is the kind of game a playoff team needs to win.

 
Hornets small icon 20. Hornets (23-28, LW 17). They have dropped seven in a row and their offensive game has struggled since Cory Zeller went down, which is why the team made the moved to trade for Miles Plumlee (and take on a lot more salary to do it). This team’s up-and-down defense this season is definitely down of late. Charlotte has fallen out of the playoffs in the East and if they are going to turn that around it needs to happen with this four-game homestand (because the next seven after that are on the road).

 
Knicks small icon 21. Knicks (22-30 LW 21). There are two more weeks of Carmelo Anthony trade drama this team needs to play through (I still think they can’t find a new home for him until this summer). This team has really missed Derrick Rose and will be happy to get him back this week. They got a strong games from Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez last week, which is promising for the future.

 
Sixers small icon 22. 76ers (18-32, LW 18). Joel Embiid has missed eight of nine games for the Sixers, and not so coincidentally the team is 3-6 in that stretch. Robert Covington being out the last three also has dramatically hurt Philly’s defense. Jahlil Okafor is still available via trade, but word on the street is the Sixers are asking a lot more in return than other team are offering.

 
Kings small icon 23. Kings (20-31, LW 24). The Kings are 2.5 games out of the playoffs and if things are going to change for this team it needs to happen over the next few weeks — nine of their next 11 are at home. The win over Golden State was a very good start. Then again, the ugly loss to the Suns speaks to the unpredictable nature of this team. Who knows if we will see more Jekyll or Hyde during this homestand, about the only thing we can expect are big games from DeMarcus Cousins.

 
Bucks small icon 24. Bucks (22-28, LW 25). Trading Miles Plumlee was all about saving millions of dollars as of next July, when their team needs re-sign Jabari Parker. The good news for the Bucks is Kris Middleton is expected to play starting Wednesday and this team could use him as they remain just half a game outside the playoffs as of Monday.

 
Pelicans small icon 25. Pelicans (19-32, LW 22). They have lost four straight games and the problem isn’t Anthony Davis or Jrue Holiday — they are putting up numbers — it is everyone else on the roster that is struggling. There’s always a distraction from what is going wrong in New Orleans, and that is the All-Star Game coming to town, which means more pictures of their King Baby mascot to creep you out.

 
timberwolves small icon 26. Timberwolves (19-32, LW 26). The loss of Zach LaVine for the season is crushing to this team’s already faint playoff dreams — LaVine was the starter usually out there with the struggling bench units to provide some points and stability. Brandon Rush seems to be the starter, but the second unit is the concern. Just hope LaVine — who had taken real steps forward with his game this season — can bounce back from this torn ACL.

 
Magic small icon 27. Magic (20-33 LW 27). Orlando is a team to watch the next two weeks — not on the court, but heading into the trade deadline. They are looking for a home for Serge Ibaka (who is not likely to re-sign there) but considering they gave up Victor Oladipo and the pick that became Domantas Sabonis to get him, the Magic want quality back. Other teams are not interested at that price. Same basic thing with Nikola Vucevic. Will Orlando come down a little, and will the market rise up to meet them?

 
Suns small icon 28. Suns (16-35, LW 28). The Suns as a team continue to flounder, but one of their guards usually provides plenty of entertainment. Not long ago it was Eric Bledsoe’s string of 40-point games, but more recently it has been the 27 points in a quarter performance by Devin Booker.

 
Lakers small icon 29. Lakers (17-36, LW 29). Magic Johnson coming on board as an advisor to ownership means Jim Buss is on his way out (will Mitch Kupchak join him is the question). However, the Lakers should not abandon the idea of building their nice young core. Sure, D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and on down the line have had their ups-and-downs, but if you trade nice young players for slightly above average veterans to get a few more wins now you’re the Isiah Thomas Knicks.

 
Nets small icon 30. Nets (9-42, LW 30). Because it’s not been a hard enough season in Brooklyn, here’s another reminder that Yogi Ferrell — who is having a breakout run in Dallas — started the season with the Nets but they released him. The team is playing hard but has lost nine in a row.

Players see similarities between Brad Stevens, Erik Spoelstra

Brad Stevens Erik Spoelstra
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Jae Crowder will tell anybody who asks that the Miami Heat are extremely well-prepared for whatever comes their way in the Eastern Conference finals.

He can say the same about the Boston Celtics, too.

Crowder and fellow Heat teammate Kelly Olynyk are both in the East title series for the second time. Their first time was in 2017 — when they were Boston teammates under coach Brad Stevens. And it isn’t hard for Crowder to see the similarities between Stevens and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

“Oh, the No. 1 thing that sticks out to me is the attention to detail,” Crowder said. “Both coaches have preached that and pushed that with their teams, respectively. You need that at this level. You need that at this time of the year, because both teams really know exactly what they’re trying to get to. It’s just about the level of detail that you’re doing it and how much you’re imposing your will.”

The Celtics lost that 2017 series to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and neither Olynyk nor Crowder ever played for Boston again when that postseason run ended. Crowder was traded in the summer after those 2017 East finals, part of the deal that brought Kyrie Irving from Cleveland to Boston. Olynyk left Boston in the same summer, signing a three-year contract with Miami with a player option for next season tacked on as well.

Stevens remains fond of both players, and even now — with the Celtics trying to beat the Heat — he says he’s happy for Olynyk and Crowder.

“I think they’re both great competitors, great people,” Stevens said. “They impact winning. It’s not a surprise they’re doing it again.”

Spoelstra has a bit of familiarity with a key member of the Celtics, albeit on a different level. The Heat made a big push to sign Gordon Hayward in 2017, even getting him to visit Miami on what became a bit of a whirlwind free-agent tour that summer. Hayward ended up signing with Boston; that was largely why Miami got Olynyk that summer, because the Celtics had to rescind the qualifying offer made to him in order to help clear the space needed to sign Hayward.

“We loved the meeting with Gordon,” Spoelstra said in 2017. “There’s a reason why we recruited him.”

All the moves have worked out for everyone involved. Most of the Celtics who were on that 2017 team aren’t there now, so it’s not like Olynyk and Crowder are facing off with their old team — just their former franchise.

“I mean, there’s definitely similarities … they’re two of the best coaches in the league, and to be successful in this league you’ve got to do some of the same stuff,” Olynyk said. “But they do have their differences as well and that’s what makes them unique and that’s what makes our two teams different.”

Miami leads this year’s East finals 2-1 going into Game 4 on Wednesday night.

“I think the similarity is definitely just the attention to detail that they both coach with, and they push it to their groups tremendously,” Crowder said. “I think that’s a hell of a compliment to both coaches.”

Report: G-League considering tournament including select team of top draft prospects

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There is not going to be a G-League Showcase in Las Vegas right before Christmas. At least not in the traditional sense.

However, the G-League reportedly is considering a tournament-style showcase event while the NBA will be between seasons. This tournament would include the Ignite select team of highly-touted draft prospects getting paid, skipping college, and spending a season working on their game. All that according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The key line here: Decisions are fluid.

The 2020 NBA Draft is Nov. 18. After that, nothing is set in stone; there is no official start date for free agency and no date for the start of next season (although the buzz around the league continues to say February, maybe even March). This G-League tournament would be a way to show off players to general managers/scouts/executives, which means it needs to occur when those people can attend. Until more of the schedule is set, nobody is sure when that will be.

The Ignite team, which will train in Northern California (Walnut Park), is stacked with a number of potential high picks — including Daishen Nix, Jonathan Kuminga, and Jalen Green — and they will be coached by former NBA player/coach Brian Shaw. No doubt the G-League would like to give them and others a chance to shine, but the coronavirus will make finding the right time a challenge. Then the league has to create a bubble again. It’s not cheap or easy.

That said, it could happen. Keep an eye out.

Wes Unseld Jr., Kenny Atkinson reportedly top list for next Chicago coach

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Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, the two guys at the top of Chicago Bulls basketball operations, fired a coach in Jim Boylen that the team owner liked. Which means they have to nail the next hire.

Chicago in on to the second round of interviews and four names stand out, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Bulls are narrowing to finalists for their head coaching job and expect to conduct final interviews soon, sources said. Denver assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Philadelphia assistant Ime Udoka, Milwaukee assistant Darvin Ham and former Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson are among the coaches who have had strong interviews so far.

Atkinson has a more proven resume after what he did in Brooklyn, but the other three are top assistants who have earned their shot in the big chair. Unseld Jr. is a hot name right now because his team is still in the bubble and playing well — he’s Mike Malone’s lead assistant on the Denver Nuggets — but every name on this list is qualified.

Whoever lands the job will head a team with plenty of potential but also plenty of questions. The Bulls have quality young talent on the roster — Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter — but do they are fit together? How good Chicago is next season may depend more on the growth of White and the health of Markkanen than it does on who gets selected as coach.

Expect Karnisovas to spend a year putting his stamp on this roster and moving players around. First, however, he’s got to find his coach.

Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin form NASCAR racing team with Bubba Wallace driving

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Michael Jordan is getting into the NASCAR game.

The North Carolina native has teamed up with three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin to form a new NASCAR Cup Series race team — and they’ve signed Bubba Wallace to drive.

Wallace is the only Black man driving full-time in NASCAR’s top series (the previous three seasons he raced for Richard Petty Motorsports). Wallace has been at the forefront of bringing social changes to NASCARincluding the banning of the Confederate flags at NASCAR events and tracks.

“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said in a statement. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.

“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”

Michael Jordan becomes the first Black owner of a full-time race team in NASCAR top series since NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott in the 1960s and early 1970s (he owned the team and drove the car). Bubba Wallace is the first Black full-time driver in the top NASCAR series since Scott.

Hamlin will be a minority partner in the new team and continue to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” said Wallace in a statement. “Both Michael and Denny are great competitors and are focused on building the best team they possibly can to go out and compete for race wins. I’m grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”

The car manufacturer, number, sponsors and more will be announced at a later date.

Jordan is the primary owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.