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NBA Power Rankings Week 20: Spurs slide into top slot as Warriors stumble

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Golden State has owned the top of this ranking for a while — they got it back in January — but the injury to sideline Kevin Durant, and the stumbling losses while they try to find a new offensive groove, has them slide a couple spots. The Spurs are red hot, they get the top spot. Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard could not care less about all such things.

 
Spurs small icon 1. Spurs (48-13, Last Week No. 2). Winners of seven in a row and 12-of-14 (the last three in tight games), they have earned the right to be on top of the rankings. Gregg Popovich moving Pau Gasol to the bench has been huge for this team — he’s averaging 16 points a game on 57 percent shooting in his last five games, and he fits better with David Lee and that unit (while Dewayne Dedmon and his hard rolls on offense and rim protecting defense fits better with LaMarcus Aldridge as a starter).

 
Warriors small icon 2. Warriors (51-11, Last Week No. 1). Adjusting to life without Kevin Durant (until around the start of the playoffs) has not been easy, and not aided by the fact they are in their toughest stretch of the schedule this week (they beat the Knicks Sunday but then face a good Atlanta team on the road Monday). Which means they may fall further in these rankings. While the Warriors obviously miss KD on offense (they need to get back to more Stephen Curry pick-and-rolls) the bigger impact is likely on the defensive end, where Durant was having his best season.

 
Rockets small icon 3. Rockets (44-19, LW 4). In their past 10 games, they have taken 50.3 percent of their shots from three. Go ahead and say that’s too much and ruining the game if you want, they also have the best offense in the NBA during that stretch. The real key to their wins: They are 10th in the NBA in defense in that stretch. If the Kevin Durant injury does leave the Warriors vulnerable during the playoffs (because he’s not 100 percent) the Rockets may be the team best suited to take them down.

 
Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (42-19, LW 3). Kyle Korver had quite the homecoming in Atlanta, he and his teammates rained an NBA record 25 threes on the Hawks. Andrew Bogut is expected to make his debut for the Cavaliers Monday, and I still am impressed they were able to land two D-Wills — Deron Williams and Derrick Williams — who are contributing. Fun showdown against Houston next Sunday on the road.

 
Celtics small icon 5. Celtics (40-22, LW 6). The win against Cleveland last week is not something with lessons that carry over to a potential playoff meeting, but it should have been a big confidence boost. The Celtics split the first two games on their five-game road swing through the West, beating the Lakers but falling to the Suns in the final seconds. Now things get tougher with the Clippers, Warriors, and Nuggets. It doesn’t help that Al Horford and Avery Bradley are a little banged up, both were sidelined over the weekend.

 
Wizards small icon 6. Wizards (36-24, LW 7). They split a home-and-home with the Raptors in the battle for the three seed (and to avoid Cleveland in the second round of the playoffs). That’s keeping them ahead of the Raptors by a game (two in the loss column), but they missed the chance to grow that lead. On the bright side, Bojan Bogdanovic has helped spark the second unit and his eight threes — including the game winner — were huge in Orlando. If the Wizards can get good bench play, they are legit Eastern Conference Finals threat.

 
Jazz small icon 7. Jazz (39-24, LW 5). They seem headed for a first-round 4/5 matchup with the Clippers in the playoffs, and here is what’s concerning about that if you’re a Jazz fan — the loss to Oklahoma City last week made it seven losses in a row by the Jazz to West playoff bound teams. It would have been a much uglier week for Utah if not for the Rudy Gobert tip-in at the buzzer Sunday to secure an OT win in Sacramento.

 
Grizzlies small icon 8. Grizzlies (36-27, LW 10). Chandler Parsons continues to struggle (7-of-29 from the floor since the All-Star Break) but coach David Fizdale continues to get him run because he knows if Memphis is going to make noise in the playoffs they are going to need him. Parsons, for his part, admits he’s “sucked” but remains optimistic. Good tests against the Clippers and Hawks this week.

 
Raptors small icon 9. Raptors (37-26, LW 9). With a defense that is stepping up and a whole lot of DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors have gone 5-2 since Kyle Lowry went down injured. The question is can DeRozan continue to handle the extra workload, or will he get some help. The Raptors split a pair with the Wizards last week to remain within striking distance of the three seed (nobody wants to be the four seed and get the Cavs in the second round).

 
Clippers small icon 10. Clippers (37-25, LW 11). They have had a brutal schedule since the All-Star break — Warriors, Spurs, Rockets — but with both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on the court and healthy the Clippers are starting to find a groove again. At least the starters are. On offense. The Clippers need more consistent bench play — not just the Jamal Crawford show, he needs some help — and better defense to climb back up the standings and get home court in the first round.

 
Thunder small icon 11. Thunder (35-27, LW 8). They have dropped three in a row, and Russell Westbrook is shooting just 35 percent in those games. Westbrook also only had five assists on Sunday, he is close to falling below 10 assists per game and losing the season-long triple-double campaign. Tough week ahead with Portland (who they need to beat), the Spurs, then the Jazz to close out the week.

 
Hawks small icon 12. Hawks (34-27 LW 13). Atlanta has been up-and-down this season — slow start, red hot January — and now seemed to have found a groove as a slightly-above .500 team over the past few weeks. That will get them into the postseason for a round. The Cavaliers have played them twice and made 25 threes in each game this season — Cleveland is not a good playoff matchup for Atlanta.

 
Heat small icon 13. Heat (29-34, LW 12). The Heat picked up a nice win against the Cavaliers last week (when LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were both out for rest), but they hurt their playoff drive with losses to the Mavericks and Magic last week. Miami is a 50/50 proposition to make the playoffs according to fivethiryeight.com, but to catch the Pistons the Heat can’t drop more winnable games. The Heat play the Pacers this week in a game they could really use.

Pistons small icon 14. Pistons (30-32, LW 16). They are hanging on to the eight seed, but that with a below .500 record is still a disappointment for Detroit. Why did it happen? Last season the Pistons were +2.6 points per 100 possessions when Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond shared the court; this season it’s -8.2 per 100. And it’s been worse lately. (Stats courtesy John Schuhmann of NBA.com.) Tough tests this week with the Bulls, Pacers, and Cavaliers as the Pistons search for wins.

 
Pacers small icon 15. Pacers (31-30, LW 15).. Paul George had 34 points on 19 shots Sunday against the Hawks — that was huge, his shooting slump has really hurt a team that lacks other quality, consistent shot creators. Their defense has been better of late, the key is just getting a little more offense to go with it. Glenn Robinson III did his part on Sunday.

 
Bulls small icon 16. Bulls (31-31, LW 14). They picked up a quality win over the Warriors (sans Durant) on national television Thursday night. But this is the Bulls, two nights later they scored just 30 points in the second half losing to the Clippers. Consistency is not the Bulls’ buzzword this season. The Bulls have won five-of-seven despite some rough play since the break from Jimmy Butler, who is not creating shots (for others in particular) and not getting to the line. The Bulls need that Butler back sooner rather than later down the stretch.

 
Bucks small icon 17. Bucks (28-33, LW 19). Malcolm Brogdon is starting and Matthew Dellavedova is coming off the bench, but unless Brogdon gets red hot over the final weeks of the season it’s hard to see him passing Joel Embiid for Rookie of the Year. Even though Embiid has played just 31 games. The Bucks are within striking distance of the playoffs, just 1.5 games back of eight seed Detroit, but the Bucks inconsistent play and the upcoming schedule has fivethirtyeight.com saying they have just a 21 percent chance of making the postseason.

 
Nuggets small icon 18. Nuggets (28-34, LW 17). Jamal Murray told NBC that getting the eight seed in the West is discussed a lot in the Nuggets’ locker room — they want it. They have a 1.5 game cushion right now. If Denver is going to separate itself from Portland, Dallas, and everyone else in its rearview mirror, the next two weeks are the time as they have six of their next seven at home. Starting their home run out with a sloppy loss to Charlotte was not helpful.

 
Blazers small icon 19. Trail Blazers (26-35, LW 18).. Interesting note via ESPN and the Elias Sports Bureau, after the trade for Jusuf Nurkic the Blazers became NBA’s youngest roster. That’s little consolation right now for a disappointing season. Fivethirtyeight.com has Portland with just a 26 percent chance to make the playoffs and the reason is a brutal schedule the next couple of weeks that has them playing 7-of-9 on the road. Damian Lillard and the Blazers have won a couple in a row and need to find more wins in this stretch to say within striking distance of Denver.

 
Mavericks small icon 20. Mavericks (25-36, LW 20). This ranking may be too low — Dallas has won four of five and is just a couple games out of the playoffs in the West. With their suddenly stout defense (since the arrival of Nerlens Noel, who has also helped the offense) they may yet make the playoffs, although fivethirtyeight.com has them with just a 12 percent chance. Dirk Nowitzki is just 20 points short of 30,000 for his career and will pass that milestone this week.

 
timberwolves small icon 21. Timberwolves (25-37, LW 23). Minnesota has the fourth best net rating in the NBA (how much you outscore your opponents by) over the last 10 games — better than Miami, Boston, Washington, and even Cleveland. They are 6-4 in those games but have been playing better than that. They beat the Jazz and Spurs recently, this team may be finding its groove, but with a tough schedule through the end of the season the playoff dreams will need to be on hold for another year.

 
Hornets small icon 22. Hornets (27-35, LW 24). Charlotte just went 3-4 on a seven-game road trip, ending with a win over the Nuggets, but they remain three games out of the playoffs and would need a huge last push. It could happen, a lot of their losses lately have come in close games — this team has the point differential of a 32-30 team, not where they are now but if the close game luck swings they have a shot. An outside shot, but a shot.

 
Pelicans small icon 23. Pelicans (24-38, LW 21). They got their first win Sunday in a game where DeMarcus Cousins played, although it took a scrappy effort at the end against the Lakers to do it. On defense the big man combo of Cousins and Anthony Davis is working well for the Pelicans, but the offensive end is the work still in progress. In theory they could make a playoff run (just 3.5 games out), but with the need to leap five teams to get in it’s hard to picture that run.

 
Knicks small icon 24. Knicks (25-37 LW 25). The most interesting thing the Knicks did last week was playing the first half Sunday without all the music/entertainment/dancers/distractions that are now de rigueur at NBA games. The reaction in the arena was mixed, but New York made mocking them easy when they said they wanted to do this to showcase basketball “in it’s purest form.” In practice, it meant you could hear Knicks fans yell owner James Dolan’s name with an expletive attached from all over the arena for a half.

 
Suns small icon 25. Suns (20-42, LW 28). They picked up a dramatic win Sunday over Boston in the battle of 5’9” point guards with Tyler Ulis hitting the game winner for Phoenix. Of course, the game’s best highlight wows the Isaiah Thomas/Ulis jump ball.

 
Sixers small icon 26. 76ers (23-39, LW 26). Could Dario Saric steal away the Rookie of the year trophy from his teammate Joel Embiid? In his last 10 games, Saric has averaged 19.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Malcolm Brogdon gets mentioned as a guy in the mix, Jamal Murray is getting more and more responsibility in Denver, but Saric is the guy putting up impressive numbers and could make a late run at the award.

 
Kings small icon 27. Kings (25-36, LW 22). They have dropped four in a row — including losing to the Nets. The Kings have no offensive flow now with Cousins gone, and management is all good with that (their pick this year is only top 10 protected, right now they would draft 8/9 (coin flip with Minnesota). Mathematically they are still in striking distance of the eight seed in the West, but in practice that’s not happening.

 
Magic small icon 28. Magic (23-39 LW 27). They picked up a nice win over red-hot Miami last week, and the starting five in Orlando seems to have found a groove. When they can stay healthy and on the court (a game after putting up 25 on Miami, Nikola Vucevic sat with a sore Achilles). You have to think moving Aaron Gordon back to the four more has a lot to do with the improved play of late.

 
Lakers small icon 29. Lakers (19-44, LW 29). When Luke Walton interviewed with the Lakers last summer, he and his agent demanded a five-year deal — now you see why. Jim and Johnny Buss made their Game of Thrones move for the Jeanie Buss’ big chair last week, and while that was thwarted you can be sure it’s not the last of the Lakers’ power struggle drama off the court. And we all know how much ownership fighting amongst itself is good for building an on-court program and attracting free agents.

 
Nets small icon 30. Nets (10-51, LW 30). They snapped their losing streak at 16 games with a win over the Cousins-less Kings. Take it where you can get it. Their offense looks improved when Jeremy Lin is on the court, but right now that’s limited (minutes restriction). The Nets are 1-4 on their current road trip with three more games to go, then they return home to play the Knicks (which always feels like a road game for Brooklyn).

Dion Waiters shows off slimmed down physique on Instagram

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Suddenly the annual “he lost/gained 15 points and is in the best shape of his life” portion of the NBA summer is upon us.

The Miami Heat are known around the league for having one of the best conditioning programs, guys who go there almost universally get in better shape. Dion Waiters last season seemed to be the exception to the rule. Waiters wasn’t 50-year-old-suburban-dad-with-a-beer-gut out of shape, but coming off an injury where he didn’t get to train like he wanted, Waiters didn’t look like a guy in NBA shape either. Critics lit Waiters up on social media.

Waiters posted his response — he’s been hitting the gym.

View this post on Instagram

Last year when I came off 1 of the most depressing & frustrating times of my life. Coming off injury & not feeling like myself nor looking like myself I was in a dark place mentally & physically , Because the game I love so much was taken away due to season ending surgery. Now a days with this social media ran world they laughed at me made jokes etc not knowing what I was battling or going through everyday. So instead of me joining the circus I told myself you from (Philly) you’ve been through worst shit in your life than this. So I promise myself I would work my ass off & get back to where I was before the injury. I’m not done yet but I kno somebody in the world prolli needed to hear this. Stay positive block out the outside noise & grind. #Philly🧀 #stayTune

A post shared by 🔥🔥🔥🔥 (@waiters3) on

Good for Waiters.

Let the flood of NBA workout videos and shots of guys with their new physiques begin.

Philly fans will be hoping to see one from Joel Embiid.

Russell Westbrook trade to Houston official, Thunder praise him on way out door

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Whatever their long-term intentions, after Paul George was traded the Oklahoma City Thunder changed focus. General Manager Sam Presti sat down with Russell Westbrook and his agent, talked about the future, what the former MVP wanted, then worked on trading him where he wanted to go.

That was Houston.

The Westbrook to the Rockets trade for Chris Paul — with Oklahoma City picking up two first-round picks and two pick swaps — is now official.

In announcing the trade, the Thunder praised the greatest player in their franchise history on his way out the door.

“Russell Westbrook is the most important player in the brief history of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has left an indelible mark on this team, city and state,” Presti said in a statement. “None of us could have anticipated the player he has become, and we are all deeply proud of what he has contributed to the success of the franchise and to our community. Russell and his wife Nina, their three children, his brother and his parents will always remain part of the Thunder family. We wish them nothing but happiness and success in the future.”

“I have a great deal of respect for Russell and there is no way to adequately describe our appreciation for what he has meant to Oklahomans,” said Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett. “His legacy here is immense, and he will be honored by the team for all he has done. We wish he and Nina and their family all the best. While this era of Thunder basketball now comes to an end, I’m confident our talented team of people will once again position the Thunder for success in the future.”

While Presti and the OKC front office are still working on a CP3 trade, they are entering a rebuilding phase.

The Rockets are banking on Westbrook and James Harden being able to work out any fit issues — and finding a way to defend with both of them on the court — to keep them as title contenders.

Anthony Davis dances around question about re-signing with Lakers

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After the drama around his push to get to Los Angeles, league executives and other sources around the NBA expect Anthony Davis to re-sign with the Lakers on a max contract next summer.

However, Davis has paired up with LeBron James, and rule one of the LeBron contract playbook (and agent Rich Paul’s, too) is to keep the pressure on a franchise. Make the team improve and keep itself in title contention.

So it’s not a surprise that when ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Davis about re-signing with the Lakers, he didn’t answer the question directly.

Nichols: You’re only signed through this season. Do you think you will be a pillar of the Lakers for years and years to come?

Davis: Honestly, Rachel, I’m just focused on this season. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have one year here, so I’m going make the best of this year. And when that time comes around in the summer or, you know, whenever the season’s over — hopefully, around, you know, mid-June, after we just had a parade, and I need a couple days to think — then we can talk about that. But until then, I’m trying to do whatever I can to help this team win this year.”

That a well-handled scripted answer hitting all the talking points.

After the NBA summer we have just gone through (and continue to see with Chris Paul), nobody sane will say Davis would never leave the Lakers after one season. Cut to Kevin Garnett screaming “Anything Is Possible.”

However, he came to the Lakers to win rings (now and in the future), to take over as the face of the franchise when LeBron steps away in a few years, to get the kind of recognition and endorsements he felt were not coming his way in New Orleans, and ultimately to have his jersey up in the rafters with Wilt and Kareem and Shaq. That’s the plan. Which means AD will re-sign with the Lakers next summer.

He’s just not going to say that right now.

Kendrick Perkins: ‘Pelicans better lock Zion in the House’ because of great New Orleans food

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Zion Williamson‘s weight became a discussion point during Summer League.

The general consensus going into the draft was that Williamson would ultimately want to play a little lighter in the NBA than he did in college (but without losing his strength). Since then Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski came out and said the No. 1 pick was not in Summer League shape and should not have played. Some broadcast analysts said he looked heavy. In the hallways and behind-the-basket defacto meeting space of Summer League there was a lot of talk among league watchers about the Pelicans needing to get Zion with their trainers and dietitians to prepare him for the 82 game grind.

Kendrick Perkins warns that’s not going to be all that easy in the Big Easy.

As a wannabe foodie, let me just say that Perkins is spot on about the food in New Orleans. It may be my favorite food city in America, it is home to the ultimate comfort foods, and the portions are not small. From muffulettas to gumbo to po’ boys to fried every-kind-of-protein-you-can-name, New Orleans cuisine is both undeniably delicious and not the foundation of a healthy diet.

It’s going to take some discipline from Williamson, who also can afford his own chef now to keep the meals at home healthy and tasty. Then gumbo can be a splurge-day treat.