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NBA Power Rankings Week 22: Golden State climbs back on top, Lakers take over bottom rung

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While you were watching Villanova and Duke screw up your NCAA bracket (I had Villanova in the title game), the Golden State Warriors found their footing and three-point touch again and move back to the top of the rankings. The Lakers have been so bad we even put Brooklyn ahead of them now.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (55-14, Last Week No. 3). All they needed to get right was some time at home (three games at Oracle) against softer competition. Stephen Curry was back to draining threes (6-of-8 Saturday vs. Milwaukee) and they played much better defense. The competition picks up this week (at Oklahoma City Monday, Memphis later in the week) but the Warriors seem to have their footing back. Also, Kevin Durant is shooting jumpers again, working his way back.

 
Cavaliers small icon 2. Cavaliers (46-23, LW 5). They went 7-6 without Kevin Love, got him back, and won both games he played (Clippers game obviously excluded). Notice, by the way, that the day after LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Love rested they combined to score 101 (granted, against the Lakers). Coach Tyronn Lue said he plans to keep starting Iman Shumpert and bringing J.R. Smith off the bench until Kyle Korver returns (possibly this week) because he likes what Smith brings with the second unit.

 
Spurs small icon 3. Spurs (53-16, LW 1). Great news that LaMarcus Aldridge’s heart issue was not that serious, plus Kawhi Leonard is now back from his concussion, and Tony Parker’s back is strong enough that he shot 8-of-10 Sunday night. However, they got Aldridge back and quickly dropped two straight games, which is not like them and has them a couple games out of the No. 1 seed (and with a slightly tougher schedule than the Warriors the rest of the way).

 
Rockets small icon 4. Rockets (48-22, LW 2). James Harden is the frontrunner among the media for MVP (the media votes on the award), and he is strengthening his case with four straight triple-doubles. There’s an MVP showdown Sunday when the Rockets play the Thunder. Houston beat Denver on the second night of a back-to-back Saturday, they are now 13-1 this season on the second night of those. That’s damn impressive.

 
Thunder small icon 5. Thunder (40-29, LW 10). OKC is just half a game back of the Clippers for the five seed in the West (and a much easier first round matchup in Utah, compared to Houston). However, Los Angeles has a much softer schedule the rest of the way. Russell Westbrook won our fan poll for MVP; however a media poll done last week had Harden well in front — a showdown on Sunday with the Rockets could be a chance for Westbrook (but the Thunder need to win, no matter what numbers Westbrook puts up). Also, Westbrook had the assist of the year last week.

 
Jazz small icon 6. Jazz (43-27, LW 6). They solidified home court in the first round by beating the Clippers last Monday, the Jazz seem locked in as the four seed. Coach Quin Snyder has some interesting lineup options when it gets to the postseason — with Derrick Favors out, Utah has started Joe Johnson at the four going small, and that lineup has shown some promise, particularly on offense. Favors probably starts in a playoff matchup with the Clippers for defense, but Snyder knows he has Johnson as an option.

 
Celtics small icon 7. Celtics (44-26, LW 7). If you’re a Celtics fan holding fast to your dreams of catching the Cavaliers for the No. 1 seed (Boston is 2.5 games back), here is the good news: Boston has one of the easiest schedules in the East the rest of the way, Cleveland one of the toughest. That said, dropping games like Sunday against Philly is not helping the cause. Big showdown with the Wizards Monday in the battle for the 2/3 seed.

 
Wizards small icon 8. Wizards (42-27, LW 4). They have lost three of four and need to get it together Monday when they play the Celtics in Boston, that is if the Wizards have dreams of the No. 2 seed in the East. They need that win. Seven of their next 10 are on the road, and to hold on to the three seed (with Toronto lurking) spot the Wizards need to play better defense — they have given up 112 points per 100 possession in their last 10 games, 27th in the NBA.

 
Clippers small icon 9. Clippers (41-29, LW 8). Los Angeles lost three in a row, but caught a break when Cleveland decided to rest their stars for a night on Saturday. The good news for Clippers fans is they have a soft schedule the rest of the way, which should help them hold off sixth-seeded OKC. The Clippers are two games back of the Jazz for the four seed and would need to beat them Saturday night in Los Angeles to have a shot at catching them and getting home court in the first round.

 
Raptors small icon 10. Raptors (41-29, LW 9). Winners of three of their last four, and with a soft schedule coming up the Raptors have their eye on the No. 3 seed belonging to Washington (it’s the race to avoid Cleveland in the second round, and the Raptors are just 1.5 games back of the Wizards now). Toronto has played great defense since acquiring Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, it’s easy to see how this becomes a dangerous playoff team once Kyle Lowry returns.

 
Grizzlies small icon 11. Grizzlies (40-30, LW 16). Chandler Parsons was lost for the season to injury, and Memphis rattled off four consecutive wins. Coincidence? Memphis now heads out on the road for four straight games, and that includes facing Golden State and San Antonio. The seven-seed Grizzlies are just half a game back of the six seed Thunder and one back of the fifth seed Clippers, but Memphis has a considerably tougher schedule the rest of the way than either of them.

 
Heat small icon 12. Heat (34-36, LW 13). One of the more interesting stories on the NBA this week came from Mike Prada at SB Nation about the value Erik Spoelstra and the Heat put on conditioning — part of the reason for their surge the second half of the season is they are in better shape. That said, talent still matters, and the loss of Dion Waiters for a stretch due to an ankle injury means Goran Dragic needs to play better than he did Sunday night in a loss. Dragic and Hassan Whiteside needs to carry this team for a while.

 
Hawks small icon 13. Hawks (37-32 LW 11). Losers of three in a row, and now Paul Millsap is going to miss at least two more games (knee) and Kent Bazemore at least four (also a knee). Atlanta isn’t climbing into a top four seed, and they need to worry about blowing their two-game cushion over sixth-seed Indiana and falling further down the standings.

 
Bucks small icon 14. Bucks (34-35, LW 12). Milwaukee is 9-2 when Kris Middleton starts, and he is averaging 18 points per game shooting 52% when he does start. The Bucks are 2-2 through a tough six-game road trip then return home later this week to face the Hawks and Bulls. They need wins, fivethirtyeight.com still has them with just a 62% chance of making the playoffs.

 
Blazers small icon 15. Trail Blazers (32-37, LW 18). A little desperation — and the addition of Jusuf Nurkic — has the Blazers as winners of eight of their last 10 games. They’ve done it all with offense — such as Damian Lillard’s 49 points Sunday — as their defense is still 23rd in the NBA in that stretch. Portland has a much softer schedule than Denver the rest of the way and fivethirtyeight.com has them at a 71 percent chance to make the postseason.

 
Nuggets small icon 16. Nuggets (33-36, LW 17). Denver maintains a one-game lead over Portland for the eighth seed, in large part thanks to Nikola Jokic — the Nuggets are 5-0 this season when he has a triple double. The bad news in the Rockies is Denver has the toughest schedule in the West the rest of the way, while Portland has one of the easiest. This week’s games include the Rockets and the Cavaliers.

 
Pacers small icon 17. Pacers (35-34, LW 14).. Maybe the toughest playoff landing spot to predict: Indiana is just two-games back of a banged-up Hawks team for the five seed, but also just 1.5 games out of falling out of the playoffs entirely. Paul George is doing his part this month averaging 27.5 points on 51 percent shooting, 8.1 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game.

Pistons small icon 18. Pistons (34-36, LW 15). . Detroit’s next five games could well determine if they make the postseason. First there are four games on the road, but against weak teams (Nets, Bulls, Magic, Knicks). Then they come home to take on Miami next week. To get wins they are going to need a lot more consistency out of their guard play, particularly the up-and-down Reggie Jackson.

 
Mavericks small icon 19. Mavericks (30-39, LW 19). When you get blown out by Philadelphia, your playoff dreams take a hit — Dallas is three games out of the eighth seed in the West and fivethirtyeight.com has them at a one percent chance of making the playoffs. So yes, I’m saying there’s a chance. But Dallas has a brutal four-game homestand — Warriors, Clippers, Raptors and Thunder — followed by six-of-seven on the road.

 
Bulls small icon 20. Bulls (33-37, LW 21). Dwyane Wade is now out the season and the Bulls are 3-7 in their last 10, yet their playoff dreams are not dead for a couple of reasons. First, the Bulls have been 3.4 points per 100 possessions better when Wade is out this season. Second, Chicago has a much easier schedule than Miami or Detroit the rest of the way, and the Bulls are just a game back of those two (tied for the eighth seed). Fivethirtyeight.com gives Chicago a 48% chance of making the playoffs still.

 
Pelicans small icon 21. Pelicans (29-41, LW 23). Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are still playing next to each other not with each other, and the Pelicans have been better with one of them off the court, but they are starting to figure things out and have won four-of-five (including wins over Portland and Houston). Still, no way New Orleans will catch both Denver and Portland for the eighth seed, which makes you wonder what coaching/front office shakeups we could see this summer.

 
timberwolves small icon 22. Timberwolves (28-41, LW 20). Since the All-Star break, Ricky Rubio is averaging 16.1 points, 10.8 assists, he’s taking jumpers, hitting 48% of them, and just being aggressive. Maybe Tom Thibodeau finally got through to him, and if so they may not want to trade him this summer. That said, the Timberwolves dropped three games last week because their defense went AWOL after being strong for a few weeks.

 
Hornets small icon 23. Hornets (30-39, LW 22). It’s Kemba Walker vs. the world on offense for the Hornets, and while he’s been impressive — 24.2 points per game and shooting 41.9 percent from three since the All-Star break — it’s not enough. Rich Cho and the front office in Charlotte needs to find some playmakers this summer, someone to help take the load off Walker

 
Sixers small icon 24. 76ers (26-43, LW 26). Dario Saric continues to come on strong — 23 points against Boston Sunday — and he may now be the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year because he is averaging 19.5 points and 7.3 rebounds a game in March. And because voters are looking for ways not to cast their ballot for Joel Embiid and his 31 games played. Quietly, the Sixers have won three of four.

 
Knicks small icon 25. Knicks (27-42 LW 25). How bad are the Knicks right now? They have lost twice to the Nets in a five-day span. The offense they are playing looks more like a rhombus than anything Phil Jackson wants, and everyone seems to be waiting to see if they can move Knicks can find a deal to trade Carmelo Anthony this summer.

 
Kings small icon 26. Kings (27-43, LW 28). Skal Labissiere is showing real promise, including a breakout 32-point, 11-rebound performance against Phoenix. There were plenty of positive signs before that, though — he had four blocks against the Magic on Monday. I don’t know that Labissiere, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Buddy Hield are the answer, but this team is far more entertaining than it was to watch before the trade.

 
Suns small icon 27. Suns (22-48, LW 24). Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight are both shut down for the season as Phoenix goes into full on tank mode to run out the string. That means a lot of Devin Booker, although to his credit T.J. Warren has stepped up of late and put up some numbers (he thrives when the game gets less structured).

 
Magic small icon 28. Magic (25-45 LW 27). Five years ago the Orlando Magic traded away Dwight Howard, and they have not made the playoffs since. There is a sense around the league that GM Rob Hennigan is going to pay the price for that (it won’t be just-signed coach Frank Vogel). That said, don’t buy into the rumors of Doc Rivers making a return to save the day in Orlando.

 
Nets small icon 29. Nets (13-56, LW 30). They beat the Knicks twice in five days, they are getting outscored by just two points per 100 possessions in their last 10 games (which is a huge improvement over the entire season) and that is enough to get them out of the cellar in these rankings for a week. Brook Lopez has been a beast of late, but Jeremy Lin rolled his ankle again and will miss time, which could kill Brooklyn’s momentum.

 
Lakers small icon 30. Lakers (20-50, LW 29). After the backcourt combo of Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell showed some promise on Sunday against the Cavaliers — Russell had 40 points, and the pair showed some chemistry — coach Luke Walton said he would stick with it to see if there is something real to it. There hasn’t been much of the season — the Lakers have been outscored by 22 points per 100 possessions when those two are on the court together this season, and they were -14 as a pair against Cleveland. The questions for them are on the defensive end, Russell has to be able to cover two guards to make it work, and right now he can’t.

Donovan Mitchell goes off for 19 in fourth quarter, Jazz hold off elimination with win

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This game just felt different — the Utah Jazz were playing with a passionate desperation we had not seen from them all series. Down 3-0 to Houston, Utah did not want to be swept out of the playoffs on their home court. The Jazz defended better, got a big night from Jae Crowder (14 points in the first quarter alone), and were knocking down shots.

But Utah could not pull away. Houston was always within striking distance.

Until the fourth quarter.

That’s when Utah went on a 12-1 run early, sparked by Donovan Mitchell who had 19 in the fourth, and the Jazz created some separation and held on for the 107-91 win.

Mitchell finished with 31 on the night.

Mitchell had some help. Crowder finished with 23 points, while Ricky Rubio added 18 points and 11 assists.

“We were okay until the last quarter… again, they had more of a desperation than we had,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said.

James Harden got his, 30 points on 19 shots, in part because he went 6-of-12 from three. Chris Paul had 23 as well. All the other Rockets combined to shoot 29.3 percent on the night. In the fourth, the Rockets were 0-of-13 from three.

For the Rockets this is a blown chance to get more rest. The Warriors play Wednesday night in Game 5 of their series, if the Rockets had closed the series out they could have had a little more rest. Instead, they also now have a Game 5 Wednesday.

For the Jazz, this was a matter of pride, they finally found what it would take for them to beat the Rockets. It was their most energized defensive performance of the series, and the shots were falling. The series is not in doubt — no team has ever come back from a 0-3 deficit to win a series — but the Jazz showed the fight and resilience we have come to expect from a Quin Snyder coached team.

Will that be enough Wednesday night is another question.

Phoenix Suns fire coach Igor Kokoskov

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Following a 19-63 season where the man who hired him — GM Ryan McDonough — was already shown the door, there was a lot of speculation that coach Igor Kokoskov was next on the chopping block.

That happened Monday night, the Suns decided to move on from Kokoskov.

“After extensive evaluation, I determined it is best to move in a different direction with our head coaching position,” said Suns general manager James Jones in a statement. “I want to thank Igor for his work this past season and wish him the best with his future endeavors.”

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN added some detail.

The Suns recently hired Jeff Bower as their senior vice president of basketball operations. Bower gave Monty Williams his first head coaching job, hiring him to coach the Hornets back when Bower was the GM there.

Williams will have his second interview with the Lakers next week. Williams is rumored in some quarters to be the frontrunner for the Los Angeles job (he and Tyronn Lue will have second interviews coming), the Suns are starting this race from behind but do have a relationship there.

Kokoskov was the first European born person to be a head coach in the NBA. He was Luka Doncic‘s national team coach, but the Suns took Deandre Ayton No. 1 (reportedly at the urging of owner Robert Saver).

Kokoskov was handed a young roster that lacked a point guard or solid veteran leader, so it’s no surprise the Suns and Kokoskov got off to a slow start, going 4-18 and looking a mess. However, the team improved, Kelly Oubre Jr. was added, and the Suns went an improved 8-15 after the All-Star break, including wins against the Bucks and Warriors. Devin Booker improved, Deandre Ayton was growing, and the team showed improvement. That said, there were questions about Kokoskov’s rotations and communication with players.

Phoenix, with meddling owner Robert Sarver at the helm, is known for turnover and instability — whoever is hired next will be the team’s seventh head coach in eight years. This move just fits right in with the perception.

 

Bucks win first playoff series in 18 years, give Pistons longest playoff-game losing streak in NBA history

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DETROIT – Between on-court postgame interviews, Giannis Antetokounmpo took a pit stop at the Bucks’ bench for a drink. He appeared to need a few moments to catch his breath, so Fox Sports Wisconsin reporter Katie George asked whether he was ready.

Antetokounmpo nodded as if he didn’t give it a second thought.

Of course he was ready.

Antetokounmpo was ready for everything tonight.

He scored 41 points – the most so far by anyone this postseason – and blocked four shots to lead the Bucks to a 127-104 Game 4 win over the Pistons. By sweeping Detroit, Milwaukee got its first playoff-series victory in 18 years.

“Where we were and where we are right now,” Antetokounmpo said, “it’s been an unbelievable journey.”

The Bucks advance to face the Celtics in the second round, an awaited rematch of last year’s first-round series. But Milwaukee cared far more about its opening round than most 60-win No. 1 seeds do.

Every NBA MVP besides Kevin Garnett, who didn’t advance until his ninth year, won a playoff series in his first five seasons. Antetokounmpo, who’s favored to win MVP this year, just won his first series in his sixth season.

The wait has been even longer for Milwaukee, which ends the fourth-longest playoff-series-victory drought of all-time at 17 seasons:

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The Bucks left no doubt, beating Detroit by 35, 21, 16 and 23. This is just the second four-game sweep with every game won by at least 15 points in NBA history (Celtics over Rockets in 1980).

The sweep gives the Pistons sole possession of the longest playoff-game losing streak of all-time, 14 games:

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Detroit’s streak includes 2009 and 2016 sweeps by the Cavaliers, meaning the Pistons have now gone 11 straight seasons without winning a playoff game. That’s one of the longest such droughts of all-time (record during drought listed):

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Detroit just had no answer for Antetokounmpo, who drew 16 fouls Monday. The most impressive came as he rose to dunk on Andre Drummond, withstood contact and shifted to make a circus shot:

The play left his teammates in awe.

Eric Bledsoe: “I had to tell him, ‘Bro, you don’t understand how athletic you’ve been all season and finessing at the rim.’ That one, it was just unbelievable. It was unbelievable, man.”

Pat Connaughton: “There are sometimes you’ve just got to shake your head at some of the things that he can do. … I think the nickname ‘Freak’ is for a reason.”

Nikola Mirotic: “It was just amazing watching him tonight”

The Bucks will have a little time to lock back in.

Milwaukee-Boston will be the first series between teams coming off sweeps since Lakers-Suns in the 2010 Western Conference finals. It’ll be the first such second-round series since Pistons-Bulls in 2007.

As Antetokounmpo repeatedly said in the locker room after tonight’s game, “I can’t wait.”

Report: Luke Walton sued for sexual assault

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Luke Walton is being sued by a female reporter claiming sexual assault from a hotel room incident that dates back to before he was hired as the Lakers’ head coach (he was recently let go from that position and is currently the coach of the Sacramento Kings).

Kelli Tennant was writing a book and wanted Walton to write the forward, according to a lawsuit obtained by TMZ. The two had a business relationship and she agreed to meet him in a Santa Monica hotel to discuss him writing the forward to the book, according to the report. We’ll let TMZ take it from there:

In the suit, Tennant says when she arrived at Walton’s hotel, he convinced her to come up to his room so they could discuss the book. She claims when they got up to his room, Walton suddenly pinned her to the bed, placing his hips and legs over her body.

In the docs, Tennant claims Walton then began forcing kisses on her neck, face and chest. She claims she screamed for him to stop and tried to free herself, but he held her down, groped her breasts and groin, and rubbed his erection on her leg.

She says he eventually relented and let her get up from the bed, but as she was walking towards the door to leave he grabbed her from behind and again forced his body up against hers.

The lawsuit goes on to say Walton and her would interact after that, because of her job, and he would give her exaggerated hugs, kisses, and would make lewd comments to her.

Walton took over coaching the Lakers for the 2016-17 season. The alleged assault took place while Walton was still an assistant coach with the Warriors, however, some of the comments/actions that made her uncomfortable came later while Walton was with the Lakers.

Walton’s attorney released a statement to Sam Amick of The Athletic.

The Sacramento Kings have made a statement:

“We are aware of the report and are gathering additional information. We have no further comment at this time.”

The Warriors issued this statement:

“We became aware of the alleged incident and story this evening and are in the process of seeking more information. We’ll have no further comment at this time.”

The Lakers issued this statement:

“This alleged incident took place before Luke Walton was the Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. At no time before or during his employment here was this allegation reported to the Lakers. If it had been, we would have immediately commenced an investigation and notified the NBA. Since Luke Walton is now under contract to another team, we will have no further comment.”