NBA Power Rankings: Reports of the Spurs demise have been greatly exaggerated

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The first weeks of the NBA season saw elite teams have rough weeks, some questionable teams have great weeks, and a lot of volatility in the Power Rankings. There was a lot of movement and plenty of surprises. And that starts with a new team at the top.

 
Spurs small icon 1. Spurs (3-0 Last Week No. 5). The reports of the Spurs demise have been greatly exaggerated. LaMarcus Aldridge has impressed as the team leader with Kawhi Leonard still out, averaging 24.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Gregg Popovich needs just three victories to pass rival Phil Jackson (1,155) for sixth place on the all time coaching win list (he’s just 24 wins from passing George Karl for fifth).

 
Grizzlies small icon 2. Grizzlies (3-0 LW 14). Maybe the most surprising start to the season is in Memphis — many people mistakenly wrote them off (Tony Allen and Zach Randolph were replaceable) but beating the Warriors and the Rockets in the first week? Didn’t see that coming. Memphis has gotten these wins with impressive defense, particularly making it difficult on opposing shooters.

 
Rockets small icon 3. Rockets (2-1, Last Week No. 2). No Chris Paul for a few weeks, but that is not the most concerning thing. First, through three games the Rockets are 18th in the NBA in pace, which Mike D’Antoni can’t like. Second, they are shooting 27.5 percent from three this young season and have missed more threes than 27 NBA teams have even taken. They have won, but not been who we expected yet. On the bright side, the Rockets defense looks better. 

 
Clippers small icon 4. Clippers (3-0 LW 12). Blake Griffin has been stretching his range for years, and now he has pushed it past the three-point line, hitting 44.4 percent from beyond the arc so far this young season. Griffin is averaging 26.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg, and 4.3 apg so far this season. The Clips started out with an impressive 2-0 record, but we started to buy in more when Los Angeles controlled the second half against Utah Tuesday night. The Trail Blazers and Warriors will provide even better tests in the coming week.

 
Warriors small icon 5. Warriors (2-2 LW 1). They fall from the top spot, and yes their defense has been shaky (they look like a disinterested team just back from China). But is anyone really worried? They shouldn’t be (it’s only four games in and they have the fourth best net rating in the league). Golden State isn’t worried. The Warriors host the Wizards Friday night, a battle of two of the NBA’s top backcourts.

 
Wizards small icon 6. Wizards (3-0 LW 7). They have started fast at 3-0, but their net rating suggests that’s a bit of luck, with the offense being okay and the defense below average overall. New season but last year’s problem has returned: the bench. The Wizards starting five is outscoring teams by 20.4 points per 100 possessions (and playing 23 minutes together a night, but the two most used bench units are worse than -24 per 100. Injuries are a part of that, they need Markieff Morris back.

 
Cavaliers small icon 7. Cavaliers (3-1 LW 4). Another season, another year of the Cavaliers struggling with pick-and-roll defense. They have handled the ball handler fairly well when he shoots, but if the ball moves to the roll man or a spot up guy the rotations are late and good shots are found. That — and the lack of three-point attempts — are good reasons that J.R. Smith is back in the starting lineup and Dwyane Wade is coming off the bench (even if Smith struggled in his first game back as a starter).

 
Blazers small icon 8. Trail Blazers (3-1 LW 13). They had a strong start to the season but this is where context matters — they blew out a very bad Suns team, then got the Pacers without Myles Turner. The Blazers offense has been a force early, but that is to be expected, the question is can they keep up the strong defensive play as the schedule gets tougher (Clippers, Raptors ahead in the next week)?

 
Bucks small icon 9. Bucks (3-1 LW 10). Giannis Antetokounmpo had the best opening night a Buck has had since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1972, — 37 points, 13 boards — and carried that over to average 38.3 points per game through the Bucks first four. Amazingly, he has taken 71 shots in the paint (56 at the rim) but just 17 outside the paint (he’s 5-of-17, 1-of-6 from three). Thursday the Bucks host the Celtics in the MECCA, their old building, part of a 50th anniversary throwback season.

 
Raptors small icon 10. Raptors (2-1, LW 8). Biggest plus for Toronto is that after a summer where they lost a lot of their depth, their bench has still been one of the best in the league to start the season. Dwane Casey is doing that with an almost hockey-change lineup of five guys (not mixing in starters) led by C.J. Miles. Rough road trip for Toronto, they fell to the Spurs Monday and have the Warriors, Clippers, Blazers, Nuggets, and Jazz to come.

 
Magic small icon 11. Magic (3-1 LW 24). They have beat Cleveland and lost to Brooklyn — this is a very inconsistent team (they did get revenge on the Nets Tuesday night). Elfrid Payton is still out at the point, but Aaron Gordon returned on Tuesday night and dropped 41 — he has looked much better at the four this season. The Magic have been the second best three point shooting team in the NBA so far, but they are middle of the pack (13th) in attempts.

 
Thunder small icon 12. Thunder (1-2 LW 3).. Despite all the potential, the Thunder offense is off to a shaky start (21st in the NBA in points per possession so far). They have been trying to share the rock, but when the game got tight late against the Timberwolves it was all Russell Westbrook (and the offense looked bater). The defense is Top 10 as expected, mostly by forcing turnovers and not fouling. Steven Adams has been playing well.

 
timberwolves small icon 13. Timberwolves (2-2, LW 9). Minnesota got quality wins in the final minute against the Jazz and Thunder — the way they struggled in close games last year (10-24 in games within three points in the final three minutes) this is a great sign. Then they look like a young team getting blown out by the Pacers at home. Andrew Wiggins leads the T-Wolves scoring 20.3 a game and he’s doing it from three — he’s takin more than twice as many as a year ago and is hitting 36.4 percent of them.

 
Celtics small icon 14. Celtics (2-2 LW 6). The Gordon Hayward injury — he is likely gone for the season, I know he could be back but they will be cautious with him — is a tremendous blow on both ends of the court. Boston lost its secondary playmaker and one of its best wing defenders. In the wake of that Brad Stevens is experimenting with a lot of different lineups to see what works and what doesn’t, which is the smart thing to do but it will take time.

 
Heat small icon 15. Heat (2-1, LW 15). Hassan Whiteside had a monster opening night, putting up 22 points and grabbing 26 rebounds, but he has been out with a knee bone bruise (he will be out Wednesday). They will miss him. Miami has started a six-game homestand 2-0, but it gets tougher with the Spurs, Celtics, and Timberwolves up next.

 
Jazz small icon 16. Jazz (2-2, LW 16). We knew the defense, anchored by Rudy Gobert, would be very good, but the big early-season surprise is the offense has been pretty good (even with Rodney Hood being injured for part of the week). The ball movement with Ricky Rubio and Joe Ingles on the floor has impressed, and the Jazz have been a top-10 shooting team in the NBA this young season (based on eFG%). That’s led by Ingles and his ridiculous 84.6 true shooting percentage so far (that will not last).

 
Nuggets small icon 17. Nuggets (1-2 LW 11). After a couple rough games, Nikola Jokic found his shot against the Wizards going 9-of-13 (3-of-3 from three). It’s a start, the offense has been down to begin the season (and that us supposed to be a strength of this team). Richard Jefferson is in and Jameer Nelson is out, and that may not be only roster change we see (they are in the Eric Bledsoe conversation with the Suns).

 
Hornets small icon 18. Hornets (1-2 LW 19). The Hornets are outscoring opponents by 16.6 points per 48 minutes when Dwight Howard and Kemba Walker are on the court together, but with all the injuries depth is an issue. Charlotte’s defense seems to be back, they are fifth in the league on that end at this point, but the offense remains a work in progress.

 
Nets small icon 19. Nets (2-2 LW 27). Jeremy Lin is lost for the season due to a ruptured patella tendon, which will put the ball in the hands of D’Angelo Russell more often. So far, he has responded with 23 points and 5.5 assists per game, shooting 39.1 percent from three. After a win Sunday over the Hawks, the Nets were 2-1 — the first time they had been over .500 since 2014.

 
Pacers small icon 20. Pacers (2-2, LW 26). The Pacers have been a surprise this season with the second best offense in the NBA (looking good even with Myles Turner out with a concussion). The Pacers are shooting the ball well, not turning it over, and getting their fair share of offensive boards. All that has covered up for an unimpressive defense.

Pistons small icon 21. Pistons (2-2, LW 20). Eminem pumping up the Detroit crowd in the new building before the opener was the best part of the week. The other silver lining is that Andre Drummond is now knocking down his free throws, hitting 83.3 percent (it was 38 percent last season). He should give Markelle Fultz lessons.

 
Pelicans small icon 22. Pelicans (1-3 LW 17). The Anthony Davis’ knee injury sounded scary, but the MRI was clear and he is day-to-day. When Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Jrue Holiday are on the court together, the Pelicans are +10 per 100 possessions. Good news is when it’s just Cousins and Holiday they are +12, the Pelicans may need to lean on that for a few games. Thursday night, Cousins returns to Sacramento for the first time since being traded. Or, you can look at it as the Buddy Hield revenge game.

 
Sixers small icon 23. 76ers (1-3, LW 18). Ben Simmons had at least 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists through his first three games, the first player to do it since Kareem Abdul-Jabari in 1969 (other guys to do this include Oscar Robertson and Elgin Baylor). He has impressed. Joel Embiid’s minutes limit appears very very flexible. The Sixers have a tough schedule the first couple months of the season, can they keep their heads above water during it? That’s the key to them making the playoffs.

 
Lakers small icon 24. Lakers (1-2 LW 22). Lonzo Ball has shown grit — his first game against Patrick Beverley was better than some suggested, and he’s had better games since (against lesser defensive teams). He gets a real test the next couple of days going against John Wall (Wednesday) and Kyle Lowry (Friday). The real question is what kind of help does he get from Brandon Ingram? Julius Randle has struggled, but Jordan Clarkson has impressed so far.

 
Kings small icon 25. Kings (1-3, LW 23). Thursday night DeMarcus Cousins returns to Sacramento for the first time, and don’t expect a bunch of laid-back Californians — they will boo him. D’Aaron Fox has been fairly efficient (for a rookie) and leads the team averaging 15 points and 5 assists per game.

 
Hawks small icon 26. Hawks (1-3, LW 28). The bench was supposed to be a weak point but it scored 57 in an opening night win. Injuries have taken their toll since, with DeAndre’ Bembry out 4-6 weeks (wrist), and both Dennis Schroder and Ersan Ilyasova missing the Miami game. Atlanta has shown some grit on the defensive end, but the team is struggling to score points.

 
Mavericks small icon 27. Mavericks (0-4 LW 21). Dallas started last season 0-5, that was not a trend they wanted to continue but here we are. Dennis Smith Jr. had a double-double in his first game, then missed two with injuries and struggled in his return against the Warriors. The bigger problem on offense is Dirk Nowitzki is shooting 30.2 percent, while Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews are both at 34.9 percent. Also, Dallas has the worst defense in the NBA through the first week.

 
Knicks small icon 28. Knicks (0-3, LW 25). Three games into the season, the Knicks have the worst offense in the NBA, and they have been the worst shooting team in the NBA (particularly from three). Courtney Lee said some Knicks players don’t even know the plays, which is almost throwing Jeff Hornacek under the bus. New York has called about the availability of Eric Bledsoe in a trade, he would help them immensely on offense, but the Knicks aren’t willing to give up the quality young player the Suns are asking for. Yet. Free Willy Hernangomez!

 
Bulls small icon 29. Bulls (0-3 LW 30). Lauri Markkanen is starting after Bobby Portis sidelined Nikola Mitotic for at least a month with a punch (Portis also sidelined himself for eight games without pay for his actions), and the rookie playing well enough mate he should keep his starting spot. Kay Felder is the best point guard on the team, he should be starting, which is not a great statement about the Bulls.

 
Suns small icon 30. Suns (1-3, LW 29). Phoenix does have a win, but when you fire your coach three games into the season, then tell your best player to go home and put him on the trade block, you move to the bottom slot. The Suns are asking for a quality young player back for Bledsoe, and so far teams are balking at offering that. The Suns are 27th in offense, 29th in defense, and getting outscored by 18.4 points per 100 possessions.

PBT Podcast: Golden State Warriors season preview

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
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The Golden State Warriors will enter the season hanging banner number four from this era and passing out their championship rings, but this is a team with more questions than most returning champs.

Otto Porter and Gary Payton II are gone and their minutes will go to a young core — Jordan Poole, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman — who are going to be asked to carry a larger load. Particularly during the regular season.

Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area joins Kurt Helin of NBC Sports to break down this coming Warriors season, what to expect, and if the young core can get the older vets to the playoffs rested and ready to defend their title. There’s also talk of what comes next in Golden State, as some hard contract choices are coming in the next few years.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Khris Middleton says he will miss start of season following wrist surgery

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics - Game Two
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When Khris Middleton first went under the knife this summer to clean up issues with his left wrist, he expected to return in time for the start of the season.

At Bucks media day Sunday, Middleton said he’s not going to make that opening night goal but should be back early in the season, as reported by Jamal Collier of ESPN.

The Bucks open the season on the road Oct. 18 against the Celtics (who have their own set of issues heading into this year).

Middleton’s importance to the Bucks was evident in the playoffs, when not having him as a secondary shot creator was a key aspect of their seven-game loss to the Celtics.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds a game last season. A healthy Bucks team — with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Jrue Holiday as the core — enter the season as serious title contenders. But they need Middleton, so they will not rush him back.

Zion, Nash, Davis: Seven players, coaches who enter NBA season under pressure

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Every NBA season comes with pressure — the pressure to win, the pressure of fan emotions and expectations, and for players the pressure that this is their livelihood. There is real pressure to stick in the NBA and earn that handsome paycheck.

But some players and coaches enter this season under more pressure than others.

Here are seven players and coaches who are under added pressure this season.

Anthony Davis

“This is not going to work without AD. No disrespect to Bron, no disrespect to Russ. They’re going to be who they are… but AD, having AD available…. it’s going to be invaluable. He’s the centerpiece to that championship table we’re trying to build.”

That was new Lakers coach Darvin Ham talking about Anthony Davis — the lynchpin to everything Ham hopes to do in Los Angeles. As he said, LeBron James will be LeBron (read: elite, even at age 37), and Russell Westbrook will be Russell Westbrook (he’s saying all the right things, but…), but if the Lakers are going to be any threat in the West it starts with Davis. Ham needs the Davis from the bubble — healthy, elite defender, playmaker, solid midrange jump shot — because he plans to run the offense through AD.

More than just this season, the Lakers have to come to a decision: Is Davis the No.1 option they can turn the franchise over to after LeBron steps away? Can he physically carry that burden and not break down? Davis can be one of the game’s elites, but is he ready to carry the Lakers franchise? Their future direction depends on that answer.

Zion Williamson

The acquisition of CJ McCollum last season helped bring the Pelicans together. They made a push into the playoffs with a solid core of McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Herbert Jones, Jonas Valanciunas, Larry Nance, Devonte' Graham and others. Watching New Orleans you couldn’t help but think, “If Zion Williamson were healthy…”

Now we get to find out. Williamson is reportedly in the best shape of his life (take all offseason conditioning comments with a shaker of salt) and ready to resume his role as a No.1 offensive option and maybe the best interior scorer in the game. The pressure of getting paid is off Williamson — he got his max extension — but the pressure of living up to it is just starting.

Steve Nash

When your star player says “him or me” during the offseason — even if that ultimatum gets rescinded — you enter the season under a microscope. Nash would have been getting a close look even if Kevin Durant didn’t drag his name into his offseason drama — there are plenty of front office people around the league not convinced Nash is up to the task in Brooklyn. There is enormous pressure on this team to get things right — to avoid a meltdown — and if things go at all sideways in Brooklyn Nash will be the fall guy. His seat is already warm.

Kyrie Irving

While we’re in Brooklyn… Ben Simmons is the logical first name to pop into your head when thinking of players under pressure with the Nets — and with good reason. We haven’t seen him on an NBA court in over a year and his play and fit are critical to the Nets’ hopes of contending. But there is another player who faces real contract pressure in Brooklyn.

Kyrie Irving wanted a trade out of Brooklyn this summer, the Nets said “go ahead and find one,” and Irving found his market was not nearly as deep and strong as he expected (the Lakers were interested, and he reportedly was interested in them, but any trade would have involved Russell Westbrook and got too tricky). Irving is in a contract year now and there is pressure on him to remind everyone that, when focused and committed, he is an All-NBA point guard and game changer. But will he stay focused and committed this season?

Tom Thibodeau

Knicks president Leon Rose came out this week in a softball-filled interview on MSG Network and backed his coach. When asked if Thibodeau was under pressure, Rose said, “I don’t see it that way at all. The way I say it is we’re continuing with the plan.” Nothing went according to plan with the Knicks last season. While not all of that was Thibodeau’s fault — he didn’t cause Julius Randle‘s shooting regression — if things get off to another slow start after spending money on Jalen Brunson this summer, somebody is going to have to pay the price. Thibodeau’s job may not be as secure as Rose tries to paint.

James Harden

James Harden is positioned to have a monster regular season. He’s asked to be more of a playmaker, get the ball to MVP candidate Joel Embiid, put Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris in positions to thrive, and score a few points in there as well. Harden could be poised for an All-NBA level regular season — and then the playoffs start. That’s where the pressure is. Harden’s long history of playoff foibles (including some flat outings against the Heat last year) will be under a microscope this season because Daryl Morey has built a team of solid role players — this team is good enough. It’s up to Harden (and Embiid) to prove he can also be an elite player in the postseason.

Kawhi Leonard

Steve Ballmer has paid an enormous… well, it’s chump change to him, but it’s still an enormous amount of money to turn the Clippers from league laughing stock into a respected franchise (sorry, it’s true Lakers fans). These Clippers are contenders. But that title contention rests on the shoulders of Kawhi Leonard. He has to both be healthy and play like the guy who helped lift the Raptors to a title. If Leonard and Paul George are healthy and playing like their All-NBA selves come the postseason the Clippers are a massive threat — two-way wings win playoff series and the Clippers would have two of them. It’s just on Leonard (and Paul) to be that guy.

Westbrook says he’s ‘all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win’

Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers
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Welcome to NBA media day, when optimism overflows and everyone swears there are no chemistry problems, no fit questions, it’s all puppies and rainbows with their team.

The night before Lakers media day, Russell Westbrook got a head start on saying the right thing in an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Trade? Not worried about it. Fit? Not going to be a problem. Everyone is good now if you ask Westbrook, and he was in trade talks all summer is irrelevant.

“I need to just do my job. Whether I’m wanted [by the Lakers] or not doesn’t really matter. I think the most important thing is that I show up for work and I do the job like I’ve always done it: Be professional and go out and play my ass off and compete…

Maybe [he is] as a starter or maybe it’s off the bench. “I’m all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win,” Westbrook said. “I’m prepared for whatever comes my way.”

Words are nice, but actions are what will matter. Westbrook reportedly said all the right things to LeBron James and Anthony Davis a year ago before getting traded to the team, but his not wanting to play a role and fit in was a big issue. Westbrook swears it won’t be this time, whatever Ham wants Westbrook will execute.

“There’s so much optimism on how we can be great, how AD, LeBron, myself — can be unstoppable in my opinion,” Westbrook said.

That’s optimism. Even if Westbrook fits in, Davis stays healthy all season, and LeBron continues to defy father time, these Lakers are not title contenders. A playoff team for sure, but not contenders.

These Lakers will face adversity — maybe early, Los Angeles has a rough first couple of weeks — and how the Lakers, under new coach Darvin Ham, respond to those challenges will define their season. Last season’s response from the Lakers was… not good. They rolled over. Ham has promised not to let that happen, but there will be things out of his control.

Last season Westbrook was one of those things for Frank Vogel, we’ll see how he responds this season.