NBA Power Rankings: Milwaukee looks good… now real games start

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Let the games begin! The NBA’s bubble concept has worked so far (*knocks on wood*) and the seeding games tip-off Thursday. With that our NBA Power Rankings are back (returning to their usual Wednesday slot next week) and will run a few weeks up until the start of the playoffs.

 
Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (53-12, Last week No. 3). The Bucks offense has looked good in both scrimmages, putting up 113 points in 40 minutes and 131 in 48. Brook Lopez, who struggled with his shot for much of the regular season (29.6% from three), has found it in Orlando: 12-of-15 shooting overall and 7-of-9 from three. He has been the best Bucks player in the scrimmages, and while those games don’t matter it’s a good sign.

 
Lakers small icon 2. Lakers (49-14, LW 1). Already without Avery Bradley (who chose to sit out the restart for family reasons), the Lakers have now lost Rajon Rondo to a thumb injury. While Rondo is expected back around the Western Conference Finals (when they would really need him), he and Bradley accounted for 44 minutes a game in the backcourt rotation. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is starting, while Quinn Cook and Dion Waiters have looked good for stretches in the scrimmages. Grey-beard LeBron James and Anthony Davis look rested and ready.

 
Clippers small icon 3. Clippers (44-20, LW 2). After having six rotation players not with the team in the Orlando bubble at one point last week, the Clippers are down to just one (Montrezl Harrell, out on a family matter), with a number of players in quarantine but close to being back. Lou Williams will be a little longer, he’s quarantined for 10 days because his favorite restaurant in Atlanta is a strip club (he does have a wings flavor named after him at Magic City, so maybe they are good).

 
Raptors small icon 4. Raptors (46-18, LW 5). Serge Ibaka has looked rested and his shot is falling at the restart, he had 19 points against Portland, plus a little dust up with Jusuf Nurkic. Kyle Lowry also has played well in a couple of games, and Fred VanVleet’s knee knock with a Portland player doesn’t seem to be anything serious. Don’t sleep on this deep team with championship experience.

 
Celtics small icon 5. Celtics (43-21, LW 4). Kemba Walker has been eased back into competition this restart because of the balky left knee that has bothered him all season, but Walker moved well and impressed in Sunday’s scrimmage. That’s a good sign. Backcourt scoring and versatile, switchable wing play are Boston’s strengths, but a deep playoff run will depend on Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter stepping up at the center spot.

 
Rockets small icon 6. Rockets (40-24, LW 6). James Harden is back, looking rested, and dropped 31 points (and a near triple-double in 35 minutes) on Sunday. He requested to play all those minutes, and wouldn’t come out at the end, because he wanted the feel of a real game. The Rockets defensive rotations looked sharp in the fourth quarter Sunday and held the Grizzlies to 18.2% shooting.

 
Thunder small icon 7. Thunder (40-24, LW 9). I’m not sure most fans realize just how well OKC was playing before the season was interrupted: They were 33-13 after Dec. 1 with a top 10 offense and defense. Chris Paul was playing at an All-NBA level and may have been the best clutch player in the league this season, leading OKC to a lot of close wins. The Thunder got an emotional boost watching Andre Roberson step back on the court for the first time in 909 days.

 
Heat small icon 8. Heat (41-24, LW 8). Kendrick Nunn (who tested positive for the coronavirus) was not only back in Orlando but back in the starting lineup for the Heat’s scrimmage against Utah. Bam Adebayo, who also tested positive, is in Orlando but has yet to play in a game. With a deep and versatile roster, Miami is the dark horse favorite at the restart for a lot of analysts, thanks in part to the intensity of Jimmy Butler leading a talented young core.

 
Nuggets small icon 9. Nuggets (43-22, LW 7). Mike Malone said it himself: Denver’s coach has no idea where his team is in preparation for the seeding games right now. Due to injury and the coronavirus they have had just eight players ready to go in both scrimmage games. But on of those players is Bol Bol and that is all most of us need to see.

 
Mavericks small icon 10. Mavericks (40-27, LW 11). Any questions about Luka Doncic’s fitness should be tossed out the window at this point, he has looked fantastic. Dallas’ floor spacing and shooting from three is going to be dangerous in the playoffs, but their defense needs to tighten up if they are going to be a real first round threat. Also, expect Doncic to text Kristaps Porzingis daily to remind him to get his coronavirus test.

 
Sixers small icon 11. 76ers (39-26, LW 11). Joel Embiid missing a game due to calf tightness isn’t devastating but it will raise some eyebrows — a healthy and focused Embiid is critical to any Sixers playoff hopes. (He did practice Monday, a good sign.) All that talk about Ben Simmons taking two corner threes in the Sixers opener (hitting one), notice in the second game he didn’t even attempt a shot from deep. He has to shoot constantly from there to be a threat.

 
Jazz small icon 12. Jazz (41-23, LW 13). Utah needs a Mike Conley to step up and replace Bojan Bogdanovic‘s scoring and play making, which is why his second half against Miami is encouraging. Rudy Gobert has looked fantastic through two games, and he and Donovan Mitchell have shown some on-court chemistry even as there are questions about their chemistry off it.

 
Blazers small icon 13. Trail Blazers (29-37, LW 14). Jusuf Nurkic was back for his first scrimmage over the weekend and looked fantastic both as a scorer and distributor. His chemistry with Damian Lillard was like he never left, and the little dust-up with Serge Ibaka was a reminder of the grit Nurkic brings. The experiment of Nurkic and Hassan Whiteside playing together will be something to watch.

Pelicans small icon 14. Pelicans (28-36, LW 15). Zion Williamson is back in the bubble and (provided he keeps testing negative) will be available opening night against Utah. Whether Alvin Gentry will play him after limited practice remains to be seen, but the Pelicans can’t afford to start slow in the chase to get into a play-in series for the eighth seed. They need Zion.

 
Pacers small icon 15. Pacers (39-26, LW 12). The loss of Domantas Sabonis for the restart due to a foot injury is a punch to the gut of a team that was looking to advance out of the first round in the playoffs. No official word yet on if Victor Oladipo will play in the seeding/playoff games, but he has looked fantastic in both Pacers scrimmage games. Will the Sabonis news impact his decision?

 
Magic small icon 16. Magic (30-35, LW 17). Both Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz are set to return for the final Magic scrimmage game and could be good to go for the seeding games, if cleared. Getting Isaac back would be huge for an Orlando team where defense has been the issue, he was an All-Defensive Team level player before an injury prematurely ended his season.

 
Grizzlies small icon 17. Grizzlies (32-33, LW 16). The loss of Justise Winslow to a hip injury is a real blow to the depth and potential of this team. There have been bright spots. Memphis’ best rookie through two scrimmages is not soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Ja Morant (who has still looked solid), it’s Brandon Clarke (16 points against Houston Sunday). Kyle Anderson also has shown he is healthy and can handle some minutes in Orlando.

 
Kings small icon 18. Kings (28-36, LW 19). No Marvin Bagley due to a foot injury that has him out for the restart (the other foot from the foot injury that had him out for much of the season). No Bagley hurts the offense, the lack of Alex Len being healthy hurts the defense, although Len could return by the weekend. With all that it’s hard to picture Sacramento ending a playoff drought that goes back by 2006.

 
Spurs small icon 19. Spurs (27-36, LW 20). Pour one out for the Spurs 22-season playoff streak, there is almost no way that will continue. The bubble games for San Antonio are about the future, specifically what a Dejounte Murray/Lonnie Walker IV backcourt might look like. Plenty of speculation around the league about whether Gregg Popovich will coach next season, a question he may not know the answer to yet.

 
Suns small icon 20. Suns (26-39, LW 21). Good news, Aron Baynes has been cleared after testing positive for the coronavirus and is on his way to the Orlando bubble. Phoenix is using this restart to get Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton some time to build chemistry — and Ayton plans to keep shooting those threes if left open. The Suns lack of depth has been an issue in the scrimmage games (especially against a deep Celtics’ roster.

 
Nets small icon 21. Nets (30-34, LW 18). With more players out than we have room to list here, Brooklyn has become the Caris LeVert show at the restart, a lot of the offense runs through him. Joe Harris and Garrett Temple will have bigger roles too, while Jarrett Allen has a chance to step up. Most observers expect the Nets to fall behind the Magic and become the eight seed in the East (meaning the Bucks in the first round).

 
Wizards small icon 22. Wizards (24-40, LW 22). Can Washington make up two games on Brooklyn to force a play-in series? As depleted as the Wizards are, that feels like a long shot. The key is for guys to stay healthy and not suffer an injury that impacts next season.

 
Bulls small icon 23. Bulls (22-43, LW 23). Hearing more and more buzz that even though the new front office is not sold on Jim Boylen as coach — and players such as Thaddeus Young will push for a trade if he stays — he will keep his job next season. It saves money for ownership at a time the league is taking a hit, plus it lets Arturas Karnisovas save the “changing the coach” card for another time. Nothing is decided yet on this front, but it will need to be in the coming weeks.

 
24. Timberwolves (19-45, LW 24). Glen Taylor has put the team up for sale, but only to a new owner who will keep the team in Minnesota (the team’s lease at the Target Center runs through 2035). Kevin Garnett is the best storyline of the potential new owners, and he is talking to billionaire partners. The Wilf family (which owns the Vikings) are not actively negotiating, but there are a number of other billionaires kicking the tires on the sale.

 
Hawks small icon 25. Hawks (20-46, LW 25). Not in Orlando for the restart and not much new to talk about in Atlanta, outside of Lou Williams’ restaurant choices.

 
Hornets small icon 26. Hornets (23-42, LW 26). Not in Orlando for the restart.

 
Knicks small icon 27. Knicks (20-45, LW 27). Tom Thibodeau is the team’s new head coach, and I like the hire… with caveats. First, Thibodeau has to have grown and take his foot off the accelerator at points with a young team — RJ Barrett doesn’t need to lead the league in minutes played. Secondly, Thibs and team president Leon Rose need to be on the same page with player development, culture building, and more. That coach/front office connection has not always been there in Madison Square Garden before.

Pistons small icon 28. Pistons (20-45, LW 28). Not in Orlando for the restart.

 
Cavaliers small icon 29. Cavaliers (19-46, LW 29). Not in Orlando for the restart.

 
Warriors small icon 30. Warriors (15-50 LW 30). Not in Orlando for the restart.

Celtics interim coach Mazzulla to coach Team Giannis in All-Star Game

New York Knicks (120) Vs. Boston Celtics (117) At TD Garden (OT)
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One way to remove the “interim” tag from your coaching resume is to earn the right to coach in the All-Star Game.

Boston Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzula and his staff will coach Team Giannis in the All-Star Game this season. It became official when the 76ers fell to the Magic on Tuesday night, ensuring the Celtics would have the best record in the East by the cut-off date this Sunday.

The Celtics are 36-15 and in first place in the Eastern Conference, even though they have lost 3-of-4 (and needed overtime and a bad no-call on a LeBron James potential game-winner to get that victory). They have a top-five offense and defense in the league and have looked like the team to beat since the start of the season, even if they have had a few injuries and looked bored with the regular season of late.

Mazzulla deserves credit for helping the team move past former coach Ime Udoka was suspended due to an improper affair with a franchise employee. It could have been a distraction that blew up the Boston season, but he got them focused beyond that, and with that could get some Coach of the Year votes (in a crowded field).

First, however, he has to coach the All-Star Game.

Are Pistons going to hold on to Bojan Bodanovic into next season?

Milwaukee Bucks v Detroit Pistons
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For much of the run-up to the Feb. 9 trade deadline, Bojan Bogdanovic has been one of the best and most discussed players available. The 6’8″ wing who can knock down 3s and do some secondary shot creation could help a lot of teams.

One of those is the Pistons, who want to take a big step forward next season. Bogdanovic told Michael Scotto of Hoops Hype the front office spoke to him, and it doesn’t sound like he will get traded.

“Having conversations with the club, Troy [Weaver, general manager] and the owners, they assured me that we’re going to be great next year,” Bogdanovic said. “We have a lot of cap space to sign great players. We’re going to have a high pick again, so that’s going to help us a lot. We have a great young group of guys. When Cade [Cunningham] went down, that kind of hurt us big time. We were thinking that maybe we’d be fighting for the play-in tournament, but when he went down, he was our main guy. All of our offensive strategies were connected to him. When he went down, our season, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs without him.”

The Pistons reportedly have set the price for Bogdanovic at an unprotected first-round pick, which is very steep. This may simply be a case of Detroit being willing to keep Bogdanovic around if nobody wants to meet that price. They did just extend him for two years, $39.1 million and he would be the kind of professional veteran that is good to have in the locker room around a younger team.

Bogdanovic, for his part, would rather not hear the rumors.

“I heard the rumors, but I’m trying to stay away from those conversations,” Bogdanovic said. “I don’t even have any social media like Twitter. I don’t read much about that. It’s not in my control. It’s about the franchises. I’m just going to try and stay focused and play as best I can. Then, we’ll see what’s going to happen at the end of the trade deadline.”

The rumors are not going anywhere, they will stick around through the trade deadline. Bogdanovic may as well.

Report: Mavericks looking for another star at trade deadline. Good luck with that.

Toronto Raptors v Sacramento Kings
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Two things are true. First, the painted-over mural was right, the Dallas Mavericks desperately need a second star to go next to Luka Dončić. Second, they have backed themselves into a corner without the trade assets or cap space to easily make that happen.

It may be a longshot, but the Mavericks are open to trading anyone but Dončić to find that second star at the deadline, Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News reminds us.

It shouldn’t be a surprise Dallas is open to this, of course they are.

The challenges start with, what star is available? The best player maybe on the market right now is John Collins or Bojan Bogdanovic, and while both would help the Mavericks neither is changing the team’s fortunes the way they would hope.

If Toronto decides to become sellers things get interesting. However, as of the latest reports, they are on the fence and telling teams they are waiting to decide what they will do at the deadline (sell, stand pat, or become buyers). Fred VanVleet could be available, and would essentially be a Jalen Brunson replacement, certainly a step up from where the Mavericks are currently. However, the Clippers and others could drive up the asking price, plus the Mavericks would have to step up and pay him this summer, VanVleet is expected to opt out of his $22.8 million contract. O.G. Anunoby would be a great fit next to Dončić, but he is not a star, he is more of a high-level role player.

Pascal Siakam could be that second star next to Dončić, a 6’8″ wing who can finish at the rim, shoot 3s, and would be a great secondary shot creator. It’s a good fit. Siakam is not an elite defender — Dallas would want some 3&D guys added to the roster — but he would be the kind of addition Dallas needs.

Dallas can offer its three first-round picks starting in 2024, but is some combination of those picks and Spencer Dinwiddie, Tim Hardaway Jr., Christian Wood and Dorian Finney-Smith going to entice the Raptors? They will look for a massive package for Siakam and likely see better offers than Dallas can construct.

It may not be easy to pull off, and likely will wait until the offseason (at the earliest), but know the Mavericks are serious about a second star.

Knicks reportedly very interested in Anunoby, if Raptors make him available

Toronto Raptors v Golden State Warriors
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The Toronto Raptors are the one team that could move this trade deadline from a dud to shaking up the playoff race. There are 29 other GMs waiting to see what Massai Ujiri will do, and when they called, they’ve been told “the franchise will make a decision about being a buyer or seller – or standing pat – near deadline day,” reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

If Toronto does decide to trade a player beyond the expected Gary Trent Jr., then the Knicks want to be at the front of the line for defensive wing O.G. Anunoby, Charania reports.

The Knicks and Suns are among the interested suitors in Raptors forward O.G. Anunoby, sources say. New York has shown a willingness to offer multiple first-round picks for Anunoby, according to those sources. The Suns, meanwhile, have control of all of their first-round picks — eight in total —through 2030. SNY first reported the Knicks’ interest last week.

There would be a lot of teams in line for Anunoby, but he is a very Thibodeau-style player — an All-Defensive Team level wing stopper who can finish and is averaging 16.9 points per game — so you can see where the interest comes from. Anunoby also is just 25 and is locked in next season at $18.6 million. While the demand for wings in general is lower this trade season — point guards and centers are more in demand — a lot of teams could use a player the quality of Anunoby. Including the Knicks.

Getting him won’t be cheap — two unprotected first-round picks (or lightly protected) with matching salary would be the price range.

All of that is moot if the Raptors don’t make him available, which is what everyone is waiting to see.