NBA Power Rankings
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Power Rankings: Raptors are on top, but is this the Bucks’ year?

Leave a comment

This is the final NBA Power Rankings of the season, coming out on the day the playoffs start. After this there is no point to power rankings, the NBA has a playoff to determine which team is best (can you imagine a sport so backward it used media polls to help determine a champion?). We’ve only got the 22 bubble teams in here, and with the way the seeding games went these rakings may look upside down in a week.

Raptors small icon 1. Raptors (53-19, 7-1, LW 1). Its fitting the defending champs finish the season on top of the rankings. They had the best defense through the seeding games, anchored by a healthy (and slimmer) Marc Gasol, and that can take them far in the playoffs — if they can find some half-court offensive punch (fifth worst offense in restart). That ability to get a bucket when the game slows down was a a strength last season, the Raptors need Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam to recreate the magic in the playoffs to get back to the Finals.

Bucks small icon 2. Bucks (56-17, 3-5 in bubble, LW 2). Giannis Antetokounmpo is frustrated by the 3-5 Bucks record in the bubble, the way they coasted into the postseason, and the fact he had to sit out a game for headbutting Moe Wagner. None of that is a real concern. The Bucks get to find their focus in the first round against a Magic team they outscored by 16.3 points per 100 during the season.

Clippers small icon 3. Clippers (49-23, 5-3, LW 5). Los Angeles was missing key players for much of the restart, it was not a team that blew people’s doors off, yet by the end they had the third-best net rating in the bubble (+6.1). The Clippers did that all season: Winning while not fulfilling their potential yet. Looking like a contender on paper but one that has not yet built chemistry. Does it all come together for them now in the playoffs?

Lakers small icon 4. Lakers (52-19, 3-5 in bubble, Last week No. 3). The Lakers shot the ball poorly and had the second-worst offense in the restart. Los Angeles has had trouble with smaller, quick scoring guards all season and now they face Damian Lillard in the first round. The Lakers are going to have to work to get out of the first round, but the challenge of Portland may snap L.A. out of its malaise. In the end, Frank Vogel can go to LeBron James/Anthony Davis pick-and-rolls all day and who is going to stop it?

Celtics small icon 5. Celtics (48-24, 5-3, LW 4). While the Raptors had the better record in the bubble, the Celtics arguably were playing better (they had the better net rating). Boston had a top 10 offense and defense in the restart, Kemba Walker is healthy and this roster has a lot of versatility. Joel Embiid will be a tough first-round test, however, Philadelphia outscored Boston by 2.3 points per 100 possessions in the regular season.

Pacers small icon 6. Pacers (45-28, 6-2 LW 8). T.J. Warren was a breakout star of the bubble, they have a healthy Victor Oladipo, and the Pacers had a top-three defense in the bubble — Indiana is set up as well for the playoffs. Miami, with Jimmy Butler as a perimeter stopper, presents a real challenge (the Heat outscored the Pacers by 4.2 points per 100 during their regular season meetings), but the Pacers can win the series if they have balance and the role players step up.

Thunder small icon 7. Thunder (44-28, 4-4, LW 9). Chris Paul played brilliantly in the restart (and there may not have been a restart without him) the Thunder were a roller coaster through the eight games. looking dangerous one game and like a pushover the next. If Steven Adams can stay on the court against the Rockets micro-ball and punish them inside the Thunder are in good shape in the first round.

Rockets small icon 8. Rockets (44-28, 4-3, LW 6). No Russell Westbrook to start the series against OKC is a concern (quadriceps injury) because the Rockets are so top heavy. James Harden has been brilliant but Eric Gordon, Danuel House, Austin Rivers, Ben McLemore or someone is going to have to step up and pickup the secondary scoring loa to make this all work. On the upside, Houston defended very well in the seeding games and that should carry over.

Heat small icon 9. Heat (44-29, 3-5, LW 7). Jimmy Butler picks up his level of play in the postseason and we (and T.J. Warren) can expect that again. Still, eventually Indiana (and the teams Miami might face beyond them) will be able to slow him down, then who creates shots and gets buckets. The Heat have had good games from Bam Adebayo and Jae Crowder, plus there are rookies like Tyler Herro playing well, but are any of them ready to be the guy who has to get a bucket in crunch time?

Blazers small icon 10. Trail Blazers (35-39, 6-2, LW 10). Damian Lillard is the deserving bubble MVP, but the play-in game win over Memphis showed that it’s not a one-man show that makes Portland dangerous. Jusuf Nurkic dominated the first half and had a 20/20 game, then CJ McCollum was hitting big threes late despite a fractured back. Portland has all the pieces to give the Lakers problems, but how they defend LeBron James and Anthony Davis will be the real keys.

Suns small icon 11. Suns (44-39, 8-0, LW 12). Everyone wanted to see the darlings of the bubble rewarded for their 8-0 run, but the first 65 games still mattered. Credit Monty Williams (officially the Coach of the Seeding Games) and crew for getting buy-in from players and improving during the restart when other teams in their position (Sacramento, New Orleans) mailed it in. Phoenix looks like a team poised for a playoff run next season, but the West is going to be 12 deep with playoff quality teams next season.

Nuggets small icon 12. Nuggets (46-27, 3-5, LW 11). Michael Porter Jr. has been amazing to watch — 22.2 points a game, 8.6 rebounds, and 42.2% shooting from three — and he gives them another shot creator besides Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, which makes them dangerous. Denver also had the worst defense in the restart and if that continues Utah has a real shot to knock the Nuggets out.

Sixers small icon 13. 76ers (43-30, 4-4, LW 15). GM Elton Brand bet Philly could win playing big before the season tipped-off, and now come the playoffs — and without Ben Simmons — it is the direction Brett Brown may have to go. He will start with the Al Horford/Joel Embiid frontline, and Embiid will need to dominate the Boston frontline to have a chance. Tobias Harris is going to have to provide more shot creation, and some role players are going to have to knock down threes for Philly to pull off the upset.

Mavericks small icon 14. Mavericks (43-32, 3-5, LW 13). How good is Luka Doncic? He nearly averaged a triple-double in the seeding games of 30 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 9.7 assists a game. He, along with big man Kristaps Porzingis, give the Mavs a chance to score their way to a win any night. However, how Dallas will slow down the wing scoring of L.A.’s Paul George and Kawhi Leonard is by far the biggest challenge of the first round.

Jazz small icon 15. Jazz (44-28, 3-4, LW 16). No Bojan Bogdanovic (surgery). No Mike Conley, at least for the first few games against Denver (birth of son). No Ed Davis (left knee). A shorthanded Utah team is going to need a monster series from Donovan Mitchell to advance. Denver dominated the paint in the regular season matchups with Utah, Rudy Gobert can’t allow that to happen again in the postseason or Utah will be home early.

Nets small icon 16. Nets (35-37, 5-5, LW 17). Give Brooklyn credit — while other teams with nothing to play for were rolling over in their final games, Brooklyn was one shot away from beating Portland in the final game and knocking the Trail Blazers out of the postseason. Coach Jacque Vaughn earned a lot of points around the league for this (whether it means Durant and Irving want him to coach them next season is another question). Caris LeVert was strong in the restart averaging 25 points and 6.7 assists a game, while Joe Harris added 20 a night and shot 54.1% from three. They will not be a pushover for Toronto.

Grizzlies small icon 17. Grizzlies (34-39, 2-6, LW 19). Ja Morant reminded everyone why he is the soon-to-be Rookie of the Year with his performance in the play-in game, but without Jaren Jackson Jr. winning that game was a tough ask. Still, this is a Memphis team poised to be a threat to make the playoffs next season. Note to Mark Jackson: It’s Taylor Jenkins.

Magic small icon 18. Magic (33-40, 3-5, LW 18). Steve Clifford is moving Markelle Fultz back to starting point guard for the playoffs, his matchup against the strong defense of Eric Bledsoe should be one of the more entertaining parts of that series. Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, and Evan Fournier likely will play well against the Bucks, at least for stretches, which may only fuel trade speculation.

Spurs small icon 19. Spurs (32-39, 5-3, LW 14). When asked if he would be back to coach next season, Gregg Popovich’s response was “why wouldn’t I?” Popovich found something that worked with the four-guard lineup he was forced to employ in the restart, now if he can make that mesh with LaMarcus Aldridge then maybe the Spurs can start a new playoff streak in a year.

Kings small icon 20. Kings (31-41, 3-5, LW 20). Vlade Divac is out as GM, and Joe Dumars is in (at least for the next year). It wasn’t just picking Marvin Bagley III over Luka Doncic that got Divac fired, there has been five years of questionable trades, contract moves, coaching changes, and a lack of organizational culture. The Kings have some nice young players (coming up for contract extensions) such as De’Aaron Fox, but the Kings need to figure out who they are first.

Pelicans small icon 21. Pelicans (30-42, 2-6, LW 21). Alvin Gentry is out as coach after the Pelicans looked flat and disinterested in the bubble (well, except for J.J. Redick). Some big name coaches are on the list to replace Gentry, but will the small-market Pelicans pay Tyronn Lue money, or will they be looking for a less-expensive up-and-coming assistant?

Wizards small icon 22. Wizards (25-47, 1-7, LW 22). Well, they showed up in the bubble. They even won a game. That’s all we can say. Next season they get John Wall and Bradley Beal back on the court together and we can get back to debating if that pairing really works.

New Kings’ GM doesn’t change fact De’Aaron Fox expects max contract extension

De'Aaron Fox sprained ankle
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

New Sacramento Kings general manager Monte McNair is just getting the photos of his family framed and settling into his office, but he’s made one critical decision already: Luke Walton will be back as Sacramento’s coach. McNair also decided he wants to see the Kings return to more of the up-tempo style of a couple of seasons ago (before Walton arrived). Looming after that is the 2020 NBA Draft, where the Kings have the No. 12 pick.

When free agency comes, the question becomes: Will the Sacramento Kings offer De'Aaron Fox a max contract extension?

The young point guard expects one, reports James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area.

League sources have confirmed to NBC Sports California that the Kings, under previous management, already had a discussion with Fox’s representation on an extension.

Depending on where the NBA’s final salary cap numbers come in, Fox is eligible for a five-year max money contract worth between $150-180 million. Don’t expect a discounted rate. He will ask for and likely get whatever the maximum is allowed under the collective bargaining agreement.

If the salary cap were to remain flat for two years (possible, but not probable), a five-year max extension to Fox’s rookie contract is $158 million. The number will likely be higher than that, and if Fox makes a huge leap and becomes an All-NBA player, it jumps up to nearly $190 million (not likely to happen, but not impossible).

Fox averaged 21.1 points and 6.8 assists per game last season, but fully healthy he stepped up his play in the bubble averaging 26.2 points a game on 50.4% shooting and dishing out 7.3 assists a game. He was by far the Kings’ best player.

In the bubble, the Kings seemed to lack an identity. What kind of team did they want to be? McNair has come in and decided that — this is going to be an uptempo, transition team. Fox would be at the heart of that plan.

McNair said at his introductory press conference he sees Fox as a cornerstone piece.

“De’Aaron is an incredible young talent,” McNair said. “I’ve loved to see what he’s done and what he’s improved on over the years and he’s got a very bright future ahead of him.”

If this team is going to get back to running more, Fox is as good a ball-handler and decision-maker in transition as the league has. The Kings need to pay to keep him happy, then get players to go around him that fit that style. Expect McNair to spend the next season evaluating and shifting the roster around to fit that style. The problem is the pressure of the playoffs — the Kings haven’t been in 14 years, one short of tying the Donald Sterling Clippers for the longest drought in league history. There is pressure from ownership to make the playoffs and start winning sooner rather than later. It will be a tough balancing act for McNair. Welcome to sitting in the big chair.

Deciding to pay Fox may be the easiest of his decisions.

 

LeBron James one win away from history: 10th NBA Finals apperance

Lakers star LeBron James
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

ASSOCIATED PRESS — LeBron James can reach a 10th NBA Finals, done by only three greats of the game.

Anthony Davis is on the verge of his first.

The final step for the Los Angeles Lakers shapes up as the toughest.

They have to knock out the Denver Nuggets, who have been on the brink of dismissal from the bubble six times and every time refused to go.

“You can never be comfortable around this team,” Davis said. “They have been in this situation twice. We’ve been in the situation twice. But both teams are familiar with these situations, but this team is not going to go away.”

Game 5 is Saturday. The Lakers have ended both their series thus far in five games.

But the Nuggets were also down 3-1 against both Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers, fell far behind in Game 5, and then battled back to not only win the game but eventually the series.

No team had ever erased two 3-1 deficits in one postseason and now the Nuggets need to do it a third time. It’s a predicament they could have avoided, if they’d gotten one more defensive stop in Game 2 or given up a few less second-chance points in Game 4.

“These are all close games we’re playing,” guard Jamal Murray said. “Going to keep battling it out.”

Murray was sensational again in Game 4, though James slowed him enough down the stretch after taking on the defensive assignment to help the Lakers pull out a 114-108 victory.

One more win, and James ties NBA career scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for third on the career list with 10 NBA Finals appearances. Only Hall of Famers Bill Russell (12) and Sam Jones (11) of the Boston Celtics have gone to more.

It would be James’ first with the Lakers after five appearances in Cleveland and four in Miami, and the Lakers’ first trip to the finals since winning the last of their 16 championships in 2010.

James and Davis have been the unquestioned catalysts of this run, and they’re good strong support from some playoff-tested veterans. Dwight Howard had 12 points and 11 rebounds Thursday in his first start of this postseason, helping send Los Angeles to its overwhelming 25-6 advantage in second-chance points.

Rajon Rondo contributed 11 points and moved into eighth place on the career list with seven more assists.

“In the postseason, every possession is so important,” James said. “When you can have guys that have been in the moments and can understand and also be able to make adjustments on the fly, and know that you can count on them down the stretch, it just makes the team and you individually feel so much more confident in the outcome.”

The younger Nuggets don’t have those type of veterans, but they have the experience of this historic postseason run that could have ended on Aug. 25, the night of Game 5 against Utah. A month later, they are still at Disney World, still trying to prove that hope is not lost until four games are.

“I think people out there probably think this is exactly where we want them. It’s not. We would much rather be up 3-1, but it is what it is. We put ourselves in this position,” Denver coach Michael Malone said.

“Our team has shown tremendous resiliency and grit in getting out of these before. I have no doubt that tomorrow night we’ll bring that same fight to the game and hopefully we can keep this series alive.”

If they do, Game 6 would be Monday night. If not, the Lakers will be preparing to face Miami, in its first appearance since James left in 2014, or the Celtics, their greatest rival they could tie with a 17th NBA title.

The Lakers won’t think about any of that until the Nuggets are finally gone.

“Like I said last game, we’ve got to put them away,” Davis said. “They are going to continue to fight, no matter what the score is, no matter what the situation is. We just have to make sure we counter everything they do.”

Report: Mutual interest in Cavaliers keeping Tristan Thompson

Tristan Thompson
AP Photo/Karen Pulfer Focht
Leave a comment

Tristan Thompson has played every one of his nine NBA seasons in a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform.

There have been questions about where the free-agent big man will play his 10th season. The Cavaliers traded for Andre Drummond to become their starting five, limiting both Thompson’s role and the money Cleveland would spend for the backup center role.

There is still “mutual interest” in a return, Cavs GM Koby Altman told Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“I think it’s fair to say there’s mutual interest for sure,” general manager Koby Altman said about the possibility of re-signing Thompson. “He’s been with this franchise his entire career since we drafted him. He’s won a championship here. Obviously, he means a lot to the players on the team right now, but it has to make sense. There are some events coming up — the draft, free agency — where we have to see if it makes sense for him. He’s earned the right to be an unrestricted free agent and explore opportunities at this point in his career. So, we’ll see.”

Tristan Thompson, 30, has battled nagging injuries in recent seasons but started most of the Cavaliers’ games before the shut down of the league last season, stayed healthy, and averaged 12 points and 10.1 rebounds a game playing 30 minutes a night.

How much of a market there will be for Thompson remains to be seen, especially in uncertain financial times around the league, but it will not be anywhere near the $18.5 million he made this season. He brings rebounding, defense, and a veteran presence to a team, but in general teams are not spending on the center spot right now, seeing that as a mercenary position where they can get a solid player at a cheap price. Thompson may have other suitors offering a larger role than Cleveland can, but the money is not likely to be much different.

Thompson’s camp asked for a trade at the deadline this past season (Cleveland couldn’t find a deal it liked), but when it comes time to decide this offseason he may want to stay with the organization he knows not a new one, if the money is the same. It’s going to be an interesting offseason for Thompson and the Cavaliers.

 

Bam Adebayo: “I played like s***… I’ll put that game on me.”

Leave a comment

The Miami Heat were one half of basketball away from the NBA Finals when a desperate Boston team cranked up its defensive intensity, started attacking the rim, and started playing at a level Miami didn’t match. The Celtics dominated the final 24 minutes of Game 5, forcing a Game 6 and keeping the Heat out of the Finals for now.

Bam Adebayo took the blame for the Heat loss. Via Manny Navarro of The Athletic.

“I played like s***. Bottom line: I can’t. I’ll put that game on me. It’s not my teammates’ fault. It’s not my coaches’ fault. It’s me. I missed too many shots I should have made… I wasn’t being the defensive anchor I should’ve been. I don’t think I was communicating fast enough. I feel like I was a step behind today. I wasn’t a difference-maker today. I didn’t get us into fast enough triggers. That’s on me.”

Game 5 was not Adebayo’s best outing: 13 points, eight rebounds, and Boston did a better job with its scheme pulling him away from the basket to defend smaller players on the perimeter, opening up the paint. Adebayo and the Heat as a whole struggled to slow the Celtics’ pick-and-roll actions, and Boston has figured out how to play against Miami’s zone (so the Heat have gone away from it).

“It’s not (Adebayo’s fault). It’s on everybody,” Jimmy Butler said after the game. “He does so much for us that it can feel like that at times but it’s definitely not on him. It’s on us as a whole. We all understand that because nobody was playing the way that we are supposed to play; the way that we have to play in order for us to win, nobody. And for him to say that, I respect it. I love him for it. But he can’t do it by himself. We’ve got to be there with him.”

Bam Adebayo was wearing a sleeve over his left arm, where he aggravated a wrist injury at the end of Game 4. Both Adebayo and coach Erik Spoelstra said that was nothing and not what led to his off night.

Miami needs a lot of things to go differently in Game 6: It needs to start hitting its threes again (19.4% from beyond the arc in Game 5, and below 30% from deep in each of the last three games). Miami has to take care of the ball and it has to get back in transition defense — Boston ran right past the Heat in the second half and got a lot of easy transition buckets. Mostly, however, it comes back to Miami shooters hitting more of their threes — the Heat halfcourt offense needs that.

The Game 5 loss was not on Adebayo. But he can be part of the solution.