NBA Power Rankings: Is there a real threat out there to the Lakers?

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The NBA is being ravaged by the coronavirus — six games postponed since Sunday — and it is keeping teams from finding and maintaining their rhythm. Results are a little all over the map — unless you play the Lakers. They are on top for a reason, and LeBron is clowning the league.

 
Lakers small icon 1. Lakers (9-3 Last Week No. 1). Here’s the scary thing for the rest of the league: The Lakers haven’t come close to playing their best basketball yet. They have shown flashes, L.A. will put together a strong third or fourth quarter to take control of a game, but they are picking their spots right now (a very LeBron James regular season thing to do). Injuries have pushed Talen Horton-Tucker into the rotation and his play — particularly 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting against Houston – is going to force Frank Vogel to find him more regular minutes.

 
Bucks small icon 2. Bucks (7-4, LW 3). Milwaukee has the best offense in the NBA so far this season — 118.9 net rating — and while of course Giannis Antetokounmpo is a big part of that, it’s Khris Middleton having his best season that is a huge boost. He’s averaging a a career best 22.5 points per game while shooting 49.2% from three (67.8 true shooting percentage) with career best assist and rebound rates. Interesting tests coming up next week against Brooklyn and the L.A. Lakers.

 
Celtics small icon 3. Celtics (7-3, LW 8). They had won six of seven before the team was laid low by COVID-19 (three straight games postponed). Whenever the Celtics return to action, they could have Kemba Walker back in action, adding a third high-level playmaker to the offensive mix. Boston’s strong start is in part due to it being an incredible clutch team so far this season, with everyone making plays at the end of games — including Payton Pritchard.

 
Clippers small icon4. Clippers (7-4, LW 6). Los Angeles is winning games, but there are causes for concern almost everywhere you look. The team’s defense remains bottom five in the league, mostly due to a dreadful bench unit on that end (actually, the bench has been bad on both ends). Lou Williams looks lost at points without Montrezl Harrell as a pick-and-roll partner (although he bounced back with 21 points against Chicago). Kawhi Leonard is getting to the rim less than ever (14.7% of his shots are in the restricted area, a career-low), and he is settling for more 10-22 foot jumpers, which he’s not hitting at the same rate as years past. All that will eventually catch up with Los Angeles if things don’t change.

 
Suns small icon 5. Suns (7-4 LW 4). Phoenix is the latest team to be hit by the coronavirus, with their game against the Hawks postponed (the Suns played the Wizards, who have had players with the disease). Phoenix’s defense has started to slip a little the past couple of weeks and it has led to some ugly losses, one to Detroit and another to Washington. Yes, Devin Booker is the guy at the top of the scouting report on the Suns’ offense, but it’s the balance Chris Paul brings to the offense, with six players averaging double-digits a night in scoring — including Cameron Johnson and Dario Saric off the bench — that makes it difficult to slow down Phoenix.

 
Sixers small icon 6. 76ers (8-4 LW 2). It’s been a rough week in Philly with the coronavirus, but the league was right to fine the Sixers after their shorthanded loss to Denver — you can’t lobby the league to call the game off claiming COVID-19 issues, then throw guys who have not been on one injury report (Ben Simmons) onto the unable to play list just before the game and whine about not having enough players. Philadelphia had lost three in a row until Joel Embiid took over against Miami and got a win Tuesday (they face each other again in a couple of days).

 
Blazers small icon 7. Trail Blazers (6-4, LW 20). Winners of three in a row, who cares if it happened in a soft part of the schedule and took some CJ McCollum heroics to knock off Toronto? The Blazers are beating the teams they have to beat. One concern is the pairing of Enes Kanter and Carmelo Anthony off the bench and what that means for the Portland defense, but after Tuesday’s win coach Terry Stotts defended that choice saying, “The last four or five games they’ve been a net positive. There’s been a lot of conversation about that. I think Enes and Melo have played really well together the last five games.”

 
Pacers small icon 8. Pacers (7-4, LW 5). Myles Turner has talked openly about wanting to be Defensive Player of the Year, and while he may not get that hardware, this year he is putting up an eye-popping stat: Four blocked shots a game. Turner has 12 more blocked shots total this season than Rudy Gobert, who is second in the league. The Pacers’ defense is 4.1 points per 100 possessions better when Turner is on the court. All of that is going to get him noticed. Indiana’s loss to Sacramento Tuesday was the start of a five-game road trip through the West.

 
Jazz small icon 9. Jazz (7-4 LW 11). A few years back, Utah was a team that generated a lot of its offense with player and ball movement — they were a system team. Not any more. No team has assisted on fewer two-point shot attempts, and they are bottom-10 in three point assists (in particular corner threes). The ball isn’t moving the way it once did. Bojan Bogdanovic in particular is struggling, shooting 39.3% on twos this season. Sad to see Joe Ingles consecutive games streak end at 384.

 
Mavericks small icon 10. Mavericks (5-4, LW 13). Dallas has won three in a row and seems to be finding its stride on the offensive end — and now Kristaps Porzingis is back, too. Luka Doncic has missed the pick-and-pop threat that KP provides, and while there will be a minutes limit and rust early, this is a boost for Dallas. That said, the Mavs are very shorthanded now after being crushed by the coronavirus: Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell, and Josh Richardson are all out Wednesday and could miss more time beyond that.

 
Nets small icon 11. Nets (6-6, LW 10). Brooklyn went three games without either Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving (who is still out and has caught the league office’s attention), and that’s when Caris LeVert stepped up. He averaged 31 points and nine rebounds a game in the three games both Durant and Irving missed. He was respectively efficient in those games as well. After this start to the season, Brooklyn may be willing to push more into the pot to get a James Harden trade done.

 
Hornets small icon 12. Hornets (6-5, LW 24). LaMelo Ball is rightfully grabbing headlines — he is now the youngest player in NBA history with a triple-double. Ball still has rookie moments, but he is farther along the development curve than most pundits expected (*raises hand*). Considering Devonte’ Graham struggles on offense, how much longer before LaMelo starts? What Graham brings that Ball doesn’t is strong defense — Charlotte’s Top-10 defense is a key reason for the team has had a run of wins the past couple of weeks.

 
Nuggets small icon 13. Nuggets (5-6 LW 18). After stumbling out of the gate this season, the Nuggets won 5-of-6 against a soft part of the schedule to right the ship (that changed with Tuesday’s loss to Brooklyn). The biggest difference is the defense that could not buy a stop at the start of the season but has been top three in the league over the past seven games. Nikola Jokic is still averaging a triple-double for the season — 24.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 10.4 assists a game — and playing at an MVP level. Michael Porter Jr. was supposed to return last week but saw his quarantine time extended.

 
Warriors small icon 14. Warriors (6-5, LW 17). That the Warriors beat the Clippers when Stephen Curry went supernova is impressive, but that’s hard to sustain. More impressive was the win against Toronto when Curry shot 2-of-16 and the team still found a way. The Warriors have gone 6-3 since their nationally televised losses in the season’s first two games, and the return of Draymond Green as a floor general goes a long way to explaining the change (when he’s paired with Curry, the offense just flows).

 
Spurs small icon 15. Spurs (6-5, LW 19). Did you really think the Spurs were going to fade away? They are always competitive, and they have won four-of-five, including beating both Los Angeles teams. DeMar DeRozan is racking up a career-high seven assists a game in more of a playmaker role, plus he is taking and making more threes than we have seen from him in recent years (39.1% shooting from deep on 2.6 attempts a game). San Antonio has a stretch of games coming up against other teams they will be battling for playoff spots/seeds: Two against Houston, then Portland, Golden State, and Dallas.

 
Hawks small icon 16. Hawks (5-5 LW 7). Before bouncing back against shorthanded Philadelphia on Monday, Atlanta had lost four in a row and was dealing with internal tension: big man John Collins (in a contract year, so he wants to put up numbers) expressed frustration with an offense that always ran through Trae Young. Thing is, the Young-centric offense was working and the Hawks need it to be elite to help cover up a defense that is middle-of-the-pack on a good day.

 
Heat small icon 17. Heat (4-5 LW 16). Miami was just starting to find its footing this season — by starting Kelly Olynyk, the offense took off that way — then the team was smacked hard by the coronavirus and had to play against the 76ers Tuesday without Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, or Goran Dragic. They showed real fight, taking the game to overtime, but it’s going to be tough to get wins without everyone on board. Miami still feels like a team that can be a threat at the top of the East, but they need to get healthy and everyone back on the court first.

 
Magic small icon 18. Magic (6-5 LW 9). Losing Markelle Fultz for the season is a huge blow to their offense — he was one of the league leaders in drives per game, he was creating opportunities for himself and others (not at an elite level, but he has proven to be a solid rotation point guard). Now rookie Cole Anthony is thrust into a starting role he is not ready for — he is shooting 31.5% this season overall, 18.2% from three, and there were questions coming into the season if his athleticism would be enough at this level. Anthony is thrown into the fire now.

 
Thunder small icon 19. Thunder (5-5, LW 26). New coach Mark Daigneault has got the Thunder playing defense — 11th best net rating in the league so far — which is covering up for OKC’s third-worst offense in the league so far. That Thunder defense has been chasing opponents off the three-point arc (fourth fewest attempts against in the league) and is aided by teams shooting just 33.2% against them so far (that number likely goes up as the season goes along). The Thunder won 4-of-5 on the road but against a soft part of the schedule, that’s about to change, including playing the Lakers Wednesday.

 
Grizzlies small icon 20. Grizzlies (4-6, LW 27). This team has been a respectable 3-4 since Ja Morant went down, and the reason is they have the best defense in the NBA over those seven games (stats via Cleaning the Glass, so garbage time is removed). Give Taylor Jenkins and his crew credit for competing hard every night; they played the Lakers well in a couple of games (but lost both because, well, the Lakers) and then beat Brooklyn and Cleveland. Jenkins and the front office there are building a culture, they just need to get Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. healthy.

 
Pelicans small icon 21. Pelicans (4-5, LW 14). New Orleans still has a top-five defense, but the offense costs them wins. The concern going into the season was the Pelicans didn’t have enough shooting and the fact they are a league-worst 32.2% from deep this season — on the ninth-fewest attempts per game — seems to bear that out. Having the third-highest turnover rate in the league doesn’t help. The Pelicans have dropped three in a row and things are not getting easier: They are heading out on a six-game West Coast road swing that starts with the two Los Angeles teams.

 
Rockets small icon 22. Rockets (3-6 LW 21). James Harden made it clear he wants out of Houston, and the sooner the better (Brooklyn could be the landing spot). John Wall fired back at Harden after the Rockets got their doors blown off by the Lakers for a second straight game: “When you have certain guys in the mix who don’t want to buy in, all as one, it’s going to be hard to do anything special, to do anything good as a basketball team… We can’t dwell down on it because it’s only been nine games. Come on man, you want to jump off a cliff after nine games?”

 
Knicks small icon 23. Knicks (5-6, LW 15). While Julius Randle and, of late, Austin Rivers have been grabbing the headlines in New York, second-year player R.J. Barrett has shown some improvement, particularly as part of the Knicks team defense. Barrett continues to be a very inefficient shooter — 16 points a game but a dreadful 43.3 true shooting percentage — although his rebounding and passing have improved some. Defensively, the Knicks have been 10 points per 100 possession better with Barrett on the court this season, and while there is a lot of noise in that stat, he has looked better on that end after being coach by Tom Thibodeau.

 
Cavaliers small icon 24. Cavaliers (5-7, LW 12). Cleveland has struggled as injuries have robbed them of their entire backcourt rotation of starters Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, and behind them Matthew Dellavedova or Dante Exum. Andre Drummond has been pushed into more of a playmaking role, and while that has been hit-and-miss, he has his highest assist rate of his career and is making plays (he found rookie Isaac Okoro on a cut to seal a recent win). Drummond’s defense in the paint is also the Cavs’ anchor, they have the second-best defense in the NBA.

 
Kings small icon 25. Kings (5-6, LW 23). Buddy Hield got his wish during the offseason: A massive new contract (four years, $86 million) and his spot back in the starting rotation. He’s done nothing with it. Hield’s scoring is down, his three-point shooting is down (still 35,8%, but for his career he shoots over 40%), his 50.9 true shooting percentage is well below both the league average and what he did last season (56.6%), he’s a smaller part of the offense now, his assist rate has dropped, and the Kings have been 11.7 points per 100 possessions better when he is off the court this season.

 
Wizards small icon 26. Wizards (3-8 LW 25).Bradley Beal knows what’s wrong with the Wizards: “Honestly, I don’t know. I mean, I do know, it’s our defense. But I don’t know why it’s our defense. At this point, we can’t guard a parked car.” Beal is leading the league in scoring at 34.9 points per game, but when he sits the Wizards offense drops by more than 16 points per 100 possessions. That offense is going to take a hit with Thomas Bryant out for the season. It moves Robin Lopez into the starting rotation, which is not good for the offense but may help the defense some.

 
Raptors small icon 27. Raptors (2-8, LW 28). The Raptors are better than this ranking — Pascal Siakam had two shots at a game-winner this week, both just missed — but they are simply not winning games. Toronto’s offense is starting to click, but the defense is ranked 26th in the league over their last seven games — it’s a 180 from earlier in the season when the defense was elite but the offense was lost. The bottom line is they are struggling in close games and digging themselves a hole to start the season.

 
Bulls small icon 28. Bulls (4-7, LW 22). The Bulls have posed an interesting question as they swing through the West: How good can they be with an all-offense backcourt? Zach LaVine is averaging 27.7 points a game and has seen his assists tick up in recent weeks as he takes on more playmaking. Coby White is on a scoring spree of late, he had three games in a row with at least 21 points a night (until he ran into the Los Angeles teams, which showed him way down). The problem is that the White/LaVine backcourt is a defensive disaster that teams can prey on. Lauri Markkanen (when he gets healthy) is not going to solve that problem, and that leaves Wendell Carter Jr. trying to clean everything up. The Bulls have some long-term decisions to make.

Pistons small icon 29. Pistons (2-8 LW 29). The Pistons had bet on rookie Killian Hayes taking his lumps but growing this season, unfortunately one of those lumps is an injury that is going to cost the 6’5″ point guard out of France considerable time. He was struggling to find his way in the NBA early, the change of speed moves and midrange jumper Hayes relied on in France are tougher to make work in the NBA, and he struggled averaging 4.6 points a game on 27.7% shooting. Without getting on the court, that learning curve just gets longer.

 
30. Timberwolves (3-7, LW 30). Karl-Anthony Towns is back and none-to-soon — the Timberwolves were 0-6 with him out, having lost every game by an average of 20 points a night. Towns scored 25 with 13 boards in his return, but the Timberwolves lost that one anyway (they did get a split of a set with the Spurs the next night, without Towns). The difference in that win was having Josh Okogie healthy and back on defense, and D'Angelo Russell being more aggressive attacking the paint. Minnesota needs all of that now with Towns in the lineup.

Report: New Hawks front office lowered asking price for Collins trade

Los Angeles Clippers v Atlanta Hawks
Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images
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John Collins could help a team, an athletic forward averaging 13.5 points and 7.7 rebounds a game, and he feels like the kind of player who would benefit from a change of scenery. However, teams looked at the $76.2 million he is guaranteed over the three seasons and balked (the final year of that is a player option).

The old front office — which gave Collins that contract — wanted real value back in any trade. However, new GM Landry Fields and his front office has dropped the price and the demand for a first-round pick, reports Sam Amick at The Athletic.

The same goes for Murray. Collins is the most likely one on the way out, of course, and it’s worth repeating that the asking price is known to have decreased significantly from recent years (per league sources, there is a focus on landing a quality player, or players, in return but no mandate for a first-round pick). That development is clearly a reflection of the focus on salvaging this season, as opposed to recouping the vast assets lost in the Murray trade with San Antonio in the summer. As we’ve reported recently, the Jazz and Rockets are known to be among the teams in pursuit.

Both the Jazz and Rockets see Collins as potentially part of what they are building (in Utah he makes an interesting frontcourt partner with Lauri Markkanen). He would make sense for teams such as Miami looking for help at the four, but that much money on the back end of this team would have them cautious.

Keep Collins on your radar, he (along with Bones Hyland in Denver and Cam Reddish with the Knicks) is one of the players most likely to be traded at the deadline.

NBA Power Rankings: 76ers move into top spot with Celtics, Bucks in top three

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The Philadelphia 76ers move into the top spot in the NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings on the back of their statement win over the Nuggets. Boston and Milwaukee make it an all-East top three.

 
Sixers small icon 1. 76ers (32-17, Last week No. 2). P.J. Tucker has taken heat for his lack of scoring this season, but he reminded everyone why he was brought in on Saturday — he was the defensive answer that slowed and befuddled Nikola Jokić in the second half. His play, and Joel Embiid making an MVP statement with 47 points, earned the 76ers a statement win (and a spot on top of this week’s rankings). On another note, never say James Harden doesn’t play defense — here he rushes onto the court to help defend, once he realizes they only have four players and nobody subbed in for him.

 
Celtics small icon 2. Celtics (36-15, LW 3). Joe Mazzulla tried to play it down, but he and his staff being named to coach Team Giannis in the All-Star Game is a big deal and a sign of the impressive work he has done this season (and a reason they may want to take that “interim” tag off his title, although that gets complex with the Ime Udoka suspension). Mazzulla’s Celtics lost three straight — and it should have been four after the no-call on LeBron James — which followed a nine-game win streak. What changed? The offense fell off a cliff, they have a 108 offensive rating over their last five games that would be 26th in the league over that stretch. It isn’t just those five games, the Celtics offense has been down throughout January (19th in the league for the month).

 
Bucks small icon 3. Bucks (34-17, LW 5). Great stat from Justin Kubatko: In beating the Pacers on Friday night, the Bucks became the first team in NBA history to score 80+ points in the first half of consecutive road games. They scored 140+ in those road games as well. That’s just one sign of a hot Milwaukee team that has won 6-of-7 with a top-10 offense and defense in that stretch. Tough tests this week though with the Clippers and Heat, both at the Fiserv Forum.

 
Nuggets small icon 4. Nuggets (35-16, LW 1). Bones Hyland has become one of the hottest names on the trade market — Denver (particularly coach Michael Malone) is ready to move on, and Hyland wants to be somewhere he gets a little more run. Expect a deal to get done in the next week, and what the Nuggets want in return is some defense (they aren’t going to get much for Hyland alone, but they are looking). Denver went 1-2 on its recent road trip and it wasn’t just P.J. Tucker causing them second-half problems — they almost blew a second-half lead against the Pelicans, then got blown out in the second half by the Bucks.

 
Cavaliers small icon 5. Cavaliers (31-22, LW 8). Donovan Mitchell is back, but while he was out Darius Garland has stepped up and ran the offense well, making his All-Star case (it’s not going to be enough in a crowded East, at least not this season). Mitchell is a deserving starter but likely is the lone Cavalier to make it this season (Evan Mobley will play in the Rising Stars Challenge Friday night). The Cavaliers would love to be buyers at the trade deadline and fill that 3&D wing spot, but no long-term answers appear to be out there on the market, meaning Isaac Okoro will continue to get his chance to prove that job should be his.

 
Nets small icon 6. Nets (31-19, LW 6). Brooklyn has gone 4-6 since Kevin Durant went out, with Kyrie Irving carrying the load averaging 31.2 points per game in that stretch, shooting 41.4% from 3 and dishing out 7.1 assists per night. Nic Claxton playing the best basketball of his career of late has helped their cause the last 10, too. Minimal Brooklyn buzz at the trade deadline, not sure they will make a move one way or the other, just wait for KD to get healthy and make their run at the postseason. (Durant said he wants to be back and play in the All-Star Game in two weeks, we’ll see. The smart move might be to hold him out past the ASG and let him get an extra week of rest.)

 
Grizzlies small icon 7. Grizzlies (32-18, LW 4). There is not a lot of talk from sources about the Grizzlies being eager to make a big splash at the deadline, but no team may be better positioned to do so. Memphis has a boatload of picks they can trade, a very movable contract in Danny Green (who made his return this week), and if they could land someone who would spark their half-court offense, it would make a lot of sense. That said, this has been a franchise with a build-from-within mindset and that doesn’t seem likely to suddenly change with a bold move. Memphis dropped all five games on their recent road trip, and how much they miss Steven Adams doing all the little things is painfully obvious (he is out another month or so).

 
Heat small icon 8. Heat (29-23, LW 9). The Heat are looking for a trade at the deadline, ideally help at the four — hello Jae Crowder — or a way to move Kyle Lowry for an upgrade at the point. However, neither option seems likely. Miami has played better and looked more dangerous of late as they start to get healthy, having won 8-of-11, but then they have a loss like the one to Charlotte that makes you understand why Heat fans might be the angriest on Twitter (according to a recent study). Miami has been winning thanks to a couple of All-Star level players in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, but it’s unlikely the coaches will give the Heat two All-Stars as reserves. The smart money is on Adebayo making the cut, coaches love the way he plays the game, but both are on the bubble.

 
Kings small icon 9. Kings (28-21, LW 7). With the Kings looking every bit the playoff team sitting third in the West, they are active at the trade deadline trying to improve their defense — the thing that would hold them back from winning a round in the postseason. All sorts of rumors about them chasing the 76ers’ Mattise Thybulle, but there are other quality defenders available they might go after. The Kings are 1-1 to start their seven-game road trip, but this is a relatively soft trip (two games against the Rockets, one against the Spurs) and it’s a chance for them to rack up more wins and solidify their spot in the top four in the league.

 
Warriors small icon 10. Warriors (26-24, LW 14). Is this the Warriors run we’ve all been waiting for? They are largely healthy (save Andre Iguodala) and have won 5-of-7, climbing up to fifth in the West as of this writing. Don’t expect an in-season trade to spark the Warriors, it’s generally not been Bob Myers MO anyway, but unless they want to see what they can get for James Wiseman — and sources say the Warriors remain reluctant to part with the former No.2 pick — it’s difficult to see a meaningful move. Golden State has an interesting test against Denver on Thursday, but with the game being the second night of a back-to-back don’t expect peak Warriors.

 
Mavericks small icon 11. Mavericks (27-25, LW 12). The Mavericks have made it clear they are looking for a second star to put next to Luka Dončić, but unless the Raptors change their stance and throw Pascal Siakam into the trade mix, there isn’t that level of star out there. This ranking may be a little high for a team that has gone 4-8 in its last 12, but this team showed real grit getting a win over Phoenix in a game Doncic left early. Plus, they have Dončić, that makes them a threat any given night (ask the Pistons, who are the poster child reminder not to try and piss off Dončić). Starting Saturday in Golden State (on national television), the Mavericks hit the road for six-of-7 games.

 
Knicks small icon 12. Knicks (27-25, LW 10). Will the Knicks have an All-Star? There’s a case for both Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle, but both are on the bubble and it’s highly doubtful both of them get in. One, is more likely (as with the Adebayo and Butler situation in Miami). Remember it’s a vote of the coaches who pick the reserves, and they love the way Butler has shown to be a floor general in New York, that may win him the day. The Knicks are up against a tough schedule this week with the Heat, Clippers and 76ers.

 
Clippers small icon13. Clippers (29-25, LW 17). Los Angeles has won 6-of-7 and climbed to fourth in the West, yet the advanced stat projection systems aren’t sold they can sustain this. For example, fivethirtyeight.com predicts them to be a 44-win team (in a 5-way tie for 4-8 seeds with the Kings, Suns, Mavericks and Warriors). What the Clippers have going against them in the playoff push is the toughest remaining schedule in the league (based on opponent win percentage). The biggest bright spot of late has been the play of Norman Powell who has come off the bench and in January averaged 18.5 points a game shooting 47.8% from 3.

 
Jazz small icon 14. Jazz (26-26, LW 11).They are likely sellers at the trade deadline, but after this summer — particularly the Rudy Gobert trade — teams are cautious doing deals with Danny Ainge. Still, multiple teams are looking at Mike Conley and Malik Beasley, they are the most likely to be traded, with Jordan Clarkson available at the right price as well. Lauri Markkanen is not going to get traded at the deadline, but he is going to make the All-Star team this season, he is all but a lock — and it is well deserved.

 
Suns small icon 15. Suns (27-25, LW 16). Phoenix is going to do something at the trade deadline, at least trading away Jae Crowder, but as time has gone on the package they are going to get back for him has shrunk (other teams see him as a rental at this point). Milwaukee is rumored to be the frontrunner, but the Heat still get mentioned even if there is no way to put that trade together smoothly. The real wild card for the Suns, both at the deadline and into the offseason, is new primary owner Mat Ishbia — are the Suns going to be bigger spenders? What are the limits? What direction does the new owner want to see the team move? Winners of 6-of-7, Friday the Suns head out on a five-game East Coast road trip that includes Boston and Brooklyn.

 
16. Timberwolves (27-26, LW 18). Minnesota has won 5-of-7 to start creeping up the standings in the East, and a lot of that is driven by Anthony Edwards. He is averaging 32 points per game in his last five games, shooting 51.2% from 3 in that stretch, grabbing 6.8 rebounds and dishing out 5.6 assists. He’s got to take care of the ball better — also 4.8 turnovers a game — but you can see what the future looks like in Minnesota. As for Karl-Anthony Towns, he remains out with a strained calf that has sidelined him for two months, and there is no current timetable for his return.

 
Thunder small icon 17. Thunder (24-26, LW 15). Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will unquestionably be named an All-Star reserve on Thursday (there was a good case for him to be named a starter but he wasn’t going to win a popularity contest against Curry and Dončić. His play, along with Josh Giddey and others has the Thunder on the cusp of the postseason (11th in the West as of this writing, one game back of the Pelicans). One thing this OKC push for the playoffs has this going for it: The Thunder have the easiest remaining schedule in the league (based on opponent win percentage).

 
Hawks small icon 18. Hawks (25-26, LW 19). While the Hawks have given lip service to the new front office wanting to keep John Collins, the price asked in return for him has reportedly dropped, a clear sign they actually are ready to move on (as is he), but the remaining three years, $78.2 million on his contract has slowed teams from making the kind of offer the Hawks had hoped for. Still, expect a deal to get done. There are also reports of the Hawks getting calls about Bogdan Bogdanović, who isn’t a great fit with Dejounte Murray and Trae Young in the backcourt, if the plan is to stick with those two then moving on from Bogdanovic makes sense. However, with a new front office heading into its first trade deadline, nobody is quite sure what to expect.

 
Pelicans small icon 19. Pelicans (26-26, LW 13). The Pelicans have dropped nine straight games and have fallen from the ranks of the elite in the West. Injuries to Zion Williamson (still out with a strained hamstring, he was voted an All-Star starter but don’t expect him to play) and Brandon Ingram (back from his foot injury, but he doesn’t look like himself yet) certainly have a big role in the slide. However, so does the lack of defense from New Orleans — opponents are shooting a league-best 75.2% in the restricted area against them (via basketball-reference). Willie Green had this team playing quality defense to start the season, but some shooting luck was involved, and it has caught up with them.

 
Raptors small icon 20. Raptors (23-29, LW 22). Will they or won’t they? The entire trade deadline seems to be hanging in the balance, waiting to see what the Toronto Raptors are going to do. The buzz was the Raptors wanted to see what happened on their current road trip through the West before deciding, they are 2-2 so far with games left against the Jazz, Rockets and Grizzlies. The smart money is on Gary Trent Jr. getting traded, but what about the big three of Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakiam? The Raptors may listen to offers for them, but getting them to part with one of those players will take a massive deal.

 
Wizards small icon 21. Wizards (24-26, LW 24).Is this ranking too low? Probably. The Wizards are winners of six in a row, and they are 12-5 over the last five weeks, with a +5.3 net rating in their last 15 games (fourth best in the league. Bradley Beal is still averaging 22 points a game this season (in the 30 he has played), but during this streak it’s become clear Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis are more critical to the Wizards’ success right now. Kuzma will want to be paid this summer because of it.

 
Blazers small icon 22. Trail Blazers (24-25, LW 25). Chauncey Billups leans hard into his starting five — Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart, Jerami Grant, and Jusuf Nurkic — but it’s been a little above average offensively and a little below average defensively, giving it a +1.4 net rating (via Cleaning the Glass). Don’t expect the Blazers to get much bench help at the trade deadline, while some rumors are swirling it sounds more like the Trail Blazers will ride the roster they have the rest of the way. That means a lot of Damian Lillard, who should be a lock All-Star reserve (and frankly a lock All-NBA player at the end of the season).

 
Lakers small icon 23. Lakers 24-28, LW 23). The Lakers made one trade landing Rui Hachimura and are looking to do more — likely sending out Patrick Beverley — but this would be another minor move, looking for a player who is a better fit but not going to move the needle all that much. The focus for the next week will be less on the trades that do or do not happen and more on LeBron James passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. As it should be, this is a historic moment in the league. However, while all that is going on the Lakers need to start stringing together some wins if they are going to climb up into the playoff picture — they can’t just keep talking about how close they are to the playoffs. Anthony Davis being back in the starting lineup should help.

 
Pacers small icon 24. Pacers (24-28, LW 20). Indiana is 1-9 since Tyrese Haliburton went down injured, a sign of how much he means to this team and why he should unquestionably be an All-Star this year. The Pacers reached a contract extension with Myles Turner that is a good deal for both sides — Turner came out of this with a lot of money and a couple of seasons of security, and the Pacers locked down a shot blocking and defensive force who pairs well with Haliburton (and is on a still tradable contract, if it comes to that). The Pacers have slid down to 10th in the East and need to pick up some wins this week against the Lakers, Kings and Cavaliers.

 
Bulls small icon 25. Bulls (23-27, LW 21). While there was a lot of early buzz about the Bulls’ potential to make some big trade deadline moves, things are quiet now. The market for Nikola Vucevic is not strong, and while teams are calling about Alex Caruso the Bulls don’t want to give him up. Maybe those moves are coming this summer. For now, the Bulls cruise along sitting just outside the play-in in the East, but with some winnable games this week against the Hornets, Trail Blazers and Spurs.

 
Magic small icon 26. Magic 20-31, LW 26). While this team is lottery bound — and more likely to make a big move this offseason rather than now at the deadline — there are real signs of hope. And not just Paolo Banchero (who will play in the All-Star Friday Night Rising Stars challenge), the pairing of Wendell Carter Jr. and the just-back Jonathan Isaac can form a formidable front line. The Magic pulled off an impressive win in Philadelphia to start a four-game road trip (it’s a baseball two-game series against the Sixers, so it is going to be tough to sweep that one).

 
Hornets small icon 27. Hornets (15-37, LW 27). One of the few sellers at the trade deadline, they will trade just about anyone on the roster not named Ball: Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, Kelly Oubre Jr., Mason Plumlee and P.J. Washington are all available. Good luck finding someone to take on Hayward’s $31.5 million next season, but they can try. Washington may be on this list, but the Hornets like him so it will take a strong offer to pry him free.

 
Pistons small icon 28. Pistons (13-39, LW 28). More and more it looks like they will hold on to Bojan Bogdanovic through the trade deadline. The Pistons have not backed off their demand of an unprotected first to get Bogdanovic (plus matching salary) and teams are unwilling to part with the pick. The Pistons want to make a step forward next season and be part of the play-in, once Cade Cunningham returns healthy, and Bogdanovic would be a good veteran to have with that young core as they take a step forward. All that said, never say never, a Bogdanovic trade could happen.

 
Rockets small icon 29. Rockets (12-38, LW 29). Is this the trade deadline where Eric Gordon finally gets moved? Both he and Kevin Porter Jr. are available and the Rockets are looking for picks or young players back — they are all in on the Wembanyama sweepstakes and are not looking to win it all now. That said, the Rockets did snap their 13-game losing streak with a couple of wins recently (beating the Timberwolves and Pistons). The Rockets have three players — Jabari Smith Jr., Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun — in the All-Star weekend Rising Stars Game.

 
Spurs small icon 30. Spurs (14-37, LW 30). Rookie Jeremy Sochan is one of the rookies headed to Salt Lake City later this month for the All-Star weekend Rising Stars challenge. It’s a just reward for his play. One of the biggest holes in his game had been his free throw shooting, but in mid-December he switched to shooting a funky one-handed motion, and as Kevin O’Connor of the Ringer noted, he’s hitting 75% of his free throws since the change. He’s also started to knock down his 3s. The Spurs may have something here.

Brianna Stewart heads to New York on first day of WNBA free agency

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Former MVP Breanna Stewart is headed to New York.

The most coveted free agent this offseason, who won the WNBA MVP award in 2018, announced on social media that she was going to New York with a photo of her in a Liberty shirt. Stewart had spent her entire career in Seattle since the Storm drafted her first in 2016. She won two championships with the team in 2018 and 2020.

The 28-year-old wing has averaged 20.3 points and 8.6 rebounds in her WNBA career. She missed the 2019 season with an Achilles injury.

By coming to New York it brings Stewart closer to home. She grew up in Syracuse which is an hour flight from New York. It also is an easier flight to Spain to see her wife Marta’s family.

New York representatives, including coach Sandy Brondello and owner Clara Wu Tsai met with Stewart in Turkey last week. Stewart had narrowed her choices down to Seattle and New York before choosing the Liberty.

The move turns the Liberty into an instant championship contender. New York is one of the WNBAs original franchises, but has never won a championship. The Liberty already added 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones and Kayla Thornton through a three-way deal to complement 2020 No. 1 draft pick Sabrina Ionescu.

The news was met with elation on social media by Jones, Ionescu and Nets star Kevin Durant, who said on a podcast that he had reached out to Stewart to get her to come to New York.

Stewart was the second big-name free agent to announce her intentions to play for another team this season. Candace Parker said last weekend that she was going to sign with the Las Vegas Aces and officially did.

“As I’ve gone through free agency this time around, of course I’m thinking of where I can compete for my third championship, but the words home and family are what I kept coming back to,” Parker said. “After evaluating the landscape together with my family, we’ve decided the Las Vegas Aces are the right organization for us at this point in our lives. To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

Wednesday was the first day that free agents could sign with teams. Other moves announced included:

— Brittney Sykes with Washington

— Lexie Brown and Stephanie Talbot with Los Angeles

— Teaira McCowan with Dallas

— Alysha Clark with Las Vegas

Many free agents were waiting for Stewart to make her decision, including Courtney Vandersloot.

Vandersloot announced on social media that she wasn’t returning to Chicago, where she had spent her entire career. She has led the league in assists six times during her 12-year career and helped the Sky win the 2021 WNBA championship.

“To the Sky organization who drafted the little guard from a mid-major and believed in me from the jump, I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Vandersloot wrote on Instagram. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have realized my dreams because of you. Although I never planned for this day to come, I have decided it is time for me to pursue a new beginning.”

Stewart and Vandersloot are currently playing together in Turkey.

While Stewart and Vandersloot will be playing for different WNBA teams this season, Brittney Griner, who is also a free agent, announced in December when she returned home from her 10-month ordeal in Russia that she planned to remain with the Phoenix Mercury. Her long-time Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi is also a free agent, but she too is expected to go back to Phoenix.

Weather strands Pistons in Dallas, forces postponement of Wednesday game vs. Wizards

Winter storm, Minneapolis, December 2022
David Joles/Star Tribune via Getty Images
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The Detroit Pistons talked smack to Luka Dončić and paid the price, watching him drop 53 on them Monday night.

Then the Pistons have been stranded in Dallas ever since. In recent days, freezing temperatures have grounded more than 2,000 flights out of both the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Love Field, impacting thousands of passengers. The weather also has hit the Pistons, who were supposed to fly home to Detroit to take on the Wizards on Wednesday night. The league has officially postponed that game.

“Due to severe weather conditions in the Dallas area, the Pistons have been unable to fly back to Detroit after their game on Monday at American Airlines Center,” the league said in its official release. “The date for the rescheduled game will be announced at a later time.”

The Wizards have won six in a row and are 12-5 in their last 17, jumping them back into the play-in picture in the East.

This is not the only game that could be lost due to the weather in Dallas, the Pelicans — fresh off a loss to the Nuggets on Tuesday — may not be able to fly into the city for their Thursday game.

Freezing temperatures are expected to continue in Dallas through Wednesday, warming up slightly on Thursday, but by Friday getting up to a relatively balmy 50 degrees and sunny.