NBA Power Rankings: Nine-game win streak launches Jazz to No.2


Nobody is catching the LeBron James and the Lakers so far this season, but Shaq is wrong about the Jazz, who have won nine in a row with a quality ensemble cast and elite defense (kind of like the 2004 Pistons, a team Shaq might be familiar with).

Lakers small icon 1. Lakers (14-4 Last Week No. 1). At points the Lakers seem to get a little bored and play with their food — blowing a 19-point lead to the Warriors, for example — but most of the time it doesn’t matter because their defense is better than the one that won them a title last season (2.1 per 100 possessions better, a significant amount). The other difference is the Lakers are more of a threat from three, shooting 38.9% as a team this season (fifth in the league), up from 34.9% last season. The Lakers have four games remaining on this road trip, but they are 10-0 on the road this season.

Jazz small icon 2. Jazz (13-4 LW 5). Winners of nine in a row, the Jazz have been elite on both ends of the court in this run. The biggest difference between this Jazz team and the one that lost to Denver in the playoffs? Point Guard Mike Conley is back to playing at a near All-Star level. Last season, as he struggled with injury and adjusting to a new team, he was not himself and was pretty pedestrian. Now, he’s putting up 16.4 points a game, shooting 42.2% from three, organizing the offense like a veteran, and giving the Jazz another quality perimeter defender. Donovan Mitchell is out Wednesday (and maybe longer) due to a concussion.

Clippers small icon3. Clippers (13-5, LW 2). The Clippers’ win streak ended in Atlanta because they were without Kawhi Leonard and Paul George due to COVID-19 protocols, and L.A. is expected to be without the pair through the end of the week (they have a back-to-back against Miami and Orlando Thursday and Friday). One bright spot for the Clippers this season is the play of Nicolas Batum, who has dropped some weight and found a role in the starting five, scoring 10 points a game, shooting 45.3% from three, and keeping the ball moving on offense.

Bucks small icon 4. Bucks (10-6, LW 4). It’s not the losses to the Nets and Lakers recently that are concerning — teams evolve over the course of a season. Being a step behind those squads now doesn’t matter, it’s about where they are in June during the playoffs. What is concerning is the team’s three-point shooting let them down in those losses — they shot 30.3% in those games, shooting in big moments remains an ongoing concern in Milwaukee. It is also worth noting that Khris Middleton had the ball in the clutch against the Nets, not Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Sixers small icon 5. 76ers (12-6 LW 11). While Joel Embiid is rightfully getting a lot of attention — he is playing at an MVP level and dominated two games against the Celtics this past week — people are missing how well Tobias Harris is playing reunited with Doc Rivers. He’s averaging 19.8 points a game and is doing it very efficiently, shooting 45.8% from three (his 61.5 true shooting percentage is a career-best). Philly is +22.6 points per 100 possessions better with Harris on the court this season, and while there is a lot of noise in that stat, it speaks to how well he is playing so far. Great test against the Lakers Wednesday.

Celtics small icon 6. Celtics (10-6, LW 6). Boston’s 110.1 defensive rating this season (16th in the league) is the worst of the Brad Stevens era. That defense has been a little better the past couple of weeks (108.7, 10th best in the NBA over the Celtics’ last six games), but they had no answer for Joel Embiid in losing both games of a set to Philly. The Celtics have 6-of-7 coming up on the road, where they are 5-4 this season (and the one home game is the Lakers).

Nuggets small icon 7. Nuggets (10-7 LW 12). Denver has finally found a groove, winning four in a row, including taking both games in a set from Phoenix (both in overtime). The key has been better defense, plus a more balanced offense not needing Nikola Jokic to carry everything (he is no longer averaging a triple-double for the season, he “only” is dishing out 9.3 assists a game). Michael Porter Jr. is back in the rotation and hit 10-of-18 shots on his way to a team-high 30 points, including six made threes, in a win against Dallas.

Nets small icon 8. Nets (11-8, LW 3). The two recent losses to the red-hot Collin Sexton and the Cavaliers continue to highlight Brooklyn’s defensive issues — the Cavs had struggled on offense coming in then had a 124 offensive rating in those two games. That defense puts a lot of pressure on Brooklyn’s big three, but the win against the Bucks — with Kevin Durant draining the game-winner — shows the trio can handle it, and this team’s offense can still take it a long way.

Pacers small icon 9. Pacers (10-7, LW 7). Good news, Domantas Sabonis’ knee injury turned out just to be a bruise, and he is day-to-day and will not miss much time. Malcolm Brogdon has been overlooked a little this season nationally and deserves a shout out. The offense fell on his shoulders (especially after Victor Oladipo was traded), and he has averaged 22.7 points and 7.2 assists a game as the primary shot creator. He is playing at an All-Star level and drained the game-winner to beat a frisky Orlando team in overtime.

Spurs small icon 10. Spurs (9-8, LW 8). After a rough start to the season, LaMarcus Aldridge seems to be finding his groove again, scoring at least 23 points a game in each of the last four Spurs’ contests. What’s changed? He’s knocking down his midrange shots again, especially from the top of the key and left elbow areas. Patty Mills and Rudy Gay continue to not get enough praise for their play off the bench in San Antonio this year. Big tests against Boston and Denver coming up this week.

Blazers small icon 11. Trail Blazers (9-7, LW 9). Portland has gone 1-2 so far with both CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic out of the lineup, and that win is only because a rested Damian Lillard went off for 39 against New York. The Blazers defense was bottom five in the league before Nurkic went down — it is 29th, second-worst in the league, now (using Cleaning the Glass stats) — and if the only way they can win games until he returns is Lillard going nuclear, Portland will start to slide down in the standings (and these rankings). Starting Thursday, the team is on the road for six straight.

Suns small icon 12. Suns (8-7 LW 10). After that red-hot start, Phoenix has lost four of five as a couple of unexpected problems have started to catch up with them. One is that despite having Chris Paul and Devin Booker, the Suns are a below-average pick-and-roll team (20th in the league via Synergy Sports). The other is that they have struggled in clutch games, ones within three points in the final three minutes. Phoenix’s offense has not been good enough to cover for defensive lapses of late, and these Suns need it to.

Grizzlies small icon 13. Grizzlies (7-6, LW 13). They haven’t played a game since our last rankings due to coronavirus protocols, making it tough to move them up or down in the standings. When thinking about players who look ready for their first All-Star appearance this season, Ja Morant leaps to mind in the West — except he likely will not play enough games to sway voters, or the coaches who round out the roster. Morant has only played in five games this season (but has looked great in those games).

Warriors small icon 14. Warriors (9-8, LW 14). Steve Kerr finally adjusted the starting five — which had struggled — in a win over the hapless Timberwolves, moving Kevon Looney into the starting five and bringing rookie James Wiseman off the bench. That may be a smart move, taking some of the pressure off Wiseman as he tries to develop his game. Kelly Oubre‘s name is already popping up in trade rumors; expect that to continue through the deadline. Also, expect Stephen Curry to continue to play at an MVP level.

Hawks small icon 15. Hawks (9-8 LW 15). One of the real surprises this season is Atlanta having a top 10 defense (seventh in the league overall, fifth using Cleaning the Glass’ garbage time filter). A couple of players deserve credit for that. In the paint it’s Clint Capela, who is blocking 2.3 shots a game and grabbing 14.8 rebounds a game, shoring up real problems for the Hawks last season. The other is De'Andre Hunter, whose game made a leap this season on offense — he was a liability on that end last season — and his defense on the perimeter has been important for the Hawks. Cam Reddish also has played strong defense (but nagging injuries, including Achilles tightness, have limited his minutes).

Raptors small icon 16. Raptors (7-10, LW 18). Toronto has started to find a groove, wining 5-of-7 overall and earning splits of sets with two good teams, the Pacers and Heat. The biggest change is an improved defense, which is more than four points per 100 possessions better in that last seven than it was previously. It also helps that OG Anunoby is on a hot streak, and seems to be hitting every three he takes the past week. Good measuring stick game Wednesday against Milwaukee.

Mavericks small icon 17. Mavericks (8-9, LW 16). Rick Carlisle talked about it this week: Dallas is trying to get Kristaps Porzingis the ball in the post more (six a game this season, nearly double last season). Not that he’s trying to make Shaq happy, but teams are guarding the 7’3″ Porzingis with smaller players because he tends to live on the perimeter; Dallas wants to punish teams inside for making that choice. Dallas is starting to get players healthy and back from COVID-19 protocols, and they need them with two games against the Jazz then two games against the Suns this week.

Cavaliers small icon 18. Cavaliers (8-9, LW 24). Taking two games from star-studded Brooklyn has Cleveland moving up in the rankings this week. As shown in one of those games, the Cavaliers have been one of the better clutch teams in the league this season behind Collin Sexton’s play. One question looming on the horizon: Where does Kevin Love fit in when he returns? With the strong play of Larry Nance Jr. this season and the additions of Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince, there are fewer front court minutes to go around in Cleveland.

Knicks small icon 19. Knicks (8-11, LW 17). The Knicks lost the last three games of their road trip — and come home to some tough games against the Cavaliers and Clippers — but there are still a lot of bright spots in Madison Square Garden right now. One of those is point guard Immanuel Quickley, who became the first Knicks rookie with more than 30 points and five made threes in a game off the bench. Also, RJ Barrett is finding his stroke from three, he has hit 8-of-18 (44.4%) over his last six games, not a high volume, but at least they are now going in.

Magic small icon 20. Magic (8-10 LW 26). When Orlando made the playoffs the past couple of years, it was because the Magic could count on their defense to keep them in games — it was top 10 in the league the past two seasons. It’s 19th in the NBA this season, 16th over the past two weeks, and the return of Evan Fournier to the lineup is not going to solve that problem. As for bright spots, it may have been a week ago, but it was so impressive — watch Cole Anthony’s game-winner against Minnesota one more time.

Heat small icon 21. Heat (6-10 LW 22). It’s been hard for Miami to gain any traction with Jimmy Butler, Avery Bradley, and Tyler Herro all out for a couple of weeks. Butler remains on the sidelines going into Wednesday against Denver, with Bradley and Herro questionable for the game as of this writing. The only two Heat players to appear in every game so far are Duncan Robinson and Precious Achiuwa. On the bright side, Kendrick Nunn seemed to shake off his sophomore slump last week and looked more like the rookie version of himself.

Hornets small icon 22. Hornets (7-10, LW 19). Charlotte has one big thing going for it as it tries to earn a spot at the play-in games in the East: It is one of the best clutch teams in the league. In games within five points within the last five minutes, they outscore opponents by more than 50 points per 100 possessions. Which is insane, but they did it again this last week when Gordon Hayward hit a driving game winner.

Bulls small icon 23. Bulls (7-10, LW 21). Losing Wendell Carter Jr. for the next month (at least) is a real blow. He is Chicago’s best pick-setter and a favorite of Zach LaVine and Coby White, and on defense he was their best rim protector. Don’t be surprised if Billy Donovan leans on more Thaddeus Young at center, that has worked for the Bulls. There are other reasons to feel positive in Chicago — LaVine’s improved playmaking, Lauri Markkanen starting to look more comfortable back on the court, Denzel Valentine being solid — but losses to the Lakers and Celtics slowed any momentum. Two game set coming up next week with New York will be a good measuring stick.

Rockets small icon 24. Rockets (7-9 LW 25). Just a sign of how different things are in Houston this season: The Rockets are taking 7.8 fewer threes per game than last season (and their offensive rating is down 4.7 points per 100, although a lot of factors go into that number). Undrafted two-way player Mason Jones has taken advantage of his expanded role since the Harden trade, having scored in double-digits in 3 of the last 5 games, including having 24 against the Spurs when he hit six three-pointers.

Thunder small icon 25. Thunder (7-9, LW 20). Watching Shai Gilgeous-Alexander play in person is a reminder of just how smooth, how smart, and how creative his game is — or ask Portland, as his 24 points led to an upset of the Blazers on Monday. Even with stellar play from SGA, the Thunder have the worst offense in the NBA this season and that has not paired well with their recent penchant for falling behind by 20 or more points. The Thunder have lost 6-of-8.

Pelicans small icon 26. Pelicans (5-10, LW 23). They have dropped 8-of-9, picking up their only win against the defenseless Kings. What is holding them back? The defense remains bottom five in the league despite Stan Van Gundy’s effort, and they hit the second fewest number of threes a game in the league right now — shooting remains an issue. J.J. Redick is shooting 30% from three. It’s not a surprise that Redick and Lonzo Ball‘s names are coming up in trade rumors, but both are free agents after this season (Ball is restricted), which limits what teams will give up for them.

Kings small icon 27. Kings (6-10, LW 27). Sacramento got a win over the Kings and some time off to rest (thanks to games against Memphis being postponed), all things it needed as it’s about to take its league-worst defense out on the road for four games. While there have been bright spots in the backcourt with De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton (the steal of the draft so far), Marvin Bagley III’s play is concerning. Luke Walton gives him every chance, but his inefficient 13.3 points and 8 rebounds a game, combined with defensive lapses, have not been pretty. The new Sacramento front office does not have the same emotional investment in Bagley as the one who drafted him.

Pistons small icon 28. Pistons (4-13 LW 29). A lot of pundits balked when Detroit inked Jerami Grant to a three-year, $60 million deal for a guy who had not been an elite offensive option before (*raises hand*). The Pistons nailed this, he has been everything they thought this season. He is averaging 24.3 points a game with a 57.7 true shooting percentage (about the league average), while carrying more of an offense than he ever has before. He’s playing at an All-Star level and is the big bright spot for the Pistons this season. Detroit has 6-of-7 on the road coming up (and the home game is the Lakers).

29. Timberwolves (4-12, LW 30). The Timberwolves having a bottom-five defense in the league was expected this season, but the offense was supposed to cover a lot of that up. Instead, it is bottom five in the league as well. A lot of it is simply all-world offensive player Karl-Anthony Towns has played in just four games due to a wrist injury then COVID-19, but the struggles of this team highlight the shortcomings of the roster built around Towns. Things don’t get easier with 8-of-11 coming up on the road for Minnesota.

Wizards small icon 30. Wizards (3-10 LW 28). Washington is back on the court and Bradley Beal scored 33 against John Wall and the Rockets — Beal has scored at least 25 points in every game he has played this season. His 34.4 points a game continues to lead the league in scoring. Yet it is not nearly enough on a team with a bottom-five defense. Beal and Russell Westbrook have not gotten on the same page yet. Meanwhile, the sharks — GMs from other teams — continue to circle the Wizards thinking about how they can pick Beal off.

Coach, front office updates from around NBA: Fizdale headed to Suns bench


Things continue to move and settle around the NBA as teams find coaches (well, except Toronto) and some front office personnel move around. Here is the latest around the league.

• Former Grizzlies and Knicks head coach David Fizdale, an associate general manager with the Jazz last season, is returning to the bench as an assistant on Frank Vogel’s staff in Phoenix, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Fizdale and Vogel are tight, remember Fizdale was in the bubble on Vogel’s staff when the Lakers won a ring. Give new owner Mat Ishbia credit for spending, he made Kevin Young the highest-paid assistant coach in the league to stay with the team and has now hired a former head coach to be a top assistant. That’s a lot of coaching firepower, now the Suns just need to fill out the roster with some firepower around Kevin Durant and Devin Booker.

• If you want to become a general manager in the NBA, the best way is to be an assistant GM for Sam Presti in Oklahoma City. Apparently. Presti has had five different assistant GMs under him and now all five have gone on to be general managers elsewhere.

The latest is Will Dawkins, who will be the GM and No. 2 in the power structure in Washington under new team president (and former Clippers GM) Michael Winger, reports Josh Robbins and David Aldridge of The Athletic.

Also in the front office in Washington is former Hawks GM Travis Schlenk. That’s a lot of brain power and good hires. The question remains how much freedom owner Ted Leonsis — a guy who demanded his team do whatever it took just to make the playoffs every year — will give Winger, Dawkins and company. The team has big decisions this summer with Kyle Kuzma as a free agent and Kristaps Porzingis expected to opt out.

• The Milwaukee Bucks finally made the hiring of Adrian Griffin as their head coach official.

“Adrian is a widely-respected coach and former player, who brings great leadership and experience to our team,” Bucks General Manager Jon Horst said in a statement. “His championship-level coaching pedigree, character, basketball acumen and ability to connect with and develop players make him the ideal choice to lead our team. He has earned this opportunity.”

Will Herro make his Finals debut for Heat in Game 3? Don’t be so sure.


MIAMI — Game 3 has always been the target for a Tyler Herro return to the Heat.

Herro has been wearing bucket hats on the sidelines since his devastating hand injury against the Bucks, but he’s been working out with the team and going through practices for more than a week preparing for his return. Is it time for Herro to bring even more shooting and shot creation to the Heat’s rotation?

Don’t be so sure. Both Ros Gold-Onwude — the former WNBA player turned quality analyst for ESPN — and veteran Heat beat reporter Ira Winderman caution against expecting a Herro return.

If there is pain and swelling, can the Heat put him out there? This is the Finals, but this is also a 23-year-old under a long contract, and if there is a heightened risk of further injury Miami may need to protect the player from himself.

If Herro returns, expect him to come off the bench in a very limited role. It’s a huge ask to take someone who has not played in an NBA game since basically tax day (April 16 was his last game) and throw him into the highest level of basketball anywhere in the world. Spoelstra may give him a four- or five-minute run just as a test (maybe at the start of the second quarter, when Nikola Jokić sits) and see how things go.

On the surface, you can say Herro would be what the Heat need — a 20.1 point-a-game scorer this season with the best handles on the team, able to create his own shot or shoot over the top of the defense (37.8% from 3 this season). Dig a little deeper, however, and that fit is not as smooth in this series. On offense, he can be a ball-stopper at points against a Nuggets team the Heat want to keep in motion. The bigger concern is on defense, where he is a clear target (and because of that Spoelstra can’t play him with Duncan Robinson, even in the minutes Jokić sits). This might have been a tough series for a healthy Herro.

If he can play and come off the bench for short runs, he could boost the Heat offense this series.

Just don’t be so sure he’s ready to go.


Silver says NBA won’t mind if Wembanyama’s debut comes in Sacramento, not Las Vegas


DENVER (AP) — Victor Wembanyama’s next couple of weeks are now set: He’ll be playing in the French league finals starting this weekend, and then the San Antonio Spurs will almost certainly make him the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft on June 22.

And if that means the French star’s summer league debut comes in Sacramento instead of Las Vegas in early July, the league is fine with that.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league doesn’t have a preference regarding the site of Wembanyama’s first game with the Spurs. While the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas is the biggest – all 30 teams attend – and commands the most attention, there are smaller summer leagues that precede the Vegas event by a few days. Sacramento plays host to one of those events, and the Spurs are one of six teams headed there this year.

“All summer leagues are NBA Summer Leagues,” Silver told The Associated Press. “I’m very supportive of the Sacramento summer league. I remember when (Kings owner Vivek Ranadive) first came to the league and said this was something he wanted to do. I said, ‘As long as you have enough other teams who support it and players who want to play in it, it’s a good thing.’”

The Kings might be getting a lot more buzz than usual this summer. Not only are the Spurs headed there, but so is Charlotte – which holds the No. 2 pick. And it just so happens that the Spurs and Hornets will open Sacramento summer play against one another, potentially setting the stage for a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup a few days before Vegas even starts.

If Wembanyama plays in Sacramento, he’d be the first No. 1 pick that didn’t debut in Las Vegas since Markelle Fultz for Philadelphia in 2017. The 76ers played in Utah’s summer league that year before going to Vegas.

Other recent No. 1 picks have opened in Las Vegas with big-crowd, big-spectacle atmospheres. Paolo Banchero’s debut in Vegas for Orlando last summer had John Wall and DeMar DeRozan sitting courtside, as was Jerry West – three guys who didn’t need to see the scalpers who were working outside the arena for hours before the game. Zion Williamson played only nine minutes in his debut in 2019, in a game that was stopped by an earthquake, and his debut got LeBron James and Anthony Davis to grab courtside seats.

The Spurs have not said whether Wembanyama will play in the Sacramento event, which starts on July 3, and almost certainly won’t address the topic until they actually draft him in a little over two weeks. Wembanyama is expected to be with the Spurs in Las Vegas as well; the league has already announced him as one of the participants for its inaugural NBA Con – which runs there from July 7-9 and will celebrate many aspects of basketball culture.

“What’s made the summer leagues so valuable are really the media rights more than the individuals who buy tickets there, because it’s a very affordable experience,” Silver said. “So, the answer is, I want Victor to get playing court experience and I think the team – assuming it’s San Antonio – should make decisions completely independent of any commercial implications from where he debuts.”

Wembanyama’s Boulogne-Levallois team beat his former team, ASVEL, 3-1 in a French league semifinal series that ended Sunday. Monaco, the top seed in the league, awaits Wembanyama’s team in the best-of-five final that starts Saturday and could go until June 20 – two days before the draft.

“So proud of my guys,” Wembanyama tweeted Sunday after the semifinal win. “Job ain’t done tho.”

Wembanyama said in October that he’s 7-foot-3; some still say he’s 7-foot-4 or 7-foot-5, and given that he’s only 19, it’s certainly possible that he had a bit of growing left in recent months. Either way, he’s a generational talent who’ll come into the NBA with enormous hype, the likes of which probably hasn’t been seen since James went No. 1 overall to Cleveland in 2003.

“What I try to advise players – and I’m not making a prediction that he will or won’t live up to the hype – is to control what you can control, and I think what you can control is doing the work,” Silver said. “If he is in San Antonio, it’s an organization that led the way in terms of international scouting and signing of international players. Certainly, everyone would acknowledge they know how to develop players and particularly big men. And so, if I were in his shoes, or if I’m advising him, I’m saying, ‘Quickly become part of that organization and be a sponge and listen to the advice.’”

Add Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Ingram to USA World Cup roster

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The Team USA roster heading Manilla for the World Cup this summer just gets deeper and more athletic.

Two more players have committed to playing: Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. and the Pelicans scoring machine Brandon Ingram, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

We now have eight of the 12 players expected to represent the USA this summer:

Mikal Bridges
Jalen Brunson
Anthony Edwards
Tyrese Haliburton
Brandon Ingram
Jaren Jackson Jr.
Bobby Portis
Austin Reaves

Jackson Jr. brings rim-protecting defense plus the ability to space the floor needed by bigs in the international game. Ingram fits the style of scorer — from Kevin Durant back to Carmelo Anthony — that has always done well for Team USA in international competitions. Ingram averaged 24.7 points per game this season, but missed almost half the season due to a toe injury.

The World Cup takes place this summer in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia, featuring 32 teams from around the world. The USA is in Group C with Greece (with, likely, Giannis Antetokounmpo), New Zealand and Jordan. The World Cup is the primary qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics, so advancing as deep as possible matters (if the USA wins its group it likely stays on the other side of the bracket from Spain and France, removing obstacles to a deep run).

Warriors coach Steve Kerr is in charge of Team USA, with his assistant coaches being Erik Spoelstra (Heat), Tyronn Lue (Clippers) and Mark Few (Gonzaga).

The USA will have a training camp in Las Vegas, where they play Puerto Rico in an exhibition before heading to Abu Dhabi and then on to the World Cup, where the USA will play all its games in Manilla.

The World Cup starts Aug. 25 and continues through Sept. 10.