NBA Power Rankings: Can any team in the West catch the Utah Jazz?

Milwaukee Bucks v Utah Jazz
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The red-hot Utah Jazz remain on top of NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings, and considering the injuries to the teams in Los Angeles chasing them, can anyone catch Utah in the West?

Jazz small icon 1. Jazz (23-5 Last Week No. 1). For the first part of this amazing Utah run — now up to winning 18-of-19 — it was fair to say it came against a soft schedule. No more. The last four wins have come against Boston, Milwaukee, Miami, and Philadelphia (without Joel Embiid). The Jazz earned the respect of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who said they’re the “best team in the West.” The schedule doesn’t get any easier with two against the Clippers coming up (although L.A. is banged up right now). Looking at the West landscape, Utah has a real shot at the No. 1 seed.

Lakers small icon 2. Lakers (22-7, LW 2). Anthony Davis will be sidelined until likely after the All-Star break — and the Lakers should be cautious, they need Davis healthy for the playoffs — but it likely will not hurt the Lakers much. They have 6-of-8 at home before the All-Star break, and the schedule is generally soft. The Lakers are +5.3 per 100 this season when LeBron James is on the court without Davis, too. LeBron could strengthen his front-running MVP case the next couple of weeks without AD.

Clippers small icon3. Clippers (21-8, LW 5). Four Clippers starters — Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley, and Nicolas Batum — have missed time recently. Yet, Los Angeles has won four in a row and its offense has remained one of the best in the league thanks to Lou Williams looking like his vintage self. The Clips’ defense has fallen off in those games, understandable without George and Leonard. A two-game set against Utah this week will be interesting, but only if the Clippers have George and Leonard back for those games.

Nets small icon 4. Nets (18-12, LW 7). Brooklyn continues to be difficult to truly get a read on — they are 10-1 against teams over .500 but 8-11 against teams below that line. Its utter destruction of a top-10 defense in Golden State, or comeback against the Suns from 24 down, show what a fully functional Nets team could look like. Brooklyn has won three in a row, but its last loss was to a struggling Detroit team that put up 122 points on them, and their wins continue to be shootouts. Maybe games on the road against the Lakers and Clippers this weekend will give us a clearer picture.

Suns small icon 5. Suns (17-10 LW 6). Winners of 9-of-11, the Suns have been the second hottest team in the West the past couple of weeks. The offense has been top-10 in that stretch and at points carried by Devin Booker, who had scored at least 25 points in four-straight games before Tuesday’s loss to Brooklyn (he averaged 32.3 points in those four wins, shooting 48% from three). The Suns defense has been slightly below average the past couple of weeks — something to watch — but Booker and the offense has covered that up.

Sixers small icon 6. 76ers (18-10 LW 3). With no fans in most buildings, home-court advantage has been wiped away for much of the season — except for Philadelphia. The 76ers are 7-8 on the road but 11-2 at home. For some reason, the Sixers shoot worse and score seven fewer points a game on the road (maybe that’s random, but it doesn’t feel like it). Joel Embiid’s streak of scoring at least 25 points is up to 11 games (something only Wilt Chamberlain, Allen Iverson, and Charles Barkley have done in 76ers history), but he was out Monday with a sore back. Hopefully that is just day-to-day.

Blazers small icon 7. Trail Blazers (17-10, LW 12). It seems like every week we run another video in this space of a Damian Lillard game winner. That’s because the Trail Blazers may be the most clutch team in the league this season — they are +29 in games within five points in the final five minutes. That’s insanely good. Lillard has been so good I voted him an All-Star starter. And as promised, another Damian Lillard game-winner.

Bucks small icon 8. Bucks (16-12, LW 4). Four straight losses, but Giannis Antetokounmpo says fans should not panic. He’s right, it’s too early and some of the Bucks’ issues come from them experimenting in the regular season — switching on defense, having Antetokounmpo as the pick setter — in a way that should make them a better playoff seed. That said, the Bucks have the 13th ranked defense in the NBA and that does not bode well for the playoffs if not improved.

Nuggets small icon 9. Nuggets (15-12 LW 8). Nikola Jokic continues to play at an MVP level — expect him to be an All-Star Game starter — but the Nuggets continue to wait on bubble Jamal Murray to show up this season. The regular-season version of Murray has returned most of this season, and while he’s good — 18.5 points and 4.4 assists a game — he’s not “No. 2 player on a conference finals team” good. The advanced stats have him looking pedestrian this season, and Denver needs more than that. Maybe strong back-to-back 25-point outings — Sunday against the Lakers and Tuesday against the Celtics — will springboard a turnaround.

Spurs small icon 10. Spurs (16-11, LW 10). Jakob Poeltl is giving the Spurs quality minutes of late, 27 of them a night averaging 8.9 points and 8.3 rebounds a game since being inserted into the starting lineup. However, his 31.6% free throw percentage this season is on pace to be the worst for a single season in NBA history. Yes, worse than Wilt (38% was his lowest) or Shaq (42.2%). San Antonio is 2-0 to start their annual rodeo road trip with four more games to go.

Warriors small icon 11. Warriors (15-13, LW 9). While Stephen Curry going nuclear seemingly every night gets the headlines, Golden State is quietly playing good defense this season, eighth-best in the NBA. The Warriors are top-10 in halfcourt defense, but where they shine is in limiting transition points. They give up the fourth fewest transition opportunities to opponents and are third best defensively when teams do run. By the way, how hot is Curry? Even after the buzzer sounds Curry can hitting ridiculous shots, like an underhanded three.

Celtics small icon 12. Celtics (14-13, LW 11). If you want to pile on Boston for being 6-10 in their last 16 and looking pedestrian for much of it, go right ahead. They’ve earned it. Danny Ainge should get criticism for not grabbing Myles Turner when he had the chance last offseason. Just know we have not seen the Celtics anywhere near full strength yet: their four best players — Jason Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, and Marcus Smart — have played a total of 28 minutes together this season, for a total of 57 possessions. Boston simply has not been whole.

Pacers small icon 13. Pacers (14-14, LW 14). Jeremy Lamb has thrived as a scorer off the bench the past week (three games), averaging 13 points a game and helping spark a win against Detroit that stopped a three-game losing streak. The Pacers missed Doug McDermott and the shooting/spacing he brought to the starting lineup in a loss to Chicago (bruised right knee). When Lamb or McDermott or Myles Turner can help Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis, this becomes a tough team to beat.

Raptors small icon 14. Raptors (13-15, LW 17). Toronto has come up in Andre Drummond trade rumors, but don’t bet on that one happening, unless the Raptors want to throw Kyle Lowry in the deal (and they don’t); it has to be 3 or 4 players for one, and that kind of trade is much more difficult to pull off (and the Raptors will not want to surrender the good young players the Cavs would seek). Toronto’s impressive win against Milwaukee on Tuesday has them 5-2 in their last seven road games (they have two more coming up on the road, the Bucks and Timberwolves).

Knicks small icon 15. Knicks (14-15, LW 22). This is just very Tom Thibodeau: Julius Randle leads the NBA in total minutes played, with RJ Barrett fourth. Thibs leans heavily on guys he can trust to get him wins — and it’s working, the Knicks have won three in a row and 5-of-7 to put themselves solidly in the playoff/play-in spots in the East. Mitchell Robinson will be out 4-6 weeks following hand surgery, which is a real blow to the Knicks front line. Nerlens Noel got the start in his place against Houston — he had a solid game — and likely will stay in that role.

Hornets small icon 16. Hornets (13-15, LW 16). Injuries and COVID protocols forced coach James Borego to try a three-guard lineup with LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, and Devonte Graham — and it thrived. Charlotte beat Minnesota starting those three and the three-guard lineups are +25.6 per 100 with a ridiculously good offense. It’s small sample size theater, but worth revisiting for Charlotte. When the Hornets return to playing after having games postponed due to COVID-19 protocols, they enter a brutal stretch of the schedule, including six in a row on the road through the West starting Monday in Utah.

Mavericks small icon 17. Mavericks (13-15, LW 21). In its last seven games, Dallas has had the second-best offense in the NBA behind Luka Doncic playing at an All-NBA level again — he had 90 points over two games last weekend. The problem is the Dallas defense is 29th in the league in that stretch. Dallas has gone 5-2 in those seven games, but that kind of pace will be difficult to maintain if it cannot get some stops. Still, with the offense back on trade the Mavs are a threat to win every night.

Grizzlies small icon 18. Grizzlies (11-12 LW 23). Ja Morant has been dynamic in stretches since his return to the lineup, when he gets to the rim the Memphis offense thrives, but his jumper has been a struggle this season. Morant is shooting 26.5% on the four threes he takes a game, and while he doesn’t take many midrange shots he’s missing the ones he does take. It’s one of the areas his game can take a leap forward. Memphis sits as the nine seed right now, but with teams like Dallas surging behind them, the Grizzlies need to find some wins to stay in the West’s play-in mix.

Heat small icon 19. Heat (11-16 LW 20). In another sign of Miami’s struggles this season, the team is 1-10 against teams over .500 — a challenge considering the team is on a road swing through the West (they have lost back-to-back games to the Jazz and Clippers). The good news is the Heat defense that carried them in the bubble last season seems to be finding its footing, eighth best in the NBA over the last seven games. Jimmy Butler has been putting up massive numbers. Free Max Strus — or at least give him more run.

Bulls small icon 20. Bulls (11-15, LW 25). Zach LaVine is racking up his points and making his All-Star case — he’s scored at least 26 in six straight games and had 46 in a win over the Pelicans. Despite that, LaVine is on the bubble. He’s not going to be a starter, and there are some locks at guard on the team — Beal, Harden, Irving, Young — and then it gets down to splitting hairs with LaVine, Simmons, Brogdon, Holiday, and people shouldn’t sleep on Fred VanVleet. The coaches make the reserve decisions, and some good players are going to be left off.

Pelicans small icon 21. Pelicans (12-15, LW 19). Tuesday’s win against the Grizzlies Tuesday snapped a three-game losing streak, a streak where the issue continues to be defense — they have the 26th ranked defense over the past two weeks, 27th in the league for the season. New Orleans is not defending the three-point line well. Watching Zion Williamson try to attack the rim when Steven Adams is on the court — and his defender can help and clog the lane — just does not pass the eye test (but they score 118.7 per 100 when both are on the court).

Rockets small icon 22. Rockets (11-16 LW 13). The Rockets have lost six in a row, which not so coincidentally is when Christian Wood went out of the lineup (right ankle sprain). It doesn’t help that Victor Oladipo (right foot strain) also has been out a couple of games. Houston’s issues are on the offensive end — they are dead last in offense through the last eight games. Houston’s offense has not been dynamic all season (26th in the league), but it is 4.6 points per 100 worse over those last eight games. With Wood out for a while, there’s o easy way to change this trend.

Thunder small icon 23. Thunder (11-16, LW 26). The Thunder have lost 4-of-5, and it hasn’t helped that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has missed the last four games with a left knee issue. One bright spot has been the play of Kenrich Williams, who has had some strong games (including 24 against the Lakers more than a week ago). With the insane depth and quality of guards in the West, Gilgeous-Alexander has little chance to make the All-Star Game, but averaging 22.6 points and 6.5 assists a night as the primary shot creator for the Thunder should at least get him some consideration.

Kings small icon 24. Kings (12-15, LW 15). Four straight losses has taken the shine off of the “we could make the playoffs” run where Sacramento won 7-of-8. The lack of consistency can be tied directly to the defense, which is still worst in the league for the season — on the nights the Kings can just outscore opponents they get wins, but that is hard to sustain, even with De'Aaron Fox back in the lineup. The bright spot in Sacramento remains Tyrese Haliburton — that rookie is special.

Hawks small icon 25. Hawks (11-16 LW 18). The concern in Atlanta a year ago was how the Hawks fell apart when Trae Young is on the court, so the team spent in free agency to add depth. Last season the Hawks offense was 14.1 per 100 worse when Young sat, but this season it’s still -13.9. The problem has been getting all those free agents on the court. Injuries have been an issue: Danilo Gallinari has played 14 games, Rajon Rondo 14 games, Bogdan Bogdanovic 9 games, and Kris Dunn hasn’t even set foot on the court yet.

Wizards small icon 26. Wizards (8-17 LW 30). It’s good to see Bradley Beal lead the NBA All-Star fan voting and get the recognition he deserves. And no, your eyes did not deceive you, the Wizards have had a couple good defensive games lately, including holding Boston to 91 points. With all that Washington has gone 5-5 in their last 10 games and are on a two-game win-streak. It’s not exactly “break up the Wizards” time, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Pistons small icon 27. Pistons (8-19 LW 28). Detroit is sitting Blake Griffin while it searches for a trade for him, but this is more likely to end up in a buyout. Griffin is owe $36.6 million this season and has a player option he will certainly pick up for $38.9 million next season — that’s a lot of money to take on, and match in a trade, for a player averaging 12.5 points a game and shooting 36.5% overall (and 31.5% from three). After a buyout Miami, Brooklyn, the Lakers (if Anthony Davis is still out) all will be interested, among others.

Magic small icon 28. Magic (10-18 LW 27). Injuries continue to ravage Orlando like no other team, with rookie Cole Anthony being one of the latest to go down. It’s still Nikola Vucevic against the world for Orlando, but he put up 42 points in a win against Sacramento and is averaging 23.7 points and 11.4 rebounds a game. He deserves another trip to the All-Star Game this season, but whether the coaches will ignore Orlando’s record and vote him in remains to be seen.

29. Timberwolves (7-21, LW 29). When Minnesota traded for D'Angelo Russell at the deadline last year, the goal was to both keep Karl-Anthony Towns happy — he and Russell are good friends — and provide a 1/5 pick-and-roll combination that would win a lot of games. Injuries have kept that from happening — Towns and Russell have played just five games together since the trade last season. Five. They will not be teaming up for the next month as Russell is having his knee scoped, which came up just as Towns returned to action.

Cavaliers small icon 30. Cavaliers (10-19, LW 24). Not long ago this looked like a team that could at least make the play-in game, and things were promising with Collin Sexton and Darius Garland taking steps forward. The wheels have come off. The Cavaliers have lost eight straight, with the worst defense in the NBA over that stretch and a bottom-five offense. Now starting center Andre Drummond is on the bench as they look for a trade for him (don’t bet on Toronto, that’s a difficult deal to construct). There are good young players in Cleveland, but still so much work to do.

Dolan says he he has no plan to sell Knicks, retire, but he loves facial recognition

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - October 06, 2022
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Knicks owner James Dolan has been better in recent years about staying out of the way of the front office and staying out of the media spotlight — both of which are good for the Knicks and their fans’ sanity.

However, he stepped back in the spotlight the past couple of days — doing an interview on “Good Day New York” on Fox 5 Thursday then WFAN sports talk radio on Friday — and reminded everyone why it’s best when he stays out of it. Here are the highlights of these interviews.

• Dolan isn’t going anywhere, saying to WFAN he is not selling the team, nor does he plan to retire. Via Fred Katz at The Athletic:

“I have no plans whatsoever to sell at this point. I’m not retiring anytime soon. It’s a family-controlled asset, so someone in the family will eventually own it.”

That was a bit of a pipe dream for Knicks fans, there had been no rumors of a sale. With the value of NBA franchises rising rapidly and Dolan enjoying being the owner of one of the biggest brands in the sport, there has been little chance of a sale.

• Dolan defended Madison Square Garden’s controversial use of facial recognition technology to ban attorneys from firms involved in lawsuits against the Knicks or MSG from entering the property (or other Madison Square Garden properties, such as Radio City Music Hall).

“At Madison Square Garden, if you’re suing us, we’re just asking of you — please don’t come until you’re done with your argument with us. And yes, we’re using facial recognition to enforce that…

“If someone is suing you, that’s confrontational. It’s adversarial. If you’re being sued, you don’t have to welcome that person into your home.”

Except, it isn’t a home, it’s a public building where sports and entertainment events take place for which tickets are sold. Also, there are fans saying they have been banned from the building because of social media posts critical of Dolan.

• This policy has created a considerable backlash, including from the New York Attorney General, who said the policy could violate anti-discrimination laws in the state. Lawmakers in the New York state assembly introduced a bill prohibiting sports venues — such as Madison Square Garden — from refusing entry to attorneys or others involved in lawsuits against the organization.

• Dolan said on FOX 5 that the State Liquor Authority reached out to the Madison Square Garden company saying the use of facial recognition technology in this manner could lead to a suspension of their liquor license.

“This isn’t going to bother me because I’ve been sober 29 years. I don’t need the liquor.”

Dolan even hinted he could do a dry New York Rangers game on Fox, but he backed away from that idea the next day speaking on WFAN.

• Dolan reiterated his support of current Knicks decision-maker Leon Rose.

Dolan also went on to say he expects the Knicks to make the playoffs this season, however, there is no timeline for the team to contend for a ring.

What will Rockets do at trade deadline? Send out Gordon? Bring in Collins?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Houston Rockets
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There’s a sense in league circles that this is the final season Houston will be okay with having one of the worst — as of today, the worst — record in the NBA. The Rockets hope to grab one of the big names at the top of the draft board this season, but they already have drafted Jalen Green at No. 2 (2021) and Jabari Smith Jr. at No. 3 (2022), plus made a draft night trade for Alperen Şengün (who is playing well). With cap space to spend and extensions coming up, the tanking days will be over.

How will that impact the Rockets at this trade deadline? Here are a few names to watch.

Kelly Iko at The Athletic reports the Rockets have interest in the Hawks’ John Collins and the sides have talked, but there is no real traction yet.

There has been nothing concrete from the Rockets — merely ideas floated by the Hawks to Houston among other teams — but the interest is real.

The Rockets could also be part of a larger, three-team trade to move Collins.

Eric Gordon remains on the trade block, as he has been for more than a year. Gordon has been frustrated waiting, but the Rockets have held out for what they thought was fair — a first-round pick — to no avail. That price likely comes down, and according to Iko at The Athletic, the front office is “more inclined to trade him now” than in the past, but the proof will be in a deal.

• Teams also are calling about K.J. Martin, according to Iko.

K.J. Martin, there continues to be interest in the 22-year-old combo forward who has been quite productive as a starter — averaging 14 points and seven rebounds on 35 percent shooting from 3 — but nothing concrete at this juncture in terms of offers on the table.

The Rockets like Martin, it’s going to take a serious offer to get them to consider it.

Knicks reportedly offered multiple first-round picks for OG Anunoby, got nowhere

Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors
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What are the Toronto Raptors going to do at the trade deadline?

It’s less than two weeks before the trade deadline and the entire NBA is still asking that question, the Raptors are the one team that could turn this trade deadline from a dud to epic if they decide to pivot toward a rebuild. Are they willing to trade players like OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam, or will they look to add a more traditional big man such as the Spurs’ Jakob Poeltl, who has been linked to the Raptors in rumors? Everything seems to be on the table.

Anunoby is a player a lot of teams covet, including New York. The Knicks reached out to the Raptors, reports Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

“And Anunoby with Toronto, I mean, that would cost you a lot. That would cost you significant draft compensation. Maybe the Knicks are there, maybe they’re feeling like they could make the playoffs and make a big push if you added in Anunoby. I know that we reported they contacted Toronto on Anunoby and I was told in that conversation they offered multiple firsts. But this was a while back… Toronto has done a lot since then. But I don’t think the league is crystal clear on what [the Raptors] want to do on Anunoby.”

Anunoby is an elite on-ball wing defender who can be a finisher, averaging 17.3 points and 5.6 rebounds a game at age 25 — the asking price will start at two unprotected first-round picks in this market. The Knicks may have thrown some of their protected picks in the conversation, but Toronto’s asking price is reportedly sky-high because they’re not eager to get rid of him.

Anunoby is making $17.4 million this season and is under contract for $18.2 million next season, a fair price for what he brings to the court (he has a player option at $19.9 million in 2024-25). What the Raptors do with him may signal their direction.

At the deadline, most people around the league expect Toronto to trade Gary Trent Jr., but that’s it. Any other big moves are likely this offseason. If ever.

Reprots: Luka Doncic day-to-day with “mild” ankle sprain

Washington Wizards v Dallas Mavericks
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While there are grades of ankle sprains, ask anyone trying to walk around on one if there is a “mild” version.

Yet that’s what Mavericks sources say about Luka Doncic’s ankle sprain suffered against the Suns on Thursday night. He is “day-to-day” with the injury, a story first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (and since confirmed by others).

Doncic has been playing through ankle soreness in recent weeks and it’s fair to expect the Mavericks to give him a few games off. However, it can’t be too many for a team fighting for a playoff spot, the Mavs are 0-5 in games Doncic has rested this season and have been outscored by 5.3 points per 100 possessions this season when he sits (although they did beat the Suns largely without him Thursday). Doncic is an All-Star starter averaging 33.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game.

Dallas plays next on Saturday against the Jazz. It would be a surprise to see Doncic suit up for that game.