NBA Power Rankings: Brooklyn moves to top as LeBron, Lakers slide


We have a new No. 1 atop the NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings — the Brooklyn Nets went on the road and took apart the top of the West to earn that spot. Utah is still No. 2, and the Lakers have slid, but not that far.

Nets small icon 1. Nets (21-12, Last Week No. 4). Brooklyn is striking fear into the league, going 5-0 on a West Coast road trip (four of those wins without Kevin Durant) and scoring 123.8 points a game while shooting 45.3% from three as a team in that stretch. However, what makes them dangerous is the other end of the court, where the Nets defense is improving — the activity, the communication on switches, the energy and effort are much better. Over the past seven games, the Nets defense has been about league average (14th in defensive rating), and with their offense that is enough to beat anyone.

Jazz small icon 2. Jazz (25-6, LW 1). While the West is deep with talent, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were locks to make the All-Star team as reserves. Mike Conley is deserving as well, but he just missed the cut. Again. The loss to the full-strength Clippers Friday highlighted what the Jazz need to work on for the postseason: L.A. attacked Derrick Favors and Bojan Bogdanovic in isolations, and the Clipper defense stymied the Jazz ball movement that gets them so many points. The offense cannot stall like that.

Suns small icon 3. Suns (20-10 LW 5). Devin Booker and Chris Paul were both deserving of being an All-Star, but CP3 got the nod from the coaches, which left Booker the odd man out (don’t be surprised if he gets Anthony Davis‘ spot). Booker is averaging 27.1 points a game over his last 10. Monty Williams has settled on a rotation, starting Frank Kaminsky and playing him the first six minutes of the half, then leaning on Jae Crowder, Dario Saric, and others for the remaining 18 minutes of the half. It’s working.

Clippers small icon4. Clippers (23-10, LW 3). The Clippers are healthy and finally have their starting five — Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Nicolas Batum, Kawhi Leonard, and Serge Ibaka — playing together. That was enough to get them a quality win against Utah, but it was not enough against Brooklyn. Of note, Ibaka starts games but Tyronn Lue closes with Marcus Morris at the five (with the other four starters), not just because Morris can shoot but because the Clippers can switch 1-5 in key situations.

Lakers small icon 5. Lakers (22-10, LW 2). Three losses in a row have come without Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder, which means they are not a major concern. However, the Laker offense was sputtering before that. The Brooklyn Nets, not exactly a defensive powerhouse, held the Lakers to under 100 points (the Heat did as well, but they have played good defense of late). Over the last seven games, the Lakers’ offense is 27th in the NBA and 5.3 points per 100 possessions off the team’s season average. Can’t rest LeBron James right now; the Lakers need to pick up some wins.

Sixers small icon 6. 76ers (21-11 LW 6). A lot of Joel Embiid‘s MVP case comes down not to the 30.3 points or 11.3 rebounds a game, nor his elite rim protection, but rather this stat: Philadelphia is 18.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court (LeBron is +11.6). When Embiid is off the court, the Sixers get outscored by 7.2 points per 100 possessions. It was good to see Philly bounce back and beat Toronto after a concerning loss to them in the first half of the two-game set — the Sixers offense just stalled out in that loss. They cannot afford for that to happen against good teams.

Bucks small icon 7. Bucks (19-13, LW 8). Wins against struggling teams helped stop the bleeding for now, but the Bucks are still 4-5 since Jrue Holiday went down, showing his value to the team. The issue is on the defensive end of the floor, where D.J. Augustin/Bryn Forbes replacing Holiday means opposing teams are getting into the paint more, and the result is a Bucks’ defense that is 18th in the league over the past seven games. Big showdown against the Clippers on Sunday.

Nuggets small icon 8. Nuggets (17-14 LW 9). Denver set a modern NBA record on Tuesday night against Portland with just one turnover all game (they turned the ball over on 1.1% of their possessions, for comparison the league median is 12.4% and the Spurs have the lowest average at 9.9%). For the record, Jamal Murray had the one. The Nuggets offense is top five in the league, but they need to tighten up their defense, which has been league average the past couple of weeks. Getting Paul Millsap and Gary Harris back healthy would be a big help on that end.

Blazers small icon 9. Trail Blazers (18-13, LW 7). Damian Lillard‘s impact on Portland can be measured a lot of ways, but here is an interesting one: Portland is the third “luckiest” team in the NBA, outperforming their net rating by a considerable amount. Portland should be 15-16 (a -0.1 net rating, by Cleaning the Glass), but because Lillard is the best clutch player in the NBA the Trail Blazers have dominated close games and keep racking up wins. Portland has gone 10-7 without CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, holding on to the West’s sixth seed. When those two stars return at some point after the All-Star break, Portland can solidify its playoff position (and avoid the play-in games).

Spurs small icon 10. Spurs (16-11, LW 10). San Antonio has moved into the top 10 of this ranking thanks to its defense, fourth best in the NBA for the season, and they didn’t miss a beat on that end coming out of their COVID quarantine. The lynchpin has been center Jakob Poeltl: The Spurs are 5-1 since he moved back into the starting lineup, and the team defense is 16.8 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the floor. With him, the Spurs starters hang with opposing starters, then in comes that elite Spurs bench and they start to pull away. Gregg Popovich deserves some Coach of the Year talk. As always.

Warriors small icon 11. Warriors (17-15, LW 11). Stephen Curry and Draymond Green will get all the accolades, but the Warriors role players are stepping up more of late. Kent Bazemore is back in the rotation and the Warriors defense gets 8.2 points per 100 better when he is on the floor (and the offense gets a bump, too). Kelly Oubre Jr. struggled to start the season, but he has found a comfort level in the Warriors’ offense in recent weeks. Golden State closes out the first half of the season with 7-of-8 on the road, and they are 1-2 in those games so far (with the win being a quality one at Madison Square Garden).

Raptors small icon 12. Raptors (16-16, LW 14). Toronto is starting to find its groove, having won 4-of-5 and beating the Bucks twice, and earning a split of two games with the 76ers in that run, all of which has them up to fifth in the Eastern Conference. There can be some legitimate complaints that Fred VanVleet did not make the All-Star team this year, although in an East where Trae Young and Jimmy Butler also didn’t make the cut, it’s not really a shock FVV will be staying home for a few days rather than traveling to Atlanta.

Pacers small icon 13. Pacers (15-14, LW 13). Indiana sits as the four seed in the East and Domantas Sabonis is averaging 21.5 points and 11.6 rebounds a game — he has a very legitimate beef he did not make the All-Star Game. Sabonis should be there. Myles Turner is having a season that deserves Defensive Player of the Year consideration, but when Turner and Sabonis are on the court together the Pacers are -2.3 per 100, and that pairing has not been as strong on the glass as one would think. Just something to watch going forward.

Mavericks small icon 14. Mavericks (15-15, LW 17).Interesting note from the Zach Lowe podcast this week (with Kevin Arnovitz): the defensive strategy of choice against Luka Doncic is for teams to use the Jordan/Nash system on him — get Doncic in isolation, let him shoot (contested), just don’t let him start getting teammates involved. Make him a scorer. Dallas seems to be adjusting to that, and when Boston made Doncic a scorer at the end of the game Tuesday, they paid the price.

Knicks small icon 15. Knicks (15-17, LW 15). Julius Randle got his wish and is an All-Star in the East, and it’s a deserved honor considering his 23.3 points and 10.9 rebounds a game. The Knicks continue to be a reflection of Tom Thibodeau — they play hard, they play smart, they’re gritty not flashy, but they get the job done thanks to the league’s third-best defense. New York’s bottom-10 offense leans heavily on Randle to get it done, which seemed to sway coaches when it came time for the All-Star reserves vote.

Celtics small icon 16. Celtics (15-16, LW 12). Boston has to close games better — they have a -7.8 net rating in the fourth quarter (second worst in the NBA), and it gets worse in clutch minutes, a -33.2 net rating. Kemba Walker’s season would look a lot better if Trae Young guarded him every night — he looked sharp in his return against the Hawks, but then a couple of nights later struggled mightily against the Pelicans and better defenders at the point. If the Celtics are going to make a run, getting Walker right has to be a big part of what changes and improves.

Bulls small icon 17. Bulls (14-16, LW 20). The very public campaign for Zach LaVine to make the All-Star team paid off; he got his first nod as a reserve thanks to the coaches’ vote. The Bulls have won 4-of-5 and the key reason is not LaVine but the fact the defense has improved over the past couple of weeks, 13th best in the NBA over the last seven games and a net rating 2.7 better than the league average over that stretch (stats via Cleaning the Glass). Tough tests for that defense coming up against the Suns, Raptors, and Nuggets.

Grizzlies small icon 18. Grizzlies (13-14 LW 28). Justise Winslow finally made his debut as a member of the Grizzlies, almost a year after the trade that brought him from Miami, and while he’s looked understandably rusty in his two games back, it is a good start. Get Winslow healthy, get Jaren Jackson Jr. back after the All-Star Break and we can finally see what this young team looks like. Ja Morant was always a longshot to make the All-Star team, his numbers are good enough but he has missed too much time for a guy on the borderline.

Heat small icon 19. Heat (14-17 LW 19). For me, Bam Adebayo was one of the biggest snubs for the All-Star game, he got punished for the Heat’s rough start to the season despite the fact he has been fantastic and none of this is on him. Miami is starting to look more like the team from the bubble of late, with the sixth-best defense in the NBA over the past couple of weeks and a 7-5 record with a positive net rating since Jimmy Butler’s return. Ask teams at the top of the East which team scares them from the play-in and below teams, and they all point to the Heat, who are a threat if and when it all comes together again.

Hornets small icon 20. Hornets (14-16, LW 16). Terry Rozier had a run of four straight 30+ point games where he carried he Hornets and that included the 10-points on three possessions at the end against the Warriors, with the dramatic game-winner. Rozier’s hot streak came to a halt against the elite Jazz defense, and that loss was the start of six games on the road to end the first half for Charlotte. The Hornets are 5-8 on the road so far and need some wins on this trip to stay in touch with the East playoff teams.

Pelicans small icon 21. Pelicans (13-17, LW 21). Zion Williamson got his first All-Star invite, and not because of the fan popularity contest but because the coaches around the league have watched him play and voted him in. What has held New Orleans back is the 28th ranked defense in the NBA, and that’s not getting any better — the Pelicans’ defensive rating is 9.5 per 100 worse over their last seven games (and dead last in the league). Any playoff dreams in the Big Easy will revolve around getting a few stops.

Wizards small icon 22. Wizards (11-18 LW 26). Washington went on a 5-0 win streak when Moe Wagner was inserted into the starting lineup (a win streak that ended against the Clippers Tuesday). The real key to their run was improved defense, especially when Robin Lopez came in off the bench (and he has been getting heavy minutes of late). Those wins have the Wizards within two games of the 10th seed and a spot in the play-in tournament — the Wizards went into this season thinking playoffs, which remains the goal. They will target the postseason; any big changes will not come until the offseason. If at all.

Hawks small icon 23. Hawks (13-18 LW 25). Danilo Gallinari has finally been healthy enough to get back in the rotation in February, playing in 11 games this month, but he still does not look right. In February Gallinari is scoring 11.2 points a game but is shooting 31.7% overall (34.5% from three), with a well below average 51.5 true shooting percentage. He shot a combined 5-of-27 in the two-game set against Boston, then on Tuesday was late on a rotation that allowed Cleveland the game-winning dunk. Trae Young is deserving of being an All-Star, but in a deep East he is on the bubble and apparently, the coaches held the Hawks’ struggles against him.

Magic small icon 24. Magic (13-19 LW 28). Nikola Vucevic earned his return to the All-Star Game averaging 23.9 points and 11.7 rebounds a game, the biggest bright spot this season for the Magic. Despite some buzz from outside Orlando, inside the city there is no talk of trading Vucevic at the deadline, they like what he brings with the young players, and his scoring. Orlando has played much better defense of late, which has sparked the run of four wins in six games.

Thunder small icon 25. Thunder (12-19, LW 23). Oklahoma City got Shai Gilgeous-Alexander back in the lineup after a knee sprain and, not surprisingly, the offense looked much better in a win over Cleveland. That said, the Tunuder have lost 7-of-9 and head into a rough stretch of the schedule to end the first half of the season, including two games against the Spurs and one against the Nuggets.

Rockets small icon 26. Rockets (11-18 LW 22). Houston has yet to win a game (0-8) since Christian Wood severely sprained his ankle and started to miss time. Both sides of the ball have been impacted, but the much bigger problem is on the defensive end, which is down more than 10 points per 100 possessions since Woods’ injury. This has led to a coming split with DeMarcus Cousins — he just doesn’t have the lateral mobility to defend at the NBA level now. Rockets look better going small.

Pistons small icon 27. Pistons (9-22 LW 27). Detroit has gone 1-3 on its five-game road swing, with the win coming Tuesday as they earned a split with the Magic (the road trip ends Wednesday in New Orleans). The buzz around the league on a potential Blake Griffin trade is that there is no buzz, teams are interested in him off a buyout, but teams look at that $39 million player option for next season and say walk away from trade talks. In a different year, Jerami Grant might have had a chance to make the All-Star team, but the deep East and the Pistons struggles did him in.

Kings small icon 28. Kings (12-19, LW 24). Sacramento got Richaun Holmes back starting at center but it wasn’t enough against Milwaukee and the Kings losing streak reached seven games. Holmes is critical to Sacramento’s success, the team is 10.5 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court, he solidifies their defense in the paint in a way Marvin Bagley III and Hassan Whiteside simply do not. With Ryan Saunders out in Minnesota, all eyes are on Luke Walton as the coach on the league’s hottest seat.

Cavaliers small icon 29. Cavaliers (11-21, LW 30). The Cavaliers needed a win and they got one in the most dramatic fashion — a game winning dunk (although I watch that clip and can only think about the Hawks terrible defense). The Cavaliers losing streak is not because of the offense (it’s been terrible all season, despite some bright moments form Collin Sexton) but because the defense is 11.9 points per 100 possessions worse in the last seven games. That’s the end of the court the Cavaliers need to fix.

30. Timberwolves (7-24, LW 25). Ryan Saunders is out and Chris Finch is in as the new coach. Nobody around the league blinked at Saunders being out, had he not been such a good story and a favorite of the owner, it would have happened long ago. However, the process that brought in Finch (who is white) from another team while not giving highly regarded David Vanterpool (who is Black) a chance as the interim coach did not sit well with the league. Finch has a reputation as an offensive guru, but Minnesota has been terrible on both ends of the court. He has a rough road ahead.

Watch Victor Wembanyama highlights from French league playoffs


Give Victor Wembanyama and his handlers credit — they have got him out there playing. The management teams for a lot of future No. 1 picks would have their guy in bubble wrap by now, not doing anything but solo workouts in a gym, not wanting to risk any injury or risking his draft status.

Wembanyama — the 7’4″ prodigy on both ends of the floor — is on the court in the semi-finals of the French LNB league (the highest level of play in France). His team, Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92, is one win away from the LNB Finals. While they lost on Friday to Lyon-Villeurbanne (the best-of-five series is now 2-1 Boulogne-Levallois), Wembanyama put up some highlights worth watching.

The San Antonio Spurs will select Wembanyama with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft (June 22). San Antonio — and possibly Wembanyama — will make their Summer League debut at the California Classic Summer League in Sacramento in early July, before heading on to Las Vegas for the larger, official Summer League. While Wembanyama is playing for his French team in the playoffs, how much the Spurs will play him in the summer leagues — if at all — remains to be seen (top players have been on the court less and less at Summer League in recent years).

Spoestra’s biggest Heat adjustment for Game 2? Play with more ‘toughness and resolve’


DENVER — The days between NBA Finals are filled with talk of adjustments. After an ugly Game 1, much of that falls on the Heat — what can Erik Spoelstra draw up to get Jimmy Butler better lanes to attack? How must the Heat adjust their defense on Nikola Jokick?

Spoelstra sees it a little differently.

“Scheme is not going to save us,” he said.

His point is straightforward, the team’s best adjustment is simply to play better. More effort, more resolve. The trio of Max Strus, Caleb Martin and Duncan Robinson must do better than 2-of-23 from 3. The Heat can’t settle for jumpers like they did in Game 1, they have to attack the rim and draw some fouls, getting to the line (the Heat had just two free throws in Game 1). Their halfcourt defensive decisions have to be sharper. Those are not scheme-related things.

The Heat saw some of that in the second half, but Spoelstra made it clear the better last 24 minutes (particularly the last 12) was more about effort than the adjustments they made (such as playing more Haywood Highsmith and putting him on Jokić for a while).

“I never point to the scheme. Scheme is not going to save us,” Spoelstra said. “It’s going to be the toughness and resolve, collective resolve. That’s us at our finest, when we rally around each other and commit to doing incredibly tough things. That’s what our group loves to do more than anything, to compete, to get out there and do things that people think can’t be done.

“The efforts made that work in the second half, but we’re proving that we can do that with our man defense, too.”

Among the things many people don’t think can be done is the Heat coming back in this series. But Spoelstra is right, proving people wrong is what the Heat have done all playoffs.


Phoenix Suns reportedly to hire Frank Vogel as new head coach


Frank Vogel won a title coaching two stars — LeBron James and Anthony Davis — in Los Angeles.

Now he will get the chance to coach two more stars with title aspirations, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker in Phoenix. The Suns are finalizing a deal to make Vogel their new head coach, according to multiple reports. This is reportedly a five-year, $31 million deal.

New Suns owner Mat Ishbia — who took over in early February and immediately pushed for the Durant trade — reportedly has been the man at the helm of basketball operations since his arrival, making this primarily his choice. Doc Rivers and Suns assistant Kevin Young also were in the mix for the job.

Vogel may not be the sexiest hire on the board — and it’s fair to ask how much of an upgrade he is over Monty Williams — but it is a solid one. The Suns can win with.

Vogel is a defense-first coach who has had success in both Indiana — where he led the Paul George Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals twice — as well as with LeBron’s Lakers (Vogel struggled in Orlando, but that was more about the roster than coaching).

Vogel is a good coach for superstars because he is relatively egoless, low-key, and a strong communicator — this is not a big personality with a hard-line attitude. Instead, he works to get buy-in from his guys and gives his stars plenty of freedom on the offensive end. Durant and Booker will have their say in what the offense looks like, but Vogel will demand defensive accountability.

There is a “good chance” Kevin Young — the top assistant under Monty Williams who had the endorsement of Devin Booker for the head coaching job — will stay on as Vogel’s lead assistant, reports John Gambadoro, the well-connected host on 98.7 FM radio in Phoenix. If true, that be a coup for the Suns, who would keep a player favorite coach to be more of an offensive coordinator. It is also possible that Young and other assistant coaches (such as Jarrett Jack) will follow Williams to Detroit, where he was just hired (on a massive deal).

Nick Nurse doesn’t ‘vibrate on the frequency of the past,’ talks winning with 76ers, Harden


In his first day on the job, Nick Nurse didn’t shy away from the hard topics and high expectations — he embraced them.

Nurse is the new 76ers head coach — and Doc Rivers is out — because the team was bounced in the second round. Again. Nurse said at his introductory press conference that he doesn’t see the way past this is to ignore the problem (from NBC Sports Philadelphia).

“We’re going to hit that head-on,” he said… “We know we’re judged on how we play in the playoffs. It was the same in Toronto. We hadn’t played that well (in the playoffs) and certain players hadn’t played that well, and all those kinds of things. So the reality is that’s the truth. I would imagine that from Day 1, we’re going to talk about that and we’re going to try to attack that. We’re going to have to face it and we’re going to have to rise to it.”

Nurse stuck with that theme through multiple questions about the past and what he will do differently. Nurse talked about the players being open-minded to trying new things, some of which may not work, but the goal is to get a lot of different things on the table.

He also talked about this 76ers team being championship-level and not getting hung up on that past.

“My first thought on that is this team could be playing tonight (in the Finals), along with some others in the Eastern Conference that wish they were getting ready to throw the ball up tonight… And as far as the rest of it, I look at it this way: I don’t really vibrate on the frequency of the past. To me, when we get a chance to start and dig into this thing a little bit, it’s going to be only focused on what we’re trying to do going forward. … Whatever’s happened for the last however many years doesn’t matter to me.”

The other big question in the room is the future of potential free agent James Harden.

Harden has a $35.6 million player option for next season he is widely expected to opt out of, making him a free agent. While rumors of a Harden reunion in Houston run rampant across the league, the 76ers want to bring him back and Nurse said his sales pitch is winning.

“Listen, I think that winning is always the sell,” he said. “Can we be good enough to win it all? That’s got to be a goal of his. And if it is, then he should stay here and play for us, because I think there’s a possibility of that.”

Whatever the roster looks like around MVP Joel Embiid, the 76ers should be title contenders. Nurse has to start laying the groundwork this summer, but his ultimate tests will come next May, not before.