NBA Power Rankings: Nets still on top, Bucks climbing fast, Lakers slide

0 Comments

Injuries and the trade deadline are shaking up the NBA Power Rankings — the Bucks are climbing, while the shorthanded Lakers are losing and falling. Though it all, Brooklyn just keeps winning games and looking like the team to beat in the East.

Nets small icon 1. Nets (30-14, Last Week No. 1). Weird stat of the season: Brooklyn is 22-3 in weeknight games and just 8-11 on Friday/Saturday/Sunday games. The Nets are without Kyrie Irving on the current three-game road trip, and Kevin Durant remains out (but is getting closer, Steve Nash said), so it remains the James Harden show — and he has played his way into the MVP conversation. However, Nash has admitted concerns about all the minutes and load on Harden and the long-term impacts. Blake Griffin hadn’t dunked in a couple of years, but how did he get his first bucket as a Net?

Bucks small icon 2. Bucks (28-14, LW 4). The hottest team in the land, having won 12-of-13, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing like an MVP again during this stretch. However, the real key to the run is Milwaukee got back to being an elite defensive team — second-best in the NBA over the last six games. They are doing it differently than years past, switching more, but this is still an elite defensive team. P.J. Tucker will help on that end (particularly in the non-Antetokounmpo minutes), but will he hit open shots (he didn’t in Houston)? Will Tucker close games?

Sixers small icon 3. 76ers (31-13 LW 2). Philadelphia has gone 5-1 without Joel Embiid, a sign of the depth of this roster (and a credit to Tobias Harris). This run also is a boost to Doc Rivers’ Coach of the Year candidacy. Still, GM Daryl Morey knows this team could use one more steady hand and shot creator, which is why they continue to go hard after Toronto’s Kyle Lowry as the deadline nears, trying to bring the Philly native home. But Lowry makes $30 million, which means surrendering real value and depth to make a trade work.

Suns small icon 4. Suns (29-13 LW 3). Phoenix keeps on winning and has been quiet heading into the trade deadline — they are going to ride with Chris Paul and Devin Booker. The concern with Phoenix is the lack of easy points: Their 18.4 free throw attempts a game are the lowest in the league (they have the lowest free throw rate, too), and they are 20th in the league in points added in transition per 100 possessions (they don’t get a lot of fast break buckets). They will need those easy points in the playoffs.

Jazz small icon 5. Jazz (31-11, LW 6). Utah has not looked dominant the past few weeks, at least compared to how they did earlier in the season. The biggest difference in those early games and the recent one is defense — the Jazz are 16th in the league defensively over their last six games. Some big nights from Donovan Mitchell helped cover things up, but the concern is real. There has been very little trade buzz around Utah, but this is a tight-lipped organization where leaks are rare anyway.

Nuggets small icon 6. Nuggets (26-17 LW 7). Denver has quietly been one of the more active teams heading into the trade deadline, having reportedly been in conversations for Harrison Barnes and Aaron Gordon at the four, and about Evan Fournier. Nikola Jokic racked up another triple-double on Tuesday night and — with LeBron and Embiid out — he has the chance to take the lead in the MVP race with a strong couple of weeks. If Denver can move past the Lakers in the standings to the top four, that will help with some voters.

Clippers small icon7. Clippers (28-16, LW 9). The Clippers need a shot creator at the trade deadline — meaning someone who can get to the rim. The Clippers get 20.4% of their shots at the rim, third lowest in the league, and they don’t shoot the three like Utah to make up the difference. Los Angeles also is pretty average at getting to the free throw line and the easy points there. They need some non-midrange buckets. Lonzo Ball helps (but a trade would be hard to put together), George Hill could be a good backup plan, but right now this jump-shooting Clippers team does not look like a title threat, even with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard healthy.

Lakers small icon 8. Lakers (28-16, LW 5). The Lakers have dropped three straight without both LeBron and Anthony Davis, and the question becomes how many wins can the role players steal while the two stars are out? Los Angeles has struggled on both ends of the court without their stars (as expected), and suddenly landing Andre Drummond on the buyout market — as they are favorited to do — seems almost imperative because of the boost he can bring on both ends of the court.

Blazers small icon 9. Trail Blazers (25-18, LW 8). Damian Lillard‘s MVP candidacy — which could see a boost while LeBron and Embiid are out injured — rests on the fact he has led Portland to an 18-7 record in clutch games (games within five points in the final five minutes). The problem is the Blazers are 7-11 in the other games; they are not just blowing the doors off teams and getting easy wins (which is what elite teams do). CJ McCollum is back and Portland needs a few of those wins as they head out on the road for four in a row and 6-of-8.

Mavericks small icon 10. Mavericks (22-19, LW 11). Luka Doncic is playing at an MVP level of late and is hitting his threes again, while Kristaps Porzingis has looked like a quality rim protector in recent wins, all of which gives Dallas fans hope their team could climb up the West standings. The Mavs sit eighth in the conference as you read this, but just two games out of sixth (and avoiding the play-in games). Not a lot of trade deadline buzz around Dallas; they may be more likely to make offseason moves.

Hawks small icon 11. Hawks (22-21 LW 16). Atlanta deserves credit for its recent eight-game winning streak, with a lot of people patting interim coach Nate McMillan on the back. That streak came as the roster got healthy through a soft part of the schedule, something that changed with the loss Monday to the Clippers as part of an eight-game road trip through the Western Conference. Lots of trade buzz about John Collins, but with Atlanta driving a hard bargain for the young forward, many teams are thinking more about an off-season sign-and-trade rather than a deal now.

Spurs small icon 12. Spurs (22-18, LW 10). Keldon Johnson has become the latest in the lengthy “where did the Spurs find this guy?” history. He was taken 29th out of Kentucky a year ago, and he has had breakout moments in his second season (including 23 points and 21 rebounds against Cleveland last week), averaging 13.9 points in almost 30 minutes a night. Johnson is a quality rotation player the Spurs found and developed. After hosting the Clippers for a two-game set starting Wednesday, the schedule softens up for San Antonio over the next week, facing some of the lesser teams in the East plus Sacramento twice.

Knicks small icon 13. Knicks (22-22, LW 17). It may be a quiet trade deadline for the Knicks, patience remains the watchword under Leon Rose. They may have interest in Lonzo Ball and Victor Oladipo, but not as much as has been reported, and not enough to surrender what the Pelicans and Rockets are asking in deals (a first-round pick). If New York wants, it can chase both as free agents. In the short term, Julius Randle is doing his best to lock down the Most Improved Player award — he hit seven 3s against the Wizards “defense” on Tuesday night.

Warriors small icon 14. Warriors (22-22, LW 15). Suddenly, Jordan Poole — back from a stint in the G-League — is playing like a guy who should be a core part of the Warriors’ future. Since his return to the big club, he is averaging 19.9 points a game in the seven games, shooting 39.2% from three and with an impressive 637 true shooting percentage. He’s gotten more of an opportunity, but he’s taken advantage of it. With Stephen Curry out for another week with a bruised tailbone, the Warriors are going to need more Jordan Poole.

Grizzlies small icon 15. Grizzlies (20-20 LW 18). Memphis’ offense continues to be pedestrian but Memphis appears headed to the play-in games thanks to a quality defense — coach Taylor Jenkins deserves a lot of credit for that. The offense will improve as guys get healthy. How special is Ja Morant? How about “drive from half court with Jimmy Butler in my jersey and still hit the game winner” special.

Celtics small icon 16. Celtics (21-22, LW 13). Boston needs an upgrade and the Aaron Gordon trade talk has been hot and heavy around the team for a week now, but whether the sides can reach a deal (Orlando is talking to multiple Gordon suitors) remains to be seen (as of this writing). Boston needs to do something, this is not a contending team as constructed — the Celtics are 2-5 since the All-Star break, with the 25th-ranked defense in the league during that time, and next up on the schedule is a two-game set against the red-hot Bucks.

Heat small icon 17. Heat (22-22 LW 12). Losers of four in a row as the offense continues to stumble — bottom 10 in the league and playing worse of late — Miami is another team in need of a shake-up at the trade deadline (there have been a lot of Kyle Lowry rumors). If nothing else, the Heat are considered the heavy favorites to land LaMarcus Aldridge on the buyout market. Three important road games are coming up starting Friday: Charlotte, New York, and Indiana — all teams in the bottom half of the East playoff bracket, all looking to move up.

Hornets small icon 18. Hornets (21-21, LW 14). Losing LaMelo Ball to the fractured wrist, likely for the season (he wants to get back on the court for the play-in/playoffs, but Charlotte needs to think long-term and not let the player be his own worst enemy), is a punch to the gut. He still likely will win Rookie of the Year just because he is so far ahead of the field. No LaMelo also should keep the Hornets quiet at the trade deadline, no reason to make a short-term move. Not that Mitch Kupchak ever makes in-season trades anyway.

Pelicans small icon 19. Pelicans (19-24, LW 20). One of the few sellers at the trade deadline, there is a lot of Lonzo Ball buzz, in part because the Pelicans don’t want to pay him starting point guard money starting next year ($18 million a season or more). New Orleans has pushed to get a first-rounder for Lonzo but may end up having to settle for less. J.J. Redick could help some contending/playoff teams, but he is headed for the buyout market (and then likely Philadelphia or another team in the Northeast close to his Brooklyn roots).

Bulls small icon 20. Bulls (19-23, LW 18). The Bulls were outscored by Utah in the fourth quarter on Monday night, but that is part of a troubling trend — Chicago has been outscored in the fourth in 14 of their last 17 games. The Bulls remain an interesting team on the eve of the trade deadline — what do they really think of Lauri Markkanen and do they want to pay him as a restricted free agent this offseason? While they would seem ripe for a trade, the buzz around the league is they want to make moves that help them in the playoffs this season, not making long-term moves.

Pacers small icon 21. Pacers (19-23, LW 21). Coach Nate Bjorkgren seems to be trusting and testing Caris LeVert more and more as he returns to form — he had the ball in his hands as the primary shot creator against the Heat in overtime recently. Malcolm Brogdon has been balling out of late as well, which has been interesting as the trade deadline approaches and rumors swirl about the Pacers listening to offers for him (a team would have to blow them away to make that deal happen). Indiana also has had teams call about Myles Turner, but can they afford to send out the anchor of their defense and a guy playing at a Defensive Player of the Year level?

Kings small icon 22. Kings (18-25, LW 24). Maybe the most-watched team at the trade deadline as sellers, with teams calling about Harrison Barnes, Nemanja Bjelica, and Buddy Hield. Of those three, Bjelica seems the most likely to be on the move, in part because of the demand for help at the four across the league. However, the sense around the league is that Vivek Ranadive sees a team just 3.5 games out of the play-in games and would rather push for that than make a big trade. Marvin Bagley is available, but the offers are now second-round picks for him.

Thunder small icon 23. Thunder (19-24, LW 23). In addition to the obvious brilliance of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, every game it seems some other Thunder player is turning heads. Luguentz Dort is blocking a John Wall shot to preserve a win one night, Moses Brown is putting up solid numbers another night (a few in a row for him), and even Svi Mykhailiuk had a 15 point game Sunday. Expect Oklahoma City to trade George Hill by the deadline; other teams know it’s not the Thunder/Presti way to buy a guy out after the deadline. Teams will have to give up a pick for him.

Wizards small icon 24. Wizards (15-27 LW 25). Washington seems to rise up to the level of their opponents: The Wizards have 10 of their wins this season against teams over .500 and they have gone 10-8 against the deeper Western Conference (5-19 against the East). The recent win against Utah is an example of that, but it’s the Wizards only win in their last eight games. Russell Westbrook keeps racking up triple-doubles this season (14) but it’s not leading to wins.

Raptors small icon 25. Raptors (17-25, LW 22). Kyle Lowry trade talk is heating up again. This has always been in Lowry’s court, if he wants to leave the Raptors will work to get him where he wants to be — Lowry is a Toronto icon and they will treat him with the respect he deserves. Toronto has lost nine in a row and hit a new low for the season on Monday night, losing to the stumbling Rockets while shooting 15-of-45 in the second half, missing 17 three-point attempts. The one silver lining this season in Toronto is Norman Powell, who is averaging 22.8 points a game while shooting 44.6% from three since moving into the starting lineup (teams are calling about him in a trade as well, he may be more likely to be traded than Lowry).

Pistons small icon 26. Pistons (11-30 LW 28). How well is rookie Saddiq Bey playing? When the Pistons beat the Raptors last week, Nick Nurse pulled out the “box-and-1” defense and Bay was the one. That’s respect. Bay had 48 points in wins against Toronto and Houston, but the rookie returned to earth against Chicago with three points on 1-of-9 shooting. Still, he’s making progress and that’s a good sign for a Detroit team looking for pieces for its future.

27. Timberwolves (10-33, LW 26). Chris Finch has had an impact — the Minnesota offense has gotten better. It is 11th best in the NBA since the All-Star break (it was bottom five in the league before that), and Anthony Edwards is showing signs going off for 42 against the Suns this week (third-youngest player ever to score 40+ in an NBA game, behind some guys named LeBron and Durant). Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns are starting to show some chemistry.

Cavaliers small icon 28. Cavaliers (16-27, LW 27). Andre Drummond is likely headed to the buyout market (despite the trade rumors), and then likely the Lakers. The trade to watch is JaVale McGee, Cleveland is looking to find a new home for him as well. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff has started to take a long look at a Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, Larry Nance Jr., Jarrett Allen starting lineup, but so far that group is -16.3 points per 100 possessions.

Magic small icon 29. Magic (14-29, LW 29). What will the Orlando roster look like in 48 hours with trade rumors swirling around Aaron Gordon (he asked for a trade), Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, and more. Expect to see more Chuma Okeke going forward as Orlando looks for players that can be part of a future with Jonathan Isaac (once he gets healthy next season). If all these trades come together it could be a rough rest of the season for the Magic, but one that sets the team up better for the future.

Rockets small icon 30. Rockets (12-30, LW 30). Houston snapped the ugly 20-game losing streak thanks to a triple-double from John Wall (8-of-30 shooting, but he put up points), and some ice-cold second half shooting from Toronto. The Rockets will take it. Lots of trade buzz around the Rockets, but teams are not willing to give up much for Victor Oladipo (Houston reportedly was asking for a player and a pick, if that’s a mid-first-round pick it would be a huge win).

Wembanyama scores 37 Scoot Henderson 28, both make case to go No.1

0 Comments

The NBA league office hates tanking — the action, the word, the mere suggestion of it.

But there is going to be some serious tanking in the NBA this season, and anybody who watched the Victor Wembanyama vs. Scoot Henderson game Tuesday (also known as the G-league Ignite vs.  Metropolitans 92 from France) knows exactly why.

What. A. Show.

Victor Wembanyama, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, showed why he is a true 7’4″ unicorn who can do seemingly anything. He finished the game with 37 points, hitting 7-of-11 from 3, with five blocks, showed off some handles and even brought the ball up court a couple of times.

This play sums him up well: at 7’4″ Wembanyama is the ball handler in a pick-and-roll, looks smooth, and when the defender goes under the pick casually drains a 3.

Scoot Henderson, expected to go No.2 in the next draft, flashed his explosive athleticism to the tune of 28 points, nine assists, and five rebounds.

Ja Morant was impressed.

There was a lot for fans, scouts, and GMs to be impressed with.

For all his shooting an offensive game, Wembanyama was just as impressive on defense. His length and mobility forces players to change their driving angles to the rim. He also showed a fearlessness in going after the big block.

Henderson showed high-level athleticism and an ability to get to the rim at will, but he also set up teammates and an improving shot. Henderson is a dynamic athlete and a season playing against the men of the G League is only going to sharpen his skills.

Henderson made his case Tuesday to be the No.1 pick — scouts say he has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone point guard, a top-10 player in the league, and he looked it in this game. He showed no fear, even going at Wembanyama a few times.

However, Wembanyama will go No.1 because he just breaks the mold, there is nobody like him. Anywhere. He looks like a generational talent, even if there is some work to do to realize it. Wembanyama started to show that Tuesday night.

These two teams face off again on Thursday night in Henderson, Nevada.

Royce O’Neal on Durant, Irving trade rumors: ‘That was the summer’

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

The Brooklyn Nets are trying to move on from a turbulent, awkward summer where their two best players tried to get tradedone throwing down a “me or the coach and GM” ultimatum — and they are tired of talking about it.

It sounds like they have moved on from the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving drama in the locker room, at least based on what Royce O’Neal told Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

“That was the summer. Nobody cares about it now. We’re all here, and we’re going to make it work. We have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to go. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

No doubt that is the mantra in the locker room, and it’s easy to do during the carefree, optimistic days of training camp or even the first preseason games. The players believe they have moved on.

The real question about these Nets is what happens when adversity hits? And it will hit, it does every team. How will Ben Simmons handle the stress? Irving? Can coach Steve Nash keep the Nets all on task, or will the finger-pointing start, and will the locker room get split?

Those questions are why everyone is finding it hard to predict these Nets — they could win a ring, they could have Durant demanding a trade again by Christmas. Most likely they land in the middle somewhere, but every possibility is on the table.

Speaking of teams being broken up, Scotto also asked about O’Neal’s former team, the Utah Jazz, and Danny Ainge’s decision to trade Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell this summer. Ainge said “this team didn’t believe in each other,” but that’s not how O’Neal saw it. He was surprised the team was blown up.

“I was definitely shocked. I had been there for five years. The team we had for a couple of years fell short. I thought we were going to build on it. Things happened, so keep it moving.”

The question is will the Nets keep moving when things get hard?

Collin Sexton expects to start for Jazz once he gets back to full speed

2022 NBA All-Star - NBA x HBCU Classic Presented by AT&T
Getty Photo
0 Comments

After the blockbuster trade that was centered around Donovan Mitchell sent Collin Sexton to Utah, the immediate expectation was that he would start for the Jazz and have the ultimate green light.

However, that wasn’t the case in their first preseason matchup with Toronto on Sunday. In 18 minutes off the bench, Sexton finished with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting (3-for-4 on 3-pointers) to go along with one rebound, two assists, two steals, and two turnovers.

It came as a bit of a surprise to most viewers that Sexton didn’t get the starting nod, but he told Sarah Todd of Deseret News that he expected to come off the bench for this game. He acknowledged that it was because he hasn’t played much since his meniscus surgery, but he expects to start once he gets back to full speed.

Utah hit the reset button by dealing away four of their five starters from last season. They’ve ushered in a new era that is centered around Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Jarred Vanderbilt, and a ton of first round picks. Sexton has talked about wanting to improve on his assists numbers this season, which we should definitely see him get the opportunity to do.

The Jazz have cemented their place in the center of the Victor Wembanyama race, so they’ll have no problem letting their young guys learn through trial and error. Sexton averaged 4.4 assists per game for Cleveland just two years ago. However, he won’t be playing alongside another young guard like Darius Garland, so Sexton should have the ball in his hands more than he ever has in the NBA.

Ben Simmons looks fine in return, is ‘grateful just to be able to step on that floor’

0 Comments

Ben Simmons played in an actual, live basketball game on Monday night.

It’s preseason, sure, but the Nets rolled out their likely starting five — Simmons, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Joe Harris, and Nic Claxton — and had Simmons initiating a lot of the offense early.

The results were not bad. Fine. Good in flashes. Simmons ran the floor well and finished with six points on 3-of-6 shooting, five assists and four rebounds. He missed both free throws he took and all three of his makes were at the rim, his three missed shots were all in the paint and included an ugly skyhook-like thing and a turnaround that missed. There was clear rust.

The Nets got him a lot of touches, having him initiate the offense early. Whether that is something that carries over into the season remains to be seen, the offense moved better with the crisp passing and decisions of Kyrie Irving.

Simmons sounded comfortable after the game, quotes via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“I’m grateful just to be able to step on that floor,” Simmons said. “Step on an NBA floor again. I had a lot of fun out there.”

“That’s the one thing, I thought I was going to be nervous,” Simmons said. “But I wasn’t nervous. I was excited.”

Simmons pushed for a trade off these 76ers a year ago, then sat out all last season due to mental health concerns. Having him back on the court for 19 minutes over a couple of shifts was enough for the Nets.

The 76ers sat Joel Embiid and James Harden for the night, but Tyrese Maxey was the best player on the floor with 20 points in 14 minutes and showing a confident 3-point stroke.

Furkan Korkmaz, another player coming off an injury, added 15 His play will add depth to the Sixers roster.

Claxton ran the floor hard and finished with 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting (all at the rim), while Durant led the way with 13 points.