NBA Power Rankings: Joel Embiid powers 76ers into top spot

0 Comments

Joel Embiid may not be able to bully ball his way to the top of the MVP race anymore, but he has been able to bully the 76ers past the Clippers and onto the top of our weekly NBA Power Rankings.

 
Sixers small icon 1. 76ers (39-18 Last Week No. 4). Beating the shorthanded Nets put Philadelphia in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the East, then a win over the Clippers (also shorthanded, although so were the 76ers) cemented their contender status and put Philly atop these rankings (we’re not holding the loss to the tornado that is Stephen Curry against them). Joel Embiid is dominating again and thrusting himself back into the MVP conversation with his recent play, averaging 34.5 points per game over a recent four-game winning streak (sorry Sixers fans, he’s not going to win the award after missing 18 games, but he will finish in the top five).

 
Clippers small icon2. Clippers (41-19, LW 1). Kawhi Leonard missed four games, came back for one, and now will be out at least another week due to a sore right foot. Getting their stars healthy and on the court together is a concern for the Clippers — just like it was last year. Leonard and Paul George have played just 5 of their last 14 games together, and Serge Ibaka has been out since mid-March. Despite that, the Clippers have gone 5-1 in those recent Leonard-less games, 8-1 in their last nine (the only loss is to the 76ers), and 17-5 since the All-Star break with the best offense in the NBA during that stretch leading the way.

 
Jazz small icon 3. Jazz (43-15, LW 3). Utah’s good luck with injuries ran out last week. The entire state of Utah held its breath when Donovan Mitchell rolled his ankle against the Pacers, but fortunately it isn’t as severe as it looked at the time; he should be back and healthy before the playoffs. Jordan Clarkson has missed time with an ankle issue as well. Utah needs all nine of its rotation players healthy come the playoffs, so don’t be surprised if you see more games like against the Lakers when Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley, and Derrick Favors all were rested. Utah has the cushion not to wear guys down the final month of the season.

 
Suns small icon 4. Suns (41-16 LW 2). Phoenix has earned the two-seed in the West, having won 12-of-14 despite their defense being more pedestrian of late. The Suns have done it with Chris Paul setting the stage as a floor general, Devin Booker as an All-Star bucket getter, Deandre Ayton as a double-double machine and defensive anchor, and role players like Mikal Bridges hitting big shots. To hold on to the No. 2 seed the Suns have to overcome the toughest schedule of the West’s top teams the rest of the way, including 12-of-16 on the road. The win against the Bucks was a good start to that stretch.

 
Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (37-20 LW 6). Nikola Jokic winning the MVP has become a quest for Nuggets fans and his 47-point night against Memphis — including a game-winning three in the second overtime — was the kind of MVP moment that every winner needs to stick in the minds of voters. Denver has gone 3-0 without Jamal Murray, a reminder that this roster was far more than a two-man show. The wins also seem to have locked Denver in as the four seed in the West, but their “reward” for that may be the Lakers in the first round.

 
Bucks small icon 6. Bucks (35-22, LW 7). Milwaukee got Giannis Antetokounmpo back on the court after a six-game absence, but the up-and-down nature of the Bucks regular season continued with losses to the Grizzlies (who were getting and making shots at the rim) and the Suns. If the Bucks are going to make a push for the top seed in the East, they need to be on the upswing the rest of this week with two games against Joel Embiid and the Sixers. Milwaukee sits four games back of Philly with 15 games to play, the Bucks need to sweep this two-game set to have any shot at the top seed (and an easier path through the playoffs).

 
Nets small icon 7. Nets (38-19, LW 5). James Harden is now out until likely right about the start of the playoffs, which means the seven games and 186 minutes the Brooklyn big three got on the court together is all they may get before the postseason tests start. Kevin Durant remains day-to-day with his bruised thigh. Maybe the run of injuries ends and they get healthy, the chemistry comes together, and all of this regular season drama around the Nets doesn’t matter. Or maybe the stress test of the playoffs will show building good habits in the regular season does matter when it is all on the line.

 
Lakers small icon 8. Lakers (35-23, LW 8). The Cavalry is about to charge over the hill to the rescue — Anthony Davis is on the verge of returning to the Los Angeles rotation, maybe by this weekend (but with a strict minutes limit). The Lakers have gone a very respectable 7-8 with both LeBron James and Davis out — thanks to a top-10 defense in the NBA over that stretch — keeping them as the five seed in the West. LeBron’s return is still a couple of weeks away. Dennis Schroder and Kyle Kuzma have done what they can to keep the offense afloat, but LeBron is the hub of everything they do and until they get him back points will be at a premium.

 
Celtics small icon 9. Celtics (31-27, LW 9). Jayson Tatum — admitting he is still feeling some effects from COVID-19 — has started to find his groove again, and that has sparked the Celtics to an 8-2 run in their last 10. Tatum averaged 32.7 points a game during a recent six-game win streak and shot 46.8% from three during that stretch. Boston is taking a look at Jabari Parker in a limited bench role the rest of the season (and he’s looked okay on offense in his two games), and paired with Evan Fournier — once he gets out of health and safety protocols — the pair should help the Celtics’ depth.

 
Hawks small icon 10. Hawks (32-26 LW 11). Things are looking up in Atlanta: The team has has won 8-of-10 and vaulted up to the four seed in the East, and John Collins has returned after missing nine games with a sprained ankle. Trae Young gets the headlines and Bogdan Bogdanovic has been on a tear of late, but it is the steady defense Clint Capela in the paint that has been the quiet secret to the Hawks this season — Atlanta’s defense is 8.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

 
Knicks small icon 11. Knicks (32-27, LW 15). Winners of seven in a row, the streak has been fueled by a red-hot Julius Randle carrying the offense to top-seven in the league over their last eight games, while the defense continues to be lock down. The goal now is to finish in the top six and avoid the play-in games but New York has the second toughest remaining schedule in the East (Toronto) and they are going to have to pull some upsets on the road to stay out of the play-in games.

 
Grizzlies small icon 12. Grizzlies (29-27 LW 12). Memphis has the third-best offense in the NBA over its last eight games, and the aggressive play and sharp shooting of Grayson Allen has been a big part of that. Allen is hunting his shots now and averaged 18.5 points a game in the team’s last four, shooting better than 50% from three. Jaren Jackson Jr. should return soon from injury, helping the playoff push for the Grizzlies (they seem locked into the play-in games).

 
Blazers small icon 13. Trail Blazers (32-25, LW 14). Damian Lillard is set to return Wednesday night against Denver after missing three games with a sore hamstring (Portland went 1-2 in those games). The Trail Blazers are trying to hold off the Mavericks (1.5 games back) and the Grizzlies (2.5 back) for the six seed in the West and the chance to avoid the play-in games, but Portland has by far the toughest schedule of any of those teams. It’s going to need some Lillard magic to hold onto those spots.

 
Mavericks small icon 14. Mavericks (30-26, LW 10). Dallas has just one win in its last five games, and that required Luka Doncic hitting an insane leaning game-winning three against Memphis. Dallas is struggling on both ends of the court right now, but their bottom-five defense over their last seven games is an anchor on efforts to climb past Portland and into the safety of the six seed (and no play-in games). Dallas has a soft schedule the rest of the way — including two against the LeBron-less Lakers this week — but if the defense can’t get stops, it will take more heroics to win.

 
Heat small icon 15. Heat (30-28 LW 13). With Jimmy Butler missing games due to a sprained ankle, Bam Adebayo has stepped up on both ends. You couldn’t miss it against Brooklyn, when Adebayo was switch onto Irving late in the game a couple of times and got stops, then faced up and drove for the game-winner himself. Miami is entering a soft part of the schedule, they need to take advantage and jump up into the top six now, avoiding a play-in game if at all possible.

 
Warriors small icon 16. Warriors (29-29, LW 20). Stephen Curry has gone nuclear with a historic run — 11 straight games of 30+ points, the longest streak ever for a player 33 or older — but it’s taken all of that to keep the Warriors at 6-5 in those games and holding on to the nine seed in the West. While Curry gets the headlines, Andrew Wiggins has played well since the All-Star break: 20.1 points a game, a 60.8 true shooting percentage, and he’s played strong defense.

 
Spurs small icon 17. Spurs (28-28, LW 16). There are times you can see the compressed and intense second-half schedule wearing on the Spurs, but with the Pelicans fading, San Antonio looks locked into one of the play-in games in the West. The Spurs struggled defensively for a while after the All-Star break, but they are fifth-best in the NBA over their last eight games. San Antonio is 4-4 in those last eight and the losses have come in a very unSpursian way — they are executing poorly in the clutch. That and the blown 16-point lead against Portland that was a punch to the gut. But San Antonio has bounced back with wins against the Suns and Pacers on the road. Starting Saturday in New Orleans, the Spurs will play 10-of-12 on the road.

 
Hornets small icon 18. Hornets (28-29, LW 17). LaMelo Ball getting his cast off, starting individual work, and maybe returning in the next couple of weeks is the first bit of good injury news for Charlotte in a while, but they are still without key guys (Gordon Hayward, Malik Monk, more). Combine the Ball news with Terry Rozier continuing his Most Improved Player level turn around this season and there are reasons to be positive about the end of the season in Charlotte. Also, another week, another rim-rocking dunk by Miles Bridges.

 
Pacers small icon 19. Pacers (26-31, LW 19). Myles Turner is out — likely for the rest of the season — with a partially torn plantar plate in his right big toe. It’s bad news because Indiana’s defense has been bottom 10 in the league over their past eight games, most without Turner. Indiana’s defense is 5.4 points per 100 worse when Turner sits this season. Indiana has lost 4-of-5 but can right the ship against a soft part of the schedule this week — it needs to. Washington is playing well and just two games back from knocking the Pacers out of even the play-in game.

 
Wizards small icon 20. Wizards (24-33 LW 24). Winners of five in a row, Bradley Beal feels vindicated for staying because Washington has jumped up into a tie with Chicago for the final play-in spot in the East. Russell Westbrook gets most of the media credit for the run, and he is racking up triple-doubles with 25 this season — he is the first player in NBA history to have 25 or more triple-doubles in four different seasons. However, it is the Robin Lopez led defense that is key: The Wizards have the fourth best defense in the NBA over the last eight games.

 
Raptors small icon 21. Raptors (24-33, LW 22). Toronto is just half-a-game out of the last play-in game spot in the East, but the Raptors have the toughest remaining schedule of any team in the conference. As it has been all season, the biggest issue for Toronto is just getting and staying healthy — Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Rodney Hood, and others have all missed time in the last week. On the bright side, rookie Malachi Flynn has started to find his role as a playmaker with the second unit (46 assists in his last seven).

 
Bulls small icon 22. Bulls (24-33, LW 21). Zach LaVine missing games this week (and for an undetermined amount of time) due to being in the league’s health and safety protocols could not come at a worse time as the Bulls fight to hang on to the final play-in slot in the East. Chicago’s already pedestrian offense is 7.4 points per 100 worse when LeVine is off the court. Chicago picked up a quality win against Boston Monday behind 29 from Nikola Vucevic, but they are just 5-9 since trading for the All-Star big man.

 
Pelicans small icon 23. Pelicans (25-33, LW 18). New Orleans has lost four in a row, but it’s how they are losing those games that is frustrating Stan Van Gundy — terrible late-game execution haunts them. Eric Bledsoe said he didn’t pay attention to instructions to foul the Knicks up three late, Lonzo Ball then helped off an open shooter, and after the overtime loss SVG was saying a high school team could have executed the end-of-game instructions and won. It’s going to be a busy offseason for the Pels; this roster needs to be reworked around Zion Williamson and his unique skill set.

 
Kings small icon 24. Kings (23-35, LW 25). A win against Dallas on Sunday snapped a nine-game losing streak, but Sacramento has still lost 10-of-11. Losing Richaun Holmes to a hamstring issue is going to hurt, he is critical to their defense. The one (only?) bright spot during the losing streak is De'Aaron Fox has been in attack mode and playing aggressively — he had 30 points and 12 assists in the win against Dallas, for example. Terence Davis has given the team a nice boost off the bench since coming from Toronto.

Pistons small icon 25. Pistons (17-40 LW 23). The wins aren’t there, but the reasons for hope are in Detroit. Jerami Grant has worn down of late but has shown he can be a trusted shot creator on a playoff team. Saddiq Bey is a real player, a quality three-point shooter already, and strong on the defensive end for a rookie. Isaiah Stewart has come on of late (he averaged 15.3 points and 13.7 rebounds last week). Killian Hayes is finally healthy and showing some playmaking skills.

 
26. Timberwolves (17-42, LW 27). Karl-Anthony Towns took time off (around the one-year anniversary of his mother’s death) and without him the Minnesota offense looked lost against the Nets and Bucks. He came back to the lineup, scored 24 points and the offense looked balanced in a win against Miami. Towns is the Wolves best player, and it isn’t close right now (although Anthony Edwards may make his case in couple of years).

 
Cavaliers small icon 27. Cavaliers (20-37, LW 26). Kevin Love has played 10 games since coming back from injury, and he is averaging 13.8 points a game in that stretch, pulling down double-digit rebounds some nights, and the Cavaliers have been 11.3 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court this season. All of that helps his trade value, although getting a team to take on the two-years, $60.2 million he is still owed in a trade would be coup of the offseason for Cleveland.

 
Magic small icon 28. Magic (18-40, LW 30). Wendell Carter Jr. is playing well since coming to Orlando, and that includes a strong revenge game against the Bulls with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Since the trade Carter is averaging 14.5 points a game, on 57.8% shooting, plus he’s grabbing 8.8 rebounds a game. This is why you take a flier on young players with skill that didn’t work out as hoped with their first team, sometimes it’s about circumstance, not talent.

 
Rockets small icon 29. Rockets (15-43, LW 28). The bright spot for Houston as it starts its rebuild has been the play of Jae'Sean Tate this season. He was undrafted and a little old for a rookie (25), but he is going to make the All-Rookie teams thanks to his defense, plus he is averaging 11.1 points a game on 52.7% shooting. The Rockets have lost 11 of 13 and the schedule gets tough this week (Jazz, Clippers, Nuggets).

 
Thunder small icon 30. Thunder (20-38, LW 29). Losers of 11 in a row, it’s more about their own pick in this draft and the fact they get the Rockets pick if it is No. 5 or lower. More than words, this GIF sums up the Thunder right now.

Watch Klay Thompson knock down 12 3-pointers, lift Warriors to win without Curry

0 Comments

Stephen Curry was not in the building, the first of maybe a month of games he’s going to miss with a leg injury. Who would take charge of the Warriors’ offense with No. 30 out?

Klay Thompson.

Thompson knocked down 12 3-pointers and scored 42 points to lead the Warriors as they blew past the Thunder.

“It was a beautiful game to watch him play…” Draymond Green said of Thompson, via the Associated Press.”We needed it. It’s been a while since we had a blowout win. It’s good to get this one, especially first game with Steph out. It was good to start off on this foot and try to create some momentum.”

Jordan Poole is back in the starting lineup with Curry out, scoring 21 points with 12 assists (a career best).

All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 20 points. But this was Thompson’s night. And one for the Warriors.

NBA owners, players union agree to push back CBA opt-out date. Again.

0 Comments

The NBA and players union are progressing toward a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Just not very fast progress. In December, they pushed the opt-out date for both sides — when either the owners or players could opt out and end the CBA on June 30 of this year — to Feb. 8.

They aren’t going to hit that deadline either so the two sides have agreed to push the new opt-out date back to March 31, they announced.

“The NBA and NBPA have mutually agreed to extend the deadline to opt out of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) from Feb. 8, 2023, to March 31, 2023, as the two sides continue negotiations to reach a new agreement,” the sides said in a joint release. “If either party exercises the opt-out, the CBA’s term will conclude on June 30, 2023.”

There is one bit of good news in the talks, the owners have backed off the “upper spending limit” idea, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. At least some owners — troubled by the massive spending into the luxury tax of the Warriors, Clippers, and Nets  — pushed for an “Upper Spending Limit” for teams, which the players saw as a hard cap and a deal breaker.

As the sides pursue an early labor deal, a significant part of what has allowed discussions to progress has been the NBA’s willingness to soften from its original push for an upper spending limit on team payrolls — a de facto hard cap, sources said.

Still, expect changes to the luxury tax system to attempt to rein in the spending of some owners. There are a lot of economic concerns that will push toward a deal getting done, including this interesting note:

There are broader economic concerns looming for the league that are motivating factors in reaching a new labor deal in the coming weeks and months — including the potential bankruptcy of the Sinclair/Diamond Sports Regional Sports Networks, which is responsible for broadcasting 16 of the league’s teams on local deals. The longer labor talks linger, the more moderate positions among ownership can harden on financial issues and risk deeper difficulties on reaching a new labor deal.

The conventional wisdom has long been there would be no lockout and potential work stoppage because every side was making money again, the trajectory of the league was good, and nobody wanted to slam the breaks on that momentum. But there is always a risk, especially if the owners are fighting among themselves. Which is why a deal getting done sooner rather than later is best for everyone — especially fans.

Focus on body, conditioning has LeBron James on cusp of scoring record

0 Comments

LOS ANGELES — LeBron James has prepared for this day since high school.

Maybe he didn’t envision this day exactly — the day he would break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring record, something he is just 36 points shy of heading into Tuesday night against the Thunder— but LeBron was preparing for playing at a high level deep into his career. A career that has seen very few injuries (in 20 seasons his only surgeries have been LASIK and oral surgery in the offseason), very little time missed, and a lot of points.

Through all the years, teams and tribulations, LeBron’s focus on preparing his body has never wavered.

“I’ve just learned more about my body and how to prepare my body. But I’ve been taking care of my body since I started playing basketball,” LeBron said earlier this season. “Like, even when I was younger — you can ask any of my best friends growing up — before I went to sleep I would stretch and as soon as I would wake up I would stretch. I was like, 10 years old. In high school, I was one of the few guys that would ice after the game. My rookie year I was icing after the game, as well.

“But, as I got older and older and older, I started to figure out other ways that I could beat Father Time by putting in more time on my game and on my craft. But mostly on my body and my mind. I feel like if my mind can stay as fresh as it possibly can through a grueling up-and-down NBA season — which it is — then my body is going to be able to try and perform at the highest level. So, I’ve always wanted to maximize even the most out of my career and squeeze the most juice I can out of my career.

That level of investment in his body — financially, but more importantly with time and energy — has made his fitness routine a legend around the league. It’s the reason he is still an All-NBA-level player when the rest of his draft class — Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, Kyle Korver, David West, Steve Blake, Kirk Hinrich — have hung up their sneakers.

“LeBron is taking care of himself so well that he’s been able to play a bundle of games for a lot of years. And that’s what he takes,” said Spurs legend Gregg Popovich. “But he gets credit for taking care of himself and being able to be out there. The way a lot of players don’t even come close to. His commitment to the game and to what he has to do, has allowed him to be in this position.”

LeBron has made fitness and recovery a core part of his daily routine. That commitment to his body means he works out at least five days a week even in the slow weeks of the offseason. Get close to the season and into the grind and it’s seven days a week.

These are not ‘I’m going to jump on the elliptical and get in a little cardio’ workouts, these are specially designed HIIT workouts with his personal trainer, Mike Mancias, that target on different days his core, legs, upper body and other areas, plus mixes in yoga and stretching, and then a recovery program. It is holistic and includes a diet low on refined sugars but with enough carbs to fuel his workout and play.

All that doesn’t even include his pregame stretching and workout routine.

LeBron puts his money into maintaining his conditioning — his business partner and friend Maverick Carter once said LeBron spends about $1.5 million a year on not just trainers and a personal chef, but equipment such as cryotherapy chambers, hyperbaric chambers, NormaTec leg boots, and much more.

Does LeBron have a go-to cheat? Wine. But he’s earned it.

Players don’t reach the NBA, or especially, stick around, without an impressive commitment to fitness. Plenty of players enter the league with bad habits that, by season three or four, they figure out they have to dump if they are going to stick around (and get paid). LeBron’s focus, consistency, and relentlessness is on another level, and it is what has him as the best player the league has ever seen in his 20th season, at age 38. Nobody has ever played this well, this long.

“I think he’s gonna have the greatest career of all time,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said of LeBron. “I think he’s already had it, you know, and I think Michaels the greatest of all time. But that doesn’t take anything away from LeBron. LeBron has had the greatest career.”

And he put in the work to get there.

On fringe of rotation, Sixers guard Korkmaz reportedly requests trade

NBA: JAN 17 76ers at Clippers
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
0 Comments

Last season, Furkan Korkmaz was a regular part of the 76ers rotation — he played in 69 games, started 19, and averaged 21 minutes and seven shot attempts a night.

With De'Anthony Melton added to the rotation this season, Korkmaz has played in 25 games (less than half of the team’s games) at 10.2 minutes a night when he does get in, and he averaged 3.1 shots per game. Korkmaz wants to be somewhere he is wanted and used and has requested a trade, reports Keith Pompey at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Sources have said the Turkish player has requested to be traded before Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline. Asked about it, Korkmaz would only say he “would not confirm nor deny it.”

Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey didn’t immediately respond to a text message asking if Korkmaz asked to be traded. But sources have said Korkmaz was informed the Sixers will try to package him in a deal.

Korkmaz is not the only 76ers whose name comes up in trade conversations, wing defender Matisse Thybulle also has drawn trade interest. The Sixers are looking for a backup point center for their playoff run.

Korkmaz, 25 and in his sixth NBA season, is a career 35.4% shooter from 3 at the guard spot, but his competent shooting has not made up for limited playmaking and poor defense at the NBA level. The Sixers went out and got an upgrade this offseason in Melton.

Korkmaz makes $5 million this season and has a fully-guaranteed $5.4 million on the books for next season. A fair price if a team believes the Turkish guard can help their guard rotation, but the market for him is likely limited.

Still, it’s another name to watch in Philadelphia as we move toward Thursday’s trade deadline.