NBA Power Rankings: Stephen Curry shoots Warriors into top spot

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The red-hot Golden State Warriors, behind the hot shooting of Stephen Curry and an improved defense, have vaulted into the top spot in NBC Sports’ weekly NBA Power Rankings. After that, this early in the season, there are still some massive jumps up and down the board as things settle in but small sample sizes abound.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (9-1, Last Week No. 3). Winners of six in a row and with the best net rating in the NBA (via Cleaning the Glass), the Warriors don’t just look good; they look like themselves again. Are they contenders? Not sold on that, yet. The Warriors have had one of the two easiest schedules in the league so far, plus we need to see how Klay Thomson looks when he gets back on the court. Are the Warriors Stephen Curry for MVP good? Yes. It’s early, but Curry has to be near the top of the MVP conversation so far. Also, Gary Payton II is having a breakout season in the Bay Area — 14 points against the Hornets, 17 against the Pelicans — and he had this poster dunk.

 
Heat small icon 2. Heat (7-3, LW 1). Miami doesn’t run a lot — 16% of their plays start in transition, about the league average — but when they do they score have an offensive rating of 127.5, fifth best in the league. The Heat have the fourth best offense in the league so far, and while that may come back to earth some with Kyle Lowry adding shot creation and Tyler Herro seemingly not missing a shot, it feels sustainable. Miami’s loss to the Nuggets Monday was the start of 9-of-11 on the road through Thanksgiving.

 
Jazz small icon 3. Jazz (8-3, LW 2). Utah has the second-best offense in the NBA so far this season and a big part of that is no team takes a higher percentage of their shots from 3 — 48.7% of their attempts. It’s also a sign the Jazz offense could get better because they are hitting just 32.4% of those 3s (25th in the league) and that number is likely to go up. Of the Jazz’s three losses, two of them came in games Mike Conley sat out to rest (no back-to-backs), a reminder of what they missed last postseason without him.

 
Nets small icon 4. Nets (7-4, LW 9). The Nets core starting five — James Harden, Joe Harris, Bruce Brown, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin — has a +6.9 net rating this season, but surprisingly most of that comes from a stingy defense giving up less than a point per possession. Brooklyn’s offense still hasn’t hit its stride (and people are piling on Harden for that), but the team is winning and the offense is looking a little better each game. The Nets had won five in a row against lesser teams to right the ship, but it’s still a concern that their last two losses came against Miami and Chicago. Harden gave us an early candidate for the worst play of the year.

 
Knicks small icon 5. Knicks (7-4, LW 4). This ranking feels high for the Knicks, but they do have the third-best net rating in the league once garbage time is removed (Cleaning the Glass), and they did beat the Bucks and 76ers in the past week (both of those teams are shorthanded, but a win is a win). The Knicks third-best offense in the league has had some shooting luck to get that high — Kemba Walker is not going to shoot 45% from 3 for the season, and Derrick Rose at 43.2% is high — but the added depth around Randle this season means the Knicks are better on that end. If the offense slides some, it will be balanced out by the defense — Tom Thibodeau will not allow a 26th ranked defense to stand.

 
Sixers small icon 6. 76ers (8-4, LW 5). Philadelphia was off to a “Ben who? 8-2 start to the season with the top offense in the league (although their shooting numbers were not sustainable, a market correction is coming). Then COVID hit the team hard: Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris (who Doc Rivers said could return soon), Matisse Thybulle and Isaiah Joe are all missing time due to health and safety protocols. The Knicks took advantage on Monday night and the Bucks did the same on Tuesday, but we’re not dinging the Sixers too much here. Next up are the Raptors, and then a six-game road trip. As gritty as the 76ers have been, those are tough games without your two best players.

 
Bulls small icon 7. Bulls (7-3, LW 6). Chicago’s starting five — Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine, Javonte Green, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic — has improved after a rough first couple of games and now basically plays teams even (-0.6 net rating). However, the closing lineup — where Alex Caruso is in for Green — has a +17.5 net rating. Since the schedule got tough, Chicago is a respectable 3-3, although dropping both games to a shorthanded 76ers team was concerning. Starting Friday the Bulls are on a five-game West Coast road swing.

 
Raptors small icon 8. Raptors (6-5, LW 8). Pascal Siakam is back in the lineup and while he’s on a minute restriction he’s already made an impact, scoring 15 points in 25 minutes in his debut. It will be interesting to see how Siakam pairs with rookie Scottie Barnes, who is averaging 11 points and 8 rebounds a game plus playing great defense — it’s too early, but he is on the Rookie of the Year radar. Wednesday night in Boston starts 8-of-9 on the road for the Raptors (they are 4-0 away from home so far this season).

 
Wizards small icon 9. Wizards (7-3, LW 11). One of the surprises on the season is the Wizards’ top-10 defense so far, and the key to that is running opponents off the arc: 32.8% of Washington opponent shots are from 3, the lowest percentage of any team in the league. Opposing teams are also hitting only 29.2% of those 3s, although that number will go up over time. The Wizards are getting out of D.C. a lot in the coming weeks, with 8-of-11 on the road.

 
Nuggets small icon 10. Nuggets (6-4, LW 12). It was clear something was bothering Michael Porter Jr. before he went out with back issues (a red flag because that’s what caused him to drop in the NBA Draft). Porter Jr. had a dreadful 41.6 true shooting percentage (down from a very good 66.3 last season). He wasn’t getting to the rim as often, but the big issue was his shots were not falling no matter where he took them. Now Porter Jr. is out with no timeline. That the Nuggets have this record despite Porter Jr.’s issues and no Jamal Murray (knee) speaks to just how MVP-worthy Nikola Jokic has been this season (they are -19.1 per 100 when he is off the floor, a bad sign for the game he misses due to his suspension).

 
Cavaliers small icon 11. Cavaliers (7-4, LW 16). Collin Sexton is out, possibly for the season, with a torn meniscus and that is a real blow for a player in a contract year (he and the Cavs talked extension coming into the season but could not reach a deal). Sexton led the Cavaliers in scoring, even though his numbers and efficiency were down as he tried to adapt to a new role in the offense. Evan Mobley continues to tear it up as a rookie, and of late he has paired much better with Jarrett Allen up front, creating a dynamic front line that is difficult for opponents to deal with.

 
Suns small icon 12. Suns (6-3, LW 18). Winners of five in a row, taking advantage of a soft part of the schedule, but soft or not, the Suns have played much better defense during this stretch to spark the streak. As a team, they also have been able to tune out the controversy around the franchise owner Robert Sarver and not let it be a distraction on the court, which is a good thing because Sarver is fighting the allegations every step of the way, which means this could drag out.

 
Grizzlies small icon 13. Grizzlies (6-4, LW 14). Desmond Bane is the team’s second leading scorer at 16.3 points per game, which was unexpected on a team where  Jaren Jackson Jr. got paid and was the guy everyone was watching (Jackson has struggled, shooting 36.1% on the season). Dillon Brooks will score plenty once he gets healthy and on the court, which could be very soon as he had a full practice with the Grizzlies’ G-League team this week. But to start the season it’s been Bane, and he has impressed next to Ja Morant.

 
Mavericks small icon 14. Mavericks (7-3, LW 17). We’re 10 games into the season, the Mavericks have won 4-of-5, and yet does anyone know the answer to the question “how good is Dallas?” Jason Kidd has them playing decent defense (middle of the pack in the league) but the offense has struggled with spacing and flow. Kristaps Porzing is back in the rotation and that should help, but mostly what makes the offense work better is just more Luka Doncic.

 
Clippers small icon15. Clippers (6-4, LW 23). Paul George is earning his tributes, playing at an All-NBA (maybe MVP conversation) level averaging 26.7 points and 8.3 rebounds a game while doing it all with the highest usage rate of his career. However, it is still the Clippers defense — second in the league in net rating once garbage time is removed — that is at the heart of this team’s five-game win streak. That defense will get tested in games this week against the Heat and Bulls, but both at home at Staples Center.

 
Bucks small icon 16. Bucks (5-6, LW 15). Thrust into a bigger role than expected due to injuries, Grayson Allen has played well in Milwaukee averaging 15.5 points a game and shooting 41.5% from 3. The Bucks have been +13.2 per 100 possessions better with Allen on the court this season. Milwaukee still feels like a team treading water until it gets healthy, or maybe just until the playoffs start (they look like a bored championship team right now).

 
Blazers small icon 17. Trail Blazers (5-6, LW 20). Damian Lillard is in one of the worst slumps of his career to start this season, shooting 25.5% on his 10 3-pointers a game. His shot selection is almost identical to previous years, the shots just are not going in this season (an no, it’s not some passive aggressive trade thing, he’s just slumping… or is the ab injury that slowed in in the Olympics not healed?). Portland is 0-4 on the road after a loss to the Clippers Tuesday, and have three games left in this road trip (Suns, Rockets and Nuggets).

 
Lakers small icon 18. Lakers (6-5, LW 13). Forget Olympic ‘Melo, Staples Center ‘Melo is a thing. Carmelo Anthony is 38-of-59 (64.4%) from three at Staples Center and 1-of-16 on the road this season. The Lakers are 2-3 in the games LeBron James has missed and have been outscored by 3.8 points per 100 possessions in the minutes he is off the court overall this season (they are +3.4 when he is on). James has missed three straight games with this ab strain and there are reports that could stretch into a couple of weeks, bad news for a Lakers team about to see the schedule get tougher.

 
Kings small icon 19. Kings (5-6, LW 21). Richaun Holmes is perpetually the most underrated player in the NBA. He’s putting up good numbers at the five — 14.6 points and 10.5 rebounds a game — but the key is he does it incredibly efficiently shooting 65.7%, also he also provides much-needed rim protection. The Kings have a +2.6 net rating when he is on the court. The Kings offense has been pretty good (11th in the league) and that may be enough to get them in the play-in games.

 
Pacers small icon 20. Pacers (4-7, LW 22). After a rough start to the season the Pacers have have found some footing after a rough start to the season (but things don’t get easier with the next four games being the Nuggets, Jazz, 76ers, and Knicks). Malcolm Brogdon missed more time with an illness, but on the bright side there are reports T.J. Warren could return to the rotation around Christmas. This is still a team that is better than its record.

 
Celtics small icon 21. Celtics (4-6, LW 25). Because Jaylen Brown will miss a week (or more) with a hamstring strain, a bigger spotlight will be on Jayson Tatum’s shooting struggles to start the season. Tatum is shooting 32.1% on 3-pointers, down from 38.6% a year ago (on roughly the same number of attempts). He’s taking a few more midranges, and a little fewer at the rim, but he had been simply missing shots, at least until the Dallas game (we’ll see if that snaps him out of his slump). After a rough start to the season, the Celtics’ defense has looked better of late.

 
Hornets small icon 22. Hornets (5-7, LW 7). Charlotte was supposed to take a step forward this season, but that’s tough to do with the worst defense in the NBA. Charlotte is dead last in the league with a 114.2 defensive rating (remove garbage time and that “improves” to 28th worst). Last Friday, the Kings dropped 140 points on the Hornets, who have lost five in a row, four of those on the road. LaMelo Ball and the breakout season from Miles Bridges are great stories but have not been able to cover up the defensive flaws in the last week.

 
Hawks small icon 23. Hawks (4-8 LW 10). Kevin Huerter — he of the four year, $65 million contract extension last offseason — is off to a rough start: 6.9 points a game (down from 11 last season), and shooting 25.8% on 3-pointers (36.3% last season). He’s also taking fewer threes and more long-twos, which is not a good trade off. Blame the new ball or fans being back in the stands (that may be the bigger issue), but the Hawks need him to turn it around. Atlanta has lost five straight and is 1-7 on the road this season, they have one more game on this trip (Denver on Friday) before a five-game homestand.

 
Spurs small icon 24. Spurs (3-7, LW 24). Gregg Popovich has his young Spurs playing excellent defense — sixth-best in the NBA so far this season — but the wins aren’t coming as long as the offense continues to flounder. (The Spurs have also just been unlucky, they have the net rating of a .500 team.) Jakob Poeltl being out due to health and safety protocols is not ideal, but Thaddeus Young has stepped in and played fantastic defense while keeping the ball moving (5.4 assists a game). Young is helping the Spurs now, and playoff/contending teams will likely call around the trade deadline and ask about him.

 
Magic small icon 25. Magic (3-8, LW 26). Cole Anthony has made a leap in his second season — 20.2 points a game with just a slightly higher usage rate than last campaign, and he dropped a career-high 33 on the Jazz. Anthony has become far more efficient this season (58.5 true shooting percentage) by taking more than half his shots from 3 and is hitting 41.4% of them. Anthony also had the best postgame interview of the season.

 
Thunder small icon 26. Thunder (3-6, LW 30). Winners of two in a row, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander putting on a show and shooting from the logo against the Lakers and dishing out nine assists against the Spurs. This mini winning steak could extend with the Pelicans and Kings the next two teams on the schedule. There’s a long way to go with this team, but they are feisty and Shai is making it entertaining.

 
27. Timberwolves (3-6, LW 19). Five straight losses have taken this team from “maybe the Wolves are turning it around” to “same old Wolves.” Surprisingly for a team with Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards, the offensive side of the ball is holding Minnesota back. Those struggles are why nobody bought the idea KAT was hacked when he liked a Tweet that had the #FreeKAT in it — he has never said he wants out, but know other teams are watching and waiting.

 
Rockets small icon 28. Rockets (1-9, LW 27). Jalen Green is putting up good numbers for a rookie — 13.6 points a game — but his shooting looks like a guy trying to adjust to the league. Green is shooting 28.6% on 3-pointers (which account for more than half his shots) and while he’s attacking the rim and taking nearly a quarter of his shots there, he’s hitting a decent but not great 59.4% of those. Kevin Porter Jr. also is struggling in clutch moments with his shot. All of this leads to flashes of what could be, but also a lot of losses. As expected this season in Houston.

 
Pelicans small icon 29. Pelicans (1-10, LW 28). No Zion Williamson so far this season and Brandon Ingram has now missed five straight games with a hip injury, and not shockingly the Pelicans are spiraling. New Orleans is bottom six in both offense and defense. Pelicans fans can try to be optimistic and say “once we get healthy with Zion and Ingram” they will look like a playoff/play-in level team. The problem is the hole this franchise has dug to start the season (and keeps digging until its stars return) will be very difficult to climb out of.

Pistons small icon 30. Pistons (1-8, LW 29). No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham is having a dreadful start to the season shooting. Through four games he is shooing 23.1 overall and 14/4% from 3 (he missed his first 18 3-pointers). It’s a small sample size, and Cunningham missed most of training camp due to injury. Far, far too early to hit the panic button, but he has a lot of work to do. Behind the top pick, the Pistons have the worst offense in the NBA so far.

Watch Embiid score 47, lift 76ers past Jokic, Nuggets 126-119

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid won the battle of MVP candidates with 47 points and 18 rebounds as the Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to seven games with a 126-119 win over Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Jokic and Embiid have finished first and second in voting for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award over the last two seasons. Both are among the top candidates for MVP as this season hits the halfway mark, although Embiid was not named among the All-Star starters from the Eastern Conference.

“I’m used to it and it’s not the first time,” Embiid said. “I think it’s more of a motivation to go out there and try to win the whole thing. That’s the only way that I’ll get that respect.”

Jokic gave Embiid a nod for his play.

“He’s really talented,” Jokic told the Denver Post of Embiid. “Really shifty.”

James Harden had 17 points and 13 assists, and Tobias Harris scored all 14 of his points in the second half after being shut down by Denver’s defense in the first half.

“We were able to figure some things out and get some stops,” Harris said. “Guys stepping up and making shots was huge for us to cut the deficit in the fourth quarter to try and make something happen.”

Jokic had 24 points, eight rebounds and nine assists for Denver, which has lost three of its last four games. Jamal Murray chipped in 22 points and Michael Porter added 20.

“We turned it over and they just turned up the pressure on us,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They got to the basket way too easy with their attack mentality. And we just got way too careless with the basketball.”

Embiid has scored 40 or more points nine times this season and 35 times in his career. In addition to the All-Star snub, Embiid was also given a $25,000 fine by the NBA on Friday for an on-court demonstration after-basket celebration during Wednesday night’s win over Brooklyn.

“Let’s keep offending Joel by fining him and not putting him among the All-Star starters,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said sarcastically.

The Nuggets began the day with the second-best team field goal percentage at 50.7% and tops in 3-point percentage at 39.5%. In the first half, they overwhelmed Philadelphia’s perimeter defense, shooting 65.9% (29 for 44) from the floor and 10 of 17 (58.8%) from beyond the 3-point line. The hot shooting helped the Nuggets to a 73-58 lead at halftime.

Embiid started to take over toward the end of the third quarter, putting together a 16-point quarter on 5-of-6 shooting that keyed a 14-0 run that allowed the Sixers to close within 99-98 early in the fourth.

In the final quarter, Philadelphia wore down a Nuggets team playing the final game of a three-game, week-long trip. P.J. Tucker– who had switched defenively to Jokic and slowed him down in the second half- followed a Harden missed 3-pointer with a tip-in with over a minute left to stretch the lead to five. Embiid then hit a 3-pointer to restore an eight-point lead.

“I’ve always like to think I am a closer and I am,” Embiid said. “Taking the last shot or taking a last second shot with the clock ticking is fun for me. I love getting into those types of possession where you have to make the plays. That’s where you find out who is who and who is made up for those kinds of moments.”

Report: Myles Turner agrees to two-year, $60 million extension with Pacers

Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Take Myles Turner off the trade market.

After months of negotiations, the Pacers and Turner have agreed to a contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This has since been confirmed by other sources.

Turner — back playing his natural center spot this season with Domantas Sabonis in Sacramento — is having the best season of his career, averaging 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game. He has been one of the keys to a surprisingly good Pacers team this season.

That $60 million contract extension number can be a little misleading. Turner was already making $18 million this season, but because the Pacers are $24.4 million under the salary cap, they can do a re-negotiation and extension with the big man, giving him a $17.1 million bump right now (to a total of $35.1 million for this season) and extend off of that for two years, the first at $20.2 million and the second at $19.9 million, according to Shams Charania.

There had been a lot of trade interest in Turner, going back to last summer, most prominently with the Los Angeles Lakers in a swap that would have sent Buddy Hield and Turner to the West Coast for Russell Westbrook and two first-round picks. That draft pick compensation kept the deal from getting done (the Pacers wanted two unprotected first-rounders).

NBA refutes viral Reddit post claiming conspiracy to pad Jaren Jackson Jr.’s stats

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors
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Jaren Jackson Jr. has been a defensive monster since coming back from foot surgery, something obvious by the eye test but backed up by impressive stats: 3.1 blocks and a steal a game, opposing players are shooting 44% on shots he contests and when he is on the court the Grizzlies have. 106.8 defensive rating (which would be best in the league by more than three points). He is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year right now.

That led to a conspiracy theory post on Reddit about how the Memphis scorekeeper is padding Jackson’s stats, calling his numbers fraudulent. The post went viral — we all love to think we’re in on something nobody else knows — and has gotten to the point some Las Vegas sportsbooks have taken down Defensive Player of the Year betting.

The conspiracy theory does not hold water. At all.

The NBA pushed back on that theory by reminding people that all NBA stats are audited in real-time by someone watching the video in Secaucus (rebound or blocked shots being changed during a game is not uncommon because of this).

“In order to ensure the integrity of our game statistics, auditors, independent of the statisticians on-site, review all plays and stats decisions in real-time during NBA games,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank told NBC Sports. “If changes are necessary, they are made at that time or following a postgame review. All of the plays questioned in the post on Memphis games were scored consistently within the rules set forth by the NBA statisticians manual.”

Reddit has now labeled the post “Misleading.”

Another Reddit user compiled videos of the alleged stat padding incidents called out in the post, but watching them proves the NBA’s point that these were correctly assigned. For example, Jackson gets credit for steals on tipped balls, which is how steals are calculated. The video showed that many fans don’t understand the rules and definitions of what constitutes a steal or a block.

On a more fundamental level than that, the NBA now has gambling and fantasy sports partners — if there was stat padding, those entities would be on it and the first to call out the league. The league’s statistics are big business — you can bet on the number of blocks or rebounds that Jackson or other players will get — and those gambling and fantasy entities also watch the games closely.

But we’ll be talking about this conspiracy theory again when NBA awards season pops up, because people want to believe, even in the face of evidence proving they are wrong. Not that we needed basketball to teach us that lesson.

 

Report: Nuggets might consider Bones Hyland trade for defensive help

Denver Nuggets v Milwaukee Bucks
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A year ago, it felt like the Nuggets had found their long-term backup point guard in rookie Bones Hyland, a guy who could be part of the rotation when Jamal Murray returned. Except, in his second season, Hyland hasn’t taken a step forward — although his play has been better and more aggressive in recent weeks — and free agent Bruce Brown has shown he can play some backup one (even if he is more of a combo guard).

That has the Nuggets considering trading Hyland if they can get defensive help, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports.

After his name was discussed in trade conversations around last June’s NBA Draft, Denver begun gauging the trade value of second-year guard Bones Hyland, sources said…. While Hyland has two years remaining on his rookie deal, in anticipation of Brown’s next payday [Note: He is expected to opt out and test the market], plus Hyland’s upcoming second contract, has the tax-conscious Nuggets considering their options in the backcourt. Occasional clashes between Hyland and head coach Michael Malone’s old-school mentality have also been a factor in Denver’s trade dialogue, sources said.

In exchange for Hyland, the Nuggets have expressed an interest in defensive-minded frontcourt players, sources said, and will search for a player plus a first-round pick.

Brown has played his way to a bigger contract than the $6.8 million player option he has for next season, but the Nuggets are already big spenders and not looking to go deep into the tax (Nikola Jokic’s extension kicks in next season at about $46.9 million a year to start, and both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will make north of $33 million next season). It is possible the Nuggets let Brown walk and keep Hyland, still on his rookie contract and set to make $2.3 million next season, partly for financial reasons. Hyland is averaging 12.4 points per game and shooting 38.5% from 3, but he struggles defensively (which is where the clashes with Malone come in).

Denver has a chance to win the West this season and defense is what will decide if that happens — if the Nuggets can land another wing/forward defender, they may jump at it and worry about the backup one spot next summer. However, finding that player in a high-priced seller’s market may prove the biggest challenge — several teams are looking for that same kind of defensive help.