NBA Power Rankings: Warriors remain on top but Bulls climbing fast


The Warriors are beating all comers and with that remain on top of this week’s NBA Power Rankings. The most surprising thing compared to preseason expectations is the Bulls have climbed up to fourth and are the highest-ranked team from the East.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (29-7, Last Week No. 1). Klay Thompson is likely to return to action this weekend for the Warriors, jumping right back into his starting role (although with a minutes limit). That is unquestionably good news — even 90% of All-NBA Klay makes the Warriors even more dangerous — but it presents a challenge for Steve Kerr with his rotation. How does he keep up the minutes and opportunities for Jordan Poole, Gary Payton II and other players who have carried the Warriors to start the season? Kerr has gotten a lot out of his role players in big games, including Andre Iguodala‘s 3 to seal the win against Jazz (although Stephen Curry‘s reaction is the best part of this video).

Jazz small icon 2. Jazz (27-10, LW 2). Even without a gifted passer in Draymond Green, the Warriors tore apart the Jazz defense in the halfcourt sets Saturday in a way that is mildly concerning when thinking way down the road toward the playoffs. With switches and the gravity of Curry pulling Rudy Gobert out higher, Utah’s backside rotations got exposed by the motion of the Warriors’ offense. It’s something they need to work on before the playoffs start and other teams try to follow that blueprint. One part of that improvement could be adding a strong perimeter defender at the trade deadline.

Suns small icon 3. Suns (29-8, LW 3). Deandre Ayton has played well this season — as in he’s going to get that max contract next summer anyway good — but has missed the last five games due to health and safety protocols. JaVale McGee stepped in and played well, but he has missed the last three for the same reason. Enter Bismack Biyombo — who has looked amazing. He has averaged 13.5 points a game through two games and shot an insane 84.6% from the floor. The Suns may not have room on the roster once everyone is healthy, but some team should pick up Biyombo, who can still play a role and is a great locker room mentor.

Bulls small icon 4. Bulls (25-10, LW 7). DeMar DeRozan had a week — not one but two buzzer-beating game-winners on back-to-back days. DeRozan has been a late-game force all season, only Jayson Tatum has scored more fourth quarter points, and DeRozan is splitting playmaking duties with Zach LaVine. In writing about who should start in the All-Star Game I put DeRozan in as a starter, but I had to cheat to do it — I put him in as a backcourt player (because the frontcourt is locked up in the East), but DeRozan has only played forward this season (with LaVine as the shooting guard). Still, I’m willing to cheat a little to get the best players, the ones who have earned it, on the floor for the exhibition, and DeRozan has earned it.

Bucks small icon 5. Bucks (25-14, LW 5). Milwaukee had won six in a row before taking a mental vacation day against Detroit on Monday. Over the last seven games it has been the offense doing the heavy lifting — they have the best offense in the NBA over that stretch, a 120.1 offensive rating. The Bucks have had the easiest schedule in the league by some measures (such as Dunks and Threes), but that will start to change starting Friday night with a test against the Nets (in Brooklyn, so no Kyrie).

Grizzlies small icon 6. Grizzlies (25-14, LW 9).No Desmond Bane, Ja Morant is not the best point guard in the NBA. Not yet, anyway. But he’s been impressive of late and drawing praise from LeBron James and Kevin Durant, not to mention taking over at the end of games (six points in the final :30 seconds to seal the win against the Cavaliers). Morant absolutely deserves to be an All-Star (as a reserve), he may even be All-NBA by the time the season ends, but he’s not the best in the business. Yet. Challenging stretch coming up, back-to-back against the two Los Angeles teams, followed by the Golden State Warriors next Tuesday.

Sixers small icon 7. 76ers (20-16, LW 10). Four straight wins with a +14.2 net rating in those game has surged the 76ers up to fifth in the East, giving them a little breathing room. Philadelphia is facing one familiar problem: Matisse Thybulle is a lock-down perimeter defender that is critical to what the 76ers do, butbut his 27.5% shooting on 3-pointers has defenses sagging off him and clogging the lane, while daring him to shoot. He’s attacking the rim a little more, but it’s all very reminiscent of that guy not mentally ready to play, awaiting a trade.

Nets small icon 8. Nets (23-12, LW 4). Kyrie Irving returns tonight and it’s a needed boost for a Nets team that has lost three in a row and had a pedestrian offense this season despite Kevin Durant playing like an MVP and James Harden racking up three 30-point triple-double in his last five games. Last season, in a small sample size, the Nets had a +11.5 net rating and a 123.4 offensive rating when Durant, Harden, and Irving were on the court together. We think of Irving as an elite isolation player with amazing handles, but last season he shot 43.4 % on catch-and-shoot 3s, working well off the ball while Harden was the playmaker. There are questions about how the part-time player thing will work, especially come the playoffs, but for now the Nets need the boost.

Heat small icon 9. Heat (23-15, LW 6). Jimmy Butler was back — he scored 37 against the Rockets last Friday — but is now out again with a sprained ankle. Miami has been resilient this season, with Steve Kerr praising their team culture and ability to keep winning despite the rash of injuries and COVID cases. They have players like hardship signee Kyle Guy putting up 17 points in his debut. After a five-game win streak to close out 2021, the Heat are 0-2 in 2022, have a string of games coming up against playoff teams from last season, and that culture will be put to the test. Especially until Butler and Bam Adebayo return.

Cavaliers small icon 10. Cavaliers (21-17, LW 8). Cleveland has dropped 5-of-7, although they still have a positive net rating through those games (+1.3). The Cavaliers officially brought in Rajon Rondo to help fill the role of Ricky Rubio (torn ACL), but at this point in his career Rondo he will do little more than fill in some backup minutes. More is going to fall on the shoulders of Darius Garland, who had 27 points going toe-to-toe with Ja Morant on Tuesday (but in a Cavaliers loss).

Mavericks small icon 11. Mavericks (19-18, LW 13). Dallas went 5-5 without Luka Doncic, and it was due to the play of Jalen Brunson in that stretch — 21 points and 7.4 assists a game in that stretch. Brunson played well enough that even when Doncic returned Brunson has stayed in the starting lineup. Brunson is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and if nothing else his play is going to earn him a big payday (starter-level money) this summer. Good test for the Warriors coming up Wednesday with the Warriors.

Nuggets small icon 12. Nuggets (18-17, LW 11). Nikola Jokic averaged 24 points and 17.3 rebounds a game during the Nuggets recent three-game win streak (which was snapped by Dallas Monday). He continues to play at an MVP level, and he continues to need more help (fortunately, Jamal Murray looks good dunking in an empty gym, meaning he is getting closer to his return). Still, just when you think things are going well you find out reserve big man Vlatko Cancar suffers a right foot fracture, and he will be out for a while. When it rains it pours.

Clippers small icon13. Clippers (19-19, LW 12). Tyronn Lue’s squad has grit. Not a lot of name talent still standing, but grit. that is how they picked up recent road wins in Boston and Brooklyn, but those games were surrounded by losses. The Clippers are still eighth in the West because of how hard they play, and if they can hold that position through a run of upcoming road games, we can start asking about if Paul George (elbow) or Kawhi Leonard (ACL) can return to make a playoff push.

Celtics small icon 14. Celtics (18-19, LW 16). Jaylen Brown put up a 50-spot this week, a reminder that despite all the rumors and speculation you will hear in the coming weeks, the Celtics don’t plan to trade either Brown or Jayson Tatum (bariog some godfather deal falling in their laps). The goal remains building something around those two star wings. At least, that’s the official position. A word of advice to the gamblers out there: Stay away from this team. The Celtics are a roller coaster, a team that beat Phoenix but lost to Minnesota recently.

Hornets small icon 15. Hornets (19-19, LW 14). Charlotte continues to rise and fall with its defense. When the Hornets recently played three solid defense games in a row, they won three straight. Then, they gave up 133 to the Suns and 124 to the Wizards, both losses. The Hornets are one of the worst transition defenses in the league and teams are running on them nightly — off makes and misses — and it’s not because Charlotte is a good offensive rebounding team crashing the glass. LaMelo Ball will be on the bubble for an All-Star berth, but a few more wins would boost his cause.

Lakers small icon 16. Lakers (20-19, LW 19). As much as it seems to get mentioned with every game and every highlight, it is still a marvel just how well LeBron James is playing right now. In December, LeBron averaged 30.7 points a game and became the oldest player in league history to average 30+ a night (stat via @jkubatko). He also added 9.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and shot 40.4% from 3. LeBron at center lineups have supercharged those numbers as well, and they are also the reason the Lakers have won 4-of-5 (LA is 4-5 since Anthony Davis went out with a sprained knee).

Wizards small icon 17. Wizards (19-18, LW 21). After a 10-3 start to the season that had everyone giving them flowers for winning the Westbrook trade, the Wizards a 9-15. Two areas where they continue to shine: They are the best clutch team in the NBA: 12-2 in games within three points in the final three minutes (and they were almost 13-1 after a Kyle Kuzma 3-pointer against the Bulls, but DeMar DeRozan had just enough time to flip that script). The other area: Montrezl Harrell may be the frontrunner for Sixth Man of the Year as he continues to put up numbers (14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds a game). His main early competition for the award, Jalen Brunson, has started too many games in Dallas (for good reason) and it’s taking him out of the running.

Raptors small icon 18. Raptors (17-17, LW 23). Fred VanVleet is on fire — he had his third straight 30+ point game Tuesday dropping 33 on the Spurs. Not so coincidentally, that’s three straight wins for the Raptors. VanVleet is putting up numbers that will get him in consideration for an All-Star reserve guard spot in the East (although whether he makes the cut in a conference deep with quality guards remains to be seen).

19. Timberwolves (17-20, LW 15). Minnesota has dropped 5-of-7, but most of that can be blamed on COVID ripping through the roster and messing with lineups. Despite that, because the West is the new “leastern conference,” the Timberwolves sit in the nine seed and are just two games out of the sixth seed (and avoiding the play-in all together). This week is Minnesota’s chance to make a push up the West ladder, with two games against OKC, plus Houston and New Orleans on the docket. Get Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell healthy, make a run and maybe things turn around.

Knicks small icon 20. Knicks (18-20, LW 20). The “defense+Julius Randle” identity that got the Knicks to the playoffs a season ago has been non-existent this season, and as of now New York has fallen out of even the play-in slots in the East. This team should be better than that, but losses last week to the Thunder (the Knicks offense sputtered) and Raptors (Knicks defense got shredded) show the challenges Tom Thibodeau faces. The time to turn it around is now: The Knicks play eight of their next 10 at home after Sunday, that has to become a turnaround or Knicks fans can focus their attention on college games featuring future lottery picks.

Hawks small icon 21. Hawks (16-20 LW 17). Is Trae Young an All-Star Game starter? He is in my book, he’ll have my vote for one of the two Eastern Conference guard spots. That’s a good story in the ATL, but Hawks GM Travis Schlenk going on Atlanta radio, ripping his team’s defensive effort, and saying “maybe I need to lower my expectations for this team” and “maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to bring everybody back” and “we have a few weeks here at the trade deadline and that’s what I need to figure out” is closer to reality. Atlanta is out of even the play-in in the East right now and unless their 28th ranked defense improves they are not going to leapfrog teams and get in.

Spurs small icon 22. Spurs (14-22, LW 18). Losers of four straight, but that is because Dejounte Murray is out and without him the offense is sputtering, barely scoring a point per possession (they are 29th in the league in offense over those four games). The schedule is not easing up on San Antonio, which Tuesday night in Toronto started a stretch of eight games in 12 days. It’s also not going to be the same without Becky Hammon on the bench next season, but she made the move that was likely best for her career (she was rumored not to be next in line when Popovich steps down at some point).

Kings small icon 23. Kings (16-23, LW 26). Sacramento went 3-3 on its longest homestand of the season, and picked up a couple of those wins in dramatic fashion. Against Miami, De'Aaron Fox drove the lane, put a spin move on Tyler Herro, and drew the foul to set up the game-winning free throws. With the wins the Kings sit in the 10 seed, the final play-in spot, but the buzz around the league is Sacramento will be very aggressive at the trade deadline looking to upgrade and end the team’s playoff drought that goes back to 2006.

Pelicans small icon 24. Pelicans (13-25, LW 22). The latest Zion Williamson update is that he will continue is rehab away from the team, but under the medical direction of the team. Reports say he is doing his rehab work in Portland, which is not a big deal so long as he is following a doctor’s advice and is putting in the work. If he doesn’t return this season, will the Pelicans still offer him the max contract extension he is eligible for this summer?

Pacers small icon 25. Pacers (14-24, LW 24). Of Indiana’s 24 losses, 17 have come in games within five points in the final five minutes — this team has been a combination of unlucky and just unable to close out games. It feels like a roster in need of a shakeup, which is why all eyes are on them heading toward the trade deadline. Myles Turner wants a trade, but the offers may be better for Domantas Sabonis and Caris LeVert. Whoever moves on, it’s time for the Pacers to retool the roster. It’s become obvious this season.

Blazers small icon 26. Trail Blazers (14-22, LW 25). Damian Lillard is out for another few games as he rests and rehabs the abdominal issue that has plagued him all season (and heading back to the Olympics in Tokyo). It’s been a frustrating season in Portland and heading toward the trade deadline there are questions for Portland: how much authority does interim GM Joe Cronin have to make changes? Are we talking CJ McCollum level changes, or just tinkering around the edges? Monday’s win over the Hawks started five in a row at home for the Blazers.

Thunder small icon 27. Thunder (13-23, LW 27). Josh Giddey became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double last week, which speaks both to his talent (the rookie is coming along nicely) and the fact Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort were out of the lineup, meaning Giddy had the ball in his hands all night. Despite having the fourth-worst net rating in the league, the Thunder have been a little lucky in games and are just 1.5 games back of the last play-in slot in the West. A push to make the play-in is not out of the question.

Pistons small icon 28. Pistons (7-28, LW 30). With all due respect to DeMar DeRozan, Saddiq Bey had the game-winner of the week. Detroit was shorthanded with with Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes both in protocols, but 10-day contract guard Derrick Walton Jr. drove the lane, drew the defense, threw a bounce-pass through the legs of Jakob Poeltl to the corner, Bey was waiting. The same Sadiq Bey who was 1-of-11 from 3 in the game so far and had the 7’1″ Poeltl in his face. What a shot.

Magic small icon 29. Magic 7-31, LW 28). Franz Wagner is absolutely in the mix for Rookie of the Year, which is not a sentence I ever thought I would type, but here we are in 2022. In December he averaged 19.5 points a game and shot 40% from 3. It makes you wonder what this team could look like if it could just get Wagner, Cole Anthony, Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac all healthy at the same time. There is some potential there. Orlando has lost six in a row and 13-of-15.

Ro corckets small icon 30. Rockets (10-28, LW 29). Just when you think things can’t get worse for a team that plays five rookies at the same time at points, both Kevin Porter Jr. and Christian Wood get in disciplinary trouble. Jalen Green is back on the court and in his last five games the No. 2 pick is averaging 20.2 points a game and hitting 47.4% from 3 on 7.6 attempts a game. He continues to struggle some inside the arc, but the potential is there and he’s starting to grow.

Rumor: Could Tyronn Lue step away from Clippers after season?

Oklahoma City Thunder v LA Clippers
Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue has clearly been frustrated this season.

It’s been the things out of his control — injuries and load management forcing constant lineup shuffling, and with that difficulty in building continuity — that have left Lue exasperated at points. However, is that enough to make Lue walk away from the Clippers this summer? That rumor is out there, Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports said during the new No Cap Room podcast with Dan Devine. (Hat tip Hoopshype.)

Ty Lue, as respected head coach as they come, but there has been chatter, let’s say about potentially him, in theory, removing himself from the situation at a certain point in time. So there’s a lot I think, at stake on the other side of L.A. where the Lakers get all the attention and LeBron’s quest for a fifth ring is always soaking up the headlines, the Clippers could end up becoming a super buzzy team in the postseason and but again, that could be a situation for a lot of organizations.

This is the fourth year of the Kawhi Leonard/Paul George era with the Clippers, with iffy results at best. It cost a lot of money — not to mention draft capital and talent like giving up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — to bring this roster together and they have one Western Conference Finals trip to show for it (2021, Lue’s first year as coach). This season they will head into the playoffs with an injured George trying to get back on the court (the good news is he doesn’t need knee surgery, but it may be closer to the second round before he can play).

Both Leonard and George are locked in for next season — at a combined $91.3 million — with player options for the season after that, but there is a sense around the league that if these Clippers don’t make a run in this year’s wide-open West playoffs there could be changes. Steve Ballmer has money to spend, but he wants results for all the checks he’s writing and there is real pressure on this organization to make that happen.

Lue could have had enough and choose to step away from that situation. Or be told to step away. Lue is in the third year of a five-year contract he signed to take over from Doc Rivers in Los Angeles, but it may be decision time for both sides.

What happens over the next couple of months will have a lot of influence over what comes next for these Clippers, but there could be changes coming to this Los Angeles team. They will be one of the more interesting teams to watch this coming off-season.

Three things to Know: Clippers find blueprint to win without Paul George


LOS ANGELES — Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Clippers find blueprint to win without Paul George

What do the Clippers need to do if they are going to hold on to a top-six seed — and be a threat early in the playoffs — without the injured Paul George?

It starts with Kawhi Leonard if you ask coach Tyronn Lue: “We need him to be in attack mode all night, you know, can’t ease into the games.”

Leonard scored 15 points on 7-of-7 shooting in the first quarter Thursday night. Box checked.

All night long the Clippers were following the blueprint Lue laid out to win without George, and the result was a comfortable 127-105 victory against the Thunder.

Leonard, maybe motivated by the lock-down defense Lu Dort played on him at the end of Tuesday’s game (although Kawhi denied that), Leonard had one of his best games of the season, scoring 30 points on 13-of-15 shooting. Leonard also will have to take on tougher defensive assignments early (something George had done) and the result was Leonard with four steals on the night.

What else was on Lue’s blueprint?

“Play with more pace, more pace in the half court getting to our spots, not walk around,” he said pregame. “Attack the basket, attack the rim, don’t just settle for jump shots.”

That pace especially came from a bench unit led by Bones Hyland (16 points), Terrence Mann (14 points) and Nicolas Batum (4-of-6 from 3). The bench plus Leonard unit changed the game, it was +25 early in the fourth quarter thanks to pace, player movement and shots falling.

The Clippers have also gotten more out of Russell Westbrook than the Lakers did earlier this season, the fit has been better, and he had 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting on the night.

“Just having a Hall-of-Fame point guard on the floor,” Leonard said of what Westbrook has brought to the Clippers. “He brings energy to the team, he brings pace… He plays both ends of the floor, he rebounds the ball… He’s been doing a great job.”

The Clippers are going to have to follow this blueprint for a while. George will be re-evaluated in three weeks and the good news is it appears he has no ligament damage that will require surgery. As Lue said, that’s as good of news as the Clippers could have gotten, considering how nasty the injury looked when it happened. Still, reports suggest George could be out until the second round of the playoffs. If the Clippers are still playing at that point.

They will need a lot more nights like Thursday to get to that point.

2) Isaac Okoro drains game-winner, Cavaliers stun Nets

Donovan Mitchell missed the free throw with 11.6 seconds left that would have tied the game, but his hustle (and a lack of fundamental boxing out by Brooklyn) let him get in the lane and keep the ball alive. It caromed around out to Caris LeVert out near mid-court, he drove and could have thrown up a leaner, but instead he whipped a pass to Isaac Okoro in the opposite corner for a 3.


The Cavaliers beat the Nets 116-114 Thursday night, sweeping a two-game set from Brooklyn.

The Cavaliers stars stepped up. Mitchell had 31 points, Evan Mobley continued his run of impressive play with 26 points and 16 rebounds, and Jarrett Allen reminded his former team what they are missing inside with 12 points and 10 rebounds against his former team.

Mikal Bridges led Brooklyn with 32 points, while Spencer Dinwiddie had 25 points and 12 assists. But the Nets have dropped five straight games and with that fell half a game behind the idle Heat for the No. 6 seed (and avoiding the play-in) in the East. The Nets and Heat play Saturday in a game that could decide who gets that sixth spot.

3) Brandon Ingram gets first-ever triple-double, Pelicans get much-needed win

How tight is the bottom of the West? From the Timberwolves at No.7 through the Jazz at No.12, every team is tied in the loss column at 37 wins. In that mix, the Mavericks, Lakers, Thunder and Pelicans are tied at 36-37.

The Pelicans are part of that bunch thanks to Brandon Ingram, who had his first triple-double Wednesday night and would not let the Pelicans lose at home to Charlotte.

Jonas Valanciunas added 20 points and 19 rebounds for New Orleans, while CJ McCollum added 19 himself. P.J. Washington led the way for the Hornets with 18.

It will be a wild final couple of weeks out West, and the Pelicans will need more of this Ingram with Zion Williamson out.

Watch Isaac Okoro drain game-winning 3-pointer, Cavaliers top Nets


NEW YORK — Isaac Okoro hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 0.7 seconds remaining and finished with 11 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers beat Brooklyn 116-114 Thursday night and closed in on their first playoff berth since 2018 with a two-game sweep of the Nets.

“It was a lot of pressure put into the shot, of course,” Okoro said. “You always feel good with a game-winner. For me, it was my first one.”

Donovan Mitchell scored 31 points, Evan Mobley had 26 points and 16 rebounds and Jarrett Allen finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds against his former team. Cleveland, which beat Brooklyn 115-109 on Tuesday, won for the eighth time in 10 games and reduced its magic number to clinch one of the Eastern Conference’s top playoff spots to two.

“It was ugly at times,” Mitchell said. “There’s just so much going on (in the playoff race), and at the end of the day all we can do is control what we can control and winning these games instead of praying that other teams lose or win, we just gotta go out there and do what we do, and it’s great to have a win like this tonight.”

Mikal Bridges scored 32 points, Spencer Dinwiddie had 25 points and 12 assists and Joe Harris hit five 3-pointers and finished with 15 points as the Nets lost their fifth straight game.

“It’s frustrating,” Bridges said. “Obviously, we’ve got to keep the energy and morale high, but it’s devastating losing like that.”

Cleveland trailed 112-104 with 2:13 left before closing the game on a 12-2 run, with the help of three crucial Nets turnovers. Trailing by one, Mitchell missed a second free throw that would’ve tied the game, then he missed a put-back, and three different Nets had their hands on the ball for the potential rebound before it bounded to Cleveland guard Caris LeVert.

“I thought we did a great job of getting some stops to put ourselves in that position,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “You miss the free throw, we had multiple opportunities at it, but guys didn’t quit on the play, and we talk about winning 50-50 balls and winning the scrap.”

LeVert, who spent his first four seasons with Brooklyn, found Okoro in the corner, and he drained the 3-pointer to give Cleveland the lead.

“The ball goes out to Caris, and I’m just running to the corner and going to my spot, and Caris trusted me,” Okoro said. “Once it left my hand, I knew it was going in.”

Bickerstaff said Okoro had no fear of taking the big shot.

“But I think what was most important is Caris saw that he was open and got him the ball, and that speaks to this team,” Bickerstaff said.

A heave from half court by Bridges at the buzzer fell short.

Bridges secured his eighth 30-plus point game as a member of the Nets through three quarters with 14 points in the third quarter. Then Harris heated up with four fourth-quarter 3-pointers in a sub-five-minute span, helping Brooklyn build a 10-point advantage.

“I felt like we deserved to win that game because we did a lot of good things throughout the course of the night,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said. “This is an opportunity for us to learn who we are.”

The Cavaliers rank first in the NBA in points-against per game and defensive rating, but had no answer for the Nets offense, which shot 56% in the first half. Dinwiddie had 19 points, including 11 in the second quarter, and seven assists, helping Brooklyn take a 61-60 lead into the break.

Mitchell and Bridges each scored in double figures in the first quarter, seeming to trade baskets in the early going. Mitchell scored 12 in the first, including nine in the first 2:17. Bridges had 10, helping the Nets build a 33-31 lead after one.

Malone says Jokić turned off by ‘ugly, nasty turn in the MVP conversation’


There has always been some element of “if you don’t see things the way I do you’re an idiot” in the NBA MVP conversation. Between sports talking heads and fevered fans on social media, there have always been some pushing the edge in the MVP debate.

However, something about Nikola Jokić looking like he would win a third-straight MVP around the All-Star break — fueled by Tim Bontemps straw poll at ESPN — turned the conversation much more intense much earlier this season. And it got nasty — again driven by ESPN on-air personalities. Some past MVP votes were re-litigated through the lens of this season, while other fans and media equated backing their guy with tearing down someone else (often Jokić, but sometimes Joel Embiid or Giannis Antetokounmpo, the other frontrunners). That has turned Jokić off from the conversation, Nuggets coach Mike Malone said after his team beat the Wizards Wednesday.

Here’s the full quote:

“I think this year unfortunately has just taken a really ugly, nasty turn in the MVP conversation, and I think it’s really turned a lot of people off, including [Jokić]. And what’s happening now is there’s so many guys that could win the MVP this year. Great candidates. Joel Embiid is a great candidate, Luka Doncic is a great candidate, Jayson Tatum, whoever you want to put in that mix, those are all deserving. But what happens in today’s society is that everybody, it’s like when I was a college coach and all the negative recruiting. It’s not promoting my guy, it’s ripping down every other guy. And that’s just ridiculous.

“This game, as Adam Silver told us at the All-Star break, the game is in a great spot. The league’s in a great spot. We have great players. Celebrate them. Don’t criticize, don’t tear them down. Build them all up, and whoever wins it, good for them. And that’s one thing that’s been really disappointing this year with the whole MVP conversation and all the hot takes. It’s really just gotten ugly and nasty, and I really don’t care for it.”

Malone isn’t the only person saying this. Jeff Van Gundy talked about this on the Lowe Post Podcast.

“Can we stop trying to put people down?” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said recently. “We should be celebrating our guys in the league. Giannis, Jayson Tatum, Joker, all of them are great. We don’t need to push one down to elevate the other guy. They all are completely different players.”

The NBA may not always like the tone but it LOVES the debate — it does not want everyone hugging it out. They want drama and tension. They want an argument. And in an online world where tearing someone down gets more clicks/eyeballs than lifting someone up, the debate was always going to get ugly at times.

[Side note: What grates on voters (*raises hand*) is when people jump in our mentions or timelines saying that this stat or style of play – clutch points, defense, some advanced stat, head-to-head play — makes it clear and obvious that it has to be Player X. The NBA goes out of its way to get a very diverse group of voters in terms of background, and everybody brings their own criteria to the table. As it should be.]

There is no single NBA-sanctioned definition of MVP for a reason — the league wants the arguments.

Which this race is providing. You can make a legitimate argument for Jokić, Embiid and Antetokounmpo. It’s boring (and bad sports talk) to say there is no bad choice among them… but there is no bad choice among them.

That said, some passion and a little edge are welcomed in the conversation. Ideally, people just know where the line is.