NBA Power Rankings: Suns hang on to top spot but Celtics, 76ers gaining


The Phoenix Suns are keeping their heads above water despite Chris Paul and Devin Booker being out, and that keeps them atop these NBA power rankings. However, the Celtics and 76ers are coming fast and could crack the top two… just not this week.

Suns small icon 1. Suns (52-13, Last Week No. 1). Phoenix is keeping its head above water without Chris Paul and, of late, Devin Booker (who returns Wednesday). The Suns have gone 4-3 since the All-Star break with a +3.9 net rating, which is not bad considering the circumstances. As it has been all season with this team, Phoenix is leaning on its depth and balance, with different players stepping up nightly. Deandre Ayton had 21 points and 19 boards against the Magic Tuesday. Cameron Johnson has had his big nights, too, shooting 58.5% from 3 since CP3 went out, and that includes a 38-point game against the Knicks, complete game-winner (and yes he called bank).

Heat small icon 2. Heat (44-22, LW 2). The Heat are going to earn the No. 1 seed in the East. Winners of 7-of-8, including games over the Nets and 76ers, Miami has a three-game cushion on top of the conference and has nine of their next 10 games at home (the only road trip is to Philadelphia on March 21). The question is can they take advantage of home court come the playoffs? They need a better clutch offense to do so. Miami is 19-12 in clutch games this season with the fourth-best clutch defense in the league, but the offense is 27th and it showed in the loss to the Bucks, who went on a 21-6 run late because Miami struggled to generate good halfcourt looks. That is the potential Achilles heel for the Heat.

Celtics small icon 3. Celtics (39-27, LW 6). Time to start talking about Boston as one of the contenders in the East: 13-2 in their last 15 with a +15.2 net rating (both best in the league) and the NBA’s best defense. Questions about the Celtics’ offense have been answered with Jayson Tatum reaching a new level of not just scorer — although he dropped 54 on the Nets over the weekend and was the best player on the floor — but also as a playmaker setting up teammates. This is a team that understands its roles, and Ime Udoka has built something that appears sustainable — can they keep that going under the pressure of the playoffs? Or will Tatum stop making quick decisions that keep teammates involved and start to pound the ball into the floor like Harden/Kobe? If he keeps playing like he is now, Boston has a chance.

Sixers small icon 4. 76ers (40-24, LW 7).Philadelphia is 5-0 in games James Harden plays, and only one team (Cleveland) kept the margin of victory in single digits. (Harden did take the game off against the one team that could have dented that record in Miami, but it was a back-to-back.) Everyone in Philly is focused on — and security has been increased for — Ben Simmons‘ return to the city on Thursday night. Of course, he will be sitting on the bench, not be on the court passing up open jumpers, but that’s not going to quiet Philly fans. Better tests for this team next week with Denver, Cleveland, and Dallas.

Grizzlies small icon 5. Grizzlies (45-22, LW 3). Memphis has looked a little more vulnerable the past couple of weeks, going 4-4 in their last eight, but with Golden State looking worse, Memphis still seems destined for the No. 2 seed out West (the Warriors have a much tougher schedule the rest of the way). Part of the reason for this is a Jaren Jackson Jr. mini-slump — he has been in foul trouble a few games, taking his critical defense off the floor, and he’s shooting just 25% from 3 in his last five games. Sunday starts a four-game road trip, but the Grizzlies are in a relatively soft part of the schedule and need to rack up some wins.

Mavericks small icon 6. Mavericks (40-25, LW 7). Sometimes it’s all about fit in the NBA, and Spencer Dinwiddie fits in Dallas. Since coming to Texas as part of the Kristaps Porzingis trade (and the Wizards kicking him on the way out the door), the veteran point guard has averaged 18.3 points and 4.5 assists a game, shooting 54.7% overall and 44.7% from 3. In his role as a third ball handler Dinwiddie is getting to the rim more (where he’s finishing 70% of his shots) and being more selective from 3. He even has earned the trust of Luka Doncic, who has let Dinwiddie take over the offense for stretches. Dinwiddie’s offense makes Dallas a more dangerous playoff team.

Nuggets small icon 7. Nuggets (40-25, LW 9). Who needs Nikola Jokic? Well, Denver, the team is 16.6 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. But when a tired Jokic took a night off against Houston, DeMarcus Cousins stepped right in with 31 points in 24 minutes and the Nuggets didn’t miss a beat. Jokic bounced back from that night off with 46 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists, 4 blocks and 3 steals in an OT win against the Pelicans. Denver sits as the No. 6 seed in the West and should be able to hang on to that and avoid the play-in, the Nuggets are 2.5 games up on the No. 7 seed Timberwolves. Denver has a slightly tougher schedule the rest of the way, but should be able to hang on to a top-six spot (especially once Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. return).

Bucks small icon 8. Bucks (41-25, LW 10). The Bucks who look like they could win it all showed up for the end of a win against the Heat over the weekend, going on a 21-6 run and shutting down the Miami offense in the clutch to get the win. The Bucks offense has been best in the NBA since the All-Star break, but the defense locking teams down is the issue. For the season Milwaukee is tied for 10th in the league, and since the All-Star break it’s 13th — that’s not good enough for a team thinking title. They need to tighten it up on that end, but the Bucks have felt like champs coasting through the regular season all along waiting for things to get serious. Despite that, they still sit as the No. 3 seed in the East and are just one game back of the Sixers at No. 2.

Jazz small icon 9. Jazz (40-24, LW 4). Are the Jazz title contenders? It’s a little strange to say this, but only if their defense is up to the task — and it hasn’t been of late. Since the All-Star break, the Jazz are 26th in the league in defensive rating. Part of that was Monday night, when Luka Doncic carved them up with the pick-and-roll, exposing the lack of quality perimeter defenders on the Jazz roster. Rudy Gobert is still in the mix for Defensive Player of the Year — a wide-open season for that category, BTW — but one man can only cover up so many holes. Utah has 5-of-6 at home and a relatively soft part of the schedule coming up, this is a chance to get the defense back on track, lock in some wins, grabbing ahold of the at No. 4 seed and home court in the first round.

Warriors small icon 10. Warriors (44-22, LW 5). Draymond Green said he is targeting a return on Monday, and that can’t be soon enough for the Warriors, who are 3-8 in their last 11 with a bottom 10 defense in the league over that stretch. Green had been in the early Defensive Player of the Year conversation and Golden State had the best defense in the league before his back issue flared up. Stephen Curry could also use Green’s playmaking back on the court, the Warriors’ offensive engine has been inconsistent with Green out. Before Green’s return next week the Warriors have a couple of showcase games: A rematch with Denver (who beat them on Monday) and then the Bucks on Saturday.

11. Timberwolves (37-29, LW 14). After a slow start, Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves have turned it around to become an offensive force this season — second in the NBA since the All-Star break and third best over their last 15 games. Give credit to D'Angelo Russell, who has found his sweet spot at the point and understands running an offense better than at any time in his career. That end of the floor has carried the Wolves — and likely will carry them into the playoffs. Winners of five in a row (including sweeping a couple of back-to-backs), Minnesota still has hope of the No. 6 seed and avoiding the play-in games. They’ll need a little help to make up 2.5 games they are back of Denver, but if they keep winning, it’s not out of the question.

Cavaliers small icon 12. Cavaliers (38-27, LW 12). Darius Garland continues to put up numbers — 41 on Tuesday night against the Pacers — and Evan Mobley continues to be the Rookie of the Year frontrunner impacting both ends of the court (22 points against the Pacers, including the game-tying putback in the final minute — but the Cavaliers are 3-4 since the All-Star break with an offense and defense ranked 20th or worse in the league over that stretch. Losing All-Star center Jarrett Allen to a fractured finger is not helping matters (there is no timeline for his return, but hopefully before the playoffs). The Raptors are just 3.5 games back and if the Cavaliers want to avoid the play-in they need to find a few more wins down the stretch (the one over those Raptors on Sunday was huge for holding onto their seed).

Bulls small icon 13. Bulls (39-26, LW 11). This stat (via Stat Muse) is the one that should keep Bulls fans up at night as they gear up for the playoffs: Chicago is a combined 0-14 against the top three seeds in each conference. The includes losses this past week to the 76ers and Bucks, part of the Bulls’ five-game losing streak that has seen them fall to fourth in the East (with the surging Celtics half a game back). Chicago has 9-of-11 coming up on the road, where they are below .500 on the season (and much worse of late), and the defense continues to miss Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso (the D is 27th ranked in the league over their last six games). Righting this ship will not be easy.

Clippers small icon14. Clippers (34-33, LW 15). The Clippers’ strong identity and team play in beating the Lakers last week (and the other three times those teams played this season) tells you maybe the Lakers shouldn’t have low-balled Tyronn Lue when looking for a coach a few years back. The Clippers are happy the team down the hall did so, however. “I’ve been on, now, a couple of teams, and this is the only team where, from top to bottom, everyone wants everyone to succeed,” Isaiah Hartenstein said after that win. “I think that’s special with this team.”

Raptors small icon 15. Raptors (34-30, LW 13). Rather than surging into the top six in the East after the All-Star break, the Raptors are 2-5 with a -5.8 net rating in those games and the 27th ranked offense in the league. Part of that is OG Anunoby being out with a finger injury and Fred VanVleet missing time with a knee injury, the Raptors need to get healthy before the playoffs. If you’re looking for a silver lining in all of this, Malachi Flynn has been on a hot streak after being forced into a larger role. That loss to Cleveland on Sunday was the first of 8-of-9 on the road for Toronto.

Hawks small icon 16. Hawks (31-33 LW 16). Atlanta shouldn’t need more motivation: They sit as the No. 10 seed in the East, meaning as of today they would need to win two games to get out of the play-in. However, the Hawks are just one game out of the No. 8 seed, where one win in either of two games gets them into the playoffs. Atlanta has won 5-of-8, but the overtime loss to Detroit on Monday is a reminder Atlanta is not a very good clutch team. The Hawks have a -15.6 net rating in the clutch (27th in the league) and their offense can stall out if Trae Young isn’t hitting everything. Atlanta needs some secondary scoring in the clutch to move up in the standings over the final weeks.

Nets small icon 18. Nets (33-33, LW 17). It’s easy to pick apart the Nets: They have lost of 6-of-8, are 1-2 since Kevin Durant returned from injury, they have the 29th ranked defense in the league over their last seven games, Ben Simmons is weeks away, and they are just 6-11 with Kyrie Irving in uniform this season. But then Irving goes out and drops 50, as he did on the Hornets Tuesday night, and you are reminded of the potential of this roster. Whether they can reach anything near that ceiling this season — especially four times in a seven-game series — is seriously up for debate, but on any given night the Nets’ talent can still overwhelm (and tease their fans).

Hornets small icon 17. Hornets (32-34, LW 18). If Charlotte is going to make a push up the standings and lock in their spot in the play-in, now is the time — six of their next eight are at home. Looking for a spark of energy, the Hornets signed fan favorite Isaiah Thomas to a 10-day contract. “”He’s a pro, he’s a vet. He’s been there before, and he looked the part,” coach James Borrego said after the Hornets beat the Cavaliers this week. “You can just see his basketball IQ, his savviness. He knows how to play. And I thought he was a big spark for us here tonight.”

Pelicans small icon 19. Pelicans (27-38, LW 19). The Pelicans are 4-2 since the All-Star break and have grabbed ahold of the No. 10 seed in the West (and likely will pass the Lakers for ninth before it is all over). While CJ McCollum gets a lot of credit for that, the real secret has been the Pelicans having the second-best defense in the NBA over those six games — they are getting stops to stay in games. Willie Green will not win Coach of the Year with this record, but he has done a fantastic job laying a foundation with this team going forward. Oh, and I guess Zion Williamson is around the team again, for whatever that is worth.

Spurs small icon 20. Spurs (25-40, LW 20). In the coming days, Gregg Popovich will break Don Nelson’s record and become the winningest regular season coach in NBA history. Pop will not want to talk about it, because he’s Pop, but that is an accomplishment worth celebrating. It speaks not just to longevity, but to his adaptability with different rosters, and his ability to develop and mold players not taken No. 1 (although it does help to have Tim Duncan). Popovich has done some of his best teaching with a young Spurs team that is improving this season, and reports are he is enjoying it so much he may well be back next season.

Wizards small icon 21. Wizards (29-34, LW 21). Kristaps Porzingis was exactly what the Wizards hoped in his debut: 25 points, 3-4 from 3, a couple of blocked shots. He looked like the kind of player who would fit well next to Bradley Beal, if KP can stay healthy. That’s always been the issue. Porzingis looked good in Dallas when he played, that just wasn’t often enough for the Mavericks to feel like they were moving forward. Maybe things will be different in Washington. One thought on the semi-ridiculous idea of John Wall returning to the Wizards: They do need a point guard for next year. Not a score first guy, but a true floor general. Finding one is easier said than done, but it has to be an offseason priority.

Knicks small icon 22. Knicks (27-38, LW 23). New York is the worst clutch team in the NBA this season. That’s not a surprise to anybody who has watched them play recently — they have blown nine games with double-digit leads since the start of 2022 alone. The Knicks score less than a point per possession on offense in the clutch (final five minutes or OT of a game within five points), and have a -23.8 net rating in those minutes. Considering all that, their 13-20 record in the clutch is better than expected. RJ Barrett is more and more comfortable leading the offense, having scored 20+ in five straight games.

Lakers small icon 23. Lakers (28-36, LW 22). The Lakers are 1-5 since Anthony Davis went out with a sprained foot, and to get that one win required LeBron James to dominate the game and put up a 56 spot (then he missed the next game with a swollen knee). In those six games, the Lakers have a -8.3 net rating, with a bottom 10 offense and defense. Not a pretty picture, but that one win is a reminder why the Lakers are a threat to come out of the play-in and could push some team in the first round — LeBron is still capable of hitting highs few other players can. He just can’t do it alone.

Pacers small icon 24. Pacers (22-45, LW 24). If you’re looking for a bright spot in this Pacers’ season, know that since coming over at the trade deadline Tyrese Haliburton is averaging 19.2 points and 9.5 assists a game, shooting 41.9% from 3, and playing the best basketball of his career. That said, it hasn’t translated to winning yet and the fit with Malcolm Brogdon, Buddy Hield and everyone else is still a work in progress. Winning may have to wait until next season, but the Pacers hope to get Myles Turner back on the court this season so he can start to develop some chemistry with his new teammates.

Kings small icon 25. Kings (24-43, LW 26). Maybe its the trade changing the competition of the backcourt, maybe its playing with a facilitating big man such as Domantas Sabonis, but De'Aaron Fox is on fire. In his last 10 games he is averaging 27.9 points on 52.2% shooting and dishing out 6.5 assists a night. Much of the season he had not looked like the same, explosive Fox who had earned that massive contract extension, but that has changed of late. The Kings have 5-of-6 coming up at home.

Blazers small icon 26. Trail Blazers (25-39, LW 25). Who has been the worst team in the NBA since the All-Star break? Portland and it’s not even close. The Trail Blazers are 0-5 and have a -29.7 net rating (that’s more than double the second worst net rating, that of the Thunder at 14.5%). It’s all by design as the Trail Blazers have torn the team apart, are hoping for a high draft pick, then they will look to retool the team around Damian Lillard. That said, Portland has the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA and could win enough games to mess up that plan.

Pistons small icon 27. Pistons (18-47, LW 28). Since coming over from Sacramento in a deadline trade, Mavin Bagley III has looked pretty good. He fits a need in Detroit — inside scoring, especially with Isaiah Stewart missing some time with a bone bruise on his knee — and Bagley is averaging 13.8 points a game on 53.5% shooting. He’s doing it as a post-up threat or catching lobs, plus he pulls down 6.7 rebounds a game in a little more than 24 minutes a night off the bench. Most importantly, he is showing real chemistry with Cade Cunningham already. Bagley is playing well enough the Pistons may bring the free agent back, or another team may step in and take a chance on the former No. 2 pick.

Magic small icon 28. Magic 16-50, LW 27). The bright spot in Orlando is it looks like they are building a team that can defend well, a good foundation for future seasons. Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr. form a stout front line, the young backcourt of R.J. Hampton, Cole Anthony, and Jalen Suggs is showing potential, and next season they will add Jonathan Isaac to the mix. Also on a positive note, Markelle Fultz continues to play pretty well since coming back from injury: 9.8 points a game and an above-average .572 true shooting percentage.

Thunder small icon 29. Thunder (20-45, LW 29). While almost nobody was watching, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has torn it up since the All-Star Break: 33.3 points per game on 57.1% shooting overall and 42.9% from 3, plus dishing out 7.7 assists and grabbing 6.3 rebounds a night. It hasn’t translated to wins, but OKC has run into a tough stretch of games (Timberwolves, Jazz, Bucks) and it doesn’t get any easier with a Minnesota rematch than Memphis up as the next two on the schedule.

Rockets small icon 30. Rockets (16-49, LW 30). Jalen Green has started to turn a corner with his season, averaging 20.3 points a game on 47.5% shooting since the All-Star break (he shot 38.7% before it). Green had thrown down dunks but it took a while to figure out how to fit his incredible athleticism into the NBA game, but he seems to be making progress, which is critical because the Rockets continue to see the No. 2 pick as part of their foundation going forward.

Three things to know: Can someone explain the Miami Heat?

Miami Heat v Atlanta Hawks
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Three Things 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) Can someone explain the Miami Heat?

Friday night, Jimmy Butler returned to the Heat lineup and was a force down the stretch, Bam Adebayo played like an All-NBA big man and the Heat picked up a don’t-forget-about-us win over the best team in basketball, the Boston Celtics.

Two nights later, with Butler still in the lineup, the Heat fell to a Grizzlies team without Ja Morant or three other starters. The listless loss felt like a low point in the season.

Until Tuesday. That’s when Jimmy Butler got a scheduled rest day and the Heat fell apart in the second half and lost 116-96 to a struggling Pistons team without Cade Cunningham. The Heat defense, one of their strengths on the season, was a mess on Tuesday as they could not contain the ball. More importantly, as has happened too often this season, the Heat simply got outworked.

Typically around 20 games into the season, you have a sense of a team and what it can be. Not the Heat. They are 11-14 and sit 11th in the East, outside even the play-in. They tease with flashes that remind you they came within a made Butler 3 of going to the Finals a season ago, but on more nights they come nowhere near that potential.

Offensively, this team is bottom 10 in the league, and it showed against Detroit. The only true shot creators on the roster are Butler and Tyler Herro — if one of them isn’t on the floor Miami barely scores a point per possession. Against Detroit, if it wasn’t a Herro/Adebayo action, the play seemed to go nowhere.

Last season, when the team was shorthanded for a night, the reserves stepped up the energy — Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin stepped up and made plays. This season, when the stars are out that same energy is not there.

Injuries are part of the issue — Kyle Lowry is their iron man, having played in every game (a sentence I never thought I would type). Herro has missed eight games, Butler 10, and reserves such as Duncan Robinson and Vincent have spent time on the shelf. Victor Oladipo made his debut on Tuesday. Eric Spoelstra constantly has to juggle his rotation, nothing feels settled.

But this team isn’t playing every night with the fire we have come to expect from the Heat. Last season (and traditionally every year), even when the stars had to sit the Heat were a tough out because of the intensity and execution with which they played. Not this season. That Heat culture has not shown through the same way.

It’s also too early to write this team off (and they could make a move at the deadline to boost the rotation). Despite the slow start they are just 2.5 games back of the Hawks and the No. 4 seed, there is time to make a run, but games like the loss to the Pistons Tuesday make one wonder if this version of the Heat has that in them.

2) Donovan Mitchell drops 43, outshines LeBron in Cleveland

There’s a little extra shine on the game any time LeBron James returns to Cleveland. The spotlight is a little brighter.

Donovan Mitchell stole that spotlight on Tuesday.

Mitchell dropped a season-high 43 points and continued to look like one of the best moves of the offseason, sparking the Cavaliers to a 116-102 win over the Lakers.

The big concern from Los Angeles’ end was Anthony Davis left the game in the first quarter due to “flu-like symptoms” and did not return. His status for the team against the Raptors Wednesday night is unknown.

Jarrett Allen returned from injury for the Cavaliers and with Davis out he ate, scoring 24. But it was the Mitchell show in the second half, when he scored 29.

3) Progress toward new CBA reportedly slowed down

It’s long been the conventional wisdom that the owners and players union are both making too much money to risk killing the goose that lays the golden eggs — they would find common ground on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Things were going too well for them to risk any labor trouble (and how that would play publicly).

But that may underestimate billionaires’ greed — an internal fight among owners might screw it up.

New CBA talks have reportedly slowed largely because some owners are pushing for an “Upper Spending Limit” — a hard cap by any other name. Marc Stein was among the first to report on this months ago and added yesterday in his newsletter things have gotten serious enough that the sides may need to extend the Dec. 15 opt-out date for the CBA to give them more time to negotiate.

Here’s the issue in a nutshell:

• Some owners want to rein in the spending of other newer, richer owners. Since the punitive luxury tax isn’t doing the job, those owners want a hard cap (possibly to replace, or at least alter, the current tax system).

• There are a minority of owners are willing to shrug off the tax. For example, Steve Ballmer’s Clippers are poised to pay $191.9 million in payroll this season, plus $144.7 million in luxury tax, for a rough total of $336.6 million in salary and tax. The Warriors are likely closer to $360 million this season in salary and tax, and the Nets will be in the same ballpark. For comparison, the Clippers will pay more in tax alone than 11 teams will spend on total payroll, (20 NBA teams will pay around $150 million in payroll or less).

• There is zero chance the players will approve a CBA with anything resembling a hard cap. The owners know this.

• The owners’ squabbles are part of a larger fight going on across the sporting world, not just domestically but internationally. To use soccer as an example during the World Cup, the oil-rich country of Qatar owns French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain FC and has paid for a front line of Messi, Neymar, and Kylian Mbappe. They crush domestic competition most seasons because they can outspend them. The Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund has bought Newcastle United in the English Premier League and their spending — not just on players but staff and facilities — has turned Newcastle into a Champions League looking team in a year. And the list goes on and on in soccer.

• Earlier this year, the NBA approved a rule change that would allow a sovereign wealth fund — the arms of these oil-rich countries, or other nations — to buy up to 20% of an NBA team. That has not happened yet, but the door is open.

• As wealthier owners — including hedge fund managers and the like — jump into the NBA, some of the older owners feel squeezed by this new group’s willingness to spend. That older group is pushing back to rein in those new owners who (they feel) disrupt the system with their spending.

• This dispute among the owners has suddenly put the dreaded idea of a lockout back on the table. It’s not likely, but it’s possible. This is not a player thing, this is all Adam Silver and the owners, and they need to get their house in order, not risk the league’s standing over their internal issues.

TOP HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT: Kenny shoves Shaq into the Christmas Tree. That is never not funny.

Watch Donovan Mitchell drop 43, upstage LeBron return as Cavs top Lakers


CLEVELAND (AP) — As a kid growing up in New York, Donovan Mitchell idolized LeBron James. On Tuesday night, he upstaged him.

Mitchell scored a season-high 43 points and Jarrett Allen returned from injury to add 24, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 116-102 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in James’ only visit home this season.

With Anthony Davis missing the final three quarters because of illness, the Cavs improved to an NBA-leading 11-1 on their floor, their best start at home since 2015-16, when James led them to a championship.

Mitchell, who has Cleveland fans dreaming of another title run, took over in the second half and scored 29 points with the kind of performance James had routinely during his 11 seasons for the Cavs.

“You always want to spoil the homecoming,” Mitchell said with a smile.

With Cleveland leading by 12 in the fourth, Mitchell buried a 3-pointer from the left wing to finish the Lakers. After dropping the shot, the All-Star guard strutted around the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse floor nodding his head as James helplessly watched.

“He’s Mitchell,” James said. “He’s a special kid.”

Darius Garland added 21 points and 11 assists for Cleveland.

James finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds, losing for just the third time in 20 games against the Cavs.

Dennis Schroder and Russell Westbrook added 16 points apiece as Los Angeles had its four-game winning streak stopped.

Davis went out after eight minutes with flu-like symptoms. The eight-time All-Star had scored 99 points in his previous two games and had been playing as well as he has in several seasons after being plagued by injuries.

Davis didn’t attempt a field goal and scored just one point before leaving.

“It got progressively worse as the day went on,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “His temperature was 101 and some change. A-D wanted to try to play, but he felt too weak. He’s drained and dehydrated.

“That’s a huge loss, obviously, with the way he’s been playing lately.”

Without Davis clogging the middle, Allen, who missed the last five games with a bruised back, made his first 10 shots and helped the Cavs take a 57-49 halftime lead.

“Next man up,” James said when asked how he reacted to losing Davis. “That’s a tall task – literally and figuratively.”

The Cavs welcomed James back with a video tribute during an early timeout. After a montage of clips, including some from 2016, James waved to the crowd and then blew kisses to show his appreciation.

The warm scene was in contrast to what happened almost exactly 12 years ago, when he came back with the Miami Heat and was met with boos and worse on a night James has said he’ll never forget.

James said he was caught off guard by the tribute.

“It’s always love coming back here,” he said. “The memories I have here will never be forgotten.”


Ben Simmons targeting Friday vs. Hawks to return from calf strain

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Ben Simmons has missed the Nets’ last three games with knee pain tied to a left calf strain, and he will be out Wednesday, too, when Brooklyn takes on Charlotte.

However, he plans to return on Friday (Dec. 9) against the Hawks.

Simmons was adjusting to a new role in Brooklyn. In Philadelphia he was a point-forward with the ball in his hands playing off Joel Embiid (at least at first), but in Brooklyn the ball needed to be in the hands of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the halfcourt. Simmons is playing more small-ball five, and is asked to be aggressive and attack when he gets the ball — not shoot jumpers — and to push the rock in transition. It took a while for Simmons to settle into that space, but he seemed to in games against Philadelphia (11 points, 11 assists), Toronto (14 points, six assists) and Indiana (20 points). Then the injuries hit.

Brooklyn sits at 13-12, with a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense for the season. While there are doubts about the ceiling for this team, it has a talent level that should be better than this record, it’s just been beset by injuries, controversy causing Kyrie Irving to miss time, and a coaching change. The Nets have yet to hit their stride.

But they could have a clean injury report on Friday night, and maybe that can be the start of this team getting on a run.

Suns, Hawks reportedly show interest in Kuzma trade, Wizards see him as cornerstone

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets
Al Bello/Getty Images

Kyle Kuzma was the kind of quality, two-way role player the Lakers needed around LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win the 2020 NBA title (the type of player the Lakers wish they had now).

In Washington, his role has been elevated — he’s a 20-point-a-game scorer (20.6 points per game this season, to be precise) who is a key part of generating offense, not just playing off the stars of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. As he told Shams Charania of The Athletic:

“As soon as I got traded, I was ready to be more,” Kuzma told The Athletic.

It’s been enough to draw the interest of a couple of teams looking for a trade, Charania adds. The Wizards are not necessarily interested in moving on, however.

Several teams, such as the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, have expressed trade interest in Kuzma, according to league sources. By the same token, the Wizards have shown interest in Hawks forward John Collins, and the sides seriously discussed a potential deal last offseason, league sources added…

However, the Wizards’ front office, led by general manager Tommy Sheppard, has made clear that it views Kuzma as a cornerstone moving forward as the franchise has seen him thrive since the mega-trade in the 2021 offseason. The Westbrook trade provided future flexibility and assets for the Wizards, who have been known to be aggressive and active in research across the league.

Kuzma has a $13 million player option for next season that he will unquestionably opt out of, making him a free agent in search of a healthy raise (north of $20 million a year, although expect something more in the ballpark of the four-year, $104 million Jalen Brunson contract). If the Wizards are willing to pay they likely can keep him (they have his Bird rights). But if Washington isn’t sure it wants to pay market value, or if management sees a shifting path for future seasons, it should consider trading Kuzma at the deadline.

If he becomes available, far more teams than the Hawks and Suns would be interested, quality two-way forwards are in demand around the league. Kuzma would have some leverage over where he gets sent because he can leave as a free agent (teams would offer up less if they believed Kuzma would only be a rental for this season).