Daniel Theis

Getty Images

NBA Power Rankings: Warriors surge, Raptors still on top

Leave a comment

The Golden State Warriors reminded everyone Tuesday night what they are capable of, but the top two spots still belong to the top teams in the East. They have been more consistent.

Raptors small icon 1. Raptors (33-12, last week No. 1). Things are coming together for the Raptors. They have won five in a row, the last four of those with Kyle Lowry back in the lineup returned from injury, Kawhi Leonard has moved the ball better in those five wins (26 assists), Pascal Siakam is getting more run at center, and Serge Ibaka has slipped up a few times but is still having a renaissance season playing center. Raptors fans, enjoy the journey, this may well be the best Toronto team ever, try to ignore that cloud over the team about Leonard and July. Teams like this don’t come around often. Savor it.

Bucks small icon 2. Bucks (31-12, LW 2). They had a statement win against Houston — where Brook Lopez’s defense in the paint was the surprising key (after they overplayed Harden and forced him right and into Lopez) — and while the Bucks then turned around and lost to the Wizards a couple of nights later it was without Giannis Antetokounmpo so we’re not holding that against them. The other interesting thing out of the win over Houston: How well Eric Bledsoe did on James Harden. Yes, Harden had 42 points on 30 shots, but Bledsoe made him work for his buckets and that bodes well for the Bucks heading into the postseason. Milwaukee has 7-of-9 on the road coming up.

Warriors small icon 3. Warriors (30-14, LW 5). The reports of the troubles/demise of Golden State have been greatly exaggerated — despite the injuries, lack of depth, infighting and everything else they currently have the best record in the West. They took control of the conference with an emphatic win over Denver, a game that was a reminder of how good they can be. Friday night against the Clippers the DeMarcus Cousins experiment begins and should be one of the more interesting stories of the second half of the season (when you hear rumors of the Warriors’ interest in Robin Lopez on the buyout market, that’s really just Cousins insurance, nobody knows how this is going to go).

Pacers small icon 4. Pacers (29-13, LW 3). Myles Turner returned from injury against Phoenix Tuesday, which was good news because their defense when he was out was not the same — and the Pacers are second in the NBA in defensive rating. It’s a credit to coach Nate McMillan how well he has this team defending, that end of the floor has become their calling card. Indiana went 3-2 on a recent road trip but the losses were to Toronto and Boston, two of the other teams at the top of the East, and that’s a cause for some concern.

Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (29-14, LW 7).. Will Barton is back in the lineup — he played in just the first two games of the season before injuring his groin — and that is a big boost for Denver and it’s wing depth and rotation. Just ignore the Warriors game, Golden State does that to teams a couple times a season, except that it was another rough defensive outing. While the Nuggets on the season have a top-10 NBA defense, that has slid to the second worst in the NBA in their last 10 games. The defensive slippage has been covered up because Nikola Jokic can do things like this.

Rockets small icon 6. Rockets (25-18, LW 4). Clint Capela is out 4-6 weeks with an injured right thumb, and the pressure just mounted even more on James Harden — he responded with 57 points in the first game without Capela, but can he sustain this? The Rockets are 3-3 in their last six with an elite offense covering up for a bottom-10 defense, and that defense is not likely to improve with Capela out. Look for Daryl Morey to try and find some help at the five because the only real center on the roster now is Nene and he can give them maybe 15 minutes a night, tops.

Thunder small icon 7. Thunder (26-17, LW 6). The Thunder have the best defense in the NBA on the season, allowing 103.6 points per 100 possessions (via NBA.com stats), but in the last five game that has slipped to 119.7 per 100 (28th in the league in that stretch). While teams have bad runs of games over the course of 82, the Thunder are built on defense and they can’t afford for the defensive issues to last much longer, or there will be more ugly losses like Tuesday’s one to Atlanta.

Sixers small icon 8. 76ers (29-16, LW 10). Philadelphia is 20-10 since trading for Jimmy Butler, and the way the Sixers looked and the way the Timberwolves rolled over in that game Butler looked prophetic. That said, all is not just puppy dogs and rainbows with the Sixers — After an Embiid-less loss at home to the lowly Hawks, Ben Simmons called his team out as soft (Atlanta was the more physical team in that game). That Simmons would go there speaks to the struggles still going on trying to get Butler/Embiid/Simmons on the same page.

Celtics small icon 9. Celtics (25-18, LW 9). Terry Rosier said this week this team is “too talented” and that has been a popular theory — too many mouths to feed, too many players who want touches and shots, and it leads to a crowded rotation and guys pushing for larger roles. Is it too much talent or that talent not fitting together? The Celtics can rise up and look like one of the best in the East — they did it in the win over Indiana — but they don’t consistently. Brad Stevens also needs to be thinking about who will be in his 8/9-man playoff rotation, and which current rotation guys (likely Robert Williams, Daniel Theis, and Semi Ojeleye, maybe others) will be relegated to the bench.

Blazers small icon 10. Trail Blazers (26-19, LW 11). The Blazers are 18-7 at home and have a +7.1 net rating, but get on the road and they are 8-12 with a -5.1 net rating. The problems are on both ends of the court, the offense is 5.4 per 100 worse on the road and the defense is 6.8 per 100 worse. We saw it recently in action, the Blazers won four in a row at home then got out of Portland and promptly lost two straight. The Blazers have five more road than home games the rest of the way (but a relatively easy strength of schedule(.

Jazz small icon 11. Jazz (24-21, LW 14). The Jazz look like themselves again winning four in a row, 6-of-7, and they have allowed less than a point per possession in that stretch (best in the NBA). Utah has moved into a tie for the eighth seed in the Wes. Granted, this run has come against a softer part of the schedule (something that ends this week with the Clippers, Trail Blazers, and Nuggets), but the Jazz have the second-easiest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way and the easiest of any team in the West. Utah is starting to look like a playoff team again.

Spurs small icon 12. Spurs (25-20, LW 8). Last Thursday’s dramatic double-overtime win against the Thunder — where LaMarcus Aldridge scored 56 — was a signature win for San Antonio. And, if that’s all you saw of them you’d say they were surging. However, they have dropped 3-of-4, including splitting that home-and-home with OKC. The Spurs’ defense, which has carried the team this season, is bottom 10 in their last 5 games, while the offense has been pedestrian. The Spurs may be coming back to earth a little bit, they need to get their defense right and start winning some road games against the West (3-12 so far).

Kings small icon 13. Kings (23-21, LW 17). Rookie Marvin Bagley III is back in the rotation after missing 11 games and is starting to find his form again. Bagley has played fairly well, averaging 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds a night off the bench before he got injured (it’s just in this rookie class those numbers get overshadowed). Coach Dave Joerger needs to get Bagley some run and bring him along, the No. 2 pick is a big part of the Kings’ future. Sacramento has won four in a row at home, but now heads out on the road for their next six.

Clippers small icon 14. Clippers (24-19, LW 12). The Clippers have regressed to the mean recently, having lost three in a row and 7-of-8. In those last 15 games the Clippers have had a top-10 offense — with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell providing a big spark off the bench — but a bottom 10 defense. The Clippers will be the focus of the NBA universe Friday night because DeMarcus Cousins makes his return against them — we all want to see Boban Marjanović matched up against him. Doc Rivers needs to make that happen.

Lakers small icon 15. Lakers (24-21, LW 13). Los Angeles has gone 4-7 since LeBron James’ groin injury, sliding down to a tie for the final playoff spot in the West, and with some ugly games in there — the loss to Cleveland at home was their worst loss of the season. Two things to be concerned about if you’re a Laker fan: 1) This recent run of games really did not help the “we can trade these guys for Anthony Davis” cause (although Brandon Ingram, when he’s facilitating still shows promise); 2) The Lakers have the second toughest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way. With LeBron back they should be able to handle it and make the playoffs, but it’s not going to be easy.

Heat small icon 16. Heat (21-21, LW 15). The unlikely backcourt of Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson has started to find some chemistry, they had big games in the wins against the Celtics and Grizzlies recently, and the Heat have won 10-of-15 with them running the show (although it’s a top-10 defense that has really carried the Heat through this stretch). The loss in Milwaukee Tuesday was the first of 6-of-7 on the road as Miami enters a rough patch of the schedule.

Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (21-23, LW 20). New Orleans finally has Elfrid Payton and Nikola Mirotic back in the rotation after extended absences due to injury, they have gone 2-1 in those games and looked much improved. Their return came at the right time, if New Orleans is going to make a playoff push — read: have any shot at all of keeping Anthony Davis — they need to survive a tough January schedule the rest of the way, with 5-of-7 on the road and much of that against West playoff teams. The Pelicans have the fourth toughest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way.

Nets small icon 18. Nets (22-23, LW 19). Before the season it was expected that Brooklyn would be out of the playoff mix and with some expiring contracts — DeMarre Carroll, Jared Dudley, Ed Davis, Kenneth Faried — and they would be sellers at the trade deadline. But the scrappy Nets, who play hard and take smart shots, have turned their team of journeymen into the seven seed in the West with a real shot at the playoffs. With that, the fire sale is off and Brooklyn is one of the feel-good stories of the season.

19. Timberwolves (21-23, LW 16). Coming out flat against Philadelphia was ugly — they made Jimmy Butler look prophetic about Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins by showing no fire in that game. This team shows flashes — KAT was blocking Anthony Davis at the end of a win over the Pelicans — but they don’t defend or take smart shots with any consistency. Ryan Saunders is 2-2 as a coach and there are people rooting for him to do well enough to keep this job, but he has a lot of work ahead of him to just get more every night out of this roster.

Mavericks small icon 20. Mavericks (20-23, LW 21). Why are the Mavericks shopping Dennis Smith Jr.? Because, while his shooting has improved this season, he simply has not fit with Luka Doncic (and Doncic is the future). Smith as part of the regular starting five for Dallas scores less than a point per possession, sub rookie Jaylen Brunson in for Smith and that lineup’s offense gets 16 points per 100 possessions better. Smith is incredibly athletic and should have value on the trade market, but with every other team knowing both Dallas and Smith want to part ways, it’s going to be hard to get anywhere near fair value.

Magic small icon 21. Magic (19-24, LW 24).
Another team many around the league expected to be a seller at the deadline, but after back-to-back victories over Boston and Houston, the Magic are just a game out of the playoffs in the East and are more likely to make a push for it rather than tank. The key to making the playoffs will be more of the Aaron Gordon who showed up against Boston and Houston, scoring 28 and 22 points in those games, shooting a combined 51.7 percent, and getting to the free throw line. Orlando needs Gordon to be aggressive and the catalyst for the offense.

Hornets small icon 22. Hornets (20-23, LW 18). Charlotte wants to make the playoffs this season, owner Michael Jordan wants to make the playoffs, and their recent 2-4 road trip did not help that cause (although the Hornets remain a game ahead of Orlando for the eight seed). The bigger problem is they miss Cody Zeller, he has been out seven games (2-5) and in those games the Hornets have the third worst defense in the NBA. They need to get some stops over the next few weeks because Kemba Walker’s heroics alone are not enough to get them into the playoffs.

Wizards small icon 23. Wizards (18-26, LW 25). They beat the 76ers. They beat the Bucks. They took the Raptors to double overtime. Forget about tanking and selling off players, the Wizards are playing better and, with the third easiest schedule the rest of the way the Wizards are thinking playoffs. The Wizards are 5-4 with a +3.2 net rating since John Wall left the team due to injury, there is more balance on the offense and Bradley Beal is attacking the rim more than we’ve seen in years. Despite their horrid start to the season and injuries, the Wizards are just 2.5 games out of the playoffs and stranger things have happened.

Pistons small icon 24. Pistons (18-24, 22). Blake Griffin’s 44-point performance against the Los Angeles Clippers Saturday night was a classic revenge game — he even blew off Steve Ballmer (maybe) — and a great reminder of how good Griffin can be. It’s also the Pistons’ only win in their last six games, the team continues to struggle offensively (bottom 5 in the league over the last 10 games). The Pistons have 7-of-10 at home and if they are going to make a playoff push it needs to come now.

Hawks small icon 25. Hawks (14-30, LW 26). The Hawks have quietly gone 8-7 in their last 15 games, with an average NBA offense and a just slightly below average defense in that stretch. That included a 142-126 win over Oklahoma City. Rookie point guard Trae Young has started to show some chemistry with Kevin Huerter,, and the Thunder found out about that the hard way.

Grizzlies small icon 26. Grizzlies (19-24, LW 23). Unexpected stat: The Grizzlies lead the NBA in passes per game, averaging 342.1. Unfortunately, that does not correlate directly to winning, the Grizzlies have gone 3-13 in their last 16, have slid out of the playoffs, and their next four games are the Bucks, Celtics, Raptors, and Pelicans. If the losing continues for another week or two, and with Marc Gasol a free agent this summer, will we finally see Memphis talk trade and break up their core? Other teams are watching, but if they didn’t do it this summer would they now?

Suns small icon 27. Suns (11-34, LW 27). Kelly Oubre Jr. is starting to find a comfort level in the Valley of the Sun, averaging 17.6 points per game on 50.8 shooting in his last five games. That said, the offense continues to struggle if Devin Booker is not on the floor, and that lack of consistent offense keeps them from winning games (although they are competitive most nights, they are not just rolling over).

Knicks small icon 28. Knicks (10-33, LW 29). It will be February before we get an update, but if the rumors are true that the Knicks want to hold Kristaps Porzingis out all season — against his wishes — then that is the kind of short-sighted things that leads to broken relationships. (This is providing there is not a good medical reason to keep KP out.) Only one game this week as the NBA decided to promote its game by sending the Knicks and Wizards over to London for a Thursday game (don’t they have enough problems over there with Brexit without us making them watch that excuse for basketball?).

Bulls small icon 29. Bulls (10-34, LW 28). Chicago has lost eight in a row, but Bulls management wants to show it’s committed to the old-school ways of coach Jim Boylen by giving him a raise this season and next (they had lost six in a row when that news leaked). Boylen is now 5-15 as head coach. When you’re losing like that, experimenting with Lauri Markkanen at the three — as Boylen wants to do — is worth trying.

Cavaliers small icon 30. Cavaliers (9-35, LW 30). the Cavaliers snapped their 12 game losing streak thanks to the LeBron-less Lakers. One bright spot, Matthew Dellavedova has played like a solid pro for the Cavaliers off the bench providing some steady play their bench units can use. Beyond that… here’s a Zion Williamson highlight to dream about.

Three Things to Know: LeBron’s injury apparently not serious. Warriors weren’t serious either.

Associated Press
13 Comments

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) LeBron James injury apparently not too serious. Warriors weren’t serious either on Christmas. It was almost the Nightmare on Christmas for the NBA — the game’s biggest star, LeBron James, going down, saying he heard a pop, right in the middle of a prime-time game on Christmas Day.

After NBA Twitter — and more than a few Lakers fans — freaked out for a while, it appears things are not that bad for LeBron or the Lakers, it’s a muscle injury, a groin strain.

LeBron reportedly was in a good mood after the game and the team says he is day-to-day right now. After Wednesday’s MRI the doctors will have the final say on a timeline, but it doesn’t look like LeBron will miss extended time (my guess, a week or two, that’s the standard with these types of injuries). The Lakers are 5.1 points per 100 possessions worse with LeBron off the court this season, and he is by far their best shot creator in the half court. The Laker can’t go without him for long, but may not have too.

No LeBron for most of the second half and the Lakers still handled the Warriors with ease, 127-101. Best Laker win of the season.

There are two non-injury takeaways from this game.

First, don’t take much away from this game. It’s December, we’re not halfway through the season. Golden State is still struggling with its bench and second units (they got smacked at the start of the second and fourth quarters, lineups that still had Stephen Curry and Draymond Green out there). The Warriors had another game where they didn’t bring a playoff-level intensity when their opponent did. When the energy isn’t there is shows on defense for the Warriors — slow rotations, miscommunication on switches, a casualness on closeouts. Add to that the Lakers just hit shots at a likely unsustainable rate (streaky Lance Stephenson 4-of-4 from three, Ivica Zubac 9-of-10 shooting). This is what you get from the Warriors during the middle of the regular season. They are not fully engaged and are beatable. Nobody should doubt they will find a groove for the playoffs, but right now even LeBron James on Christmas Day can’t bring the fire out of them.

Second, the Lakers do have guys who can ball outside LeBron. Kyle Kuzma (19 points) and Josh Hart (12) have been doing it all season long — those guys are decisive and just know how to finish — but Zubac (18 and 11), Rajon Rondo (15) and everyone else stepped up, too. Plus, the Lakers defend pretty well. LeBron is still the leader, the fulcrum on offense and the guy who sets the tone, but the Lakers have other guys who can make plays around him, a nice core, and those guys stepped up on Tuesday.

2) No Celtic can get buckets like Kyrie Irving, he took over against Sixers and got Celtics OT win. Part of Boston’s problems early in the season was the lack of a clear pecking order. After last season and the playoff run, Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown thought they deserved more touches, same with Terry Rozier, Al Horford has to get his, and now Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward were injected back into the mix. It was a lot of mouths to feed and not everyone was getting the portions they wanted.

There’s a pecking order now, and it starts with Irving getting to eat all he wants. He had 14 in the fourth quarter and overtime combined, including the bucket that forced OT, and much of that was with a good, physical defender in Jimmy Butler draped all over him.

This was a quality win for Boston. The Celtics’ recent 8-game win streak came against a softer part of the schedule and now they are in the middle of a test against good teams — and they passed this one. This was not a game Boston likely won earlier in the season but they are genuinely finding an identity now, their defense is still elite, and they have a guy in Irving who can get buckets with the best of them. In the playoffs, that matters.

Philadelphia should come out of this feeling positive, there were good signs. Joel Embiid struggled against the Celtics and Horford last playoffs, he had 34 points and 16 assists in this one (he did better against Horford but really feasted on Daniel Theis). J.J. Redick will do his thing every game (although he was 1-of-6 inside the arc), Wilson Chandler is probably the fifth best player on the team and was solid for them (as he usually is) and the bench was okay in its minutes. Jimmy Butler had 24 points but on 9-of-21 shooting. Philly can be a little better, they do need more depth (GM Elton Brand is working the phones heading into the trade deadline) but the Sixers forced OT on the road with the team that knocked them out of the playoffs a year ago. This matchup should not scare Philadelphia right now.

3) James Harden scores 41 and the Rockets are 2-0 since Chris Paul went down. Do not sell short what James Harden did on Christmas Day. Yes, it took him 34 shots to get to his 31 points, but he had Paul George — an elite defender playing the best basketball of his career — inside his jersey most of the night. Harden still found a way to get a little space and get buckets.

Harden has scored at least 30 points in 7 straight games and is carrying the offense — and the Rockets back into the playoffs. For the past couple of weeks, Harden has been back to his MVP form.

He had some help. Austin Rivers stepped into some Chris Paul minutes and played good defense, plus hit a couple of threes in the fourth. Eric Gordon and Clint Capela put up numbers (but neither were efficient on the night). The Houston defense is improving.

OKC can make a case for being the second best team in the West right now (Denver is the other team that can stake a claim) — the Rockets went on the road and beat the Thunder. And without CP3. Going into the season, we thought the Rockets would be the second best team in the West again. Maybe they are, it just took a while to get there.

Report: Celtics’ Aron Baynes out for month with broken hand

1 Comment

Just when it appeared Celtics were coming around, they’ve lost two straight, including to the Suns last night.

That defeat included more bad news.

Celtics:

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Boston uses Al Horford (who’s banged up himself), Daniel Theis and Baynes regularly at center. Baynes primarily plays against bigger opposing centers, allowing Horford to slide to power forward, and is quite good in that role.

Now, Horford (once healthy) and Theis will have to make due in those matchups. Rookie Robert Williams can also stay in the rotation, especially if Horford remains out.

Celtics hand Bulls franchise worst loss, win by 56

Associated Press
3 Comments

CHICAGO (AP) — Jaylen Brown scored 23 points off the bench, Daniel Theis added a career-high 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and the Boston Celtics routed the Chicago Bulls 133-77 on Saturday night for their fifth straight win.

The 56-point margin of victory was the largest in franchise history, surpassing a 51-point win (153-102) over the Philadelphia Warriors on March 7, 1962.

The 56-point loss was the worst in Bulls’ history, eclipsing a 53-point (127-74) defeat at Minnesota on Nov. 8, 2001. Frustrated fans at the United Center booed the Bulls off the court.

Jayson Tatum had 18 points and Terry Rozier added 15 as the Celtics used a 17-0 start and a balanced attack to roll their second straight lopsided win after beating New York 128-100 on Thursday. The Celtics (15-10) have outscored opponents an average of 126.2 to 97.6 during their five-game run.

Shaquille Harrison came off the bench to score a career-high 20 points for the Chicago, which has lost eight of nine. Zach LaVine had 11 for the Bulls (6-21), whose previous worst loss this season was by 39 points (122-83) to Toronto on Nov. 17.

The Celtics took charge early, racing ahead 17-0 as they shot 8 for 11 from the floor at the start.

Boston led 35-17 after one quarter as it shot 60.9 percent, and led 64-43 at the half thanks to 52.4-percent shooting.

For the game, the Celtics outshot Chicago 53.8 percent to 38.3 percent.

The scoring in Boston’ first-half outburst was evenly distributed. Morris led with 12 points, while Tatum, Theis and Terry Rozier each had 10.

The Celtics’ biggest lead in the first half was 22 points and Chicago never got closer than 13.

Chicago missed its first 12 field goal attempts, prompting coach Jim Boylen to pull all five starters 4:45 in. The Bulls didn’t score until Jabari Parker hit a pair of free throws 6:18 in – raising a derisive cheer from the United Center crowd. Chicago didn’t get its first basket until Robin Lopez sank a turnaround hook 36 seconds later.

The Celtics kept the pressure on, outscoring Chicago 69-34 in the second half.

The Bulls fell flat after beating Oklahoma City 114-112 on Friday night on Lauri Markkanen‘s layup in the closing seconds, giving Boylen his first win as an NBA head coach.

A longtime NBA assistant, Boylen took over Monday when Fred Hoiberg was fired following a 5-19 start. The Bulls lost at Indiana the following night in Boylen’s debut.

 

Report: Celtics signing EuroLeague point guard Brad Wanamaker

AP Photo/Bob Leverone
4 Comments

The Celtics are loaded at point guard.

Maybe even too loaded.

But that won’t necessarily remain the situation.

This offseason, Marcus Smart will be a restricted free agent, Terry Rozier extension-eligible and Shane Larkin an unrestricted free agent. Kyrie Irving will become an unrestricted free agent next summer. As much as Boston wants to keep everyone, that might not be feasible.

So, it’s time to add more cheap talent

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

Wanamaker went undrafted out of Pittsburgh in 2011. He has since plays in the D-League and overseas, developing into an NBA-caliber player.

The Celtics did well signing Daniel Theis from Europe last year. I’d bet on their foreign scouting paying off again.

The bigger question: What happens with the players currently ahead of Wanamaker on the depth chart? It’d be easy enough for Wanamaker to take Larkin’s job, but are Irving, Smart and/or Rozier also on the move?