Jaren Jackson Jr.

Mock NBA expansion draft
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Mock NBA expansion draft: Mavericks, Rockets, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs

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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division, Central Division, Pacific Division, Northwest Division and Southeast Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Southwest:

Dallas Mavericks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: Seven of Dallas’ protections were easy calls. They’re all players locked up long-term. That left deciding between Tim Hardaway Jr, who has been a starter for the Mavericks but has a player option, and several other useful players.

Ultimately, the Mavs can’t afford to lose Hardaway, who has rediscovered his solid offensive play from his Hawks years. That leaves Justin Jackson and three big men in Dwight Powell (coming off a torn Achilles’) and Boban Marjanovic and Willie-Cauley-Stein (both backups for Dallas). The most likely to be selected player is probably Jackson, but that’s a risk Dallas has to take.

Houston Rockets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 5

Analysis: No decision points for the Rockets. Houston is protecting the entirety of their eight-man rotation.

Chris Clemons could make for an interesting expansion pick because his scoring ability at guard. Isaiah Hartenstein has shown some flashes in the G-League as well.

Memphis Grizzlies

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: Just how hard the Grizzlies’ protection decision were is a testament to how well their rebuild has gone. Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke and De’Anthony Melton were all locks. Justise Winslow was just acquired at the trade deadline as the centerpiece of a deal. Tyus Jones is the ideal backup point guard behind Morant, so he stays as well. That left Jonas Valanciunas vs Kyle Anderson for the final protected spot. Valanciunas’ presence allows Jackson to play power forward, so the big man gets the final spot.

Memphis is gambling that Anderson’s slow-mo style of play and $9.5 million salary isn’t what an expansion team is looking for. Jontay Porter is another risk, but he’s got a lengthy injury history of his own. The Grizzlies will hope one of the other three is selected and might be willing to offer a small incentive to make it happen.

New Orleans Pelicans

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: New Orleans’ protections are cut and dry. Every player protected, minus Brandon Ingram, is signed for at least one more season. This includes several players on rookie scale contracts. Ingram will most assuredly be re-signed this summer, so that decision was easy as well.

The only gamble among the unprotected players is Nicolo Melli. He’s become a rotation player for the Pelicans, but he’s not as valuable as the younger players. The other three players are mostly out of the New Orleans’ rotation and not anyone the team will worry about if they are selected.

San Antonio Spurs

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Spurs are banking on keeping DeMar DeRozan this summer. He either opts in or re-signs in San Antonio. LaMarcus Aldridge is an easy decision as well. Dejounte Murray will start his extension this coming season. Everyone else is on their rookie scale contract, minus Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl is a restricted free agent that the Spurs hope to retain this offseason.

San Antonio is gambling that the big salaries of Rudy Gay and Patty Mills will keep them from being selected. That exposes Trey Lyles, who has a relatively small guarantee, and young big man Chimezie Metu. The Spurs would like to keep both, but not at the expense of losing a rookie scale player.

Could healthy Ben Simmons, Kevin Durant, others change course of June NBA playoffs

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This June — *knocks on wood* — we will have NBA playoff basketball. That may be the optimistic scenario (and it may be without fans in the stands), but we here at the NBC NBA page are optimistic people. We want to believe.

If a June postseason comes together, those playoffs will look a lot different from what we would have seen in mid-April — and that was already shaping up as one of the most wide-open, interesting playoffs in a decade.

The whole point of “load management” has been to keep guys healthy for the playoffs. This is government-forced load-management.

“If you give these guys a break going into the playoffs and you build the anticipation of the NBA coming back, you’re giving the best players in the world an extra two, three, four weeks off,” Matt Barnes said on ESPN’s First Take a week ago, at the time underestimating the length of the break.

“The energy in the playoffs is going to be off the charts. It’s going to be the best playoffs we’ve seen because everyone is fully rested and fully healthy.”

Fully healthy could be the key — players who would have been out, or at least slowed, due to injury, could be back at 100 percent. Here is a look at how a late playoff could be changed by health.

• A fully loaded Brooklyn Nets team. At the top of the list of potential game-changers is Kevin Durant. Durant did not set foot on the court for the Nets this season as he recovered from his torn Achilles (suffered in the NBA Finals), but that recovery seems to be going well.

Durant would not rule out playing in the Tokyo Olympics this summer, which would have required him on a court starting early July at USA training camp. So if the NBA playoffs get pushed back to a June start and run into August, would Durant suddenly be able to jump in?

Probably not. Durant’s business partner and manager Rich Kleiman was on ESPN radio and said of a return, “Honestly, not very realistic from my standpoint and not even spoken about.” Maybe that’s Durant’s camp keeping expectations down, although it’s more likely the truth and KD will not play until whenever next season starts. It would be asking a lot to have Durant come back, have some of his first games be high-level playoff games, and then have a short turnaround until the next season starts.

Kyrie Irving is the other Brooklyn wild card. He had shoulder surgery in February that was going to end his season, but if he could come back for a playoff push, that might interest Durant. With Durant and Irving, the Nets would be the most dangerous seven seed we’ve ever seen.

But most likely, the Nets stay focused on next season and keep their superstars on the bench in June.

Ben Simmons returns to a fully healthy 76ers team. Things were falling apart for the 76ers when the season shut down, they had gone 5-5 since the All-Star break with a bottom 10 defense, and both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons had missed time with injuries.

Embiid had returned for the last game before the shutdown when he had 30 points and 14 boards against Detroit. However, a little more rest gets him fully healthy for a postseason run where he will have to play a lot of minutes.

Simmons is dealing with a pinched nerve in his back and the 76ers hoped they could get him back for the playoffs. Now, he could be back and at 100 percent for the playoffs, serving as a needed ball handler and shot creator for Philly.

Is that enough to fix their Island of Misfit Toys roster? Probably not. Brett Brown will pay the price for that. But a fully healthy 76ers team is long, athletic, veteran, and dangerous in a playoff matchup. If Simmons and Embiid are fully healthy, the 76ers are a real threat.

Malcolm Brogdon could return to the Pacers. Indiana, sitting currently as the five-seed in the East, was already a sneaky-dangerous team who could get to the second round and push a team like the Bucks. They become that much more dangerous with Brogdon back. He likely was out for the season with a torn left rectus femoris (connecting the hip and quad), but if he can return with his 16.3 points and 7.1 assists per game, the Pacers just became a much tougher out.

Add to that the hiatus brings more time for Victor Oladipo to find his legs and his shot, and suddenly Indiana looks a lot more threatening.

• Boston will have a fully healthy Jaylen Brown back. The Celtics would have had Brown back anyway for the postseason, but he had missed games due to a strained right hamstring, and those can linger. Maybe that would not have been an issue in the playoffs, but now there are no worries. With Brown and Jayson Tatum, Boston may be the biggest threat to Milwaukee in the East.

• Orlando could get Jonathon Isaac back. Is this going to win the Magic a playoff series? No. But getting their breakout player back makes the Magic better — and more watchable. Isaac had been out due to a posterior lateral corner injury of his left knee as well as a bone bruise, and he was thought done for the season. Now, he could return. On offense he’s still a work in progress, but he averaged 12 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, both career bests. Isaac is already a game-changer on the defensive end, where he is a long, athletic, switchable defender averaging 2.4 blocks, and 1.6 steals a game. He’s had the kind of season that would get him All-Defensive Team votes, getting that kind of player back helps.

• Memphis will have Justise Winslow, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Brandon Clarke all back and healthy. Much like the note on Orlando above, the fact that these three players will be healthy is not going to lift the eight-seed Grizzlies past LeBron James and the Lakers in the first round. Not a chance. But for a young team looking to build for the future getting their young core — along with a healthy Ja Morant — playoff game experience is a big step forward for them. Plus, it makes that first-round series a little more interesting to watch.

• Portland could have big men Jusuf Nurkick and Zach Collins back, but no postseason to play them in. The Trail Blazers sit as the nine seed in the West, 3.5 games back of Memphis. It is highly unlikely they are going to get to play enough regular season games to catch them and become a genuinely dangerous first-round team (you think the Lakers want to see Damian Lillard in the first round?). But indulge the what-ifs here: What we learned about Portland this season is just how much Nurkic means to the team, now he would be back, with Zach Collins playing either next to him at the four and/or as a backup five, depending upon the situation. Portland would be a lot more dangerous, but we likely don’t get to see that.

NBA Power Rankings: Lakers, Clippers move up into top two spots

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We have a new No. 1, with their dominant weekend the Lakers move into the top spot, with the Clippers still right on their heels. Houston took a tumble after a rough patch of losses.

 
Lakers small icon 1. Lakers (49-14, Last Week No. 2). In a dominant weekend with two wins over the next two teams in these rankings, the Lakers played to the strengths that will make them tough to beat come the postseason. One is LeBron James’ IQ — his ability to read the game, hunt the mismatches, and dictate play to his liking is unparalleled. The other is the size of the Lakers’ stars — the 6’9” LeBron and the 6’10” Anthony Davis are hard to match up with because they are so big and skilled. A trap game loss to Brooklyn followed those big weekend wins.

 
Clippers small icon 2. Clippers (44-20, LW 4). Marcus Morris continues to struggle adapting to his new role and situation in Los Angeles, shooting just 38.6% on 9.5 shots a game, and 28.3% from three. He struggled against the Lakers on Sunday and the Clippers need him to be a scoring option when it gets to the second round of the playoffs and beyond. Doc Rivers also has to find a solution to the Lou Williams/Montrezl Harrell defensive issues at the end of games, the Lakers weren’t the first team to target Lou-Will in close games.

 
Bucks small icon 3. Bucks (53-12, LW 1). Fortunately it doesn’t appear the Giannis Antetokounmpo’s knee injury is anything serious, he’s missed two games and likely will miss a few more as Milwaukee will wisely error on the side of caution. The Bucks are running away with the East and what matters is getting the Greek Freak, Eric Bledsoe (who has to be better in the playoffs than he was against the Lakers), Brook Lopez and everyone else healthy before the postseason starts.

 
Raptors small icon 4. Raptors (46-18, LW 6). Norman Powell came back from injury and was on fire. In his last five games he has averaged 23.6 points per game on 54.7 percent shooting, while hitting 39.4 percent from three, helping carry the Raptors to a string of wins (four in a row). Then, as his season has gone, he sprained his ankle 1:35 into Monday’s game against Utah. Toronto just cannot get and stay healthy this season.

 
Celtics small icon 5. Celtics (43-21, LW 5). Reality hit Boston in the past week as they had Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward all missing time with injuries, plus Jayson Tatum’s shooting returned to human levels — they dropped 4-of-5 before a win Tuesday. Boston needs to get everyone, particularly Walker, right before the playoffs start, even if that means sacrificing some games. Boston’s win in Indiana Tuesday started a string of 7-of-9 on the road.

 
Heat small icon 6. Heat (41-23, LW 9). Winners of 5-of-6 with a soft schedule ahead this week, Miami seems on target to hold on to the four seed and be home for the first round of the playoffs (likely against Philly or Indy). To win either of those matchups they will need playoff Jimmy Butler, and he sat out the second half against Charlotte with a toe issue. Expect him to get a little time off down the stretch to make sure he is right when the playoffs tip-off.

 
Thunder small icon 7. Thunder (40-24, LW 10). Winners of 8-of-10, and the only two losses in that stretch are to the Bucks and Clippers. Oklahoma City is trying to track down Utah for the four seed and to have home court in the first round, and with two games against the Jazz on the schedule — including one Wednesday night — that looks like a doable goal for Chris Paul and company. It helps that they will get Shai Gilgeous-Alexander back healthy for that game.

 
Nuggets small icon 8. Nuggets (43-21, LW 7). A couple of wins (against Charlotte and what was left of Milwaukee) do not cover up the fact Denver’s defense is 5.7 points per 100 possessions worse since the All-Star break. It forced coach Mike Malone to keep Michael Porter Jr. on the bench against Charlotte (he’s not yet much of a defender). The Nuggets need to find that defense fast with 7-of-8 on the road starting tonight in Dallas (and the one home game in that stretch is the Clippers).

 
Rockets small icon 9. Rockets (40-24, LW 3). Houston’s small-ball caught teams off guard at first, and the Rockets won 10-of-12 when they first committed to it. However, the tide turned and they lost four in a row before beating the struggling Timberwolves Tuesday night? It’s not been one simple problem, the Rockets have been bottom seven in the league on offense — James Harden can’t buy a three and Russell Westbrook isn’t finishing the same way — and defense in the last five games. Now they are at the Lakers and Trail Blazers before the schedule softens up into next week.

 
Mavericks small icon 10. Mavericks (39-27, LW 8). Dallas will make the playoffs, but it has a real motivation to string together some wins — they currently sit as the seven seed and that means the Clippers in the first round. If the Mavericks can make up two games and pass either the Rockets or Thunder then Dallas likely gets Denver in the first round, a much better matchup for them.

 
Pacers small icon 11. Pacers (39-26, LW 11). Indiana went 4-1 on a recent string of road games, but keeping both Malcolm Brogdon and Victor Oladipo healthy at the same time has proven a challenge. The pair has played just 10 games together this season and now Brogdon is week-to-week with a torn left rectus femoris (which connects the hip and quadricep). Indy needs to keep finding wins, injured or not, if they are going to hold off the 76ers for the five seed in the East.

 
Sixers small icon 12. 76ers (38-26, LW 12). With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons out, the 76ers defense has fallen apart, worst in the NBA over the last five games. That was expected, what wasn’t expected was Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson stepping up and getting Philly to play its best offense of the season over those same five games. Embiid should return in the next week to stabilize the 76ers defense, but the team is just hoping Simmons can return from the pinched nerve in his lower back before the playoffs.

 
Jazz small icon 13. Jazz (41-23, LW 13). Utah beat up on the East (at least until it ran into Toronto) and a five-game win streak moved them back up to the four seed in the West, but now the real tests come (starting with surging Oklahoma City Wednesday). Joe Ingles struggled at first when returned to the bench, but he has found a groove of late with Jordan Clarkson and the two of them have made Utah’s bench formidable again, which could help keep them in the top four and at home for the first round of the playoffs.

 
Magic small icon 14. Magic (30-35, LW 16). The Magic have won three in a row, right after losing three in a row. That inconsistency comes because the defense — that was the best thing about the Magic earlier in the season — is 25th in the league since the All-Star break. Orlando is just trying to outscore teams (they have the best offense in the league since the All-Star Game), and that always leads to inconsistent results. Orlando needs to string together some wins and get in front of Brooklyn to avoid the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

 
Grizzlies small icon 15. Grizzlies (32-33, LW 14). For Memphis, the playoffs have started — every game the rest of the way has meaning, especially Thursday night’s showdown with Portland (and the looming home-and-home with New Orleans in a week). The good news for Memphis is they may be more healthy for some of these games, they are expected to get Jaren Jackson Jr. (left knee soreness) and Justise Winslow (back soreness) back on the court. It’s going to be a little longer for Brandon Clarke, but he should return this season.

 
Nets small icon 16. Nets (30-34, LW 17). While there are tabloids full of speculation about Brooklyn off the court, they have rattled off three straight wins on it, including an upset of the Lakers on Tuesday. The Nets and Magic are in a “we don’t want to face the Bucks in the first round” race for the seven seed (not that Toronto or Boston would be a picnic). With Jacque Vaughn as coach, DeAndre Jordan (the good friend of Durant/Irving) is back in the starting lineup and Jarrett Allen is coming off the bench (in case you had any questions about who has the power on this team).

Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (28-36, LW 15). The Pelicans have been one of the unluckiest teams in the NBA this season, they have the point differential of .500 team — they should be 32-32 — according to Cleaning the Glass’ calculations. Basketball reference suggests more like 30-34. Even with the worse of those records the Pelicans would be just 1.5 games out of the playoffs and look like more of a lock with their soft schedule the last month of the season, as it is fivethirtyeight.com gives them a 60% chance to catch and pass the Grizzlies for the eighth seed. To get to that soft part of the schedule, the Pelicans have to play a rough week of the hot Kings (another team in the playoff hunt), at the Jazz, then at the Clippers.

 
Kings small icon 18. Kings (28-36, LW 18). Quietly the hottest team in the chase for the eight seed, they have won 7-of-10 and that includes a big weekend win against Portland. Sacramento is digging itself out of a hole from its 12-22 start to the season, which makes one wonder if the combination of a new coach, a trip for a preseason game in India, and some new faces took an especially hard toll on them (it may not be, the Pacers did the same trip and started 22-12).

 
Blazers small icon 19. Trail Blazers (29-37, LW 19). Jusuf Nurkic is expected to make his return to the court Sunday against Houston — and they need him back for their playoff push. It’s less about the offense, although he provides some interior scoring, it’s on defense where he can protect the rim and be a big body inside that keeps teams from getting to the rim. Before that, Portland faces Memphis on Thursday night in what feels like a must-win game for the Blazers down the stretch.

 
Spurs small icon 20. Spurs (27-36, LW 20). Can the return of LaMarcus Aldridge to the rotation turn around the Spurs’ playoff push (he helped them get a win in his debut). San Antonio quietly keep hanging around the playoff chase in the West, it are just four games back of Memphis, but making up that ground when the Spurs play such poor defense is the reason fivethirtyeight.com gives them just a two percent chance of keeping their playoff streak alive.

 
Suns small icon 21. Suns (26-39, LW 22). Phoenix may be out of the playoff picture but it is not going quietly into that good night — Ricky Rubio racked up a triple-double in a win against the (shorthanded) Bucks, and Devon Booker is getting heavy minutes from coach Monty Williams. Phoenix has played fairly well on the road this season (13-17), which is good because eight of their next 10 games are away from home.

 
Wizards small icon 22. Wizards (24-40, LW 21). Bradley Beal is lighting up the league and making a serious All-NBA push (no matter how bad the team around him is). In his last 10 games, Beal has averaged 37.5 points per night and is hitting 48.1% of his threes on nearly 11 attempts a game. Beal may have to keep putting up numbers in losses because the Wizards have the toughest remaining schedule in the East.

 
Hornets small icon 23. Hornets (22-42, LW 26). Charlotte has dropped four—of-five, but in a league without moral victories, these look a lot like moral victories. They pushed the Bucks, lost by one to the Spurs and two to the Nuggets, beat the Rockets, then went double OT with Atlanta. PJ Washington is a find and is going to be a key part of whatever is ultimately put together through this rebuild process in Charlotte.

 
Bulls small icon 24. Bulls (22-43, LW 24). The Bulls have started to get healthy with Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen all back, but take Zach LaVine out of the offense and it falls apart for the Bulls. At least now Coby White is finally starting, in the 10 games since the All-Star break he is averaging 24.7 points a game and shooting 40.7 percent from three.

 
Knicks small icon 25. Knicks (20-45, LW 25). Who will be the Knicks next head coach? Does Leon Rose want a player development and culture guy? Because if so that team just over the bridge let Kenny Atkinson go. Or, as expected, are the Knicks going to look hard at veteran guys like Mark Jackson or Tyronn Lue. The name I keep hearing from sources is Tom Thibodeau, although part of that is just people connecting the dots because Thibs and Rose are friends.

Pistons small icon 26. Pistons (20-45, LW 23). Detroit has dropped four in a row and 11-of-12, with the worst offense in the NBA during that stretch (on the sort of bright side, the defense is just outside the bottom 10). Still, this team has some players to watch down the stretch in Christian Wood and Sekou Doumbouya (Wood is playing for his next contract right now, and that’s always good motivation.

 
Cavaliers small icon 27. Cavaliers (19-46, LW 29). There will be no coaching search, Cleveland locked up J.B. Bickerstaff as their man with a multi-year contract. The Cavaliers are a respectable 5-6 since he took over mid-season, and more importantly Bickerstaff has a good relationship with both the young players on the team and the front office. This is a good hire for their long-term rebuilding plan (which is what they should be focused on).

 
28. Timberwolves (19-45, LW 28). Malik Beasley has been tearing it up for the Timberwolves. He was acquired as part of that massive four-team trade where Minnesota’s primary target was D’Angelo Russell, but Beasley is averaging 20.7 points per game and is shooting 42.6 percent from three. This has been the best stretch of basketball in his career, and it’s well timed right before he hits free agency this summer.

 
Hawks small icon 29. Hawks (20-46, LW 27). Cam Reddish has started to find his groove of late, in his last five games he has averaged 18.6 points per game and shot 56.7 percent from three. He scored 28 points against Washington’s “defense” last Friday night. There are flashes of bright spots around this team but everything good seems undone by their defense, that end of the floor has to be the focus this summer and heading into next season in Atlanta if they have playoff dreams.

 
Warriors small icon 30. Warriors (15-50 LW 30). The Warriors found another player who may be able to play a role for them next year in Mychal Mulder. A good shooter at the G-League level, he came to the Warriors on a 10-day contract and averaged 11 points a game, showing a little promise as a shooter and starting to find more of a comfort level as he is around longer. The Warriors signed him on a good multi-year contract and he could be a nice role player for them off the bench next season.

Three Things to Know: Memphis loss, Portland win tightens race for eight seed in West

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Memphis loss, Portland win tightens race for eight seed in West. There is only one race left in the NBA this season. We know who the top seeds in each conference will be, and in the East we know who the eight teams headed to the postseason will be (although there is some jockeying for seedings still taking place).

What we don’t know is who will be the eighth seed in the West.

Tuesday night, the current eight-seeded Memphis Grizzlies took an early lead but couldn’t hold it against Orlando, ultimately falling 120-115. That opened the door a little for Portland, which beat Phoenix behind 25 points from Damian Lillard, while San Antonio got LaMarcus Aldridge back and beat the Mavericks. Memphis’ loss also helped out New Orleans and Sacramento, who had the night off.

Here are the standings at the bottom of the West and what the playoff picture looks like:

Traditionally a 3.5 game lead with 17 games to play would be seen as nearly insurmountable, but that’s where the remaining schedule comes into play. Let’s break it down for each team:

• Memphis (32-33). The Grizzlies have the eighth seed in hand thanks to a Rookie of the Year season from Ja Morant and the rest of a young core stepping up in a way few expected (maybe less than few). However, the Grizzlies have the toughest remaining schedule in the West, including facing the Bucks once and the Raptors twice. It’s so tough that fivethirtyeight.com’s RAPTOR projects them to go 6-11 the rest of the way. Memphis, however, is getting Justise Winslow and Jaren Jackson Jr. back healthy soon, and they have been pulling off upset wins (the Lakers at the end of last month, for example). If they can win showdowns like the one at Portland on Thursday, and at least split the home-and-home with New Orleans in just more than a week, they will hold on to this spot.

• New Orleans (28-36, three games back in the loss column). With Zion Williamson making the Pelicans must-watch television, this is the team a lot of fans want to see go up against the Lakers in the first round. (You can be sure this is the team television executives are rooting for to get the spot.) If Zion wants to win Rookie of the Year, he has to lead New Orleans past Morant and Memphis (and that may not be enough, but it makes it interesting). What the Pelicans have going for them is the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA — two games against Atlanta, two against Washington, plus a home-and-home against Memphis. It’s that schedule that has fivethirtyeight.com’s RAPTOR projecting them to go 40-42 — meaning a 12-6 record the rest of the way — and with a 60 percent chance of making the playoffs. That’s a lot of things that have to come together, but the Pelicans have been better than their record all season and they are due for a run of good luck and good wins.

• Portland (29-37, four games back in the loss column). Their case for catching Memphis goes like this: We have Damian Lillard, we are about to get Jusuf Nurkic back, and we have a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way. Which is a pretty good case to make; fivethirtyeight.com’s RAPTOR projects them to go 9-7 the rest of the way, finishing with 38 wins. Any chance they have has to start with a win Thursday against Memphis, then holding together during an upcoming six-game road trip. It’s a longshot, fivethirtyeight.com gives them just a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs, but bet against Lillard at your own peril.

• Sacramento (28-36, three games back in the loss column). The Kings are the hottest team in this group, having won 7-of-10, and they have a softer schedule than the Grizzlies (although the Kings do have the Lakers twice and the Clippers once remaining). De’Aaron Fox is trying to lift the Kings to their first playoff berth since 2006 (the longest drought in the league, one of the longest in league history). Kings ownership and management are desperate to get in, but fivethirtyeight.com’s RAPTOR projects them to go 9-8 the rest of the way and fall just short. It gives them an eight percent chance at the playoffs, if the Kings are getting in they need to pull a few upsets down the stretch.

• San Antonio (27-36, three games back in the loss column). The Spurs have made the playoffs for 22 straight seasons, are you going to bet against them? San Antonio also has a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way and they just got LaMarcus Aldridge back, the question is can they overcome what has been a terrible defense all season? Fivethirtyeight.com’s RAPTOR doesn’t think so, projecting the Spurs will go 8-11 the rest of the way, and it gives them just a two percent chance at the postseason. San Antonio beat Dallas on Tuesday and will need a few more upsets like that to extend its playoff streak to 23.

2) Lakers fall into trap game, LeBron James and Anthony Davis miss in the final seconds, Lakers lose to Brooklyn. After beating the Bucks and Clippers over the weekend in emotional, showcase games, this was always a trap game on the schedule for the Lakers. It was a game where they would relax and would then run into a scrappy Brooklyn team that finds a way to compete.

No player on the Nets better epitomizes this ethos than Spencer Dinwiddie, and he hit what proved to be the game-winner.

The Lakers had their chances — and with the ball in the hands of their best players. LeBron James’ game-tying layup attempt rimmed out, and Anthony Davis’ three ball to end it did not fall.

The Lakers are still solidly the top seed in the West and may try to get their stars a little rest down the stretch of the season. The only question is if they want to push to catch Milwaukee for the top seed in the entire league (the Lakers are three games back of the Bucks), and knowing LeBron’s history that should matter less than rest and health.

3) The NBA is increasingly serious about moving games or playing in front of empty arenas. The more you talk to people around the NBA, the more you get the sense the league is dead serious about making some bold moves in the face of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States (the number of confirmed cases climbed in the USA climbed north of 1,000 yesterday).

Wednesday, the NBA owners will have a conference call with Adam Silver and other top officials from the league, then on Thursday it’s team presidents and GMs on more conference calls. On those calls, the league is going to lay out a range of options, including trying to move games to cities where outbreaks have not hit, or to playing games in empty arenas with no fans. The idea of pausing the league is not off the table, but that is the most desperate of acts.

Teams are already facing choices. On Tuesday, Ohio governor Mike DeWine requested there be a pause in mass indoor gatherings to watch sporting events, which would impact the Cavaliers. Other states are expected to follow suit.

It’s tough to say what the NBA will choose to do, in part because the lack of testing has left the United States with an incomplete picture of just how much the virus has spread and where. The league is listening to experts and following guidelines, and that could mean a few radical shifts coming in the next few days. Maybe. Nobody really knows.

NBA Power Rankings: Trade deadline passes, Bucks still on top followed by Raptors, Lakers

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The trade deadline has passed, rosters are set (sort of, the buyout market does exist), and still the Bucks are locked in at the top. The Lakers slip back to third behind a Raptors team that has won 15 in a row.

Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (46-7, Last Week No. 1). Milwaukee makes a quality pickup getting Marvin Williams on the buyout market, he is a stretch four at this point in his career, he spaces the floor well and is a reliable defender. He can eat up some minutes for Khris Middleton and others down the stretch of the season, keeping them fresh. Milwaukee continues to be carried by an elite defense, best in the NBA by a wide margin for the season, and it has been even better the past 15 games allowing less than a point per possession.

Raptors small icon 2. Raptors (40-14, LW 3). Pascal Siakam will head to Chicago this weekend for a much-deserved All-Star Game start, the leap he made this season is impressive. Toronto has won 15 in a row, and has the best offense in the NBA over that stretch, which is what has carried them (the defense is sixth-best, not shabby at all). All of that despite a rash of injuries, the most recent of which is Kyle Lowry out with whiplash. How do they do it, what is Toronto’s secret weapon? Serge Ibaka’s scarf.

Lakers small icon 3. Lakers (40-12, LW No. 2). It wasn’t for lack of effort, but the Lakers stood pat at the trade deadline, which was always the most likely outcome considering how hard it was to construct a good deadline around Kyle Kuzma. The bigger blows are the Clippers getting Morris and Darren Collison deciding to stay retired. J.R. Smith/Dion Waiters are not the answer. Still, the Lakers sit atop the West by 3 games and have won 4-of-5 because they continue to beat up weak teams (26-2 against teams below .500).

Celtics small icon

4. Celtics (37-16, LW 4). This trade deadline was like so many others in Boston: a lot of rumors, smoke and mirrors, and when it all clears away the Celtics stood pat. That’s a good decision with this roster, a team that just had a seven-game win streak (snapped Tuesday by Houston), has won 11-of-13, and they have done it against a much tougher schedule than the Raptors have faced. Still, this team could use a little more size and toughness in the middle for the playoffs, and the buyout market may not offer that this year.

Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (38-16, LW 7). Nikola Jokic’s strong play of late moves him into the MVP “on the ballot” discussion (he’s not in the “can he win it” talk this season). He could well get some fourth and fifth place votes. Denver has won 8-of-10 because it has gotten healthy (or, healthier) and started to play good defense again, seventh best in the NBA over those 10 games.

Clippers small icon 6. Clippers (37-17, LW 5). Doc Rivers’ team is treating the regular season like a team that has just won back-to-back titles — some nights they take it seriously (and handle Miami comfortably), then a few nights later they let Minnesota snap a 13-game losing streak against them. The Clippers upgraded at the deadline landing Marcus Morris, this is an incredible team on paper but just a good one on the court. After the All-Star break, can the Clippers put together a run and start to build some good habits?

Heat small icon 7. Heat (35-18, LW 6). The addition of Andre Iguodala at the trade deadline has gotten all the headlines, but picking up Jae Crowder in the Memphis trade could be key for Miami down the stretch. In his first two games with Miami Crowder has averaged 19.5 points per game, shooting 56.3% from three, and is pulling down 9.5 boards a night. Miami is 1-3 on their current road trip, with 3-of-4 still to come away from South Beach.

Jazz small icon 8. Jazz (38-18, LW 10). Since his return from injury, Mike Conley has looked much more like the point guard the Jazz thought they were getting last summer: 18.6 points per game, shooting 45.2% from three, with four assists a night in his last five games. Utah snapped out of its slump and won three in a row. Highlight of the week goes to Bojan Bogdanovic for going playground on Kristaps Porzingis.

Rockets small icon 9. Rockets (34-20, LW 9). Houston has gone 3-2 since going all-in on the small-ball lineup, and the team’s offensive rating hasn’t taken off yet like we expect (small sample size and all). The one guy who is thriving with this style is Russell Westbrook: 34 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6 assists a game in his last five. Good test against the Jazz Saturday night in Utah.

Sixers small icon 10. 76ers (34-21, LW 13). Joel Embiid “shushing” the Philly crowd then trolling everyone on social media grabbed a lot of headlines, as did the idea that other teams are watching the Sixers thinking they might break up Ben Simmons and Embiid. The All-Star duo answered that with their best game together — maybe ever in Brett Brown’s mind — in a big win over the Clippers Tuesday night. That was impressive, but let’s see them take this show on the road and make it work before we celebrate too much.

Thunder small icon 11. Thunder (32-22, LW 12). While there was some flirtation with the idea of sending Danilo Gallinari to Miami, Oklahoma City came out of the trade deadline deciding to ride or die with this group. The Thunder are good with their core five on the floor — Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dennis Schroder, Danilo Gallinari, and Steven Adams — but the lack of depth is the only issue. Still, this team sets up to be a tough playoff out for whomever lands them.

Mavericks small icon 12. Mavericks (32-22, LW 11). Luka Doncic returns from his sprained ankle Wednesday night, and the Mavs went 3-4 without him. The league-leading offense was still clicking without him (119.5 offensive rating, actually 3.2 per 100 better than their season average) but the defense has been bottom 10 in the league in that stretch (5.6 points per 100 worse than their season average). Dallas added Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on the buyout market, he will provide some defensive depth on the wing (but don’t count on much offense).

Pacers small icon 13. Pacers (31-23, LW 8). Losers of six in a row, and if it wasn’t for that long game-tying Victor Oladipo three in his return game against the Bulls it would be eight. While the offense has been bottom 10 in the league during the losing streak, the real issue is the usually solid Pacers defense is off more than 7 points per 100 in this stretch (with a good defender in Oladipo back in the lineup). Indiana gets Milwaukee right before the much-needed All-Star break.

Grizzlies small icon 14. Grizzlies (27-26, LW 15). Zach Kleiman, the guy with the hammer in Memphis basketball operations, must love Justise Winslow, because they gave up their 2020 cap space and took on a lot of dead salary to get him. “To be able to add one player that we believe in as a key piece to fit what we’re building, that was plan A. That was the deal that we were hoping to get.” Winslow is that guy? He will get a chance next to Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

Blazers small icon 15. Trail Blazers (25-30, LW 14). Portland is still fuming over the blown goaltending call on a Damian Lillard driving layup to tie the game against Utah last Friday — in a tight playoff chase that call might come back to bite them. That said, they bounced back with a win against Miami, not letting the anger over one loss become two. Lillard has returned to being human, averaging “only” 28.4 points per game over his last five.

Nets small icon 16. Nets (24-28, LW 16). Brooklyn has won 3-of-4 time time around without Kyrie Irving, thanks in large part to Caris LeVert stepping up and playing like the guy the Nets thought they had at the start of last season. Brooklyn is four games below .500 and sits as the seven seed in the East, but their playoff spot looks secure (they have a five-game cushion over the nine-seed Wizards, and the eight-seed Magic are not looking like a team about to make a run to get past the Nets).

Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (23-31, LW 18). Zion Williamson is becoming must-watch television averaging 21 points and 7.7 rebounds a game, and he apparently has a quote of at least one spectacular dunk a game. The Pelicans kept the roster together at the deadline, and New Orleans is 5-4 since Williamson entered the lineup, but the team remains 4.5 games out of the playoffs because the Grizzlies are not coming back to the pack.

Magic small icon 18. Magic (23-31, LW 19). Here is everything you need to know about the bottom of the East: Orlando is 2-8 in its last 10 games with a -8.6 net rating, yet they maintain a three-game playoff cushion over the Wizards (and 4.5 over the Bulls) because nobody can string together some wins. Coming out of the All-Star break, Orlando has 7-of-10 on the road.

Kings small icon 19. Kings (21-32, LW 20). Sacramento came into this season with dreams of ending the longest playoff drought in the NBA; instead they head into the All-Star break six games out of the playoffs in the West. Injuries certainly played a part in that, but roster building and player development have not been strong suits in Sacramento — to put it kindly — and now it seems owner Vivek Ranadive is finally setting his sites on team president Vlade Divac as part of the problem. If Ranadive makes a change, will he give the new president the authority to clean house as needed?

Spurs small icon 20. Spurs (23-31, LW 17). San Antonio is 1-6 so far on the rodeo road trip (with two more games after the break), the lone win coming in Oklahoma City. As it has been all season, the challenge on this road trip for the Spurs has been defense — a 118.3 defensive rating that is third worst in the league over the last eight games. The Spurs stood pat at the deadline, but this trip has knocked them 4.5 games behind Memphis for the last playoff spot, it seems the Spurs historic playoff streak will end at 22.

Suns small icon 21. Suns (21-33, LW 21). Despite plenty of Kelly Oubre trade rumors flying around, the Suns held on to him at the deadline (and they could have gone ahead with Oubre bobblehead night, an event they wisely cancelled last week, just in case). Since getting healthy and joining the starting lineup, Deandre Ayton has averaged 19.9 points and 12.3 assists a game, shooting 54.3%.

Pistons small icon 22. Pistons (19-37, LW 23). That the Pistons found a taker for Andre Drummond is a win — despite the numbers Drummond put up and his solid play as an old-school big, he was an anchor on their rebuild. The Pistons were wise to value the salary cap space more, which is what they should have done during a rebuild. What the front office does with that cap space this summer (and there are a variety of options) will be the next step in the drive to get the Pistons back to the top of the East.

Wizards small icon 23. Wizards (19-33, LW 24). Washington is just three games back of Orlando for the final playoff spot in the West, and the Magic are stumbling down the stretch. The playoffs are within reach, but Orlando has one of the easiest remaining schedules and the Wizards have the sixth toughest in the league. It was a smart long-term move by the Wizards to trade out point guards at the deadline — 31-year-old Isaiah Thomas for 22-year-old Jerome Robinson — but I’m still sorry to see Thomas go.

Knicks small icon 24. Knicks (17-37, LW 25). Superagent Leon Rose is the next in line to save the Knicks (without World Wide Wes), and that’s not a bad choice. If owner James Dolan wasn’t willing to wait and do the dance to land a Sam Presti/Masai Ujiri level experienced POBO, then Rose is a good roll of the dice. Sometimes having an agent in charge works (Bob Myers, Golden State) and sometimes not (Lon Babby, Phoenix) but Rose is smart and connected. There’s a lot of work to do to build a Knicks culture and foundation, only then will the elite talent come.

25. Timberwolves (26-36, LW 30). They got their man in D’Angelo Russell, a good move because it makes Karl-Anthony Towns happy, and it gives Minnesota a a genuine pick-and-roll combo. I just picture a lot of games like Monday’s in their future: Minnesota put up 126 points with an impressive 115 offensive rating, but they lost because Toronto put up 137 — Russell and Towns could be a defensive disaster. Gerson Rosas has to get quality defenders around those two.

Bulls small icon 26. Bulls (19-36, LW 22). The All-Star Game is coming to the basketball Mecca that is Chicago this weekend, but the Bulls mostly need the break to get healthy. Here’s the current list of their walking wounded: Otto Porter Jr. (broken foot), Wendell Carter Jr. (ankle), Lauri Markkanen (hip), Kris Dunn (knee), and Daniel Gafford (ankle). In theory, the Bulls could make a run at grabbing the eight seed and getting to the postseason, but they need to get healthy, and even then 4.5 games would be a challenge to make up.

Hawks small icon 27. Hawks (15-40, LW 26). Atlanta got its center at the deadline in trading for Clint Capela, and it was a nice pickup to get Dwayne Dedmon behind him. The real question now becomes what does this mean for John Collins? He’s athletic and has played better at the four than the five this season, but is he going to be worth what some team likely will pay him as a restricted free agent in a couple of seasons? Expect a lot of Collins trade rumors this summer.

Hornets small icon 28. Hornets (17-36, LW 27). Charlotte is trying to do a spring cleaning on their roster, and that started with buying out Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams (who were signed by Dallas and Milwaukee, respectively. Expect more of the same this summer as they try to find a taker for Nicolas Batum’s contract. There is a lot of rebuilding to do in Charlotte, but at least they found one piece to that puzzle this season in Devonte Graham.

Warriors small icon 29. Warriors (12-42 LW 29). In terms of a pure positional fit, I get why the Warriors traded for Andrew Wiggins and set out D’Angelo Russell. The Warriors are selling that the combination of their culture and a smaller role (next season, when everyone’s healthy) is going to be good for Wiggins and make him productive. A lot of Timberwolves fans just laughed at that. Bottom line, could the Warriors have found a better wing (at a better price) by the start of next season?

Cavaliers small icon 30. Cavaliers (13-40, LW 28). On one hand, the Cavaliers got a former All-Star, productive NBA center for pennies on the dollar in trading for Andre Drummond. Cleveland looked at the free agent market and said this was a better use of their cap space for 2020. Drummond and Love next season will form a $60 million front line that may be the slowest in the league.