Malik Monk

Mock NBA expansion draft
(AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Mock NBA expansion draft: Hawks, Hornets, Heat, Magic, Wizards

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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 and Northwest Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Southeast:

Atlanta Hawks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: The Hawks protections are very straightforward. Every player they are protecting is either a rotation player, under team control for a while or both. No hard decisions here.

That means that Atlanta is leaving their restricted free agents and Brandon Goodwin unprotected. No major concerns over losing any of the four.

Charlotte Hornets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: Charlotte’s decisions were fairly easy. Terry Rozier, Devonte’ Graham, Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington are all core pieces. Despite his suspension, Malik Monk still has upside. And the three young forwards (Cody Martin, Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels) are locked in on low salaries for a while.

Keeping the three minimum salary forwards meant leaving Dwayne Bacon unprotected. Bacon had been out of the rotation and sent to the G-League, so he’s out of the plans for now. As for Nic Batum or Cody Zeller, the Hornets would welcome getting either big salary off the books.

Miami Heat

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 1

Ineligible – 6

Analysis: Miami was really helped by having six players ineligible because they are unrestricted free agents this summer. That left just this decision point: Andre Iguodala vs KZ Okpala vs Kelly Olynyk.

Okpala is a minimum salary player, so that means he stays. Iguodala was just added and given an extension. He stays. That means Olynyk and his $13 million salary are left exposed.

Orlando Magic

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: Orlando had seven fairly easy protections. Their five starters, sixth man, and their promising young big man in Mo Bamba.

That left Khem Birch vs Al-Farouq Aminu vs Wesley Iwundu. Aminu was left unprotected due to salary and coming off a knee injury. It’s unlikely he’ll be selected and the Magic will be happy to have him back. That means it came down to Birch vs Iwundu. It’s more likely Birch will be selected, given his low salary and skill as a big man, so Iwundu was left unprotected.

Washington Wizards

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

  • John Wall – $41,254,920
  • Isaac Bonga – $1,663,861 (Non-Guaranteed)
  • Anzejs Pasecnicks – $1,517,981 ($250,000 Guaranteed)

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Wizards are taking a gamble. Most of the protections were pretty easy. Bradley Beal and Thomas Bryant are key players. Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown, Mo Wagner and Jerome Robinson are all on their rookie scale deals.

Then things get interesting. Leaving John Wall unprotected may seem crazy, given he’s a former All-Star. But Wall is coming off two lost seasons due to injury and will be 30 years old at the start of next season. He’s also owed $133 million over the next three seasons. Ish Smith and Admiral Schofield stay and the Wizards throw caution to the wind. It’s unlikely Wall will be selected, but just the chance of clearing that salary off the books is a gamble worth taking for Washington.

Hornets’ Malik Monk suspended indefinitely for violating league’s anti-drug policy

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Malik Monk has been playing the best basketball of the season of late, averaging 18 points a game over his last five games and shooting 34.5 percent from three in that stretch. He even got a start after coming off the bench all season.

Now he is out, having been suspended by the NBA for violation of the league’s anti-drug policy, something the league announced Wednesday.

In an unusual step, Monk’s suspension “will continue until he is determined to be in full compliance with the NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug Program.” Meaning the suspension is open-ended.

There are no other details. However, this is not what the CBA prescribes for positive marijuana or PED tests. Monk does not have any previous run-ins with the league’s drug policy.

“The Charlotte Hornets are disappointed in Malik’s decision making that resulted in his suspension,” the Hornets said in a statement. “As an organization, we do not condone his behavior. However, we are committed to supporting Malik during this time.”

How much money this costs Monk will depend upon how long he is out. He is in the third season of his rookie contract and is making $4 million this season, and is set to make $5.3 million next season.

Monk is eligible for an extension to his rookie contract after this season.

NBA Power Rankings: Bucks still on top of trade deadline talk edition

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We are about 24 hours away from the NBA Trade Deadline, and today’s NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings are heavy on trade talk. The Bucks and Lakers remain on top, but the Raptors are climbing fast.

Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (43-7, Last Week No. 1). While the Bucks are talking to teams, the sense from sources is they will stand pat at the deadline. Which makes sense. The Milwaukee Bucks remain on a 70-win pace this season, with a +11.8 net rating that compares to the Durant-Curry Warriors of a few seasons back (Cleaning the Glass projects the Bucks to “only” have 68 wins this season). Milwaukee remains the clear best team in the NBA this regular season.

Lakers small icon 2. Lakers (38-11, LW No. 2). The Lakers continue to dangle Kyle Kuzma in trade talks, but because he makes just $2 million (low in NBA terms), it becomes hard to match salaries and trade for a quality player. The Lakers will be more active on the buyout market and maybe they will land Darren Collison. Things seem to be returning to a more normal rhythm around the team following Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, but LeBron James‘ words at the first game back were worth remembering.

Raptors small icon 3. Raptors (36-14, LW 5). Winners of 12 in a row, the Raptors are poised to be buyers at the trade deadline, not sellers, although the most likely action is they stand pat. With all the injuries the Raptors have had to battle through — the latest is Norman Powell’s broken hand — they could use a little more depth, but finding a deal that works is not that simple. Congrats to Nick Nurse, who will coach his first All-Star Game this year.

Celtics small icon 4. Celtics (34-15, LW 6). Boston is in the market for a rim-protecting, big-bodied big man, and Daniel Theis tweaking his ankle (he is out Wednesday, maybe longer) is a reminder how thin the Celtics are up front. The challenge is, with Clint Capela off the market, there may not be a good trade option for Boston (Andre Drummond is not a good fit, and it’s too hard to construct a deal for his $27 million salary anyway). If any All-Star Game roster spots open up due to injury, Jaylen Brown should be near the top of the list of replacements.

Clippers small icon 5. Clippers (35-15, LW 4). The Clippers are looking at trying to find a more traditional big man and maybe more shooting at the trade deadline, using their 2020 pick and Moe Harkless’ salary as the bait. Maybe that’s enough to land Andre Iguodala (and keep him away from the Lakers), but in the end the Clippers may stand pat — and that’s fine. This team is still +12.1 per 100 possessions when Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are on the court together, and that will happen a lot more in the playoffs.

Heat small icon 6. Heat (34-15, LW 7). Pat Riley and company are always active around the trade deadline, and they would love to find a trade that sends out Dion Waiters (and maybe James Johnson). However, mostly the Heat will keep their powder dry and look for a blockbuster move this summer that brings another star to to with Jimmy Butler. With Monday’s win over Philly, the Heat are 8-3 against the other top seven teams in the East (13-9 overall against +.500 teams).

Nuggets small icon 7. Nuggets (35-16, LW 9). Denver became the fourth team in Tuesday night’s blockbuster 12-player trade, and they did well for themselves. Denver added depth with Gerald Green, Noah Vonleh (a third center), Shabazz Napier (an overqualified third point guard), and Keita Bates-Diop, plus they get Houston’s 2020 first-round pick. While they lose Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangómez, the Nuggets could not have re-signed both next summer. Denver made a statement last week with back-to-back road wins at Utah and Milwaukee.

Pacers small icon 8. Pacers (31-19, LW 10). Indiana is expected to be quiet at the trade deadline any moves they make likely are on the fringes of the roster. Teams have called about Aaron Holiday but have been shot down. Victor Oladipo is still getting his legs back underneath him and finding his rhythm, he’s shooting just 20.5% through three games. That will improve.

Rockets small icon 9. Rockets (32-18, LW 11). The Rockets have gone all-in on small ball — they have traded away Clint Capela and got back wing shooting and defense in the form of Robert Covington. P.J. Tucker is now the starting center (Rockets fans, pray for his knees to hold up) and Jordan Bell can play a few minutes behind him as needed. James Harden is out of his slump and the small ball has worked so far in the regular season, but is this a viable playoff strategy in the West?

Jazz small icon 10. Jazz (32-17, LW 3). All is quiet on the trade front in Utah, the biggest news is that Mike Conley is back to being the starting point guard. The Jazz have dropped four in a row and the reason is the defense has been dreadful, allowing a 120 defensive rating in those games (for perspective, the Wizards 116.3 defensive rating is worst in the league for the season). With their next five games against playoff-bound teams (starting with Denver on Wednesday).

Mavericks small icon 11. Mavericks (31-19, LW 12). Dallas was around the fringes of the Robert Covington trade talks, and they have been linked to Andre Iguodala (but denied it), however don’t expect much movement from Dallas at the deadline. With Luka Doncic sidelined by a sprained ankle, Kristaps Porzingis has stepped up with 35 and 38 in his last two games. Interestingly, Dallas is 14-12 at home but a much stronger 17-7on the road.

Thunder small icon 12. Thunder (30-20, LW 13). A team that a few months back was expected to be a seller at the deadline may stand pat. Chris Paul and Steven Adams aren’t going anywhere, their big contracts have kept teams at bay. Danilo Gallinari is still part of ongoing trade talks, and that could come together before the deadline, but as of now things are quiet. The Thunder had a rough schedule in January and came out 12-5 and comfortably in the playoff mix in the West. Chris Paul will be an All-Star for the 10th time this year.

Sixers small icon 13. 76ers (31-20, LW 8). Philadelphia had been in the mix for Robert Covington, but with him headed to Houston this may be a quiet deadline in Philly. This is not necessarily a good thing — this team needs to be shaken up (and Brett Brown could be the fall guy for it after the season). The road issues for Philly have become such a thing that Ben Simmons is calling the team “soft” — and Mike Scott agreed with him. The Sixers are an NBA-best 22-2 at home, but just 9-18 on the road, and that includes losing 10-of-12.

Blazers small icon 14. Trail Blazers (23-28, LW 16). Damian Lillard‘s ridiculous hot streak — which included being the most Kobe-like player on the court the night of his tribute at the Lakers’ return to action — ended with an off-night Monday. Still, that streak has Portland just 2.5 games out of the playoffs, and they are close to getting healthy with a Jusuf Nurkic return. Don’t expect Portland to make a trade deadline move to add a player, if anything happens it will be a small move to get them below the luxury tax line. BTW, GM Neil Olshey’s name surfaces in some of the “who is next to run the Knicks” rumors.

Grizzlies small icon 15. Grizzlies (25-25, LW 14). Expect Andre Iguodala to be traded by the deadline, the only question is where? Clearly, he and his camp didn’t like some of the names that surfaced, hence the leaked “I will sit out a year” comments if he’s not sent to a team he approves. The Grizzlies should not care about that and take the best offer presented. The team’s young players want the trade to happen, Dillon Brooks said this week: “I can’t wait til we find a way to trade him so we can play him and show him really what Memphis is about.”

Nets small icon 16. Nets (22-27, LW 21). Brooklyn made its moves last summer, and while they have kicked around some trade talk — they were in some preliminary talks with Atlanta about John Collins that went nowhere — expect them to stand pat at the deadline. Kyrie Irving is out again, this time with a sprained knee, so once again it’s back to the Spencer Dinwiddie show in Brooklyn for a week or two.

Spurs small icon 17. Spurs (22-28, LW 15). San Antonio is shopping wings DeMarre Carroll and Marco Belinelli, hoping to find them new homes at the deadline (with teams that may have a bigger role for them). However, any move will be around the fringes of the rotation, not its core. The Spurs have started the annual Rodeo Road Trip 0-2 (losses to both Los Angeles Teams) and they have six more games before they return home Feb. 26.

Pelicans small icon 18. Pelicans (20-31, LW 17). While there are still teams calling about Jrue Holiday and Derrick Favors, it appears the Pelicans will stand pat at the trade deadline and make a playoff push. That said, 5.5 games to make up, and four teams to leap, is a tall task. My favorite Zion Williamson play of the week his him ripping the ball out of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s hands.

Magic small icon 19. Magic (22-28, LW 20). While there are teams calling about Evan Fournier, and to a lesser degree Aaron Gordon, the Magic are currently the eight seed in the East and seem likely to keep the roster in take and aim for the postseason. The playoffs are a reasonable goal considering the Magic have the fourth easiest remaining schedule in the league. If Orlando decides to make dramatic changes to the roster it’s more likely to come this summer.

Kings small icon 20. Kings (19-31, LW 22). The Kings have fielded a lot of calls about Bogdan Bogdanovic, but have yet to find a trade that works (no, Kyle Kuzma is not an option). Bogdanovic wants a bigger role and that may not be something the Kings can offer, plus he is a free agent this summer, so he can just bolt. Sacramento also is still expected to find a trade for Dwayne Dedmon before the deadline, the big man wants out and the Kings are ready to move on, plus plenty of teams could use depth at center.

Suns small icon 21. Suns (20-30, LW 18). Phoenix remains deep in talks to acquire shooting guard Luke Kennard from the Pistons for a first-round pick, but so far the deal has not been finalized. That trade would make sense for the Suns, who need more shooting to go with Devin Booker. Speaking of Booker, yes he should have been an All-Star, and if a player is forced out due to injury he should be the guy at the front of the replacement line.

Bulls small icon 22. Bulls (19-33, LW 19). Chicago is getting calls about Thaddeus Young — the Clippers are among the teams interested — and that’s a name and a deal to watch as the deadline nears. Teams also have called about Zach LaVine but have been turned away. The injuries just keep hitting Chicago hard, with point guard Kris Dunn’s knee sprain being the latest.

Pistons small icon 23. Pistons (18-34, LW 23). At the start of the trade season Andre Drummond’s name came up a lot as a target, but sources tell NBC Sports that market is now nearly dead. Drummond brings skills, but the game is moving away from Drummond’s style and he makes $27 million (with an opt-out after this season), both of which are keeping teams away. There is a lot more interest around Derrick Rose and it’s more likely he gets traded before the deadline.

Wizards small icon 24. Wizards (17-32, LW 24). The Wizard are not going to be sellers at the deadline, teams keep calling about Davis Bertans and the message is the same: Washington isn’t trading him and they plan to re-sign the sharpshooting big man this summer. If anything, Washington could be a buyer at the deadline, with Tristan Thompson being linked to the Wizards.

Knicks small icon 25. Knicks (15-36, LW 27). Steve Mills is out as team president, but what that really means will depend on who replaces him. Will James Dolan hire an experienced executive — Masai Ujiri’s name is linked, I think Daryl Morey would be an interesting fit and may be open to a move after the season — and give that person complete autonomy to make changes to the culture? Or, will it be someone safe and more of the same? Scott Perry is running the show through the trade deadline and Marcus Morris talks are ongoing.

Hawks small icon 26. Hawks (13-38, LW 25). Atlanta was the big winner of the four-team trade — they landed a quality pick-and-roll center in Clint Capela, a guy on a reasonable contract, and they did it without giving up their first-round pick or John Collins. Speaking of Collins, it won’t happen at the deadline but expect to hear a lot of trade chatter about him this summer as Atlanta decides if he can play next to Capela, and how much they want to pay him (his rookie contract is up in the summer of 2021).

Hornets small icon 27. Hornets (16-35, LW 26). The Hornets have been talking to the Knicks about a possible Julius Randle trade, with some combination of Terry Rozier, Malik Monk and Dennis Smith Jr. going to New York, however, that may not have a lot of traction. Congrats to Devonte’ Graham, who will be competing in the three-point shooting contest All-Star weekend, he deserves a little shine considering the season he’s had.

Cavaliers small icon 28. Cavaliers (13-38, LW 28). Expect Tristan Thompson to be traded before the deadline — he wants out and there are a number of playoff teams looking for the toughness and shooting he can provide for the playoffs. There is no heat around Kevin Love talks right now, he’s more of a summer trade (if it even happens then). Collin Sexton has been putting up some decent numbers of late, even if he still pounds the ball into the ground like he’s James Harden.

Warriors small icon 29. Warriors (12-39 LW 30). While the Timberwolves made a push and there was a lot of media buzz about D'Angelo Russell being traded, that was never likely (unless Minnesota made a Godfather offer). The Warriors do want to see what Russell and Stephen Curry look like in the same backcourt (if it goes well it just raises Russell’s trade value). Plus, because of the Russell sign-and-trade, the Warriors are hard-capped, if they wait until after July 1 they can be far more creative in a trade. That’s when a deal is likely to happen.

30. Timberwolves (15-34, LW 29). Thanks to the combination of injuries and the team’s current 12-game losing streak, the last time Karl-Anthony Towns was on the court for a Timberwolves win was November 27. Minnesota made a push to get Towns a friend in D’Angelo Russell but the warriors don’t want to do that dance until next summer. The bench additions of Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangómez — both guys the team can re-sign this summer — make the four-team trade a good one for the Timberwolves. It gives them bench depth.

NBA Power Rankings: From Paris to Milwaukee Giannis Antetokounmpo keeps on winning

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Kobe Bryant’s untimely death has cast a pall over the NBA, a dark cloud blocking the light for both players and fans. But the league grinds on, and so do our NBA power rankings, which now have Kobe’s Lakers back up to No. 2.

 
Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (41-6, Last Week No. 1). Giannis Antetokounmpo was one of the many elite players in the league who credit Kobe Bryant for helping him reach that level: “I grew up with Kobe. Kobe influenced my life. Looking up to him, one of the reasons I started playing basketball. One of the reasons that I am here today.”Milwaukee picked up a win last week the NBA’s first-ever game in Paris.

 
Lakers small icon 2. Lakers (36-10, LW No. 3). Postponing the Tuesday night game against the Clippers was the right move by the league. It’s not just the Lakers’ players who are grieving, Kobe was a 20-year Laker employee who had deep ties outside the locker room with people in game operations, the marketing team, season ticket sales, and so much more. The organization is grieving, and will undoubtedly have a tremendous tribute for Kobe on Friday night against Portland. It’s a crazy coincidence that Kobe died just a day after LeBron James passed him on the all-time scoring list.

 
Jazz small icon 3. Jazz (32-14, LW 2). Utah should have two players in the All-Star Game next month, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. There seems to be momentum behind the Gobert candidacy, talking to people around the league (although the coaches make that vote). Mitchell, while deserving, is battling for a spot on the reserves with other guards who also can make good cases (Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, etc.), and the coaches have some tough choices. Utah slips one spot this week because of the loss to a very shorthanded Rockets team.

 
Clippers small icon 4. Clippers (33-14, LW 4). Against Miami over the weekend, Doc Rivers rolled out his 21st different starting lineup of the season — the most in the NBA. Last season the Clippers had 14 starting lineups total, but roster changes and injuries have made this season exceptional. It speaks to why there has yet to be real cohesion with this Clippers roster, and also why — while they are actively looking at the trade market — they are in no way panicking. This team, as is, remains a serious title contender.

 
Raptors small icon 5. Raptors (33-14, LW 8). Pascal Siakam was voted in an All-Star starter and he earned it. Not just with his 23.8 points and 7.7 rebounds a game, but also with the fact the Raptors outscore opponents by 8.6 per 100 possessions when he is on the court (and look like maybe the second best team in the East). The Raptors are winners of eight in a row (and rolling into a soft part of the schedule, so expect that number to climb).

 
Celtics small icon 6. Celtics (31-15, LW 6). Statistically, Boston is playing some of its best basketball of the season, having won 4-of-5 (with victories over the Lakers and Heat in there). That has come with Jayson Tatum missing three of those games (groin injury, but he seems close to a return) and players such as Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, and Marcus Smart picking up the offensive slack. The Celtics can get healthy against a bit of a soft spot in the schedule, just one of their next five games is against teams over .500.

 
Heat small icon 7. Heat (32-15, LW 7). We mentioned it in this space a week ago but will do so again: Bam Adebayo deserves to be named an NBA All-Star. The East coaches unquestionably will vote in Jimmy Butler as a reserve (I thought he should have started) but Adebayo is in a tight mix with Tatum, Khris Middleton, Domantas Sabonis and others, and someone is going to get left out. Miami needs to force every game to overtime, they are 8-0 in the extra frame this season (some of that is luck, some of that is how hard they play).

 
Sixers small icon 8. 76ers (31-17, LW 9). Joel Embiid is back from his hand surgery, and Philly needed him. Yes, the Sixers went 6-3 without him and Ben Simmons stepped up, he averaged 24 points a game on better than 70 percent shooting in his last 5 without Embiid. However, in those nine Embiid-less games the 76ers offensive rating was just 104.9, 29th in the NBA in that stretch. Even in the last five it was 103.2, still 29th in the league. Embiid is critical to making the offense elite.

 
Nuggets small icon 9. Nuggets (32-15, LW 5). That Denver is keeping its head above water — 6-4 in their last 10 — despite the rash of injuries is impressive. They got Gary Harris back this week, but it has been an impressive run by Nikola Jokic and some good nights from Michael Porter Jr. that has kept Denver as a team that would have home court in the first round through all of this. Big tests this week against Utah and Milwaukee.

 
Pacers small icon 10. Pacers (30-17, LW 11). Victor Oladipo makes his return to the court this Wednesday after missing nearly a year with a right quad tendon rupture, and this could be a huge boost to the Pacers. Eventually. He’s going to come off the bench and have a minutes limit at first. Nate McMillan needs to blend Oladipo’s All-NBA skills (if he can get back to that level) with the scoring and passing of Malcolm Brogdon, plus the secondary playmaking that Domantas Sabonis has provided. It will take some time but the Pacers could be taking a big step forward in the coming weeks.

 
Rockets small icon 11. Rockets (29-17, LW 12). James Harden has missed two games, and likely will miss at least one more, due to a bruised thigh. That forced rest may be a good thing, Harden has struggled in games running up to the injury and looked worn down — in his last five games he’s averaging 23 points a game (13.1 below his season average), shooting 33.3 percent overall and 13.6 percent from three. While Russell Westbrook’s numbers went up, Houston needs Harden’s scoring, the team is 3-5 in its last 8.

 
Mavericks small icon 12. Mavericks (29-18, LW 10). Dallas has gone 2-2 since center Dwight Powell went down with a torn Achilles, and while the offense has been off a little without him it’s the defensive end that has been the bigger issue (surprisingly). Smart trade by Dallas to get Willie Cauley-Stein, who can provide some depth and athleticism behind Maxi Kleber at the five. Clearly, Dallas is still adjusting to its new reality.

 
Thunder small icon 13. Thunder (28-20, LW 13). The most underrated, fun lineup in the NBA is OKC’s three-guard grouping of Dennis Schroder, Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — they are +29.3 points per 100 possessions when they share the floor. Chris Paul missed his first game of the season mourning his good friend Kobe. CP3 deserves to be an All-Star this year and expect the coaches to give the veteran the nod over some young (but also deserving) players around the league.

 
Grizzlies small icon 14. Grizzlies (23-24, LW 14). 2020 has been good to Memphis so far, they are 10-3 since the calendar flipped to the new year and the key to that has been transition buckets. In January 18.2% of the Grizzlies offense has come in transition (up from 16.6% before that) and, more importantly, in January they are getting 1.36 points per possession when they run (up from 1.22 earlier in the season). Ja Morant has become and open court beast. Memphis now has a 2.5 game cushion for the eighth seed in the West, but they need to be ready for a run by one of the teams behind them.

 
Spurs small icon 15. Spurs (20-26, LW 16). Before a stinker of a game against the Bulls, Derrick White had been playing some of the best basketball of his career — five straight games scoring in double figures, including dropping 25 on the Suns. With LaMarcus Aldridge spending more time at the arc spacing the floor, White had more room to drive and make plays (the same reason DeMar DeRozan saw a scoring spike. The Spurs have lost three close games in a row and next Monday head out on the Rodeo Road trip that has them outside of Texas for eight straight games.

 
Blazers small icon 16. Trail Blazers (20-27, LW 17). Damian Lillard is on a tear, scoring at least 47 points in three straight games and at least 34 in his last five games. He is trying to will this team back into the playoff chase (they are 3 games behind Memphis) but they will need more than his magic against the coming stretch of games: Rockets, Lakers, Jazz, Nuggets, Spurs, Jazz (again).

Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (19-29, LW 20). It’s just four games, but Zion Williamson is averaging 18 points in 63.3% shooting plus 8.3 rebounds a game, and the Pelicans are 14.7 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court (with most of the improvement coming on the defensive end). It’s small sample size theater, but it’s also very impressive. Even with him the Pelicans are 2-2 in those four games and if they are going to make a playoff run they need to start racking up wins.

 
Suns small icon 18. Suns (20-27, LW 19). Phoenix has not had an All-Star since Steve Nash, Devin Booker has put up the kind of numbers that have him in the mix — 27.1 points and 6.4 rebounds a game — but he’s still on the bubble. Lillard is a lock to be a West guard reserve, but after that Booker is battling Westbrook, CP3, Donovan Mitchell and others for the final guard slots in the West. He’s deserving, but some deserving players will get snubbed this year.

 
Bulls small icon 19. Bulls (19-30, LW 21). Lauri Markkanen, already not having the breakout season many in Chicago hoped to see, will now miss 4-to-6 weeks with stress reaction of his right pelvis. Chicago can offer Markkanen an extension to his rookie contract after this season, but this injury and all the others will make them hesitant. Chicago may come in with a lower number and Markkanen may choose to bet on himself and see if a good season can boost his value in the market.

 
Magic small icon 20. Magic (21-27, LW 15). No team in the NBA seems to have a divide on how they play against teams under or over .500 like Orlando. The Magic are 4-21 against teams over .500 but 17-6 against the ones under that mark. Orlando has lost four in a row and has Miami up next, then they head on the road for three games.

 
Nets small icon 21. Nets (19-26, LW 20). It’s one thing to lose five in a row against the toughest stretch of your schedule all season, but it’s something else to need overtime to beat the Pistons, then to lose to the Knicks. The Nets are now 1-1 in a run of seven straight against struggling, below .550 teams — a chance for them to lock down a playoff spot. Brooklyn continues to hang on to the eighth seed in the East, but mostly because the teams chasing them (Chicago, Detroit, Charlotte) are worse, not because Kyrie Irving has the Nets playing well.

 
Kings small icon 22. Kings (17-29, LW 23). The Kings continue to look for Dewayne Dedmon trades and he likely gets moved before the deadline (he has been fined for publicly requesting a trade), but will he be the only King traded? There has been a lot of Bogdan Bogdanovic chatter around the league, but the price to land him will be steep. The Kings have to seriously consider it, however. With Sacramento 5.5 games out of the playoffs (and a lot of teams to jump to get in), becoming sellers at the deadline makes sense.

Pistons small icon 23. Pistons (17-31, LW 22). Losers of three in a row, now 3.5 games out of the playoffs, and with Blake Griffin done for the season, the question becomes how serious of sellers will the Pistons be at the trade deadline. While there was a lot of buzz early about Andre Drummond trades (a sign the Pistons may not want to pay what the market will this summer when the big man is a free agent), the real push from contenders is for the resurgent Derrick Rose. The question is, can any of them put together a trade that actually interests and helps Detroit?

 
Wizards small icon 24. Wizards (15-31, LW 25). Rookie Rui Hachimura, who has missed 21 games with a strained groin has gone through full practices with the Wizards and is close to a return (but not Wednesday in Miami). Another note on the rookie, he is not giving up his No. 8 jersey in honor or Kobe Bryant, and with good reason:

 
Hawks small icon 25. Hawks (12-36, LW 27). Trae Young is an All-Star starter (the first Hawk voted to start since Dikembe Mutombo in 1998), but it was his backup Brandon Goodwin — along with John Collins — helped spark the comeback of the year for Atlanta, from 19 down to beat the Clippers. Atlanta went 2-2 in their last four, and Young’s skill as a pick-and-roll ball handler continues to improve.

 
Hornets small icon 26. Hornets (16-31, LW 30). Apparently the few days of croissants and crepes of France did Charlotte some good. The Hornets returned from the NBA’s first ever game in Paris (where they lost to the Bucks) and proceeded to snap their eight game losing streak with a win over the Knicks. Malik Monk dropped 31 points on the Bucks in Paris and now James Borego is hoping he can do more of that stateside.

 
Knicks small icon 27. Knicks (13-35, LW 26). From friend of this site Tommy Beer: Since Mitchell Robinson’s 11-of-11 shooting night and 22 points on Jan. 1 (in a win over Portland), he hasn’t attempted more than 7 shots in a game, and is averaging just 4.3 shots a night. If the Knicks are grooming Robinson to be part of the future then RJ Barrett and the other ball handlers need to get him more touches.

 
Cavaliers small icon 28. Cavaliers (13-35, LW 28). Strangely, this ranking almost feels like it’s too high. It’s not just that Cleveland has lost 8-of-9, it’s who they lost to in that stretch — the Bulls (twice), Wizards, and Knicks. While the offense is bottom 10 in the league during this nine-game stretch, the real problem has been a 29th ranked defense with a 118 net rating in those games. Ouch.

 
29. Timberwolves (15-32, LW 24). Karl-Anthony Towns continues to put up numbers that could make him an All-Star, he’s been back from injury for seven games now, and in his last five is averaging 31.6 points per game on 53.3 percent shooting, plus grabbing 8.4 rebounds a game. It’s not enough, the Timberwolves have lost 10 straight. A lot of trade buzz around this team, particularly contenders with interest in Robert Covington.

 
Warriors small icon 30. Warriors (10-38 LW 29). Here’s all you need to know about the Warriors’ roster depth right now: Earlier this month the Warriors waived Marquese Chriss because they wanted to convert Damion Lee’s two-way contract to a regular one, but they needed the roster spot. Then, when they traded Willie Cauley-Stein to Dallas, opening up a roster spot again, the Warriors re-signed Chriss — and almost instantly Chriss was starting at center again.

Greek Freak makes himself at home in Paris, scores 30 points, Bucks beat Hornets

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PARIS — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 30 points and 12 rebounds and the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks beat the Charlotte Hornets 116-103 on Friday night in the first NBA regular-season game in France.

Milwaukee improved to 40-6 with its eighth straight victory. The Bucks have the best 46-game start in franchise history. They were 39-7 in 1970-71 when they went on to win the NBA championship.

Eric Bledsoe added 20 points and five assists for the Bucks.

Malik Monk led Charlotte with 31 points. The Hornets have lost eight in a row.

Milwaukee rallied to tie it at 78 going into the fourth quarter. Pat Connaughton put the Bucks in front with a dunk in the fourth. Then Antetokounmpo got going, drawing a foul as he slalomed through the defense.