PBT Weekly NBA Power Rankings: Golden State, Atlanta remain on top tier


With the Hawks knocking off the Cavaliers and Golden State putting up more impressive wins, it has become clear that those are the top teams in their respective conferences. Those are the tea

source:  1. Warriors (49-12, LW 2). A key part of the MVP campaign for Russell Westbrook and James Harden is how much they mean to their respective teams. Well, the Warriors are 17.6 points per 100 possessions worse when Stephen Curry is off the court — he matters a lot to his team, too. Seven of Golden State’s next nine are at home.

source:  2. Hawks (49-13, Last Week No. 1). Anyone saying the Hawks can’t win the East didn’t watch them take down the Cavaliers Friday night. The Hawks packed the paint cutting off LeBron James, their defensive traps bothered Kyrie Irving, plud the Hawks passing and movement on offense opened up the Cavs defense. This team may very well make a new owner happy with a trip to the Finals.

source:  3. Cavaliers (40-25 LW 6). They continue to rack up wins but the loss to Atlanta Friday, and Houston the week before (and even the Cavs win over Toronto), serve as a reminder that their defense has looked beatable against good teams. Also, if you’re hyping this team for the postseason, remember Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have played in a combined 0.0 playoff games. To me, this is the year the Cavs can be beat in the East.

source:  4. Grizzlies (44-18, LW 3). Quality grind-it-out win over the Rockets last week, but they still continue to struggle on offense of late, in large part due to Mike Conley’s slump (shooting 40 percent since the All-Star break). If they are going to make a serious playoff run they need to find some shot making and diversified offense.

source:  5. Rockets (43-20, LW 4). Just to provide the update, the Rockets are 13-6 without Dwight Howard in this stretch. They remain one game up on Portland for the three seed out West, which makes their showdown with the Blazers Wednesday big. They’ve lost to some good teams of late and the Clippers are on the docket this week as well.

source:  6. Trail Blazers (41-20. LW 5). The loss of Wesley Matthews (torn Achilles) is a brutal blow. He’s an important perimeter defender, the team’s offensive spacing will suffer (they need his threes), and he’s an emotional leader in the locker room. Arron Afflalo will get the run but behind him the drop off is steep. Tough timing as the Blazers had started to look like a team you didn’t want to face out West.

source:  7. Spurs (39-23, LW 10). They have won five in a row and Tony Parker is back to getting into the paint and being the offensive catalyst San Antonio needs him to be. The question is how much momentum can they build toward the playoffs with 11 of their next 16 games against likely playoff teams?

source:  8. Clippers (40-23, LW 7). The Clippers have gone a respectable 7-5 without Blake Griffin against a tough schedule. Now, can they keep the energized DeAndre Jordan going when Griffin comes back is another question. The Clippers are desperate enough for depth that Doc Rivers has returned to giving Nate Robinson a shot.

source:  9. Thunder (34-28, LW 9). No, he hasn’t been as efficient as Kevin Durant, but in his last 10 games Russell Westbrook has averaged 33.1 points, 11.2 assists, and 10.1 rebounds a game. What really could win him the MVP however his “overcoming injury, leading team to playoffs” narrative is the kind of thing that garners the award.

source:  10. Mavericks (41-24, LW 8). There are all sorts of ominous signs for Mavericks fans: This team is just 18-12 with Rajon Rondo in the lineup, and they have lost seven straight on the road to playoff teams. More than anything, this roster just needs to get fully healthy to have a chance.

source:  11. Pelicans (34-29, LW 12). The good news: The Pelicans own the tie breaker against the Thunder. The hard part will be catching OKC — New Orleans is one game back and with a tougher schedule the rest of the way. They still have Anthony Davis, however.

source:  11. Bulls (39-25, LW 11). Jimmy Butler to PBT on why the Bulls defense is pedestrian this season (13th in defensive efficiency): “I think it’s more about us being able to score the ball so well now that we think we can outscore opponents, which if we want to win a championship like we say we want to, we’re going to have to start guarding and stop trying to outscore people and just stop them from scoring as a whole.”

source:  13. Pacers (28-34, LW 16). Winners of five in a row, they are defending again, plus they get Paul George back soon. Look for the Pacers to grab one of the two final playoff seeds in the East, then be a tougher out than their opponent would prefer.

source:  14. Bucks (33-29, LW 15). The good news was they beat the floundering Wizards last week. The bad news is they dropped four games against the West — and three of those games were against the Jazz, Nuggets and Lakers. The Bucks have held opponents to 85 points or fewer 15 times this season, tops in the NBA.

source:  15. Hornets (28-33, LW 23). They have won five in a row and since he joined the team Mo Williams has averaged 21.7 points a game to spark this run. Look for them to make the playoffs out East. Steve Clifford’s biggest challenge will be getting Williams and Kemba Walker to play together when he returns to the lineup soon.

<source:  16. Suns (33-31, LW 13). They are the longest shot of the teams vying to grab the final playoff spot in the West, 2.5 games out (and having shaken up the roster). However they have nine of their next 10 at home, so maybe they can put together a run. The problem is there are a lot of playoff teams in that mix, it will not be easy.

source:  17. Jazz (26-36, LW 20). Quin Snyder was brought in to develop talent ant that is happening — the Jazz have found their defensive identity. They have a run of games against the East and should rack up some win is that stretch.

source:  18. Heat (28-34, LW 17). Tyler Johnson? That’s another D-League call-up making plays for the Heat, along with Hassan Whiteside. Those are the guys that have them tied for the eight seed in the East right now, but it’s going to be tough to catch Indiana and Charlotte unless Goran Dragic goes on a huge run.

source:  19. Celtics (25-36, LW 21). No JaVale McGee in Beantown, which may be a good thing, not sure he’s the best role model for a young team. If the Celtics want to make the playoffs they have their fate in their own hands with a number of games coming up against Charlotte, Indiana, Brooklyn, Miami and Detroit (the other teams in the playoff mix at the bottom of the East). Whatever the outcome, good learning experience for the young team.

source:  20. Raptors (38-24, LW 14). They snapped a five-game losing streak with a win over the lowly Sixers, but then turned around and lost to Charlotte and Cleveland. Their defense continues to struggle so they just try to outscore teams, and as well as DeMar DeRozan is playing — and now that Kyle Lowry is back — that isn’t the way to win come the playoffs.

source:  21. Wizards (35-28, LW 19). John Wall admitted Monday that he is physically beat up right now. Which was kind of obvious. Resting him is not easy as the Wizards continue to rely on him to create shots for everyone, but they need to get him a break before the playoffs.

source:  22. Nets (25-36, LW 22). They beat Golden State last week, showing that on any given night in the NBA anything can happen. The loss to the Hornets later in the week is the bigger blow to their playoff hopes, which seem to be fading fast.

source:  23. Pistons (23-39, LW 16). They have lost six in a row and seen their surprising playoff run crash on the rocks. It comes back to the same old issues with the Pistons, regardless of coach: They need more shooting to space the floor.

source:  24. Kings (21-40, LW 24). You can see hope for the Kings’ offense going forward, but George Karl’s real work (both in getting players over the summer and in training camp next fall) will be establishing even an average defense. They are a mess on that end of the court.

source:  25. Timberwolves (14-47, LW 25). They aren’t winning a lot but with their new rotation they are pushing qualities teams. Which is all they see this week on the road with the Clippers, Suns, Thunder and Spurs.

source:  26. Magic (21-43, LW 27). The up-and-down rookie Elfrid Payton was up over the weekend when the Magic picked up a couple nice wins. Victor Oladipo is putting up numbers lately, too.

source:  27. Nuggets (22-41, LW 29). Brian Shaw has a lot of supporters around the league — Paul George, David West, Kevin Garnett — which is more than he had in the Nuggets’ locker room.

source:  28. 76ers (14-49, LW 30). Since the Michael-Carter Williams trade the Sixers have become a much better three-point shooting team, one of the top five in the NBA in terms of percentage. Which is good with plans to have Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid in the paint, this team needs to space the floor.

source:  29. Lakers (16-45, LW 26). Kobe Bryant came by to watch the Lakers blow a lead against the Mavericks Sunday. I know fans want to see him being a mentor, but who is there to mentor on this current active roster that will be a Laker in three years? Jordan Clarkson and…

source:  30. Knicks (12-49, LW 28). Phil Jackson has been traveling around scouting top college prospects. As he should, the Knicks are very likely to have the best lottery odds to get the top pick this year. Knicks fans will be watching the NCAA Tournament with that eye.

Five Things We Learned in NBA Monday: Russell Westbrook had a new team to destroy Sunday


If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while trying to figure out where Jeopardy puts all the daily doubles

1) Russell Westbrook is raining destruction on the NBA. Five out of his last six games Russell Westbrook recorded a triple-double. The one game he didn’t he had a line of 43 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds. Sunday he dropped 30 points, 17 assists, and 11 rebounds and the Thunder beat the Raptors 108-104. The key part is the win — OKC had missed out on a few of those lately despite the big numbers from Westbrook, and even after tonight the Pelicans are lurking one game back of that eighth seed in the West. Westbrook is carrying the Thunder to that until Kevin Durant returns.

2) The Tony Parker that should frighten the rest of the NBA was back Sunday. Last week if you looked up and down the eight teams in the playoffs for the West and said “who is the weakest link?” you should have said San Antonio. They were just coming off a 2-7 Rodeo road trip and even Tony Parker was admitting he wasn’t playing well after returning from a hamstring injury. Then Sunday happened — vintage Parker showed up and dropped 32 on the Bulls to lead the Spurs to a win. This is what everyone in the West quietly fears — Tony Parker gets right and the Spurs flip the switch the last month or so of the season and then be a force come the playoffs. One game does not make that so, but it will have teams paying attention. Nobody is going to say the Spurs are too old. Not yet, anyway.

3) Charlotte looks like a playoff team. The Hornets have won five in a row and that includes wins over Brooklyn, Toronto and on Sunday Detroit. With those wins Charlotte is the seven seed in the West as you read this, and they likely hold that position. While the offense has been great lately (thanks Mo Williams!) it’s the defense getting back to one of the best in the NBA over the past 15 games. The defense is something the Hornets can sustain (they did last season) and that will keep them in the playoffs in the East.

4) Kobe Bryant was back. On the bench. And that couldn’t have been easy to watch. At the request of coach Byron Scott, Kobe was in a suit on the bench for the Lakers’ Sunday. There have been some in LA saying, “Why isn’t Kobe on the bench teaching these guys?” First off, if you could skip watching the Lakers this season you would, too. Second, who on this roster currently playing are the Lakers going to keep around long term? Jordan Clarkson and… nobody, really. This roster is not part of the Lakers future. That said, Kobe was on the bench Sunday, and got to witness another Lakers collapse — Dallas went on a 16-1 fourth quarter run to take the lead and win the game. Kobe couldn’t do anything about it. Nobody can.

5) Don’t tell anyone, but the Jazz have won seven of their last nine. They have become a very good defensive team (you can thank Rudy Gobert’s developing), one that is now getting enough offense to win games. Like Sunday over a Brooklyn team that should have played desperate but have no answers. This season was always about development of a young roster in Utah, we are really starting to see that.

Another day, another Russell Westbrook triple-double


In the remake of Ghostbusters, Russell Westbrook should play Gozer the Traveler. The destroyer of worlds.

For the fifth time in six games, Westbrook dropped a triple-double Sunday — 30 points, 17 assists, and 11 rebounds as the Thunder held off the Raptors and picked up a key win 108-104. Key because it keeps the Thunder in the eight seed one game ahead of a Pelicans team that will not go away.

That one game Westbrook didn’t have a triple-double? He had 43-8-7.

Sunday Westbrook was getting into the middle of the Toronto defense all game long, and there was nothing the Raptors could do — they didn’t have the player or the scheme to slow him. That led to him shooting 5-of-8 in the paint and also setting up a number of his assists off kick-outs on those plays. (Westbrook was not super efficient and had nine turnovers, but he’s doing it all for the Thunder right now so you live with a little bad to get the good.)

Westbrook is on a tear that may net him the MVP trophy. It’s been a long time since a team struggling to hold on to the eight seed had a legit MVP candidate. It’s a tough race because Stephen Curry is still putting on a show with the best team in the Association, while James Harden is putting up numbers as well. But nobody is dominating the game right now like Westbrook.


James Harden makes MVP case, drops triple-double on Detroit (VIDEO)


With the most wide-open race in recent memory, who wins MVP is going to come down to which of the candidates — Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James — has the best final month of the season.

Harden made his case Friday night — 38 points on 21 shots, 12 rebounds, 12 assists, and he was a +28 in the Rockets win over the Pistons. Detroit threw defenders at him, but Harden was 8-of-17 on contested shots plus was drawing contact and getting to the line.

This race is going to make for a fun final quarter of the season.


Bulls fan slaps Joakim Noah on rear after clutch defensive stop (video)


After E’Twaun Moore’s huge 3-pointer, the Bulls still needed one more defensive stop to beat the Thunder.

Joakim Noah helped force Russell Westbrook out of bounds, and one excited fan rewarded the Chicago center with a pat on the rear end.

Either that man knows Noah personally, or whoever owns tickets to those seats is going to get a talking to from the Bulls.

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