With the Memphis Grizzlies scoring a major win over the L.A. Clippers this past week and a few teams, including the Oklahoma City Thunder, enduring an early-season losing streak, the top half of this week’s NBA Power Rankings have a fair amount of movement.
Every Friday afternoon, Basketball Insiders drops our weekly power rankings. How is your favorite team stacking up against the competition?
30. Philadelphia 76ers (Overall: 2-10, Last Week: 30)
Judging by the way the Timberwolves pummeled the Sixers on Thursday night, we’ll go ahead and guess that TNT is going to opt out of putting Philly on national TV. In all fairness, though, these guys scored a nice win over the Wizards on Wednesday, even without Joel Embiid.
29. New Orleans Pelicans (Overall: 2-10, Last Week: 29)
It certainly didn’t take long for Anthony Davis to miss a game. We’re hopeful that he’ll quickly recover from the ailing back and quad contusion that caused him to miss Wednesday’s 89-82 loss at the Magic. And we sure hope he manages to play at least 70 games this season.
28. Dallas Mavericks (Overall: 2-8, Last Week: 28)
The Mavs got Deron Williams back for Wednesday’s contest at the Celtics, but it wasn’t enough. After losing to the Knicks on Monday night, they’re just 1-3 on their five-game trip and can’t wait for Dirk Nowitzki to return. The bright side? Harrison Barnes and the 27.6 points per game he’s averaging over the last five.
27. Phoenix Suns (Overall: 3-9, Last Week: 23)
Brandon Knight dropped 32 off the bench on Wednesday night in Denver, but it wasn’t enough for a win. Meanwhile, the biggest bright spot for Phoenix these days is Devin Booker. The 20-year-old is averaging 20.4 points per game and remains our favorite for the Most Improved Player award.
26. Washington Wizards (Overall: 3-8, Last Week: 25)
The 119-112 win that the Wizards scored over the Knicks stopped a three-game skid that included a Wednesday night loss to the lowly Sixers. The good news is that Otto Porter is coming into his own, but until Bradley Beal can stay on the floor, this team will remain a cellar-dweller.
25. Miami Heat (Overall: 3-8, Last Week: 26)
The six-game losing streak ended with Thursday’s 96-73 win over the Bucks, but it was Hassan Whiteside’s 19-point, 25-rebound line against Dwight Howard’s Hawks that caught our attention this past week. The Heat lost, 90-93, but certainly not because of Whiteside.
24. Sacramento Kings (Overall: 4-8, Last Week: 20)
The good news is that the Kings have four more games left on their five-game home stand. The bad news? They’re hosting the Clippers, Raptors, Thunder and Rockets. The current three-game skid could easily reach seven.
23. Minnesota Timberwolves (Overall: 4-7, Last Week: 27)
It’s safe to say that Karl-Anthony Towns got the best of Joel Embiid in their head-to-head matchup on Thursday night. Towns had 25 and 10 and also gave us this. Meanwhile, Andrew Wiggins scored 33.3 points per game over the past week.
22. Brooklyn Nets (Overall: 4-7, Last Week: 21)
The five-game road trip concludes with Friday’s visit to the Thunder and they’re 1-3. Sean Kilpatrick and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have each had their fair share of high moments, but without Jeremy Lin, the Nets will be hard-pressed to win consistently.
21. Denver Nuggets (Overall: 4-7, Last Week: 24)
We said something similar last week, but it merits mention: the Nuggets have nine players averaging at least 8.5 points per game, and they are being led by the capable Danilo Gallinari (17.1 points).
20. Orlando Magic (Overall: 5-7, Last Week: 22)
You couldn’t help but to feel good for Serge Ibaka, who sank the game winner to score a W at the Thunder on Sunday. Wednesday’s win followed Monday’s loss to the Pacers, so we’ll look at the glass as half-full and say the Magic won two of their last three (even if the Pelicans didn’t have Anthony Davis).
19. Milwaukee Bucks (Overall: 5-6, Last Week: 16)
After beginning the season 4-2, the Bucks have since gone just 1-4. We thought they had a legitimate shot of returning at the playoffs, but they’re still inconsistent. Khris Middleton looks pretty irreplaceable at the moment, though his absence isn’t the cause of all their problems.
18. New York Knicks (Overall: 5-7, Last Week: 18)
Just when the Knicks seem to turn a corner (as they did in Wednesday night’s fiery win over the Pistons), they play down to the competition. Derrick Rose was the lone bright spot in Thursday’s 119-112 loss to the Wizards, but the Knicks trailed by 25 and never seriously threatened.
17. Indiana Pacers (Overall: 6-6, Last Week: 17)
We were expecting the Pacers to be much better than a .500 team after 12 games, but we can’t be surprised considering they’re giving up about 107 points per game. The worst part? We can’t even feel too good about Wednesday’s win over the Cavs considering LeBron James didn’t play. But we do like that four starters scored double-figures.
16. Detroit Pistons (Overall: 6-6, Last Week: 14)
A four-game home stand begins on Saturday, and the Pistons hope that they can make as much good noise as their head coach has since the presidential election. We admire Stan Van Gundy’s courage and candor. It’s part of what makes him an effective head coach.
15. Boston Celtics (Overall: 6-5, Last Week: 19)
The Celts have underwhelmed thus far, but until Al Horford is good to go, they’ll probably struggle to beat some of the better teams. As long as Isaiah Thomas is playing brilliantly, though (he’s averaging 27.2 points per game), all hope isn’t lost.
14. Portland Trail Blazers (Overall: 7-6, Last Week: 12)
Thursday night’s 126-109 loss at the Rockets began a five-game road trip for the Blazers. Just one game over .500, they need to go 3-2, but what’ll make it tough is that all five games occur in seven nights. The saving grace? They’ll see the Pelicans, Nets and Knicks before finishing at the Cavs on Wednesday.
13. Utah Jazz (Overall: 7-6, Last Week: 11)
Despite back-to-back losses to the Grizz and Bulls, the Jazz have most of the league talking—in a good way. Aside from their impressive depth and Trey Lyles appearing to figure things out, their 93.2 points allowed per game is tops in the league. They are tied with the Blazers for the eighth-best record out West.
12. Memphis Grizzlies (Overall: 6-5, Last Week: 15)
The only thing better than the Grizz rolling into Staples Center and handing the Clips just their second loss of the season on Wednesday night was the fact that Marc Gasol hit four three-pointers, including the game-clincher. Mike Conley pulled his weight, too. Maybe there’s still juice left in the old legs, after all.
11. Chicago Bulls (Overall: 8-4, Last Week: 13)
The only thing better than a four-game win streak and winning the first two games of a six-game road trip would be that the Bulls will get to spend a few nights in Los Angeles, as they’ll battle the Clips and Lakers before heading to Denver. Thursday night’s 85-77 win over the Jazz showed they can grind out a tough W. Our faith is temporarily restored.
10. Houston Rockets (Overall: 7-5, Last Week: 07)
James Harden turned in his third triple-double of the season in Thursday’s 126-109 win over the Blazers. His 26, 12 and 14 were miraculous, but the Rockets have also been getting good production from Eric Gordon, who’s averaging 16 points per game. After going 2-2 the past week, things could be better, but could also be worse.
9. Los Angeles Lakers (Overall: 7-5, Last Week: 10)
The Lakers haven’t been two games over .500 since March 2013! D’Angelo Russell looks like a stud, Julius Randle is playing efficiently and Nick Young is playing solid man defense. Is Luke Walton our Coach of the Year so far? Maybe. And it’ll become “definitely” if they can win two of their four games over the next week. They’ve got the Spurs, Bulls, Thunder and Warriors.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder (Overall: 7-5, Last Week: 05)
The four-game losing streak ended in glorious fashion, as the Thunder toppled the visiting Rockets on Wednesday. Westbrook’s 30, seven and nine was great, but Victor Oladipo’s 29, 10 and five (on just 18 shot attempts) was more noteworthy. If he can produce like that, they’ll remain our favorites to win the division.
7. Charlotte Hornets (Overall: 7-3, Last Week: 09)
The back-to-back losses they endured over the past week are forgivable considering they came at the hands of the Raptors and Cavs. Even still, these guys are 4-1 on the road and rank fifth in defensive efficiency – hallmarks of a good team.
6. Toronto Raptors (Overall: 7-4, Last Week: 04)
We can’t be too mad about back-to-back losses when they come at the hands of the Cavs and Warriors, but if the Raptors come back after their upcoming five-game road trip with less than three wins, the Celtics and Knicks (yes, the Knicks!) may be breathing down their necks.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (Overall: 9-2, Last Week: 02)
Wednesday’s game at the Pacers was the third game in four nights, so we can understand LeBron taking the night off. The Cavs are head and shoulders above every other team in the East, so the only concern we have is whether King James can continue to play about 77 games per season, even as he turns 32 years old next month.
4. San Antonio Spurs (Overall: 9-3, Last Week: 08)
In Wednesday’s 110-105 win over the Kings (their fourth straight), Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol combined for 65 points. Even better? These guys are allowing just about 97 points per game, which is third-best in the league. With three very winnable games over the next week, we’re expecting a few more Ws.
3. Atlanta Hawks (Overall: 9-2, Last Week: 06)
Winners of six straight, the Hawks had to make do without Dwight Howard on Wednesday night, but they managed to outlast the Bucks, anyway. The quad contusion doesn’t sound serious, but his 15 points, 12 rebounds and 23.54 PER will be sorely missed if he’s out long. Pun intended. The Clips and Cavs lost while the Hawks continue to surge.
2. Golden State Warriors (Overall: 9-2, Last Week: 03)
Klay Thompson has scored 15 points or less in five of their first 11 games and is only hitting 31 percent of his shots from distance, but the Dubs seem to be figuring things out. The four-game trip got off to a good start with Wednesday’s 127-121 win at the Raptors. Winners of five straight, they are somehow flying under the radar.
1. Los Angeles Clippers (Overall: 10-2, Last Week: 01)
The Clips might be the top defensive team in the league, but they had major trouble guarding the three in Wednesday night’s home loss to the Grizz, who shot 15-for-26 from distance. They showed poise down the stretch, even if they still complain too much about the officiating. The Hawks are nipping at their heels, but the top defense and best record help them retain their status as the Association’s top dog.
2018 NBA All-Star Sunday Recap
Michael Petrower recaps the All-Star Game from Sunday in Los Angeles.
The 2018 NBA All Star Game had some added appeal this year, with Captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry selecting playground style from the pool of All-Stars. Although it was not televised, it drew a lot of interest to say the least.
Team Lebron was headlined by Kevin Durant (the alleged first pick), Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving. Sadly, Team Lebron suffered big losses with John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Kevin Love and Kristaps Porzingis going down with injuries. Team Stephen was led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Joel Embiid and Demar DeRozan.
NBA fans were ready to indulge on the highlight real of plays to commence…That was, until the NBA inflicted a marathon-like performance that seemed a bit unnecessary, to say the least. Kevin Hart was at the center of theatrics that had NBA fans scratching their heads questioning what was on their television screen. Fergie topped off the saga with what was one of the more questionable national anthems we’ve seen in recent years. However, if you stuck around long enough, the game started at 8:40 PM EST and the flashy plays that we hoped for, began.
Joel Embiid made his first A;l-Star game appearance and kicked off the scoring festivities for Team Stephen with a ferocious and-one dunk. Team Stephen led all of the first quarter and won the quarter 42-31. Karl Anthony Towns led the first quarter scoring with 11 points. Team LeBron, however would storm back and cut the lead to two, 78-76 at half. LeBron came into his 14th straight All-Star game and lead his team at the half with 15 points. Klay Thompson also lead Team Stephen with 15 points at half.
The second half ensued and after some back and forth between the two teams, Team Stephen was leading by three going into the fourth quarter, 112-109. Team Stephen grew their lead to 11 while LeBron and KD got some rest. But after the two came back in, the 11-point deficit was erased after a LeBron three and the teams were now tied at 144 with 1:16 left in the fourth quarter.
DeRozan would make a free throw to put Team Stephen up one point, but Lebron followed with a strong two-pointer to put his team up one. DeRozan tried to answer, but threw away a pass which resulted in an easy two points for Russell Westbrook to ice the game. Team LeBron was the 2018 All Star Game winner with a score of 148-145.
LeBron James went on to win his third All Star MVP after finishing with 29 points to go along with 10 rebounds, eigh assists and a steal on 12-17 shooting. DeRozan and Damian Lillard lead Team Stephen with 21 points each.
Rest Assured, the 1-16 NBA Playoff Format Is Coming… Kinda
Based on Adam Silver’s comments, it’s safe to assume that the NBA will soon reformat the playoffs.
If there’s one thing Adam Silver has proven in his four years as the NBA’s Commissioner, it’s that he isn’t afraid to do things his way.
And if Silver has his way, the league will eventually figure out how it can implement a system that results in a more balanced playoff system. On Saturday, though, he revealed that it’s probably closer to a reality than many of us realize.
During his annual All-Star media address, Silver admitted that the league will “continue to look at” how they can reformat the playoffs to both ensure a better competitive balance throughout and pave the way for the league’s two best teams to meet up in the NBA Finals, even if both of those two teams happen to be in the same conference.
“You also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals,” the commissioner said on Saturday night.
“You could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the conference finals or somewhere else. So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”
Since Silver took over the league, he’s been consistent in implementing dramatic changes to improve the overall quality of the game. Although Silver didn’t take over as the league’s commissioner until 2014, he was instrumental in getting the interested parties to buy into the notion that the “center” designation on the All-Star ballot was obsolete.
As a result, beginning with the 2013 All-Star Game, the Eastern and Western Conference teams have featured three “frontcourt” players, which essentially lumps centers in with forwards and eliminates the requirement that a center appear in the All-Star game. That wasn’t always the case.
From overhauling the league’s scheduling to reducing back-to-back games to implementing draft lottery reform to, this year, eliminating the traditional All-Star format which featured the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference, it’s become clear that Silver simply “gets it” and isn’t afraid to make revolutionary changes if he deems them to be in the overall best interest of the league.
At this point, everyone realizes that something needs to be done about the league’s current playoff system.
Last season, for example, the Western Conference first round playoff series featured the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder squaring off against one another. Only one series—the Los Angeles Clippers versus Utah Jazz—went seven games.
Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the first round series that were contested weren’t exactly compelling.
The Cleveland Cavaliers steamrolled the conference to the tune of a 12-1 run to their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. It wasn’t the first time that the public questioned the wisdom behind separating the playoff brackets by conference, but the dominance of the Cavs and LeBron James specifically (who is expected to win the Eastern Conference for the eighth consecutive time this season) has caused renewed scrutiny.
The most common solution offered to this point has been to simply take the 16 best teams across the league, irrespective of conference, and conduct the playoffs as normal.
From afar, this solution seems simple enough, but the obvious concerns are twofold.
First, if the Celtics and Clippers, for example, were pitted against one another in a first round series, the travel would be considerable. Private charter flight or not, traveling is taxing, and the prospect of having to make five cross-country trips over the course of a two-week span would certainly leave the winner of such a series at a competitive disadvantage against the opponents they would face in subsequent rounds, especially if the future opponent enjoyed a playoff series that was contested within close proximity.
Atlanta to New Orleans, for example, is less than a one-hour flight.
Aside from the concerns about geographic proximity, the other obvious issue is competitive balancing of the schedule, which seems to be an easier issue to fix.
Using the Pelicans as an example, of the 82 games they play, 30 are played against the other conference—in this case, the Eastern Conference. The other 52 games would all be played within the conference. If playoff seedings were going to be done on a simple 1-16 basis, the scheduling would have to be realigned in a way to essentially pit all teams against one another evenly. It wouldn’t be fair for a team like the Celtics to be judged on the same standard as the Pelicans if the Celtics faced inferior teams more often.
On Saturday night, Silver revealed that the league’s brass has been thinking about this and is trying to find a solution, and in doing so, he may have tipped his hand.
* * * * * *
As a multinational conglomerate, the NBA values the inclusion of as many markets as possible. Wanting to improve the overall quality of the product, though, there are interests that may not align fully.
What’s obvious with this year’s All-Star game is that the NBA has found a way to balance the two.
Rather than eliminating the conference designations altogether and simply choosing the “best” 24 players to be in the All-Star game, the league still chose All-Stars based on their conference, but then distributed them within the pool to allow for better competition.
That’s exactly what Silver revealed the NBA is considering doing with the playoffs. It makes perfect sense, and it’s probably just a matter of time before it’s implemented.
A report from ESPN notes that the idea that the league is kicking around would essentially do exactly what the league did with the All-Star selections with the playoff teams: choose the best from each conference, then disburse them in a way that allows for competitive balance.
The proposal would have the league’s teams compete as they normally do and would still feature the top eight teams from each conference getting into the playoffs.
Once the teams are qualified, however, they would be re-seeded on a 1-16 basis and crossmatched, on that basis.
It’s not perfect, but compromises never are. The travel issues would still persist, but the league would accomplish two goals: the less dominant conference wouldn’t be underrepresented and discouraged from competing, but the two best teams would still be on opposite ends of the bracket.
An NBA playoffs that featured 11 or 12 teams from the Western Conference would be a ratings nightmare for the league. Eastern Conference cities are less likely to stay up past midnight during the week to watch playoff games, and less competitive markets would frown at the prospect of having to compete against the other conference for a playoff spot. For many small market teams, the millions of dollars generated from a single playoff game often has a significant impact on the team’s operations, so there would naturally be discord.
This system would at least eliminate that contention.
On the positive side, it would allow for the Rockets and Warriors, for example, to meet in the NBA Finals. In both the NFL and MLB, geography hasn’t been a determining factor on which teams battle for the league’s championship.
Why does it have to be in the NBA?
* * * * * *
With the league having begun regular season play earlier this season, at the All-Star break, most teams have played about 57 games. A lot can change over the final 25 games of the season, but if the seeds were frozen today and the league took the top eight teams from each conference and then crossmatched them, the Los Angeles Clippers would be the team that got the short end o the stick.
Although the Clippers have the 16th best record in the league, they would be the ninth-seeded Western Conference team and would thus be eliminated from postseason contention by the Miami HEAT. The HEAT have the 17th best record in the league but are the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference, so to preserve the conference weight, the HEAT would win out.
This is what the seedings and matchups would look like…
(1) Houston Rockets versus (16) Miami HEAT
(2) Golden State Warriors versus (15) New Orleans Pelicans
(3) Toronto Raptors versus (14) Philadelphia 76ers
(4) Boston Celtics versus (13) Portland Trail Blazers
(5) Cleveland Cavaliers versus (12) Denver Nuggets
(6) San Antonio Spurs versus (11) Oklahoma City Thunder
(7) Minnesota Timberwolves versus (10) Milwaukee Bucks
(8) Washington Wizards versus (9) Indiana Pacers
Here, the Celtics would face the nightmarish scenario of having to travel to and from Portland for their playoff series, while virtually every other series would feature much more friendly travel (especially the Spurs-Thunder and Raptors-Sixers).
The Cavs would have a very tough road to the Finals, having to beat the Nuggets, Celtics and Rockets if the seeds held. The Celtics would have a similarly tough road, as they’d have to get past the Blazers, Cavs and Rockets.
At the end of the day, the Rockets and Warriors would be aligned in such a way as to avoid one another until the championship, but each of the two would face daunting competition. The Rockets would have to go through the HEAT, Wizards and Celtics, while the Warriors would have to face the Pelicans, Timberwolves and Raptors—again, assuming the seeds held.
It would be a benefit to all observers.
One of the unintended consequences of implementing this system would be to make every single game count. If the Celtics were able to move up to the second seed, for example, their road to the Finals, in theory, could become much much easier, comparatively speaking.
The end result would be less resting of players during the course of the season and certainly less instances in which star players take the final week of the regular season off in other to be fresh for the postseason.
No, there’s no perfect solution, but just as the league has found a clever way to serve multiple interests as it relates to the All-Star game’s competitiveness, Silver has revealed that the league is at least considering following suit with the playoffs.
It’s only a matter of time before we see it actually see it happen.
It simply makes too much sense, and if there’s one thing the commissioner has already proven, it’s that he isn’t afraid of changing tradition.
NBA All-Star Saturday Recap
Brian Slingluff recaps All-Star Saturday from Los Angeles.
Basketball Insiders is here to recap an eventful All-Star Saturday that led to three first-time champs in the various skills contests. Let’s get right to it.
Taco Bell Skills Challenge
In Saturday night’s Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the “Bigs” team, boasting 3 All-Stars, set out to claim a third straight title. The competition kicked off with Joel Embiid coming from behind to best Al Horford, and sharpshooter Lauri Markkanen swishing his first 3 point attempt to eliminate Andre Drummond. On the Guard side, Buddy Hield had an early lead before losing out to Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jamal Murray upset hometown favorite Lou Williams.
In the semifinals, Markkanen was able to dispatch Joel Embiid, who struggled with the pass portion of the competition, and Dinwiddie topped Jamal Murray by making his first 3 pointer for the second consecutive round.
In the Final round, Dinwiddie finally missed a 3 pointer, but it did not matter as he finished with a wire to wire victory over Lauri Markkanen. Dinwiddie, competing in front of his friends and family, was able to end the Bigs’ two year win streak in impressive fashion.
JBL Three Point Contest
The event started off with Tobias Harris scoring a solid 18 points. Wayne Ellington was next, sporting the hot new alternate Miami Vice jersey. Ellington started off cold and heated up on his last three racks, ending up with a score of 17. Devin Booker and former three-point champion Klay Thompson tied for a round-high 19 points. Paul George, Bradley Beal, and Kyle Lowry struggled from the start and never found a rhythm, falling short of making the championship round. Defending champion Eric Gordon never got it going, and would not defend the title, scoring only 12 points.
In the Championship round, Tobias Harris was on fire through the first 3 racks, but quickly got cold, scoring 17 points. Devin Booker was next and could not miss, scoring 28 points, leaving Klay Thompson a high number to match. Thompson fell just 3 points short, and Devin Booker was crowned the 2018 JBL Three Point Champion.
Verizon Slam Dunk Contest
The final and most anticipated event of the night started with Donovan Mitchell bringing out a second hoop, bouncing it off the second backboard and finishing with an impressive windmill dunk, scoring a 48. Victor Oladipo followed with a difficult look-away alley oop dunk attempt that he was unable to complete, totaling 31 points from the judges. Dennis Smith Jr. had a nice reverse double pump that got 39 points and Larry Nance Jr., in a throwback Phoenix jersey, payed homage to his father’s cradle dunk, nailing it almost exactly for a score of 44 points.
Oladipo started the next round of dunks by borrowing Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther mask, and scoring 40 points with a tomahawk windmill dunk. Smith Jr. hit a seemingly impossible reverse 360, through the legs, switching hands dunk for a perfect score of 50. Nance Jr. pulled off a Vince Carter level windmill, nearly missing a perfect score. Mitchell jumped over comedian Kevin Hart to advance to the finals against Larry Nance Jr.
In the Finals, Nance started things off with a windmill alley-oop with some help from Larry Nance Sr., garnering a score of 46. Mitchell completed the difficult one handed alley-oop he had attempted in the previous round, scoring a perfect 50. Nance Jr. answered with an incredible double pass off the backboard dunk, scoring yet another 50 points. Mitchell ended the contest with a Vince Carter tribute dunk, coming out on top by just two points. It capped off an exciting Saturday night, setting things up for the main event on Sunday, Team LeBron versus Team Stephen.