With Thanksgiving Day having come and gone, NBA executives around the league enjoyed the first league-wide day off to take inventory and try to figure out where their teams are.
This week’s biggest mover is the New Orleans Pelicans. With Jrue Holiday returning to the lineup, the Pelicans have seemed to rediscover their mojo in a way similar to Klay Thompson out in Oakland. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers are slowly showing signs of becoming a new team and nearly knocked off the Memphis Grizzlies this past week, and they only happen to be one of the hottest teams in the league.
Count the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics among the teams that have gotten its fans excited with their successful play over the past week while the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers have been getting headlines for sputtering.
As usual for a Friday afternoon, Basketball Insiders brings you its weekly NBA Power Rankings.
30. Dallas Mavericks (Overall: 2-12, Last Week: 28)
Currently on a seven-game skid, it could easily reach double digits since the Mavs play the Cavs, Pelicans and Spurs over the course of their next three, respectively. As the trade winds begin to swirl, expect the Mavs to kick the tires on any deal that may be out there.
29. Miami HEAT (Overall: 4-10, Last Week: 25)
We’re pretty sure if we search hard enough, we can find something positive to say about the HEAT… Unfortunately, we’ve just run out of time. With five games over the next week that includes a home-and-home with the Grizzlies, all we can say is Dwyane Wade ain’t walking through that door.
28. Washington Wizards (Overall: 4-9, Last Week: 26)
At 4-9, only the HEAT, Nets and Sixers have a worse record in the Eastern Conference. Along with the Kings, the Wizards are the other team whose name is coming up most when rivals are asked who needs to make a trade. It’s actually difficult to argue at this point.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves (Overall: 4-10, Last Week: 23)
Perhaps we were foolish for expecting too much from the T-Wolves too soon. We also would be irresponsible for not calling out Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins for the egg they laid in Wednesday’s 117-96 loss at the Pelicans. The duo combined for just 22 points on 6-for-30 shooting from the field. That can’t happen.
26. Brooklyn Nets (Overall: 4-10, Last Week: 22)
Losers of five straight, it would appear that the free-fall that many had predicted for the Nets is upon us. The 23 points that Sean Kilpatrick dropped off the bench in Wednesday’s 111-92 home loss to the Celtics gives renewed hope for his potential, but energy and effort, it appears, can only take you so far.
25. Philadelphia 76ers (Overall: 4-11, Last Week: 30)
Believe it or not, the Sixers won back-to-back games last week, outlasting the Suns and HEAT. They had a shot to beat the Grizzlies, but Joel Embiid was forced to sit the second overtime after surpassing his minutes limit. He may be turnover prone, but he’s the real deal and these guys are turning a corner.
24. Phoenix Suns (Overall: 5-11, Last Week: 27)
We’re all in on Devin Booker (and his 30-point effort in Monday’s loss to the Wizards), but we liked what we saw in Wednesday’s 92-87 win at the Magic even more—six players on the team in double figures.
23. Orlando Magic (Overall: 6-9, Last Week: 20)
At just 6-9 and with the playoffs remaining a goal for this franchise, the Magic have emerged as a team that would be willing to make a deal. Word on the street is that general manager Rob Hennigan may be on the hot seat, as patience has worn thin down in Orlando.
22. New Orleans Pelicans (Overall: 6-10, Last Week: 29)
After a 2-10 start, Jrue Holiday returned to the lineup and the team is 4-0 since. Three of the wins came over the Blazers, Hornets and Hawks. Jrue’s 16.3 points and seven assists have helped in a huge way, but his addition pushes the personnel back into their natural positions. Keep an eye on the Pels.
21. Sacramento Kings (Overall: 6-9, Last Week: 24)
The Kings are the team that most rival executives expect to make a substantial move prior to the trade deadline. Sunday begins a six-game road trip and if the Kings find themselves several games outside of the playoff race, once Dec. 15 rolls around, expect them to begin taking more calls. But wins over the Raptors and Thunder make us crack a smile.
20. Detroit Pistons (Overall: 7-9, Last Week: 16)
Reggie Jackson is progressing toward returning, and the timing will be determined by the medical staff. At two games under .500 and losers of four of their last five, Stan Van Gundy can’t get Jackson back in the lineup soon enough.
19. Milwaukee Bucks (Overall: 6-7, Last Week: 19)
We’ve been somewhat critical of Jabari Parker, so we should point out Saturday’s 28-point effort against the Warriors and Monday’s 22-point game against the Magic. Over his last five, he’s giving Jason Kidd 20 points, 5.6 rebounds and three assists. Now, if only those numbers could translate into a few more wins…
18. Denver Nuggets (Overall: 6-9, Last Week: 21)
Surprisingly, the Nuggets wake up the day after Thanksgiving to find themselves just 1.5 games out of the first place in the division. It has something to do with the struggles of the Blazers and Thunder, and a lot to do with the play of Danilo Gallinari and Jusuf Nurkic.
17. Indiana Pacers (Overall: 7-9, Last Week: 17)
The Pacers have only held opponents under 100 points four times this season (they’re 3-1 when doing so) and are one of the more disappointing teams out East this season. What’s most disconcerting is that a fair number of their losses have come to weaker teams. If something doesn’t change, things could get really ugly once the schedule gets tougher.
16. Portland Trail Blazers (Overall: 8-9, Last Week: 14)
Will the real Blazers please stand up? Losers of five of their last six, the Blazers suddenly find themselves under .500 for the first time since they were 2-3. We’ll give them a tiny break since the losses have all come to respectable competition, but we’re still concerned. The good news is that they now begin a four-game home stand that has some very winnable games.
15. Utah Jazz (Overall: 8-8, Last Week: 13)
A four-game skid finds the Jazz at .500, which makes them one of six teams out West that are within one game the .500 mark. The good news? They’re still first in the league in points allowed and sixth in defensive efficiency. We’re still believers.
14. New York Knicks (Overall: 7-7, Last Week: 18)
Don’t look now, but the Knicks might be figuring some things out—including the fact that Kristaps Porzingis should probably be their primary offensive weapon. Winners of four of their last five, Porzingis has averaged 25 points and nine rebounds per game over that stretch. Honorable mention to Kyle O’Quinn, who has filled in for the ill Joakim Noah as well.
13. Chicago Bulls (Overall: 9-6, Last Week: 11)
Over the last 10 games, Jimmy Butler is averaging about 28 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals. The club is 5-2 in their last seven and exceeding the expectations that many had of them. Still, we can’t easily forgive Tuesday’s loss to the Nuggets.
12. Boston Celtics (Overall: 9-6, Last Week: 15)
The Celts are 3-0 since the return of Al Horford, and it’s no coincidence. In those three wins (against the Pistons, T-Wolves and Nets), they’re giving up just 92.3 points per game while Horford is contributing 18.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and six assists per. Could have been against better competition, but a win is a win.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (Overall: 8-8, Last Week: 8)
The silver lining in the three straight losses the Thunder have endured were that all three were played in four nights. Still, after beginning the season at 6-1, they’ve quietly gone 2-7. They could use some more firepower (Rudy Gay would make some sense) but also haven’t held an opponent under 100 points since Nov. 7. We’re getting worried.
10. Los Angeles Lakers (Overall: 8-8, Last Week: 9)
There are worse places to be if you’re the Lakers, but with D’Angelo Russell on the shelf and the next eight games against teams who entered the season with playoff expectations, things may get really ugly. For now, they stick in our Top 10 since last week’s losses came to top ranked teams.
9. Charlotte Hornets (Overall: 8-6, Last Week: 7)
After losing three straight (and slipping in our power rankings), the Hornets hope to make hay over the next few weeks, as six of their next nine games will be played at home before embarking on a tough, five-game, mid-December road trip.
8. Houston Rockets (Overall: 9-6, Last Week: 10)
Wednesday’s 115-102 loss to the Raptors snapped a three-game win streak, but as long as James Harden continues to lead the league in assists (he’s averaging 12.5 per game), they’ll have a chance to knock anyone off on any given night. Quick shout to Clint Capella, whose 13.3 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks over the last 10 games have been huge.
7. Memphis Grizzlies (Overall: 10-5, Last Week: 12)
With six straight wins, the Grizz have done a masterful job of beating the teams they’re supposed to. With five games over the next seven nights, we expect the current win streak to end sometime soon, but the Grizz have put themselves in a good position, let’s just hope their old legs can keep pace, especially with the power move they’ve made into our top 10.
6. Atlanta Hawks (Overall: 10-5, Last Week: 3)
Since beginning the season at 9-2, the Hawks are losers of three of four, including L’s to the Knicks and Pelicans. Dwight Howard’s 23-point, 20-rebound game in Wednesday’s win against the Hawks stopped the bleeding. Still, we’re wondering what’s going on in the A, as the Hawks have appeared to take a step backward.
5. Toronto Raptors (Overall: 9-6, Last Week: 6)
The Raps are finishing up a five-game road trip wherein they won two of the first four. Sunday’s 102-99 loss at the Kings may come back to haunt them, as all of a sudden, the Celts are leading the division and the improving Knicks are breathing down their necks. After torching everything, over the last five, DeMar DeRozan is shooting just 43 percent from the field for 25 points per game.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (Overall: 11-2, Last Week: 5)
The champs hung 137 points on the Blazers on Wednesday night. Kevin Love scored a league-record 34 points in the first quarter, which made LeBron James’ 31-point, 13-assist, 10-rebound triple-double an afterthought. Could Thursday’s battle with the Clips be a Finals preview?
3. San Antonio Spurs (Overall: 12-3, Last Week: 4)
After missing Monday’s win over the Mavs, LaMarcus Aldridge returned in Wednesday’s win over the Hornets and dropped 23 to go alongside Kawhi Leonard’s 30. The Spurs are winners of seven straight and, as we predicted, one of the top three teams out West. With the Hawks sliding out of the top five, they stay ahead of the Cavs by virtue of the longer win streak.
2. Golden State Warriors (Overall: 13-2, Last Week: 2)
Winners of nine-straight, the Dubs are looking nearly unstoppable, especially since Klay Thompson has found his mojo. Over their last five, he’s scoring 24.5 points while hitting 43 percent of his three-pointers. We wouldn’t be surprised if the current win streak hits 15, though there’s (obviously) a lot of games between now and then.
1. Los Angeles Clippers (Overall: 14-2, Last Week: 1)
Considering what they’ve been through, it’s hard to not root for the Clips, even if there are a fair amount of people that think they’re just a collection of non-winners. They clock in at fourth in points allowed, second in defensive rating, second in offensive rating and second in points scored. So long as they’re healthy, these guys will be for real. Circle your calendar for Thursday night, as they’ll make their only visit to Cleveland.
NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.