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NBA Power Rankings – 12/23/16

Even without Blake Griffin, the Clippers are surging while the Wizards appear to be finding their way.

Moke Hamilton

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We have officially arrived at the first flagpole of the NBA season – Christmas!

Based on how things have shaken out thus far, you can bet your bottom dollar that a few of your favorite NBA superstars are wishing for a few things from jolly old Saint Nicholas.

The Golden State Warriors, it would seem, are wishing for someone to challenge them and their team’s amazing efficiency and selfless basketball. Aside from turning JaVale McGee back into an NBA player, the ball sharing we have seen from the club has been beautiful.

On the other hand, the Brooklyn Nets are probably hoping that Santa brings them back their 2017 first round draft pick. That pick is heading to the Boston Celtics in a pick exchange that dates back to the trade that saw Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce get sent to Brooklyn back in 2013. And the Nets have been terrible.

The New York Knicks are wishing for Derrick Rose to stay on the court (the team is 15-9 with him in the lineup), while the Atlanta Hawks, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers are hoping to rediscover the mojo that they had closer to the beginning of the season.

And us? We’re simply wishing you and your families a happy and healthy holiday season. Enjoy the Christmas Day hoops!

 



stockdown4530. Phoenix Suns (Overall: 8-21, Last Week: 26)

By virtue of the tiebreaker, the Suns have overtaken the Mavs as the worst team in the Western Conference, so congratulations are in order. The most juicy tidbit related to the Suns? Of their eight wins, only one of them came against a team that currently has a winning record, and that would be the Knicks. We do remain certain, however, that the Sun will rise in Phoenix. Just not today.


stockdown4529. Brooklyn Nets (Overall: 7-21, Last Week: 27)

Now seems a fine time to remind fans of the Nets that the Boston Celtics own the right to swap first round picks with the Nets in the 2017 draft. Some scouts are calling the draft the best one over the past 10 years. So yeah.


stockup4528. Philadelphia 76ers (Overall: 7-21, Last Week: 29)

Sunday’s 108-107 win at the Nets gave the Sixers just their second road win of the season. Even better? Joel Embiid hung 33 points and 10 rebounds on Brook Lopez’s head. As the franchise sifts through their options as they relate to Nerlens Noel, Sixers fans can rest easy knowing that the franchise (Embiid) has arrived.


stockup4527. Dallas Mavericks (Overall: 8-21, Last Week: 30)

Winners of two of their last three, the Mavs get a (temporary?) reprieve from bringing up the rear in our power rankings. The club will spend Christmas Eve in New Orleans, and we’re not sure what they’ve done to deserve such good fortune. If you live in Dallas, look at the bright side… At least the Cowboys have got a shot this season.


stockup4526. Minnesota Timberwolves (Overall: 9-19, Last Week: 28)

Believe it or not, this past week’s wins over the Suns (Dec. 19) and Hawks (Dec. 21) marked the first time the entire season that the T-Wolves won back-to-back games. They lost a narrow decision to the Rockets back on Dec. 17, though, which means they were awfully close to carrying a four-game win streak into Christmas weekend. Perhaps Tom Thibodeau’s troops are figuring some things out.


stockdown4525. Los Angeles Lakers (Overall: 11-21, Last Week: 23)

It seems like so long ago the Lakers were 7-5. Amazingly, they’re just 4-16 since! They’ve lost five of the first six games on their seven-game road trip and their only win for the entire month of December came at the Sixers. The bright side? Their draft pick this season is protected for the top three picks, otherwise it goes to Philly. Can you say “conspiracy”?


stockup4524. New Orleans Pelicans (Overall: 10-21, Last Week: 25)

The question of the day is whether someone who is the best player on such a terrible team can be an MVP candidate. We think the answer is no, despite Anthony Davis’ 29.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.7 blocks per game. At 11 games under .500, it’s almost time to throw in the towel on this season, and maybe Alvin Gentry’s tenure in the Big Easy as well.


stockup4523. Miami Heat (Overall: 10-20, Last Week: 24)

With Pat Riley’s team entering a rebuilding phase, it came as no surprise to hear that Goran Dragic and the HEAT have decided to at least explore trade scenarios. Dragic is 30 years old and is in the prime of his career and as great as Hassan Whiteside is, he’s no Shaquille O’Neal (whose number 32 jersey was retired by the club in Thursday night’s win over the Lakers).


stockdown4522. Denver Nuggets (Overall: 12-17, Last Week: 21)

The Nuggets ruined Carmelo Anthony’s homecoming on Dec. 17, as all five starters and seven players scored double figures. Amazingly, despite being five games under .500, the Nuggets enter play on Dec. 23 in a three-way tie (with the Blazers and Kings) for eighth out West.


stockdown4521. Portland Trail Blazers (Overall: 13-18, Last Week: 18)

Losers of eight of their last nine, it’s fair to say that the Blazers are in the midst of a free fall. Bad went to worse with Wednesday’s 121-126 loss to the lowly Mavericks. Like the Atlanta Hawks, what began as a promising season seems to have gone up in smoke. Who would have thought they’d be battling the Kings and Nuggets for the eighth seed?


stockup4520. Sacramento Kings (Overall: 12-17, Last Week: 22)

Only the Kings could beat the Grizzlies, Blazers and Jazz but lose to the Mavericks. Winners of three of their past four (and beating some stellar competition in that stretch) is a sight for sore eyes, but unfortunately, these guys enter play on Dec. 23 still five games below .500. Somehow, with the struggles of the lower half of the conference, they remain in the playoff hunt, though.


stockdown4519. Detroit Pistons (Overall: 14-17, Last Week: 11)

Wednesday began a stretch for the Pistons that has the team playing six of eight games at home before embarking on a five-game road trip out West. The bad news? They began with the Grizzlies on Wednesday (a loss) and will see the Warriors, Cavs and Bucks. Anything less than 5-3 over the eight-game span spells trouble, as Stan’s team may very well find themselves five or six games under .500 by MLK Weekend.


stockup4518. Orlando Magic (Overall: 13-18, Last Week: 20)

Tuesday’s 136-130 double-overtime win at the HEAT saw four different players score at least 20 points and two others in double figures. They followed it up with a listless loss at the Knicks on Thursday, though. We questioned the wisdom of bringing the likes of Nikola Vucevic, Elfrid Payton and even Jeff Green off the bench, but we should point out that the team is 7-8 with Payton as a reserve, so maybe coach Frank Vogel deserves the benefit of the doubt.


stockdown4517. Milwaukee Bucks (Overall: 13-14, Last Week: 13)

After suffering back-to-back losses at the hands of the champs, the Bucks are suddenly 3-6 over their last nine and begin Week 8 one game under .500. The bright side is that Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are proving capable of flourishing together. The duo is combining for 45 points per game over their last 10 (and shooting better than 50 percent).


stocknochanges4516. Atlanta Hawks (Overall: 14-15, Last Week: 16)

Since beginning the season at 9-2, the Hawks are just 5-13. Safe to say all that Dwight Howard wants for Christmas is an opportunity to test free agency again this summer. Okay, maybe it’s a tad soon for such a declaration, but we’ve run out of answers for these Hawks.


stockup4515. Indiana Pacers (Overall: 15-16, Last Week: 17)

Truth is, we’re almost out of words for the Pacers, too. Along with the Wizards, they are probably the most disappointing team in the Eastern Conference. The only pro is that over the past 10 games, Jeff Teague’s production has been trending upward: 17.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists. The con? They’re just 5-5. But we’ll try to stay positive. At least 5-5 is an improvement on their full season win percentage.


stocknochanges4514. Chicago Bulls (Overall: 14-14, Last Week: 14)

The Bulls have lost four of five, with the latest loss occurring at the hands of the Wizards on Dec. 21. We thought they’d be better than a .500 team, and of the team’s rotation players only Dwyane Wade’s production is trending upward over the past 10 games. In the words of George Karl, these guys are a bit of a conundrum.


stockup4513. Washington Wizards (Overall: 13-15, Last Week: 19)

Don’t look now, but all of a sudden, the Wiz kids are 7-3 over their last 10 games. Bradley Beal has scored 24.1 points per game over that stretch while the pass-first John Wall is scoring 26 (while dropping 9.6 assists). Everything these guys hope to be is on them, so perhaps Scotty Brooks is figuring things out in the nation’s capital.


stockdown4512. Utah Jazz (Overall: 18-12, Last Week: 8)

If the playoffs began today, the Jazz would be sixth in the conference and would be hosted by the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round. Even better? We can’t say for certainty that they wouldn’t be able to push Team CP3. Utah is still first in the league in points allowed (94.9) and fourth in defensive efficiency.


stockup4511. Boston Celtics (Overall: 17-12, Last Week: 15)

Winners of four in a row, the Celts remain ahead of the Knicks out in the Atlantic, but barely. Among those wins was the Dec. 20 victory over the Grizzlies. Isaiah Thomas’ 44 points were quite impressive, but not more than his 17-for-17 shooting from the free-throw line. Despite being undersized, the little guy (on his way to another All-Star berth) isn’t afraid to mix it up. Respect due.


stockup4510. Charlotte Hornets (Overall: 16-13, Last Week: 12)

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize that Kemba Walker (who’s averaging a career-high 22.9 points per game) is a good player, or that Steve Clifford is a pretty good coach. The Hornets are where we expected them to be, meaning that the major question we have about these guys is whether it’s all enough to finally get Walker the All-Star nod that has eluded him.


stockup459. New York Knicks (Overall: 16-13, Last Week: 10)

Derrick Rose returned to the lineup in the Dec. 20 matchup against the Pacers and the Knicks responded with back-to-back wins. Porzingis has been great, but the team is 15-9 when Rose plays and 1-4 when he hasn’t. He’s also shooting 50 percent from the field over his last 10. Also, quick shout to Kyle O’Quinn and his 16-point, 18-rebound double-double in Thursday’s win over the Magic.


stockup458. Oklahoma City Thunder (Overall: 17-12, Last Week: 9)

In case you’re wondering, yes, Russell Westbrook is STILL averaging a triple-double, but we would argue that none were as impressive as the Dec. 17 line against the Suns: 26 points, 22 assists and 11 rebounds. It was the first time in 18 years that a player turned in a 20-20 triple-double. Monday’s 110-108 home loss to the Hawks is one that might hurt later, but they remain in the thick of things for now.


stocknochanges457. Memphis Grizzlies (Overall: 19-12, Last Week: 7)

After beating the Cavs to improve to a season-high nine games over .500, the Grizzlies lost all three games in a home stand to the lowly Kings, Jazz and Celtics. Interestingly enough, Mike Conley returned before that Kings game – a full three weeks earlier than projected. The team will be better off in the long run with Conley, but for now, they are obviously experiencing growing pains. By the way, Marc Gasol is a baller.


stocknochanges456. Toronto Raptors (Overall: 20-8, Last Week: 6)

Beginning on Dec. 23, the Raptors will embark on a six-game road trip that spans Christmas and New Year’s. They’ll spend Christmas night in Portland and New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles before eventually ending the trip in San Antonio. They have a comfy lead over the Celts and Knicks in the Atlantic but need a good showing to keep pace with the Cavs.


stockdown455. Houston Rockets (Overall: 22-8, Last Week: 4)

The Rockets are 12-2 over their last 14 games with the only losses coming to the Jazz and Spurs. In that stretch, they’ve beaten the Warriors, Celtics and Thunder and did knock off the Spurs earlier this season. They’re destroying every three-point record in the books and may not NEED to be better than 16th in the league in defensive efficiency to enter the title chase. The best stat for the Rockets, though, is this: ZERO. That’s the amount of TOTAL games missed by James Harden, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson.


stockdown454. Cleveland Cavaliers (Overall: 21-6, Last Week: 3)

That three-game losing streak seems like a distant memory now, huh? The Cavs won eight of nine since then, but will have to make due with a limited Kevin Love and without J.R. Smith (for a while). So long as LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson are available, though, no other team out East can touch the Cavs. Our only regret is that the club won’t be 100 percent healthy for the Christmas Day battle with the Dubs. But we’ll still be watching.


stockdown453. San Antonio Spurs (Overall: 23-6, Last Week: 2)

The Spurs couldn’t get to 16-1 on the road. Thursday night’s 106-101 loss as the Clippers ended the club’s five-game win streak and also gave them their second road loss of the season. It’s amazing that they own the second-best record in the league despite playing 17 of their 29 games on the road.


stockup452. Los Angeles Clippers (Overall: 22-8, Last Week: 5)

At a certain point, one has to begin to wonder whether Blake Griffin will ever be able stay healthy for an entire season. The Clips have won six of seven, with the last win catapulting them back in second, considering they beat the Spurs without Blake. Still, they’ll never be better than third best without him. He’s missed 47 games last year and 15 games the year prior, so we’re watching closely. Fortunately, the Clips have a deep enough team to hold the fort until his return in three to six weeks.


stocknochanges451. Golden State Warriors (Overall: 26-4, Last Week: 1)

It took a whole half of lazy basketball for the Warriors to decide to actually try against the Nets on Thursday night. Despite trailing by 16 at the half, the Dubs won the second half 68-36 and won by 16. They’re on pace to win 71 games and quietly are seeing magnificent shot distribution. Durant (16.9) is averaging the fewest shot attempts of he, Klay Thompsn (17.4) and Stephen Curry (17.0), but is averaging the most points (25.7). Not even General Petraeus could stop these guys.

 



As we head in 2017 and into the All-Star break, it will be interesting to see whether your favorite team can improve their stock of continue their dominance. Check back next week for the final power rankings of 2016.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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