|NBA Power Rankings, 1/20||01.20.11 at 1:00 pm ET|
So much for the Year of the Streak, huh? After the Celtics, Mavericks, Spurs, Heat, Lakers and Hornets ripped off significant winning streaks earlier this season, everybody’s settling into midseason NBA mode (aka, “no heavy lifting”) — which makes sorting out the Power Rankings all that much more difficult.
In my mind, there are four heavy favorites to reach the two conference finals: Celtics vs. Heat, and Lakers vs. Spurs. And four other contenders: Bulls, Magic, Thunder and Jazz. Outside of that, it’s a matter of filling out the playoff picture now that we’re at the midway point, and that’s not a pretty picture at the bottom of the East. Here goes …
1. San Antonio (36-6): The Spurs are 22-2 at home and riding a 16-game winning streak at the AT&T Center. Only the Lakers are within 8.5 games of San Antonio for the West’s No. 1 seed, and even they’re six games back. If the Spurs manage to snag homecourt advantage, L.A.’s reign could be over sooner than expected. And Shaq won’t be the only guy playing for a fifth ring this spring; Tim Duncan will be, too.
2. Boston (32-9): The Celtics are 13-5 against teams with records above .500. They’ve beaten the Heat, Bulls, Magic, Spurs and Thunder already, and they play the Jazz (Friday) and Lakers (Jan. 30) over the next 10 days, so they could easily reclaim the top spot. That’s a remarkable feat for a team that’s never been fully healthy.
3. LA Lakers (31-13): The Lakers are now top-10 in points scored, points allowed, rebounds and assists, which is pretty good. They had won 8-of-9 before losing in Dallas on Wednesday night, which is also pretty good. And Lamar Odom granted Playboy an interview about basketball and marriage, which is beyond good.
4. Miami (30-13): You can’t really let the Heat slip too far down the rankings, despite their season-high four-game losing streak, considering LeBron James missed two of those contests and Chris Bosh missed another. Still, it’s midway through the season, and Miami still doesn’t have a defined rotation. That’s a problem.
5. Oklahoma City (27-15): Would you rather have the Miami Thrice on your team or the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook-Jeff Green triumvirate? The former, but the latter’s not far behind (Miami Thrice: 69.3 ppg, 13.3 apg; OKC Three: 65.9 ppg, 13.4 apg). Considering their respective salaries next season (Miami Thrice: $47.6 million; OKC Three: $24.6 million), it’s almost a toss-up as to who’s in better position for the future.
6. Chicago (28-14): This season, especially lately, Derrick Rose is getting a LOT of love. Charles Barkley called him the NBA’s best point guard. Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie gave him their midseason Most Improved Player award. There’s even some MVP chatter. Should he be crowned before he’s even won a playoff series?
7. Orlando (27-15): It’s funny how Otis Smith decided to pick this week — after losing 3-of-4, including one to the Celtics — to essentially call the C’s a bunch of posers. Because, you know, Hedo Turkoglu and J.J. Redick are essentially Randy Couture and Mickey Ward. What’s that saying about glass houses?
8. Utah (27-15): The Celtics are welcoming the Jazz to Boston on Friday, and let’s hope a stomach bug doesn’t keep Deron Williams from playing. Boston fans have already missed Durant and Carmelo Anthony in their teams’ only trips to the hub. Missing a battle between Williams and Rajon Rondo would be a shame.
9. Atlanta (28-15): It’ll be interesting to see how much attention Jamal Crawford will get in free agency after this season. Even though he’s the returning Sixth Man of the Year, he’s not a guy I’d really want on my team. Same goes for a lot of guys on the Hawks, except for Al Horford.
10. New Orleans (27-16): Welcome back to the top 10, Chris Paul. A six-game winning streak — including wins over the Magic and Nuggets — will do that for you. The Hornets accomplished it with defense, allowing fewer than 90 points in four of those six contests.
11. Dallas (27-14): After Dirk Nowitzki missed nine games, he returned against the Grizzlies, only to be tossed by the referees midway through the third quarter. And then the Mavericks lost their sixth straight to the lowly Pistons. Good times. Mark Cuban was probably sticking forks in light sockets before they beat the Lakers.
12. Denver (24-17): I hate the fact that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov called off the ‘Melo trade discussion for two reasons: 1) he robbed us of a meeting between them and Jay-Z, which may have been the greatest meeting of all-time; and 2) now we have to listen to another few weeks of people speculating where he’ll go.
13. New York (22-19): How does the NBA’s top scoring team produce 83 points at home against the Kings? Seriously. It’s the Kings!?!? Since winning 13-of-14 from mid-November to mid-December, the Knicks are 6-10. There’s a lot less optimism around them since they played the C’s tough and were in the ‘Melo sweepstakes.
14. Portland (23-20): Another Trail Blazers player (Marcus Camby) injured his knee. In other news: The sky is blue. At this point, should opposing teams just rest their stars when they visit, for fear that their knees might disintegrate into the Portland air?
15. Houston (20-23): Rockets GM Daryl Morey is on Twitter and gives insightful comments about his team, like: “Our shot making disguised issues in our transition offense.” Can we lobby to get Danny Ainge on Twitter?
16. Memphis (19-23): When Zach Randolph is the one saying, “We’ve got to get some heart,” you’ve got problems. The Grizzlies still have an outside shot at a playoff berth, but Randolph’s words aren’t a good sign.
17. Phoenix (19-21): The only two players that have scored 20,000 points, are eligible for the Hall of Fame and haven’t been inducted are Mitch Richmond and Tom Chambers. Now that Vince Carter has joined the 20,000-point club, will he be the third to fall short of the Hall?
18. Indiana (16-23): Pacers wing Mike Dunleavey has been in the league since 2002 and never sniffed the playoffs, but this could be his year — even if Indiana doesn’t make the postseason. The Pacers are shopping him, and he’d be a nice pickup for any team looking to deepen their rotation.
19. LA Clippers (16-25): When Blake Griffin scored 47 points on 24 shots, he became just the 13th player in the last 20 seasons to score such a high figure on so few shots. TrueHoop did a nice job of breaking it down.
20. Golden State (18-23): According to the Contra Costa Times, over the last 13 games, Dorell Wright has averaged 20.4 points and 5.2 rebounds. Think the Miami Heat could use him in their rotation now?
21. Philadelphia (17-24): The 76ers might be the most confusing team in the NBA. They’ll lose to the Raptors twice in one week, and then play the Celtics tough. They’ll lose to the Bulls by 45 points one night, and then beat them by six another. Chalk that up to youth and the fact Andre Iguadola is their leader.
22. Milwaukee (15-24): A back injury has flared up for Bucks center Andrew Bogut. You wonder if the issue is something that will plague him for a while, considering that nasty fall he took last April. You know what they say: the bigger they are, the harder they fall … and the tougher it is to come back from it.
24. Detroit (15-27): Good thing the Pistons benched Richard Hamilton against the Celtics amid the trade rumors that would’ve sent him to New Jersey as part of a three-team ‘Melo trade — now that there’s no way the Nets are going to take on Rip’s contract without landing the big fish, too.
25. Washington (12-28): I saw this headline: “Lewis provides a steady influence for young Wizards.” Are we talking about Rashard Lewis? Well, I guess the headline didn’t distinguish whether it was a good or bad influence.
26. Toronto (13-29): The Raptors and Cavaliers have a combined 21 wins after the departures of Bosh and James. The Heat have 30 victories. Those guys were kind of important to their teams. Just a little.
27. New Jersey (11-31): Is anybody shocked by the fact that Prokhorov is pursuing Andrei Kirilenko. Next up: Timofey Mozgov. Let’s just hope they don’t turn out to be like Angelina Jolie‘s character in “Salt”.
28. Minnesota (10-33): I had to steal this line from Canis Hoopus: “Wesley Johnson: DNP (coach’s decision); Jonny Flynn: 15 minutes, 2 points; Ricky Rubio: tanning. What an awesome use of top lotto picks.”
29. Sacramento (9-31): The Maloofs could move to Anaheim. Sounds like a bad CBS comedy. Unfortunately, it could be a reality for Sacramento fans. If there are any of those.
30. Cleveland (8-33): Anderson Verajao out for the season. Mo Williams out for a couple weeks. Believe it or not, those are the Cavalier’s two best players. Now Cleveland fans literally have nothing to root for but a potential No. 1 pick in the lottery. Knowing their luck, though, that won’t happen.
|NBA Power Rankings, 1/6||01.06.11 at 7:15 pm ET|
I know how you love our themed NBA Power Rankings, so this time around we’re going to deliver the most intesting Tweet of the week about each team from the Twitter universe. Meanwhile, we’ll rank the 30 clubs from first to worst — after pointing out that three of the top five teams are in the Eastern Conference. Without further ado:
1. Boston (27-7): “There needs to be a [Kevin Garnett] cam for these games. I imagine him sitting at home just tearing apart couch pillows like George ‘The Animal’ Steele.” (@rlevine33 during the Celtics‘ nail-biting win over the Spurs) P.S. When you beat the Spurs without Garnett, you’ve gotta be No. 1.
2. San Antonio (29-6): “Doc [Rivers]: “The fact that we shot 61% and won by two is scary. That shows they’re a really good team.” (@Celtics on the Spurs’ 105-103 loss to the Celtics at the TD Garden in Boston on Wednesday night)
3. Miami (28-9): “LeBron [James] says ‘Heatles’ comment was in comparison to Beatles being a mega attraction on tour, not about group’s hit-making ability.” (@WallaceHeatNBA on James’ nickname for his team) P.S. Who’s Yoko Ono in this situation? Please say Eddie House.
4. Dallas (26-8): “Mavs owner Mark Cuban called Phil Jackson ‘Jeanie Buss‘ boy-toy’ causing a league-wide moment of silence so players and fans could throw up.” (@timstubinski on Cuban’s response to Jackson saying the Mavericks were done following Caron Butler’s apparent season-ending injury)
5. Orlando (23-12): “National media portraying Dwight Howard as ‘bad boy?’ Are you kidding? He’s more like Ron Howard, ‘Opie’ on Andy Griffith. Google it, kids.” (@MagicInsider on Howard’s growing technical problem) P.S. Is the national media really portraying Howard as a “bad boy”? Hadn’t heard that.
|Irish Coffee: Ray Allen ‘really isn’t Jesus’||at 12:37 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Considering Ray Allen has shot 89.4 percent from the free-throw line in his career, he’ll miss two straight about once every 100 times he goes to the charity stripe.
And that’s exactly what happened with eight seconds left as the Celtics clung to a 105-103 lead against the Spurs — owners of the NBA‘s best record. Thankfully, for Allen and the C’s, Paul Pierce blocked Manu Ginobili‘s last-second 24-footer to preserve the victory.
“I would’ve put my whole salary that he made at least one,” said Glen “Big Baby” Davis. “I would’ve been in trouble. It’s Ray Allen. It just goes to show you he’s really not Jesus. You know? I swear to God … if he misses, I’m like, ‘That must be Ray Allen.’ When he makes it, every time I think it’s Jesus Shuttlesworth. I swear. I’m surprised when he misses.”
Obviously, the mention of Jesus was a reference to Allen’s character in the film “He Got Game”. But even Jesus Shuttlesworth couldn’t make 13-of-16 shots from the field, as Allen did Wednesday night.
“I was pretty confident in Ray going to the line, but he’s human,” added Rajon Rondo. “He did almost everything else perfect today, so you can fault him. The bottom line is we got the win.”
Allen is shooting 50.1 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from 3-point range — both career highs for a single season. That’s saying something, considering Allen has been considered one of the league’s best shooters since entering the NBA in 1996.
“Ray needs to work on his shooting a bit,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich joked. “He only hit 13 out of 16. If it was practice and you did pindowns and you came off of that, I don’t know if anyone in the league would hit 13 out of 16. He does it in a game.”
|Paul Pierce on Rajon Rondo: ‘He did it all’||at 2:30 am ET|
‘We didn’t want to give up a three, that was kind of the only thing that could beat us, we sort of overplayed on the three point line,” Pierce said. “They made a two-pointer and I had to go out, or it would go into overtime, but that was the main thing just to take away the three point shot.’
Rajon Rondo made team history with 22 assists as part of a triple-double, as the Celtics held off the Spurs in a match-up of teams with the two best records in the NBA. Rondo – who also finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds – became the first player in Celtics history with at least 19 assists in three games in a season. He fell just two shy of his season high of 24 on Oct. 29 vs. the Knicks.
“He did it all, he rebounded, assisted, Doc’s kind of been on him about taking that shot there and he steps up when he needs to and knocks down those shots confidently,’ Pierce said.
Ray Allen scored a game-high 31 points in a fantastic shooting display, and made 13-of-16 shots on the night, including a three-pointer with 1:35 left in the game to put the Celtics up five. Rondo hit a runner in the lane that appeared to seal the game with 1:06 left.
But the Spurs went on a 7-0 run to draw within two. Allen then missed both free throws with 7.4 seconds left to give the Spurs a chance. But Pierce saved the day as the Celtics won their third straight.
‘You always can learn things from wins, not just from losses,” Pierce said. “I mean you can definitely learn things from wins, how we can be better down the stretch. And I think what’s important is that we won that game. We could have done some things better down the stretch, closing out the game but it’s a long season.’
Ginobili had 24 points to lead the Spurs (29-6), who lost back-to-back games for the first time this season. The win was all the more impressive as the Spurs suffered the night before in New York, 128-115.
The Celtics – who improved to 27-7 – were red-hot from the floor for the first three quarters, led by Allen. The sharpshooter was 11-of-14 entering the final quarter as the Celtics led, 77-72. As a team, the Celtics shot a blazing 61 percent from the floor for the game.
‘Maybe it was the tail end of a back to back for them, cause they’re a better defensive team then how they let us shoot,” Pierce said. “But you know we are one of the better offensive teams in the league, we run our stuff, make the pass, put the ball in Rondo’s hand, we can be a great team offensively.
‘You knew it was going to be a nip tuck game pretty much all night. You look up and it was hard to pull away from them. You could tell when we down the stretch put a nice little defensive run on them and then we do that and they come right back. But I mean you got two heavyweights battling and it was fun for me to be part of, I’m just glad that we won.’
|Fast Break: Rajon Rondo’s triple-double helps Celtics past Spurs||01.05.11 at 10:15 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo recorded his second triple-double of the season — totaling 22 assists, 12 points and 10 rebounds — as the Celtics handed the Spurs just their sixth lost all season, 105-103, at the TD Garden on Wednesday night. And they did it without Kevin Garnett.
The Celtics (27-7) and Spurs (29-6) have the two best records in the NBA, and the C’s moved one step closer to San Antonio thanks to 31 points from Ray Allen, a season-high 23 from Glen Davis and 18 from Paul Pierce.
Allen missed a pair of free throws in the final seconds, but Pierce blocked a last-second Manu Ginobili attempt to secure the victory.
What Went Right
Rajon Rondo dished it out: Rondo had 10 assists … with five minutes to go in the second quarter. Needless to say, he guided the offense as he had before missing seven games with a sprained ankle, finding the open man with Tom Brady-like regularity. The Celtics’ 46-of-75 (61.3 percent) shooting was evidence of that.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, Rondo delivered 22 assists. Pierce and Allen were the biggest benefactors, knocking down a combined 20-of-26 field goals on the night.
Ray Allen came to play: Allen hit seven of his first 10 shots to enter the locker room with a team-high 14 points at the break. While both the Celtics and Spurs struggled to generate offense during long stretches in the first half, Allen remained consistent. He finished with 31 points on 13-of-16 shooting.
Big Baby won the battle of the Big Bodies: In a battle of undersized (in terms of height, not waistline) power forwards who weren’t projected to be NBA talents despite their college success, Davis (6-foot-9, 290 pounds) owned DeJuan Blair (6-foot-7, 270 pounds). Starting at power forward in place of the injured Garnett, Davis produced 23 points. Blair, also starting, had just two points.
What Went Wrong
The bench: The starters were all forced to play big minutes because Marquis Daniels, Luke Harangody, Von Wafer & Co. couldn’t hold down a lead. In fact, those three guys combined for six points. Nate Robinson and Jermaine O’Neal had 11 between them, but that paled in comparison to the Spurs’ 27 bench points — highlighted, of course, by New Hampshire’s own Matt Bonner (10 points).
Offensive rebounding: It’s worth mentioning again, because it’s been an ongoing problem for the Celtics all season. Entering their game against the Spurs, the C’s had given up 80 more offensive rebounds than their opponents. And Wednesday night’s game didn’t help, as San Antonio out-rebounded Boston on the offensive glass, 15-5.
Jermaine O’Neal fouled out: O’Neal recorded more fouls (6) than rebounds (5). That’s not good. That meant Shaquille O’Neal played down the stretch of a close game, and considering he was 0-for-3 from the free-throw line, that could have hurt them. It didn’t, but it could’ve. A stretch? Probably, considering the effort the C’s put forth against the team with the NBA’s best record — without Garnett.
|Celtics vs. Spurs: Speaking with the enemy||at 2:09 pm ET|
Looks like it’s time for the beast in the East to host the best in the West, and I couldn’t be more excited. For some reason, this matchup makes me think about college football. I live in Austin, and like to follow the Longhorns. I didn’t graduate from UT, but I took some classes there after I graduated, so I feel like I’m a nearly legit fan. Anyway, a few years ago the season began with USC and UT ranked 1 and 2, and they stayed like that all the way through to the championship game.
Perhaps I remember that better because the Horns went on to win one of the most exciting BCS games ever, or maybe my memory is just that good. Either way, I feel much the same following the Spurs this year as I did enjoying the Longhorns success that year. SBNation keeps their Power Rankings split by conference, for good reason, and they’ve had our favorite teams on top of each side of the bracket for a while now.
I suppose this is the place where I would usually start in on the difference between the pace and approach of the teams, how the Spurs have been winning with offense and the Boston defense has been spectacular, while maybe throwing in a stat or two about point differential, etc. But with Kevin Garnett out (like the Spurs game last week against Dallas sans Dirk Nowitzki, and Tuesday’s against New York without Danilo Gallinari) it’s not quite the matchup I was anticipating. He’s just a huge part of what Boston does on both sides of the floor (whether he’s scoring a lot or no) that it’s not at all like playing the Celtics, if he’s not on the court.
So, since I don’t want to make this entire bit about the injury, I’m going to punt this to you at this point, to let you put his absence in context so we can set it aside and move on. Just what is Boston capable of with KG in plain clothes? I don’t mean for the rest of the season, but just for the purposes of this discussion.
Let’s take the official word from the Celts’ front office at face value and assume he’ll be back before the month is out. Which brings the focus onto the rest of the team, now that Rajon Rondo is back on the court. I know that since adding Ray Allen and Garnett, Boston hasn’t had a terrific record in games without Garnett — but what do you expect to see from this year’s bunch over the next few games, and Wednesday’s specifically?
Date: Tuesday, Jan. 4, 10:12 a.m.
Subject: Spurs/Celts Exchange
From: Ben Rohrbach
To: J.R. Wilco
|Irish Coffee: Late Night with Shaquille O’Neal||at 10:24 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Shaquille O’Neal entered the “Late Show with David Letterman” set wearing a hooded sportcoat, so it was pretty much a success right off the bat. After explaining how he got a cut on his head — banging his dome on a doorway while answering Letterman’s call — he touched on the following subjects:
- On whether Boston fans love him now: “They do.”
- On choosing Boston over New York: “I could’ve played in New York for more dough. … I thought we had a better shot at a championship.”
- On whether he’s ever feared a player: “Never.”
- On who he’d start a team with: “Historically, I’d probably go with Bill Russell.”
- On nobody liking the Lakers: “I don’t.”
- On LeBron James: “He’s a young guy. He’s a fabulous player. … I wish him well. Not too much luck, but I wish him well.”
- On Pat Riley: [sips water]
- On Phil Jackson: [claps] “Great guy.”
- On whether anyone could win 11 titles with his Bulls and Lakers: “I would say yes.”
- On Kobe Bryant: “Fabulous player. Probably the best player in the league right now.”
- On Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: “I spent eight years in L.A. and probably only talked to him twice. He’s one of the greatest centers ever.”
- On Steve Nash: “Great player. Great assist player. Love playing with him.”
- On Kevin Garnett: “The funniest guy in Boston. He is.”
- On Charles Barkley: “Probably one of the greatest power forwards to play. He’s a funny guy. He’s going to say what’s on his mind.”
PREVIEWING CELTICS AND SPURS
ESPN.com’s Peter May pieced together an all-encompassing preview of Wednesday night’s matchup between the Celtics and Spurs. Highlights:
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