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NBA Power Rankings: Damian Lillard, Blazers continue to roll

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NBA Power Rankings: Damian Lillard, Blazers continue to roll

Apparently Damian Lillard isn't too happy about being snubbed for the All-Star Game a second consecutive year.

The Blazers' star point guard - and, yes, he is a star - came out of last week's break on a tear, dropping 51 points on Steph Curry and the defending champs. The Blazers won by 32, handing the Warriors their worst loss of the last two seasons.

Lillard's follow-up act? 30 points in a crucial victory over the Utah Jazz on Sunday.

The Blazers have now won 14 of 17 games and sit seventh in the Western Conference. Barring something wild he won't win the award, but Terry Stotts deserves some consideration for Coach of the Year.

As expected, the Blazers are on their way up in this week's power rankings.

Previous power rankings: Preseason | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) (49-5) Anderson Varejao signing with the Warriors could be a big boost for a team that doesn't really need anything but could use another big body inside while Festus Ezeli is sidelined.
(4) (40-14) A statement win in Oklahoma City for LeBron and co. With Kyrie Irving battling the flu, LeBron went for 25/7/11 while Kevin Love added 29 points and 11 boards. Cavs beginning to roll.
(3) (47-9) Blown out against the Clippers without Kawhi Leonard, but Spurs fans breathe a sigh of relief after Leonard's MRI on a sore calf comes back clean. They're still just three back of the Warriors.
4 (2) (40-16) The Thunder are 11th in defensive efficiency this season, but just 18th the last three weeks. Their juggernaut offense won't matter if they're giving up 100+ a night, which they've done in five of their last six.
5 (5) (36-18) A pair of ugly road losses as favorites to the Timberwolves and Bulls, but they rebounded nicely with a home win over the Grizzlies. They may not catch Cleveland, but they look like the East's second best squad.
6 (7) (36-19) It was fun to watch the Clips try and go big on the Warriors (DeAndre Jordan logged 37 minutes). And it sort of worked. Whether they can go that big when Blake Griffin returns, however, is another story.
7 (6) (33-24) The toughest team to figure out in the top 10, Boston appears to have all the pieces to contend in the East 
8 (10) (31-24) Hassan Whiteside is an absolute monster. After serving his suspension Friday in Miami's win over Atlanta, he went for 25 points and 23 rebounds in a 20-point win over Washington.
9 (12) (30-25) Hours after Kevin Durant proclaimed Paul George would one day be a Hall-of-Famer, George scored 22 points and handed out 10 assists in a road win over the Thunder. KD may be on to something.
10 (8) (32-23) They dealt Courtney Lee and Jeff Green in the wake of Marc Gasol's broken foot. They're still in the playoff race (currently No. 5) but that could change in the coming weeks. Dave Joerger has his work cut out for him.
11 (13) (29-27) Damian Lillard simply can't be stopped. Since his All-Star snub he's averaged 27.8 points and 8.1 assists in nine games. Oh, and the Blazers have won 14 of 17. Remarkable. He deserves MVP consideration.
12 (14) (29-26) Kemba Walker continued his All-Star-caliber season this past week, and he's averaged 26.2 points, 4.6 assists and 2.0 steals during the Hornets' five-game win streak. They're up to No. 7 in the East.
13 (11) (27-28) They follow up a seven-game win streak by losing three of four, though that one win was an important one over the Celtics. Their schedule gets very tough down the stretch, so they can't afford many slip-ups.
14 (9) (31-26) It's just impossible trying to figure this team out. What is clear is their struggles are very real after dropping three straight at home, including giving up 117 points to the Bucks on Sunday.
15 (18) (29-26) A big home win over the Raptors stopped the bleeding after losing 13 of 18 games. If they can just hang on until Jimmy Butler returns in a few weeks they should be OK for a playoff spot. But Detroit and Washington won't go away easy.
16 (15) (30-27) It's good to see David Lee latch on with the Mavs after he was cut by the Celtics. Whether he really gets a chance to play is another question, but he's a good locker room guy who should help Dallas' playoff push.
17 (19) (25-29) Picking up Markieff Morris could help them make a late push for the final playoff spot in the East, but they need to start winning at home; they're the only top 10 team in the East standings with a losing home record (13-16).
18 (20) (22-33) If you haven't gone and watched highlights of Anthony Davis' 59-point, 20-rebound game Sunday against the Pistons, go do so. In this writer's opinion, Brow is the game's best center.
19 (16) (28-28) Could be the most important week of the year for them, playing at Utah and Portland and then home against the Spurs. Houston, No. 8 in the West, is one game behind Portland and half-a-game up on Utah.
20 (17) (27-29) Ouch. Five straight losses, including three to sub-.500 teams, have them now 2.5 games behind the Bulls for the final playoff spot in the East. Tobias Harris needs to acclimate quick before it's too late.
21 (21) (23-31) It would have been interesting to see them go for it in trading for Pau Gasol, but the right move was to keep your young assets (McLemore, Casspi) and hold out hope that they retain their first round pick (top 10 protected).
22 (23) (23-33) There you go, Jabari Parker. The sophomore has averaged 22.7 points on 55 percent shooting and 11 rebounds in his last three games. Would be great to see him turn a corner in this, a lost season for the Bucks.
23 (22) (22-34) Safe to assume Blake Griffin was never really on the table in trade talks with the Nuggets. But that would have been something else to watch Denver build around Griffin.
24 (25) (24-30) Brandon Jennings has been great in Orlando thus far, totaling 30 points and 11 assists in two games with the Magic. And it's all sorts of awesome that he decided to wear No. 55, an homage to his double-nickel game.
25 (24) (17-39) It'd be nice to see Zach LaVine show some consistency off the ball in these final two months. He's scored in double figures in 11 straight games, averaging 17.6 points per game in that span.
26 (26) (24-33) Jimmer Fredette inked a 10-day contract with the Knicks, and while it won't mean much for their prospects this season, between Jimmer and Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks won't be lacking in excitement.
27 (27) (8-47) Trade rumors and porous defense aside, Jahlil Okafor's monster 31-point, eight-rebound effort was a reminder of just how dominant the 20-year-old can be and will be down the line.
28 (28) (15-41) Interesting decision not to deal one or both of Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez at the trade deadline. But with Sean Marks in as general manager, things are moving in the right direction (albeit very slowly).
29 (29) (11-46) Just read CSN's Kobe coverage on his final game Chicago. And why it was such a special night for his longtime friend and former teammate Pau Gasol.
30 (30) (14-42) Fourteen straight losses is almost unfathomable for a team picked by many to contend for a playoff spot this year. At least they did the right thing and dealt Markieff Morris at the trade deadline. It's a start.

Scottie Pippen's injury history sheds light on what could be ahead for Michael Porter Jr.

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USA TODAY

Scottie Pippen's injury history sheds light on what could be ahead for Michael Porter Jr.

By now you probably know the story of Michael Porter Jr.'s back. Right as his college basketball career was starting—two minutes in to be exact—he had to sit out with back pain, which eventually developed into Porter undergoing a microdiscectomy of the L3-L4 spinal discs. The general consensus has been simple: if Porter's medicals are clean then he is a potential top-five pick, but if there is a lack of medical information or any indication that lingering issues persist, he will be available at picks six through the late lottery. Regardless of how his medical records look, what we do know is that Porter was the top-ranked player in his high school class before the eventual re-classification of Marvin Bagley. With this in mind, any team in need of serious star power—hello Bulls!—should have no problems spending a high pick on Porter, and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen is a big reason why.

In July of 1988, Pippen has disc surgery following a rookie season that was plagued by constant back pain. During that rookie season Pippen played just over 20 minutes a night and played in a total of 79 games.

While the late 80's didn't have the help of NBA Twitter to breathe doubt into fans, there was still a running sentiment that Pippen may not be effective as he was during his initial NBA season. But in his sophomore NBA year, he almost doubled his scoring total while raising his free throw percentage from 57.6 percent to 66.8 percent. On top of this, Pippen also increased his workload by playing 33.1 minutes per game. Altogether he increased his field goal and free throw percentage each of his first four seasons in the league, all following his rookie year back surgery.

This however, should not come as a shock. In an interview with SB Nation, Dr. Charla Fischer, a spine surgeon at NYU Langone Health, stated: "Most patients tell me they feel at least 50 to 80 percent better immediately after the surgery." 

Players typically take two seasons to return to form following herniated disc surgery, and that is right in line with Pippen's first All-Star appearance in 1990, about one and a half seasons following his procedure. When you relate this back to Porter, a clearer picture of what to expect forms. Because Porter has already missed an entire season of basketball (at Missouri), it figures to take about a year for him to totally regain the explosivness that he showcased at the high school level. 

Pippen averaged 14.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.1 apg, along with a combined 1.9 stl/blks per game in the season following his back procedure. Now it would be unreasonable to expect Porter to come into the NBA performing at that level, but more so because of his lack of all-around polish more than anything else. And that is what makes Porter such a conundrum. He is a player whose game—as of now—is totally based on scoring, and his scoring is directly tied to how close he is to 100 percent. So again, developing the rest of his game in terms of passing and defense will take on everlasting importance, regardless of if he ends up with Chicago or another team. 

And while it is true that Pippen's injury history eventually caught up with him, leading to another back surgery in 1998, this was six NBA championships later. Pip went on to play six more seasons following his 1998 procedure. This included four seasons with Portland where the team routinely won around 50 games, and had a legendary battle with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2000 Western Conference Finals.

So no matter what, Porter's first year should be looked at as one very, very long training camp. He will be in the best position to succeed if he is selected by a team willing to look at him as a long-term piece, rather than a 6-foot, 11-inch savior.

 

NBA Buzz: Draft night is almost here

NBA Buzz: Draft night is almost here

With a number of national writers and broadcasters forecasting an active trade market in the hours leading up to Thursday's NBA Draft, the whole idea of a mock draft might just be an exercise in futility at this point. Still, we have learned quite a bit about which players are coveted by teams drafting in the top five after sorting through the smokescreens of the individual workouts.

So, with that in mind, here's my final stab at how Thursday's lottery  picks could play out.

1. Suns: Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona.  An absolute no-brainer here. Ayton combines the size and power of an old school center with the athleticism and shooting touch of a new-age "stretch five".

2. Kings: Marvin Bagley III, PF, Duke.  Vlade Divac shouldn't risk his good fortune at moving up to the No. 2 slot by taking a risk on Michael Porter Jr.'s health. Remember the Kings already have a rehabbing teenager in one of their first round picks from last season, Duke F Harry Giles. Bagley should be a 20-10 guy in the NBA for the next decade.

3. Hawks: Jaren Jackson Jr., PF-C, Michigan St.  This will be the first spot to look for a possible trade. The Hawks reportedly like Trae Young and might consider offers to move down and draft him later in the top 10. If they stay at No. 3, Jackson offers the rim protection and 3-point shooting ability Atlanta desperately needs.

4. Grizzlies: Luka Doncic, G-SF, Slovenia.  The Grizzlies should run to the podium if Doncic is still on the board at No. 4. The 19-year old wunderkind gives Memphis a secondary shot creator to go along with Mike Conley.

5. Mavericks: Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri.  Mark Cuban is looking for his next big star with Dirk Nowitzki entering what is most likely his final season. The Mavs reportedly are also high on Mo Bamba, but Porter's potential as a 20 ppg scorer will probably win the discussion in the war room.

6. Magic: Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma.  Good chance of another trade at this spot involving a team that really likes Bamba. Orlando could move down a few spots and still get one of the three top-rated PG's, Young, Collin Sexton and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. If the Magic stay at No. 6, Young's quick-strike scoring and box office potential are likely to win the day.

7. BULLS: Mo Bamba, C, Texas.  Yes, John Paxson said the Bulls’ biggest need is a defensive-minded wing, but Bamba's ability to dominate at that end of the court is too great to pass up. Bamba is incredibly raw offensively, but he's been working on his low post skills and shooting form since the college season ended. The Bulls were not a good defensive team last season, and adding a shot-blocking threat like Bamba should improve them immediately.

8. Cavs: Kevin Knox, F, Kentucky.  Knox is one of the big risers after the individual workout season, impressing teams with his combination of athleticism and shooting ability. Knox can play both forward spots and could develop into a big-time scorer, replacing you-know-who as the Cavs start to build for an uncertain future.

9. Knicks: Wendell Carter Jr., PF-C, Duke.  The Knicks will be thrilled to add a versatile big like Carter, especially considering Kristaps Porzingis could miss most or all of next season rehabbing an ACL tear. Eventually, Porzingis and Carter could form a nice inside-outside tandem as the Knicks try to build toward playoff contention.

10. 76ers: Mikal Bridges, F, Villanova.  Another perfect fit for a team on the rise. Bridges' defense-first mentality and improving offensive game should blend in well on a Sixers team that's looking to take the next step after losing to Boston in the conference semi-finals. And, his mom already works for the franchise in the human relations department!

11. Hornets: Miles Bridges, F, Michigan St.  Charlotte whiffed on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the 2nd overall pick a few years ago, and Nic Batum has battled injuries since coming over from Portland. Miles Bridges is another combo forward who should thrive in the pro game with his ability to run the court and finish with authority at the rim.

12. Clippers: Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama.  The Clippers will be thrilled if Sexton falls this far, giving them a dynamic young option at point guard to go along with veterans Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic. Sexton could go as high as No. 6 to Orlando or No. 8 to the Cavs. He'll be one of the interesting names to watch on draft night.

13. Clippers: Robert Williams, PF-C, Texas A&M.  The Clippers are still waiting to see if DeAndre Jordan exercises his player option for next season, but if he decides to test the free agent market, Williams would be a perfect replacement. The athletic 6-foot 10-inch big man is a classic rim runner who should be able to finish off alley-oop passes just like Jordan.

14. Nuggets: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G, Kentucky.  Don't be surprised if Gilgeous-Alexander goes even higher than this after a strong finish to his freshman season. Scouts love his 6-foot 6-inch frame and ability to get to the basket. In Denver, he could come off the bench initially behind young guards Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.

22. BULLS: Chandler Hutchison, SF, Boise St.  So, the Bulls may or may not have made a "promise" to select Hutchison with the No. 22 pick they acquired in the Niko Mirotic trade with New Orleans. Either way, if the Bulls get Bamba at No. 7, Hutchison would be a great addition as the "3-and-D" small forward Paxson talked about in his end of the season news conference. The 6-foot 7-inch swingman improved his 3-point shooting during his senior season at Boise St., and is considered to be an excellent wing defender. Personally, I'd love to see to Bulls draft NCAA tournament hero Donte DiVincenzo of Villanova if he's still on the board at No. 22. 

Around the Association:

While we wait for the draft drama to unfold, NBA Twitter has already been taken over by speculation over where the next super team will be formed. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have been plotting for over a year on how to restore the Lakers' franchise to its past glory, and it looks like they'll be swinging for the fences this summer.

If the Lakers are able to find a taker for Luol Deng's contract or renounce the rights to restricted free agent Julius Randle, they should be able to create two max contract slots once the free agent market opens for business on July 1st. The obvious targets are LeBron James and Paul George, but Magic doesn't plan on stopping there. He's hoping to find a way to convince the Spurs to trade unhappy All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard to the Lakers as well, giving L.A. a super-team that will rival what James put together in Miami.

The Lakers have the assets to get a Leonard trade done with draft picks and young players on rookie contracts (Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart), but would Gregg Popovich actually make a deal with one of his long-time rivals? 

You can bet Pop will do everything he can to convince Leonard to accept a five-year, $219 million super max contract extension this summer and spend his prime years in San Antonio. But if that face-to-face meeting goes sour, Pop will make the deal that's best for the Spurs, preferably to an Eastern conference team he'll only have to face twice a season.

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Initial reports out of Houston indicate that free agent point guard Chris Paul plans to re-sign with the Rockets and will do everything in his power to recruit good friend LeBron James. Problem is, Houston has no cap space, so they would have to get the Cavaliers to agree to a trade. And in order to make the money work, the Rockets would want to include high-salaried players like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, neither of which would hold much interest for Cleveland with the team in rebuild mode.

Rockets' general manager Daryl Morey is one of the league's most creative executives, but trying to find a way to fit James into his bloated payroll will be the biggest challenge he's ever faced. Morey also has to deal with the restricted free agency of breakout center Clint Capela, who could draw a big offer sheet from another team.

Chris Paul and LeBron might be good friends, but the logistics could make it next to impossible to join forces in Houston.