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2019-20 NBA power rankings: Taking stock heading into the second half of the regular season

2019-20 NBA power rankings: Taking stock heading into the second half of the regular season

With the trade deadline a little over two weeks away, every team in the NBA has played at least 41 games.

Let’s take stock as the second half of the regular season begins: 

The top 10

It took the second triple-double of Markelle Fultz’s career Wednesday to snap the Lakers’ nine-game winning streak. 

Jimmy Butler has gotten to the free throw line in every game he’s played besides one this season and is third in the NBA in free throw attempts per game (9.3).

Mike Conley returned from a hamstring injury Saturday for Utah, and the Jazz have won 16 of 18.

The Rockets have lost three straight and the Mavs have won four straight, but Dallas has a difficult upcoming schedule with the Clippers and Jazz on tap this week. 

Ben Simmons has been stellar in just about every way besides fourth-quarter scoring for the Sixers in Joel Embiid’s absence and is averaging 21.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists over his last four games. 

Though Marcus Smart set a franchise record with 11 threes and scored a career-high 37 points in Saturday’s defeat to the Suns, Boston has lost three in a row. 

1. Milwaukee Bucks (38-6) 
2. Los Angeles Lakers (34-8)
3. Los Angeles Clippers (30-13)
4. Denver Nuggets (29-13) 
5. Miami Heat (29-13) 
6. Utah Jazz (29-13) 
7. Dallas Mavericks (27-15) 
8. Houston Rockets (26-15)
9. Sixers (28-16) 
10. Boston Celtics (27-14)

The middle 10

The Raptors shot over 50 percent from the floor in every game this week and could easily be higher in our rankings — it’s tightly bunched in the six through 12 range. 

Memphis has seven straight wins. Ja Morant is mesmerizing, and both he and Jaren Jackson Jr. are shooting over 40 percent on threes. 

Kyrie Irving talked Wednesday at Wells Fargo Center about the Nets requiring “one or two more pieces,” then reached out to teammates to clarify his comments.

Zion Williamson is expected to debut Wednesday vs. the Spurs, exciting news if you enjoy basketball. 

After their trade with the Kings, Portland got 34 points from Damian Lillard and a career-high 30 from flu-stricken Gary Trent Jr., and they still lost by 13 to Oklahoma City.

11. Toronto Raptors (28-14)
12. Indiana Pacers (28-15) 
13. Oklahoma City Thunder (24-19) 
14. Memphis Grizzlies (20-22)
15. Brooklyn Nets (18-23) 
16. San Antonio Spurs (18-23) 
17. Orlando Magic (20-23)
18. Phoenix Suns (18-24) 
19. New Orleans Pelicans (16-27) 
20. Portland Trail Blazers (18-26)

The bottom 10 

The Bulls’ last win over a team currently in playoff position was on Dec. 14, but Zach LaVine is putting up big numbers, including 42 points Saturday vs. Cleveland, and trying to push for a home All-Star appearance

Sekou Doumbouya, the league’s youngest player, scored 24 points on 10 of 13 shooting Wednesday night at TD Garden. 

It appears that a clear bottom four has separated from the pack. Stephen Curry is targeting a March 1 return, according to The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson. 

21. Chicago Bulls (16-28)
22. Sacramento Kings (15-27) 
23. Detroit Pistons (16-27)
24. Minnesota Timberwolves (15-27) 
25. Charlotte Hornets (15-29)
26. Washington Wizards (13-28)
27. Cleveland Cavaliers (12-31)
28. New York Knicks (11-32)
29. Golden State Warriors (10-34)
30. Atlanta Hawks (10-33) 



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If Ben Simmons is sidelined for an extended period, how will Sixers adapt?

If Ben Simmons is sidelined for an extended period, how will Sixers adapt?

We don’t need to spend much time explaining how and why Ben Simmons is very valuable for the Sixers. 

The two-time All-Star leads the NBA in steals and, before irritating a lower back injury Saturday night in Milwaukee, was averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 assists and 7.9 rebounds.

Of course, the Sixers will hope the injury doesn’t keep Simmons out for long. The question of how the Sixers will manage if Simmons’ injury does sideline him for an extended period of time, however, deserves attention.

Who’d be in the starting lineup? 

Though Raul Neto started in Simmons’ place Thursday against the Nets, he didn’t play against the Bucks until the game was well out of hand.

Shake Milton handled much of the point guard duties after Simmons left and was solid, making 5 of 7 three-point shots and scoring 17 points.

Josh Richardson and Alec Burks are other ball handling options, with Brett Brown seeming to prefer Burks’ “scoring punch” off the bench.

In his second NBA season, Milton has posted 6.7 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game, shooting 36.9 percent from three. The 23-year-old was on a two-way contract with the Sixers as a rookie and starred with the Delaware Blue Coats, scoring 24.9 points per game in the G League.

Who else would be impacted? 

Between Jan. 25 and Feb. 9, Milton started eight straight games for the Sixers because of Richardson’s hamstring injury. Brown didn’t play him as much as a typical starter during that stretch, giving him 25.4 minutes per game. He only exceeded 30 minutes once, when he scored a career-high 27 points on Jan. 30 in Atlanta.

Milton again would not likely be assuming full-on starters minutes. Perhaps Richardson and Burks would combine for a greater sum of backup point guard minutes than usual. If Richardson were to handle backup point guard duties, that would presumably mean Glenn Robinson III, Furkan Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle would have more minutes to take on the wing. 

Simmons was averaging a team-high 36.3 minutes entering Saturday’s game, so there is simply a lot of playing time that would need to be allocated among multiple players. 

Where would the Sixers suffer the most? 

The defense would take a big hit. The on-off stats mysteriously indicate that the Sixers have been a better defensive team with Simmons not on the floor, but they’d clearly be losing one of the best defenders in the game. 

Along with being first in steals, Simmons has the most total deflections and the most defensive loose balls recovered. He can defend opposing stars and, in general, most point guards, wings and power forwards. The Sixers would not be able to replace that defensive versatility or overall quality.

They’d obviously gain something in terms of outside shooting but would lose a lot in other offensive areas. Simmons has assisted on more threes than any player this season.

How much would it hurt overall? 

Because Simmons has played in 214 of a possible 221 regular-season games over the last three seasons, we don’t have any meaningful track record of how the Sixers tend to fare without him.

Joel Embiid would be the focus of a Simmons-less team, and it would make sense for the offense to involve more Embiid post-ups than ever.

The most basic formula for success without Simmons would be an elite Embiid on both ends of the floor, Milton and other guards succeeding in expanded roles, and Tobias Harris and Al Horford being better across the board, especially as three-point shooters. It’s not impossible that all those pieces would come together, but it would be a lot to ask. 

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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons to undergo further testing for back injury reaggrevated vs. Bucks

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons to undergo further testing for back injury reaggrevated vs. Bucks

The Sixers took a beat down from the Bucks Saturday night, but that seems secondary to what else took place in Milwaukee.

Ben Simmons, who missed the first game after the All-Star break Thursday with lower back soreness, left Saturday’s game not even five minutes in and did not return. Simmons will undergo further testing in Philadelphia Sunday, per NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters.

A report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski provided concerning info:

Sources described Simmons as emotional upon leaving the X-ray room at the Fiserv Forum late Saturday.

"There is some level of concern surrounding the possible nature of the injury, league sources tell ESPN.

The All-Star point guard appeared to reaggravate the injury on a drive against Brook Lopez. After a foul was called on Lopez, Simmons could be seen attempting to stretch his back out. After Simmons made 1 of 2 from the line, Matisse Thybulle fouled Khris Middleton to get a stoppage so Simmons could go back to the locker room.

At first, the ABC broadcast said the plan was for Simmons to go to the locker room to receive treatment throughout the night. A few minutes later, Simmons was ruled out for the rest of the game.

A broken foot cost Simmons a season the year he was drafted, but he’s been one of the Sixers’ most durable players since. The 23-year-old has played 214 of a possible 221 games during his three-year career.

Sitting in fifth in the Eastern Conference with 25 games remaining, the Sixers can ill afford to miss Simmons for an extended period of time.

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